From the creator of The Sprouted Kitchen blog comes the cookbook Bowl + Spoon, a creative collection of recipes that are simple enough to eat at home on the couch with a bowl and spoon, yet elegant enough to serve to family and friends. Author Sara Forte shares comforting, seasonal, plant-based meals that she makes for herself on a regular basis. Photographs by husband Hugh Forte inspire us to pick up some fresh produce and jump right into the kitchen with her. Sara is not a classically trained chef, and this works to her advantage; her recipes are approachable, practical, and perfect for everyday home cooks!
OLDWAYS: You say “it took time and practice on our blog to ﬁgure out a ﬂuid way to write recipes.” What, in your opinion, makes a good recipe? What was the process like for developing the recipes for this cookbook?
SARA: I think a good recipe is accurate while still leaving room for interpretation. I remember someone once saying that the recipe or headnote should answer any possible question the cook may have while making a recipe. I, myself, am not a very detail oriented so this is diﬃcult for me. I’m a pinch here or there, improvise with what I have sort of cook so slowing down is the challenge in all of this. My process usually works backwards. I have an idea and make it once and if I think it is something someone else may want to make, I work backwards in breaking down the recipe in order to write it out step by step. This cookbook is very simple by way of technique so I was mostly just working to get ratios right.
OLDWAYS: Why did you choose “bowl foods” as the theme for your book?
SARA: It says in the intro that my husband, Hugh, described this as the way I most often cook. I throw things together, will whiz up a dressing or sauce based on what’s in the fridge and what is taking over in my herb garden. I am always trying to use what I have and a lot of times those meals are ones that bring out the most creativity — resourcefulness breeds innovation. Bowls are the most comfortable way for us to eat and I think they send a message of unfussiness. I want to create a resource, through my books and blog, to encourage people to cook wholesome food and keeping it comfortable and unfussy is how I believe I can help people to eat well.
OLDWAYS: You advise your readers to share their meals at home with family and friends several times in your book. Why do you emphasize eating meals with others?
SARA: Perhaps personal for me, but sharing food with other people is how I most easily serve and give to others. Everyone likes to be fed, everyone has to eat, so to nurture people in that way is both necessary and generous. It also makes it more fun. Cooking can be a lot of work and sometimes a pain or the last thing you want to do after work, but having friends there to enjoy a meal with you makes it feel like more of an occasion than a hassle. Food was always meant to be something communal — the table is a place where good conversations happen, and I want to keep that going.
OLDWAYS: Many of your recipes are easy to pack for travel. Do you often eat home-cooked meals away from home? What tips do you have for those of us who want to eat more healthy homemade meals on the go?
SARA: We travel here and there and have work days away from the house sometimes where it’s nice to have along a healthy lunch. Less so with a baby around now, but even with that it’s nice to have food just ready and prepared in the fridge.
I always make twice as much for dinner as I need and then either I invite someone over to eat with us, or we have lunch ready for the next day. Especially with green or grain salads, they are very easily to double and they keep well so if I’m heading out for the day or working elsewhere, I can make a tupperware with the dressing on the side and it’s already done. If I wait until the morning of, I won’t do it, but if it’s prepared from when I was already cooking the night before, then it’s no problem. That would be my suggestion, is just set aside lunch while you’re in the process of cooking.
OLDWAYS: You provide readers with the tools to create their own bowls, and suggest including some combination of whole grains, well-seasoned protein, legumes, greens, vegetables, toppings, and sauce. The possibilities can be daunting – do you have any suggestions for creating ﬂavor combinations? What are your favorite ingredients and techniques to elevate the ﬂavor of your bowls?
SARA: I sort of think of a theme and go from there, or I let the dressing dictate what else goes in. For example, there is a great tahini-miso sauce in the book which either directs me towards asian-ish foods or a super health foodie combination. If asian, I’ll steam broccoli, roast tofu and cook up some rice — those ingredients always go well with an Asian theme. Or for the later, I usually have a bunch of quinoa made in a big batch and will shred up some carrots, kale and toast nuts for a crunchy topping. Avocado would go well on top of either. This may sound strange, but when I’m at a loss for ideas, I’ll look up restaurant menus. I pull up places I’ve read about in food magazines and breeze over their menu and something always inspires a good combination I haven’t tried.
I know it sounds daunting, but I think you take it one step at a time. Read magazines, recipes and see what other people put together and then you can copy them.
OLDWAYS: You describe your husband as “a man who prefers cheeseburgers.” Do you have any tips for getting reluctant family and friends more excited about eating fruits and vegetables?
SARA: I think you break them in slowly. I can get Hugh to eat more plant-based dishes because he believes they do make him feel better. He feels lighter on his feet, has more energy, his stomach doesn’t hurt — for some people that is encouragement enough. I never make things so extremely dietetic that I wouldn’t serve them to dinner guests. I always have a little cheese on my salad and use avocado quite often. If you can compromise, like say “ok” to a cheeseburger but we’ll use organic, grass-fed meat and put it on butter lettuce leaves instead of a bun, I feel like we are heading in the right direction. Extremes don’t work well over here, I just try to have mostly plants but enough indulgence to keep us sane.
OLDWAYS: Bowl + Spoon has a section on pantry staples, which includes a great variety of ingredients from agave nectar to old-fashioned oats. What pantry staples do you use most often?
SARA: Maybe this isn’t the best answer but that whole list is what I use most often! I cook a good amount and try to make diﬀerent things. If I had to narrow it down, I would choose olive oil, white wine vinegar, quinoa, black or french lentils and miso. Oh and citrus. Always lots of citrus.
OLDWAYS: Your experience working on an organic farm during college “is largely responsible for how passionate [you are] about seasonal produce today.” Do you have any tips for eating a plant-based diet for people who don’t have easy access to a variety of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables?
SARA: I know in some parts of the country farmers markets are seasonal, but I would start there. You will be buying what is fresh and local and undoubtedly will taste better than what is at a conventional market. There may even be a CSA program in your area that brings in produce from a bit outside your city. Also, the blog world is ﬁlled with resources and people who are writing recipes based on what is around them. I would start reading blogs and getting ideas and you are certain to ﬁnd inspiration online. I would start with My New Roots, Green Kitchen Stories, 101Cookbooks, My Darling Lemon Thyme to name a few — they are all very plant focused.
OLDWAYS: Might we share one of your fabulous recipes with our readers?
SARA: yes please do!
Chickpea Deli Salad
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a snack.
The lunch I pack for a long beach day typically includes a light tuna salad, speciﬁcally the one in our last cookbook. Turns out I am the only one in the family who likes tuna, so I’ve moved on to a deli-style salad of chickpeas. It is barely creamy, bright with lemon and herbs, crunchy with celery, and has just a hint of sweetness from being dotted with golden raisins. I eat this on a pile of greens with a side of crackers or stuﬀ it in a pita with some crumbled feta as a portable and, dare I say, kid-friendly alternative.
I ﬁnd freshly cooked beans have a sturdier texture, but canned will work here if you’re short on time. If that’s the case, I’d suggest peeling the skins oﬀ the beans (mind numbing, I know, just go for the majority, not every single bean) for a cleaner texture in the end. If mayonnaise or the vegan alternative doesn’t sit well with you, extra-virgin olive oil will work in its place.
2 tablespoons veganaise or good-quality mayonnaise
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 celery stalks, ﬁnely diced
¼ cup minced red onion
⅓ cup golden raisins
2 cups cooked chickpeas (or roughly one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
¼ cup chopped ﬂat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
In a large bowl, whisk together the veganaise, lemon juice, and a few pinches of salt and pepper.
Add the celery, red onion, and raisins to the dressing. Give the chickpeas a coarse chop and add them to the bowl along with the parsley and chives. Stir everything to mix well. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as desired. Chill for at least 30 minutes for the ﬂavors to blend. Salad will keep in the refrigerator for one week.