This review must begin with an apology. Naomi Devlin, author of my splattered, and thumbed River Cottage Gluten Free book published her new book Food for a happy gut, in April this year. My review copy has been perused at length, a handful of recipes bookmarked and cooked with great success, but I have been unable to pull the words together for a review. Until now.
This is not a specifically gluten free cookbook, however all the recipes are naturally so or can be adapted. Naomi is a coeliac too after all. This books spans a broad range of dietary ideas that can help improve your digestion, nourish and heal your body. Covering FODMAPS, inflammation, pro and prebiotics to name just a few subjects it is a wonderful introduction to your helping your gut. Listening recently to Radio 4’s The Food Programme, during an episode about Sandor Katz, a fermentation revivalist he attributed much of his success to peoples fear of fermentation. Dealing with bacteria, the creation of gas, the opportunities for poisoning and explosions all surprisingly resonated with me. I realised, I too was scared of this new food world that Naomi was trying to introduce me to.
So on my return I have embraced my fear of this subject and this book and actually realised most of the recipes are simple, easy to replicate and many are improvements on a number of recipes I already make. They just all have your gut health in mind.
Gut health is something I am fast learning about (read GUT by Guilia Enders and The Diet Myth by Professor Tim Spector, for a speedy introduction) – which I believe is of great importance as someone living with coeliac disease. Increasingly since diagnosis over 10 years ago, I find the increasing availability of gluten free foods to be full of additives, refined flours, starches and sugars and never make my gut very happy. I feel that living with a gut based condition, I have a duty to look after it and this book has given me some wonderful recipes to do that.
I began with sourdough. I have longed for the sour, savoury taste of the ‘normal’ sourdough loaf that I feed my family. The long, slow fermentation is thought to make the gluten less available to the body, hopefully preventing hereditary coeliac disease developing in my boys. So simply creating my own sourdough starter from teff, brown rice flour and water, and seeing the natural yeasts come to life, and raise my little gluten free loaf was a sheer delight. Just learning how to get my starter going and keep him alive, was an education.
But do not fear. This book is in no way full of worthy, sandal and sock wearing recipes… take coconut fudge popsicles. Dreamily simple to make, they were an indulgent but oh so good for me treat and the kids and grown ups loved the retro magic ice! The buckwheat granola, as an oat intolerant coeliac opened up another breakfast option, along with millet porridge using grain rather than flakes for an oat like consistency, which I miss.
The book is split into Calm, Nourish and Heal chapters, recognising that the foods out guts can tolerate is on a spectrum. There is a great introduction to your gut, covering the basics but also looking at FODMAPS, IBS and food intolerances alongside advice about good fats and pre and probiotics all making the subject of gut health much less intimidating. Covering all the meals of the day, plus treats and drinks it’s an easy way to bring better foods into your daily diet, one dish at a time.
What I particularly like about this book is the focus on simple, seasonal cooking using high quality ingredients with a focus on veggies. It compliments the way I cook already and has given me much inspiration. The crunchy chickpeas for snacks replace the bought version I grew addicted to whilst living in India, the broad bean hummus helped use up a glut of beans from my mums allotment and the shashuska recipe has become a quick and healthy midweek staple.
And there is still plenty I want to tackle. Making my own labneh, crackers and sunflower seed butter all sound like improvements on the mass-produced alternatives currently in my cupboard. But it’s the pickles and ferments I want to get to grips with. Simple lacto fermented ribbon pickles to perk up any meal might be my best start. Fermenting my much-loved farinata (chickpea flatbread) recipe can only improve the flavour and digestibility and help me take another gentle step in gut improvement. Then preserved lemons, kimchi and sauerkraut – the ones that scare me most with talk of gas and PH – are going to be my fermentation stretch goals. Ridiculous really to think that someone who has studied and worked their whole career in the food industry can discover a whole part of the food world that is unknown, a little intimidating but altogether quite exciting. To be honest, its WHY I love food… there is always something to learn. Follow my adventures in fermentations, improving my gut health and trying more recipes over on Instagram.
But finally, apologies Naomi again for not reviewing this wonderful book, sooner. Food for a Happy Gut is a passionate, approachable and hugely informative guide to understanding the vast and new subject of gut health, with simple ways to improve our every day diet. The recipes are well written and easy to follow, the diversity of recipes means there is something for every cook and the passion for good food sings off every page!