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The Boston Globe

Food & dining

Cookbook Review

Whole foods startle with new tastes and imagination

Sara Forte’s book and blog share the same name.

HUGH FORTE

Sara Forte’s book and blog share the same name.

I’d never heard of Sara Forte and her blog, The Sprouted Kitchen, until her book (photographed by her husband, Hugh Forte) arrived. With natural-foods books popping out of the woodwork every five minutes or so, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

Yet, like the food and photography of Heidi Swanson, another natural-foods blogger who’s made it big as an author, the visions in “The Sprouted Kitchen,” also turn out to be filled with light, flavor, and new ideas.

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Sara Forte pays close attention to textures, leavening their nutrient-dense dishes with nuts, coconut, whole grains, and savory flavors. A creamy coconut barley with pomegranate molasses turns out to be a beautiful and lush variation on the usual breakfast oatmeal.

Sauteed Brussels leaves and baby spinach is one of those conversion recipes intended to win over Brussels-phobes, and it ably does just that. The brassica funk lightens and straightens out with the salty crunch from Marcona almonds, with just a hint of sweetness lent by a bit of maple syrup. Yes, it’s a pain to pick each leaf off the Brussels sprouts, but it’s over in a flash if you put on some good music and snack on the Marcona almonds while you work.

A pot of braised white beans and leeks is the kind of straightforward cooking that adds up to more than the sum of its ingredients. As usual, leeks have that wonderful way of making everything taste better and harmonize with everything else. What might be a pedestrian bean stew benefits mightily from a generous helping of herbes de Provence. I didn’t have any on hand, so I made some up on the spot from the spice cabinet (my mix ended up having emphatic fennel notes, which seemed to make the whole thing sing).

Creamy millet with roasted portobellos is like a nuttier, more textured polenta; the vinegar-anointed mushroom caps provide a soft and savory backdrop for oven-crisped kale. Roasted cauliflower capellini sounds like a good bet right from the start; the nutty, earthy, sweet taste of roasted cauliflower has become a staple with us. But here it’s a handful of canny additions — white balsamic vinegar, basil, and toasted hazelnuts — that lift the dish into another realm.

A walnut-crusted wild salmon with edamame mash is our foray into non-vegetarian entrees. The thrice-dipped technique for the crust is the usual one, with variations: rice flour for wheat, egg white for egg, walnuts for the crust, coconut oil to saute. All of these work nicely together, though the final taste is not so different from other breaded fish you may have had.

Perhaps the dish that strays furthest from the mainstream is meatballs, but not ordinary meatballs. These are made from lentil puree, bound with ricotta and bread crumbs, doused with a lemony pesto that both relieves the legumey dryness of the lentils and is good enough for you to swab the pan for more.

A snack of crunchy curried chickpeas will come as no surprise to those familiar with Indian-style roasted chickpeas, but it’s a welcome introduction to those who aren’t. The only two duds I found in the book were also snacks, as it turned out. They each failed spectacularly in their own way. Granola protein bars sound great, sweetened with brown rice syrup, with rice cereal for texture, but no amount of cinnamon and crunch can hide the taste of protein powder, and the bars fell apart horribly in the pan. Everyone in the family tried hard to love them, but we ended up giving them to the chickens.

Nori popcorn is a flavor that’s pleasingly, weirdly savory from seaweed, sugar, coconut, and soy. That is, what we got of it. The kernels had trouble popping in the sticky mix, and they left a big, irredeemable black patch on my favorite enameled cast iron pan.

But if the snacks were a disappointment, a batch of unusual sweets more than made up for it. Little round almond meal cookies rely on some Sara Forte favorites: unsweetened shredded coconut and coconut oil. They’re barely sweet, and the racy bitterness of cacao nibs keep you coming back for more.

Not least among the pleasures in “The Sprouted Kitchen” are Hugh Forte’s saturated, high-contrast photographs, which convey a blend of urban charm and rustic leisure you can practically taste with your eyes.

For the Fortes and other 21st-century whole-foods revisionists, eating naturally has a style and a gentle hedonism unanticipated by the oat-eaters of 50 years ago. You could almost forget that it’s good for you.

T. Susan Chang can be reached at admin@tsusanchang.com.
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