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Thompson Hotels London Influencers X Anna Jones

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Food for thought

Food writer, cook and stylist Anna Jones has helped shaped the aesthetic and focus of star chefs like Jamie Oliver, Stevie Perle, Sophie Dahl and Yotam Ottolenghi. Now she is sharing her own food philosophy with the world. We can’t wait.

Her new book A Modern Way to Eat (out this week) is a modern vegetarian cookbook packed with quick, healthy and fresh recipes, that fits perfectly with how we want to eat now.

Here Anna shares how to make any meal pop visually, her journey to becoming vegetarian, and the best things about living in Hackney, London. Most importantly, she also dishes out two of her favorite summer recipes below.

Have you always been vegetarian?

I became vegetarian about 7 years ago, as bit of an experiment. I had already been cooking professionally for 6 years or so. I felt a little jaded with cooking and I didn’t feel good in my body. I decided to give up meat for 6 weeks as an experiment, and the result was that I felt totally amazing, my hair and skin were glowing, my body and mind felt great and within a few weeks my weight came into balance. When I became vegetarian two things happened. Firstly I became more aware of what I was putting into my body. I was tuning into what was happening every time I had a meal, it was a revelation, I felt like I had gone for nearly 30 years without really tuning in. I realized that the way I was eating totally determined the way my mind and body felt and that determined by attitude and outlook.

The second thing that happened which was most important for me was that how I looked at food changed, I was cooking in line with what my body wanted, my mood, the seasons how I was feeling rather than buying a plate around a central building block like a piece of meat. I was cooking using layers of flavor and texture in a new and really exciting way. And I haven’t looked back, eating joyful, delicious vegetarian food, food where healthy meets delicious has meant I haven’t missed my old way of eating one little bit.

How the star chefs you’ve worked with influenced your food philosophy? 

I have been so lucky to work with a huge amount of amazing chefs, I have learnt something from all of them and that’s the amazing thing about being a cook, you always keep learning. I worked with Jamie Oliver for 7 years, helping him with his books, campaigns, TV shows and anything he did to do with food. That experience taught me a huge amount, the campaign work I did in the UK and the US both in West Virginia and Los Angeles taught me about what’s really going on with food outside the food bubble we live in the major cites and the food world and made me passionate about getting people cooking and educating people about how you can cook quickly as easily and the impact it can have on you and your family. Jamie keeps things simple and achievable and that definitely comes across in my food. I have also been hugely influence by some amazing female vegetarian cooks Heidi Swanson and Sarah Britton of My New Roots. I love that these ladies are leading the way in talking about real, honest, beautiful delicious food.

What do you love most about Hackney in East London where you live? What are your three favorite places in your hood?

I love Hackney, where I live is on the edge of the hackney marshes, which are a wild haven in the middle of a big city, I can walk for hours without seeing a building, which is rare. There are all sorts of wild food that grows there, elderflowers, wild garlic, blackberries and wild herbs. Hackney is such a vibrant place to live, its full of different cultures and restaurants which I love, within a stones throw of my house there are Vietnamese markets selling fragrant herbs, Turkish shops with deep barrels of feta. There is also an amazing restaurant and cafe scene and new places open weekly.

My three favorite places in Hackney are: Rasa an amazing South Indian restaurant in Stoke Newington which is painted lurid pink and has the best curries that I have eaten out of India, amazing beetroot curry and incredible pickles. I love the Lido in London Fields its an outdoor swimming pool in the middle of a park and I love swimming there all though the year, even in the snow. My favorite shop is London Borough of Jam, which is just off Chatsworth road a lovely little Sunday market street. Lily the owner makes the most amazing jams using the best of British fruit and foraged owners from the marshes she also stocks amazing ceramics, beers food curiosities, it’s the most beautiful shop. For the best cakes in town I head to Violet cakes in Hackney owned by my friend Claire a former baker at chez pains, she makes the most incredible cakes, the ginger and molasses one is a particular highlight.

As an experienced food stylist, can you share one insider presentation tip you couldn’t live without?

A final flourish can make or break a dish. Last night I cooked a vignole for 60 guests at one of my London supper clubs. Vignole is a Roman spring stew of board beans, artichokes and asparagus and is so delicious but sometimes not the prettiest dish so I finished it off with little delicate mint leaves and some purple album flowers to make the greens pop. You eat just as much with you eyes as you do with your taste buds so taking that extra 5 minutes to find some, herbs, seeds or even flowers to finish a plate of food with makes all the difference and adds amazing flavor too.

Here are two great summer recipes I love. Enjoy! 

Raw Thai Citrus Crunch Salad

This salad borrows its flavors from one of my all-time favorite comfort dishes, pad Thai. Unlike pad Thai, though, you’ll notice there aren’t any noodles here—instead, ribbons of zucchini and carrot take their place. I make this salad all year round: in autumn and winter I swap the basil for more cilantro and the zucchini for celeriac or parsnip. Serves 4.

FOR THE  SALAD
1 zucchini 3 medium carrots, peeled ½ head white or napa cabbage 1 red pepper, seeded 2 scallions 1 pink grapefruit 1 lime a small bunch of fresh basil a large bunch of fresh cilantro 2 good handfuls of beansprouts

FOR THE DRESSING
2 medjool dates
a handful (about 3½ ounces/100  g) cashew nuts, soaked overnight in water if you have time
1 (¾-inch/2 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
½ clove garlic, peeled, green center removed, roughly chopped
1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped juice of 2 limes 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

TO SERVE
a handful of cashews, crushed

Everything used in this salad is completely raw. It’s good to have some raw food in your diet—it helps us appreciate food in its cleanest, purest form. This salad is a good stepping-stone for people who think raw food is all beansprouts and hemp seeds.

Use a vegetable peeler to peel the zucchini and carrots into ribbons and place
them in a big bowl—it’s okay to leave a little bit of the middle behind for
the sake of your fingers. Shred the cabbage finely, slice the red pepper and scallions as finely as you can, and add to the bowl.

Now use a knife to peel the grapefruit and lime. Then with the knife, roughly cut out all the segments from both, leaving the pith and membrane behind. Put the segments into a bowl, then mash them up so you are left with little juicy jewels of lime and grapefruit. Add these to the big bowl too.

Roughly chop the basil and cilantro, then add all the basil, half the cilantro, and all the beansprouts to the bowl. This will all keep well in the fridge until you are ready to eat.

When ready to serve, make your dressing by putting all the ingredients into
a blender with 2 ⁄ 3 cup/150 ml of water and blending until you have a dressing just thick enough to coat and hold on to the vegetables. Thin with a little more water if you need to. If you don’t have a blender, mash the dates in a bowl until you have a paste, then finely chop the nuts, ginger, garlic, and chile and
stir in the lime juice and soy sauce. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix well, and top with the crushed cashews and the rest of the cilantro.

Speedy Sweet Potato Quesadillas

Quesadillas are an anytime meal. They take just 5 minutes to make, and everyone loves them. You can snack on them at a party, they make a late-home-from-work dinner, and they even work at breakfast with an egg inside. These quesadillas are a bit different—the regular, white flour, cheese-loaded version doesn’t do it for me. So instead, these are filled with a super-quick sweet potato and white bean mash. You will never look back.

Two types of chiles feature here, though don’t worry—they are not super hot. I don’t like that intense chile burn feeling. To me any food that sends your body into panic or out of balance can’t be good. But I do crave heat, and this blend of the deep smokiness of the chipotle and the sweet raw heat of the fresh chile packs a well-rounded punch.

Many places have started to stock chipotle paste, which has made its sweet smokiness more easy to come by. If you can’t get your hands on chipotle, 1⁄2 a teaspoon of hot smoked paprika will do.

It’s worth making a mention of what chiles have hidden in their colorful little packages. They are super high in antioxidants and vitamins, and they boost the immune system and help speed your metabolism: chile magic.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan, add the sweet potato and the maple syrup, and season with salt and pepper. Add the chipotle paste and the chopped chile and cook for a few minutes until the potato has softened and lost its rawness.

Transfer to a bowl and add the beans, then use a potato masher to mash everything a little—you will still have some flecks of unmashed sweet potato. Season if needed. Serves 2 as dinner or 4 as a snack.

olive oil
1 sweet potato, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon maple syrup
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chipotle paste
1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 (15-ounce/400 g) can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 avocado ½ a lime a few sprigs of fresh mint or cilantro,
leaves picked and chopped
4 corn tortillas

Mash the avocado with a little lime juice and stir in the herbs. I use the potato masher again here.

Now heat a frying pan big enough for your tortillas. Lay a tortilla flat in the pan, spoon a quarter of the mixture onto one half of it, then fold over the other half. Dry fry on one side until it’s blistered and golden brown, then flip over and do the same on the other side. Keep the quesadilla warm in a low oven while you do this with the rest of the tortillas.

Serve straight from the pan with the mashed avocado.

Reprinted with permission from A Modern Way to Eat: 200+ Satisfying Vegetarian Recipes by Anna Jones, copyright © 2015Brian Ferry. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.

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