A young woman who’s been summering on the Vineyard for all of her supernally natural life, namely Lisanna Wallance, has a positive genius for making it all work in the kitchen. She understands how nutrition, taste, and presentation may be deployed for total healing.
You may recall reading about her in a fall edition of this newspaper (“Cooking up magic,” Oct. 28). My talented friend Gwyn McAllister wrote about the native New Yorker who has long spent summers on the Island and, in fact, is here now during the winter lockdown. We learned that this nature lover, nay, nature interpreter, always mystically attuned to the plant world, at an early age developed her own resources to cure herself of a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
What you’ll discover in this gorgeous cookbook, for which Wallance supplied the photos and production, is that when science and a witchy eye for natural health combine, any cure is possible, but so also is a dish so tasty you’ll want to call all your favorite company to come sit down to the table (not that we can exactly do that right now).
(A quick time-out to say Wallance’s self-proclaimed witch title refers to her profound immersion in plant and herbal chemistry. She’s the farthest thing from a Salem witch — not that they were real witches either — or a wraith out of “Rosemary’s Baby.”)
Each page reveals a recipe and a gorgeous photo of the finished product, such as the Detox Risotto on page 36, revealing a purplish bowl of quinoa topped by halved Brussels sprouts and radishes, still sporting green comb-overs. The purple cast is rendered by cooked beets.
There is so much to unpack in each recipe, and continuing with a study of this charming risotto, you might be intrigued to see that the classic rice part of the equation has, in fact, as mentioned, been dealt out for the quinoa.
All risotto lovers are accustomed to tending that darn rice every few minutes, with a sprinkle of broth and a slow stir, to arrive at that creamy long-stew of rice that renders the great, granular taste. But in the meantime, as the chef slaves over this dish, all one’s guests have fallen asleep, a fight has broken out next door over who controls the TV remote, and in the street, a full revolution has overtaken the town. But with Wallance’s quinoa, all you do is “toast for 1-2 minutes until you smell a nutty aroma.”
And here’s where the culinary witch’s health expertise comes in, as she mentions in the class notes she provides with every recipe: “Quinoa is full of complex carbohydrates, contains more protein than rice, and its insoluble fiber — meaning fiber that can’t be digested — helps cleanse the digestive system of toxins, cholesterol, excess hormones, and inflammatory markers.”
You could just eat this delicious Detox Risotto every day and never need another vitamin supplement!
Furthermore, each page comes with a eye-catching black-and-white insert called “Witch’s Secret” with a final few tips of good eating, such as, on this same risotto page, “Turn off the heat and stir in a slice of butter or a drizzle of oil to make it even more delicious.” Do you see what’s happening here? A woman with her own autodidact master’s degree in nutrition gives you permission to add butter!
And lest you think this ode to plant-based eating is a vegetarian’s delight — not that I would personally mind that one jot — Wallance serves up a full buffet of fish, seafood, and meat dishes.
An exquisite page of scallop shells, packed with red caviar and baby octopus, is titled “Mermaid’s Salad” and ensorcells you with an opening line: “Some health secrets are hidden in the ocean’s depths, and only mermaids and witches know about them.” Although she has you at “ocean’s depths,” she adds, “Trace elements like iron, zinc, selenium, fluorine, chromium, copper, and iodine are more easily found in shellfish and algae than in earth’s vegetables.”
Makes you wonder what you’re doing eating earth’s vegetables.
You can see how a mystical combo of cooking and health reside on every page, plus this inspired chef calls each recipe a spell, so even reading a given set of instructions will give you the Witch’s Advantage.
In the meantime, I’ll be slipping this lovely tome into my suitcase wherever I go. Visiting my beloved ex-husband Marty Nadler in Florida? I’ll see if he agrees with such notions as “Integrating more algae into your diet is great for everyone.” (Hint: He won’t agree.)
I’ll warn you that opening to any given page will take you down not a rabbit hole, but an enchantress’s warren, to unknown new information. For instance, I just came across this: “Aphrodisiac Steak” with beet juice, red wine, balsamic vinegar, and saffron for the sauce, with a notation regarding beets: “This blood-red root is the ultimate love food.” Sounds like we can cook it without the steak?
And I’d be remiss not to mention the splendid section on desserts, such as Chocolate Pear Cloud Cakes, with the opening gambit, “When you’re in the mood for a snack as light as air that also satisfies your sweet tooth, these little fondant cakes are just what you need.”
After desserts is a section on, you guessed it, potions such as Matcha Fertility Potion, composed of almond milk, Ashwagandha powder, star anise pods, and other good stuff.
I can’t stop writing about these pages! I must be under a spell! I’ll flip to the back, find out how to assemble my own sun lotion from carrot oil and edible gold dust. Next I’ll walk in the woods and think about what to prepare for dinner: the Energetic Buddha Bowl or Restorative Vegetable Curry?
“The Natural Witch’s Cookbook,” by Lisanna Wallance, Skyhorse Publishing, is available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and online, or just head straight for the lady’s website: culinarywitch.com.