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5 Questions With…Sara Dickerman

 Our friend Sara Dickerman is a fantastic chef, food writer and author of one of our most favorite cookbooks: The Food Lover’s Cleanse.



Like most people, come January, our thoughts turn towards healthier eating, but we’re food lovers, so austere detox programs most definitely do not appeal. That’s why Sara’s book has become our New Year’s bible. It’s chock full of healthy recipes that are also delicious and tempting (not the least of which are multiple varieties of chocolate bark). Now, that’s a cleanse we can get behind!



Here’s a little more about Sara:


How did the idea for the book arise?


My editor at Bon Appetit challenged me to come up with a healthy eating plan that appealed to people as innately enthusiastic about food and cooking as me, and so I worked together with NYC dietician Marissa Lippert to build a framework for a two week recipe plan full of good flavors, textures and celebratory moments. I prepared the menu along with our readers, and blogged about my delicious meals and my failures as well.

We made a new online plan each January for six years, and finally were able to take those principles and put them together in a 140-recipe book with a menu not just for winter, but for each season. Our eating principles are broad, not especially trendy: no refined sugars, grains, no processed foods; lots and lots of vegetables. I specifically avoid words like detoxing and superfoods because I think they are unrealistic. What I want to help people do is find delight in eating that might become a healthy habit beyond any temporary reset. Maybe that one lentil dish that you swap out once a week for white pasta, or the really satisfying breakfast that replaces a daily pastry at the coffee shop. If pleasure is a driving principle, then eating more healthfully is a joy and not a dreary obligation.


What flavors are you loving right now?


It's winter, so I'm looking for brightness wherever I can. Citrus is my lifeline: ordinary limes, lemons and oranges, but I also love the sweeter tang of Meyer lemons, the big succulent tendrils of pomelo, and the limey-tangerine quality of calamansi, a tiny fruit that you can get at Asian supermarkets. I also love using fresh turmeric: I brew it into a little infusion with hot water and throw shaved ribbons of it into braised greens.


Do you learn something new about yourself each year you follow the cleanse?


Every year, I experience what I call sugar creep, where I start leaning harder on foods with added sugar more and more. Not so much desserts, which I think everyone should enjoy occasionally, but a little more granola, an afternoon pastry, sweetened yogurt versus plain, and frankly more wine, which has its own sweetness.  When I do my program every year, I reset that yearning, and remember that I'm perfectly happy with less sugar in my life, and I can save my sweetness for a real treat, like a friend's homemade jam.

I also think that the Food Lover's Cleanse gives me a chance to observe my own appetite and develop healthy rhythms for eating: if I have a satisfying breakfast, I don't find myself grazing before lunch. If I get some protein in a (planned) afternoon snack, then I don't sit down to dinner with a voracious appetite. If I wait a couple of minutes after finishing my food, I most often realize I don't really need those seconds.


Who influenced your love of food the most? 


Well, my mother was a wonderful cook and encouraged me to be independent in the kitchen, which got me off and running. But it is cookbook authors with wanderlust who really got me exploring the flavors of the world, people like Paula Wolfert, Yotam Ottolenghi, Naomi Duguid, and Fuschia Dunlop keep me exploring the flavors of the world.


How do you keep it fresh other times of the year when you're in that "what's for dinner rut?"


I love a condiment, I have to say, and my refrigerator is overstuffed with pickles, kimchi and sauces of all varieties. Condiments can make even the simplest meals feel vibrant and new. I toss turmeric sauerkraut into my salads for a bit of golden yellow crunch. A little dose of the Korean chili paste, gochujang, for example can wake up a tray of simply roasted vegetables. Yuzu koshi, the Japanese citrus-hot sauce will make the same old chicken soup taste new again.



Here's one of our many favorite recipes from The Food Lover's Cleanse:





Prepping lemongrass is therapeutic. There’s the satisfying thunk that comes from chopping off the stubborn root end, and, most important, that invigorating lemony herbal fragrance adds gorgeous flavor to any ingredient it embellishes. I’ve paired juicy shrimp with plump mushrooms, but try the marinade on other ingredients, too: tofu, chicken, beef, and eggplant all benefit from the power of lemongrass. 


1 shallot, roughly chopped 

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped 

2 tablespoons soy sauce 

1 teaspoon sesame oil 

3 tablespoons coconut oil, softened, or canola oil 

2 teaspoons honey 

2 teaspoons fine sea salt 

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

2 lemongrass stalks, exterior leaves removed and tender bulb and lower stalk cut into 2-inch pieces 

1½ pounds shelled, deveined jumbo or extra-jumbo shrimp, preferably wild American shrimp (about 30 per pound) 

1 pound cultivated mushrooms, preferably king trumpet, oyster, or beech mushrooms, tough stems removed and caps cut lengthwise in ½-inch slices 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives 

1 tablespoon lime juice, plus more to taste 

Flaky sea salt to taste 


Place an oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450˚F.  


To make the marinade, in a blender or small food processor, combine the shallot, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, coconut oil, honey, fine sea salt, and pepper. Process into a rough puree. 


Press down on the lemongrass stalks using the back of your knife until fragrant and the oils have been released. 


In a medium bowl, toss half the lemongrass and half the marinade with the shrimp. Chill until ready to cook. 


In a separate bowl, toss the rest of the lemongrass and marinade with the mushrooms, turning gently but thoroughly to coat the mushrooms evenly. Let sit for 10 minutes, or up to an hour. Lift the mushrooms out of the marinade and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast the mushrooms until lightly browned and tender, about 12 minutes, rotating the pan and flipping the mushrooms halfway through. Turn on the broiler to brown them a bit more, 1 or 2 minutes, watching carefully. 


Pull the shrimp out of the marinade and spread them on a baking sheet. Place the sheet on the highest oven rack and broil them just until opaque at their centers, 2 to 3 minutes. It should not be necessary to flip the shrimp if they’re the recommended size; larger or shell-on shrimp will do best if turned midway through the cooking. 


Toss the shrimp with the mushrooms, mint, and chives. Add the lime juice, taste, and add flaky sea salt and/or more lime juice as desired. 


From BON APPETIT: THE FOOD LOVER’S CLEASE by Sara Dickerman. Copyright © 2015 by Sara Dickerman. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.