Inspiration is a perplexing creature. As someone who relies on a constant stream of ideas to do what I do, having an endless supply is rather essential.
Of all the questions I am asked, the most common of them all is where my inspiration comes from.
The funny thing about this is, I can’t really give a straight answer because I get ideas from everywhere. Literally. Yes of course there are the obvious places like cookbooks, the farmer’s market, my vegetable garden, but I’ve had ideas strike me like lightening while listening to music, smelling a certain scent wafting on the breeze, the colours in a particular vintage dress. My main motivation for writing a cookbook actually came from a postcard I found randomly, which pictured a faceless girl picking wildflowers. Nothing to do with food. At this point I’ve learned that the most important thing for me is to put myself in the way of beauty as often as possible, keep an open mind, and not do discount any sources or ideas as weird, because the best things most often come out of the seemingly strange.
I will say that one thing that consistently brings me a lot of inspiration, is just talking to other people who really love food. Sometimes getting out of my head and into someone else’s, or at least hearing about their experience with a particular dish or special ingredient can help jumpstart a flood of ideas. For instance, the last time I was in Amsterdam teaching cooking classes, one of the attendees came up to me at the end of the day and told me about a very exciting meal she had eaten in Copenhagen, of all places. It was a risotto made out of sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds! At first this sounded totally bizarre, but then again, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this seriously inspiring idea ever since. I knew that sunflower seeds were about the same size and shape as grains of rice. They were nearly the same colour. But how would they taste? How would they become creamy? What is it like to boil them?
When I googled it, all the recipes called for a pressure cooker, which makes sense for those that aren’t familiar with the awesome power and health benefits of soaking. I knew that that spending the day in a warm bath would make the sunflower seeds totally relaxed and willing to tenderize in a sultry spa of caramelized alliums for dinner that evening. Also, I don’t own a pressure cooker.
So setting out to make this, I anticipated a week’s worth of trial-and-errors, a pile of dirty dishes and a lot of semi-edible sunflower seeds. But I treated the seeds very much like I would treat rice in a risotto and after one (one!) attempt, it was pretty darn near perfect. And pretty darn inspiring.
To say that this recipe is totally surprising is an understatement. The sunflower seeds are tender and chewy, with just the slightest bit of tooth still left – not unlike the real deal. It’s remarkably simple to make with just a few common ingredients, truly delicious and deeply satisfying. You can make it suit any season as the seeds create a foundation to build upon no matter what time of year you’re enjoying. Since we are finally getting some lovely fresh spring produce here in Denmark, I chose to go that route. I found some beautiful young rainbow carrots, peas in their pods, white and green asparagus and some super fresh watercress. This would be equally lovely with sautéed mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, pumpkin or squash.
I am sure you’re wondering how the seeds get creamy from cooking, and the truth is they don’t – you’ll need to help them out a little. When cooking a rice-based risotto, starch emerges from the grains as they cook, and magically melds with the broth to create a velvety texture. To mimic this I simply blended some of the soaked seeds with equal parts water and added it back into the mix at the end of cooking, the results astounding. This makes the risotto rich and creamy without any starches or carbohydrates.
But what shocks me most of all is how darn flavourful the dish is with such minimal ingredients. The caramelized onions and garlic are really all you need (in this dish, as well as life, I wager) although herbs would be a welcome addition; dried ones during cooking or fresh ones stirred in at the end. My version uses watercress as a finishing touch and is totally lovely with its peppery bite, but I will leave the brilliant blank canvas for you project your own inspiration on to.
Everyone Loves the Sunflowers
Easy-to-find, inexpensive, and nutrient-rich, sunflower seeds are one of my favourite additions to a number of dishes that I make, from breakfast to dinner and snacks in between. They are delicious toasted or soaked, blended up into seed butter or even milk!
Sunflower seeds are one of nature’s highest sources of vitamin E, the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E is important for overall health, as it functions as a free-radical neutralizer and prevents damage to fat-containing structures and molecules, such as brain cells, cholesterol, and cell membranes. When the fats in cell membranes become damaged, the function of the cell itself can be compromised. This is why researchers have studied whether diets low in Vitamin E are associated with many diseases associated with aging.
Sunflower seeds are so high in vitamin E, that just one serving of this risotto contains over 100% of your daily recommended intake!
Because sunflower seeds have such a high (and healthy!) fat content, it is best to store them in a tightly sealed glass container in the refrigerator. Keeping them cool will help preserve their delicate, nourishing oils, which can then in turn nourish you! They will also last much longer stored this way. If you purchase shelled sunflower seeds in bulk make sure to sniff the bin first: it should smell fresh and nutty, without any traces of sourness, which can indicate that the fats have become rancid. And always have a good look at the seeds to ensure that they are not discoloured or damaged.
Celebration Sunflower Seed Risotto
2 ½ cups / 350 g shelled, raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee
2 medium onions, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
a generous pinch of sea salt
2-3 cups / 500 – 750ml vegetable broth
Spring vegetables for four people + cooking times:
8 spears white asparagus – 10 min
140 g. / 8 young carrots – 4 min
16 spears green asparagus – 3 min
1 cup / 150g shelled green peas – 2 min
handful per person watercress – stirred in right before serving
1. Soak sunflower seeds overnight or all day in pure water with 2 tablespoons of sea salt.
2. Drain and rinse sunflower seeds. Remove about 1 cup / 135g of the soaked seeds and place in a blender with 1 cup / 250ml water. Blend on high until completely smooth. Set aside.
3. Melt coconut oil in a large stockpot. Add onions and sea salt, stir to coat and cook over medium-high heat until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add sunflower seeds and about 2 cups of the broth. Bring to a simmer and cook covered for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your seeds, adding more broth as needed. When cooked the seeds should be al dente: tender with only the slightest crunch still left in them. If there seems to be a lot of liquid left in the pot, let it simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes to evaporate the excess. Add the sunflower cream from the blender and stir to combine, and heat gently. Season to taste. Remove from heat and fold in a few generous handfuls of watercress.
4. Blanch the vegetables in the same pot of salted water for approximately the time indicated, testing as you go. Do not overcook!
5. To serve, place about a quarter of the risotto on each plate, then top with the vegetables. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt. Top with extra watercress and enjoy warm.
Where do you get your inspiration from? How does it come to you? What have you been inspired by lately? Tell me! Especially if it’s about food…
Wishing you an inspired day! Love always,