This review was written by my assistant Christina.
The Ancestral Table is the debut cookbook from Russ Crandall, a.k.a The Domestic Man. It features over 100 recipes celebrating a wide variety of ingredients, flavors, and cuisines. It is the first cookbook to officially employ The Perfect Health Diet, which embraces whole foods as well as Paleo gray-area foods like rice, peas, dairy, and potatoes. If that is a turn-off for you, it’s worth noting that there is a helpful substitution chart for each recipe in the appendix for those who want to adapt them to a textbook Paleo diet. Russ has recently published a similar chart for those who follow the autoimmune protocol.
Above all else, The Ancestral Table embraces variety, making use of a wide array of nutrient-dense ingredients you may not have seen before. From choy sum to perilla seed powder to galangal, Russ’ dishes are a veritable world tour suited for adventurous palates or, at least, anyone determined to try new things. (If you can’t find those ingredients, don’t worry! The recipes are easy to adapt for what you have on hand.) He has a knack for creative, flavorful recipes that make foreign foods, fancy cuisine, and strange ingredients look easy. This may be the first real gourmet ancestral cookbook, one that you could readily believe came from the kitchen of a world-renowned chef.
The Ancestral Table‘s design is clean and simple, with bright full-page photographs. I found myself bookmarking every single one of Russ’ recipes because the photographs were so appetizing, and I really enjoyed his blurbs on each page talking about the dish’s and ingredients’ background. It’s a book that invites you to stay a while and savor each page, appreciating not only the colors and flavors of food, but also the history. It would make a wonderful coffee table book. My only complaint is that there is no recipe index anywhere in the book, not even in the table of contents. To see what the book has to offer, you have to flip through the pages or scan the all-inclusive index in the back.
I made the Tostones, Parsnip Puree, and Hearty Stew. I had just picked up plantains, parsnips, and a beef shoulder without any idea what to do with them, so finding these recipes in Russ’ book felt like serendipity. Tostones are thick-cut plantain circles smashed, salted, and then fried to golden-brown perfection. They have the outer crunch and inner tenderness of french fries, and are a wonderful side or snack by themselves or with dips like guacamole and ketchup.
Russ’ Parsnip Puree is light and fluffy like mashed potatoes, but pairs the earthy sweetness of parsnips with nutmeg and butter (you could substitute mace and coconut oil, lard, or bacon grease if you’re following the autoimmune protocol). It’s a versatile recipe in that you could easily replace the parsnips with carrots, sweet potatoes, or other root vegetables and still wind up with something delicious.
The Hearty Stew, a savory mix of beef, root vegetables, and peas is equally forgiving. I replaced the white potatoes with sweet potatoes and the peas with asparagus, and also cooked it in a slow-cooker instead of a dutch oven. It’s the perfect winter comfort food and a great way to get more bone broth into your diet and get rid of any extra meat or produce you may have lying around. (It cleaned out my fridge!) I can’t wait to dig into the rest of the recipes!
Because it includes some gray-area foods, The Ancestral Table is an excellent place to start for anyone that wants to transition into strict Paleo slowly or feels that Paleo is too restrictive. For everyone else, the recipes’ versatility means you can find something for every palate and diet. Russ’ brilliant reinvention of classic dishes from all over the world — including Bibimbap, Chicken Fried Steak, and French Onion Soup — is not only appetizing, but inspirational. No matter your diet, The Ancestral Table‘s adventurous spirit makes you want to cook (and, of course, eat!).