Book Review: The Ancestral Table by Russ Crandall

February 24, 2014 in Categories: by

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ancestraltableThis 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.

TostonesI 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.

ParsnipPureeRuss’ 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!).


Russ shared his index of recipes on his blog as a teaser/appetizer!
Found here:

You’re right, though Christina, it is not found anywhere in the actual book.

I devoured The Ancestral Table in one sitting, staying up way too late, and was even able to attend his book release party! That was the paleo highlight of February.

And March? Why, getting to meet Sarah Ballantyne, THE Paleo Mom, of course! See you in Alexandria! 🙂

I have to be honest that I don’t understand why people are debating over whether potatoes are Paleo. They’re at least as Paleo as domesticated cows are. The various varieties were first developed by New World Native people. The main reasons people have problems with them are (1) they’re nightshades and trigger symptoms in some people and (2) they’re really starchy with a fairly high glycemic index.

Personally I don’t have much use for safe starches. At the least they are not safe for my waistline at this time. Perhaps with some healing that might change. Even then I’ll probably only want them in small amounts. But at the same time, something like a sweet potato would also be a safe starch, yet it’s not included in most lists of those foods that I’ve seen. I feel like if you’re going to rationalize putting a lot of starch back into your diet, at least make it count nutritionally. The seed foods worry me unless the outer coat has been removed because they contain a lot of antinutrients. And it is so much fuss getting them to the point where much of the antinutrient content’s been neutralized that it hardly seems worth it to me.

Tubers are pretty cut-and-dried though. No pun intended. They’re “meant” as food storage rather than being the plant’s babies. And sweet potatoes have vitamins and minerals all the way through the tuber, not just directly beneath the skin. Digestible carb itself is not a nutrient required for the continuation of life; if you must eat it, make it count.

By which I mean to say the carbs you eat that are digestible. (Though you don’t technically need fiber either. It’s helpful if you have certain types of gut flora but you’re not going to die without it.) You do need glucose but you make that; you’d die in your sleep if you didn’t.

It’s difficult to make people understand this. I’ve seen people claim you can’t make enough mucus unless you eat lots of carbs. That’s silly. It’s not like hunter-gatherers in Europe during winter in the Ice Age were going around all dried out; they wouldn’t have lasted very long. And you can make glucose from protein anyway.

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