Sevenoaks food stylist and recently published author Natalie Seldon tells Eileen Leahy about her new book, The Goodness of Nuts & Seeds, and how being a keen cook and clever stylist helped her realise her publishing dream

So Natalie, please can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I have a fair few passions in life, but one of them is most certainly food. Cooking for friends has always been a favourite pastime, and bringing friends and family together around a table in front of a delicious spread to tuck into over conversation is all too often underrated.

Cooking is rarely just about the food – it can be the reason behind creating good memories with the important people you love.

You are both an author and stylist – which came first, and how?

I used to be a food editor and stylist for food publications such as Sainsbury’s Magazine and Condé Nast’s interiors title Easy Living. In 2010, I went freelance and began working for some great brands, such as M&S food, Jo Malone London and Green & Black’s. I also did various projects within food magazines, cookbooks and television.

However, it soon became apparent that instead of working on other people’s books I should probably be doing my own. I was actually very lucky to be approached by a publisher last year, and so The Goodness of Nuts & Seeds became a reality!

How did you come to write the book?

I’ve always been very aware of the benefits of nuts and seeds. Having suffered with a skin condition and bouts of IBS as a child, it led me to focus on ways I could cut back on dairy throughout my 20s, which significantly helped clear up my conditions – as well as boosting my wellbeing energy levels. The notable benefits from my new, everyday choices were pretty instantaneous, and so my love affair with using nut and seed milks, butters and alternatives as a whole began.

How did you change your diet?

I still eat lean meat in moderation, but I’ve since embraced a plant-based lifestyle with my own personal approach to food, focusing on balance rather than restriction.

Mindful eating became even more important to me when my mum was diagnosed with cancer whilst I was writing The Goodness of Nuts & Seeds. Subsequently, my whole family adopted a more plant-based protein diet to help aid her recovery, and I can personally attest to all the positives this brought her.

I’m passionate about nuts and seeds in particular, as these little guys not only pack a nutritional punch with a whole host of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein (studies have found munching on a 30g handful a day cuts your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer), but their unique versatility, crumbly texture, earthy sweetness and, quite frankly, delicious and more-ish taste can help transform a dish in a flash. It’s a win-win with them!

What do you think sets your new book apart from all the others out there?

The aim of it was to have everyone in mind, and therefore cater for various diets and tastes. I think the word ‘healthy’ can sometimes have negative, and somewhat frightening, connotations. So I wanted to create a set of recipes which proved just how easy and uncomplex it is to make a few changes to your everyday eating which don’t result in missing out on the things we really love to eat – such as sweet, tempting desserts or the occasional bit of red meat.

It sounds like that’s also a real passion for you?

Yes, and it extends far beyond just the creating of recipes as I am also a food photographer and stylist. I’m a true believer that we eat with our eyes as much as anything else and making good, honest food look beautiful and appetising is the very essence of eating well. And so the reason for creating my website, Pretty Edible Stylist, unfolds!

I love colour in food, both visually and in terms of flavour, so I use a lot of fresh herbs and spice. But I’m essentially a fairly relaxed, instinctive cook and (whisper it) tend to chuck things together, relying on good ingredients as a basis.

I hope readers will embrace that trait in their own kitchens.

How easy did you find it to write a book and get it published?

Thankfully, as my career has involved writing recipes for over ten years, it all comes rather naturally to me. The real test was writing and shooting the whole book in two and a half months! It was certainly a labour of love – and it’s amazing what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.

What are your top tips for a healthy diet?

I believe that good, delicious and simple food, such as a colourful range of sliced vegetables which can be quickly and easily grilled with a dash of olive oil and seasoning, should be put at the centre of every table in a bid to help people eat well and feel amazing.

We should all be led by the joy of food – the spritz of freshness when you peel an orange, or the crackle and waft of deep savoury spice when you add curry leaves to a pan of hot oil – healthy eating is as much about pleasure as anything else.

 

GOAT’S CHEESE & BEETROOT TART

What you need:

For the base

175g pine nuts, finely ground

100g buckwheat or almond flour

50g rolled oats

½ tsp sea salt

1 egg yolk

50g butter, melted

1 tbsp runny honey

For the filling

1 tbsp hemp seed oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ red onion, sliced

A handful of young spinach leaves

75g garden peas, cooked

1 small raw or cooked

beetroot, thinly sliced

2 tbsp toasted

pine nuts

2 large eggs plus 2 large yolks

150ml double cream

(or single)

75ml crème fraîche

50g soft goat’s cheese/curd

A handful of fresh thyme leaves, plus extra to serve

1 tsp runny honey

Salt and pepper

Serves 6-8

What to do

Mix together all the ingredients for the base in a bowl. Line a 23cm-diameter, 3cm-deep, loose-bottomed tart tin. Starting from the centre, press the mixture evenly into the base and sides of the tin. Use a fork to prick the base to allow steam to escape, then chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and place a metal baking sheet inside the oven to heat up.

Place the tart base on top of the baking sheet and bake for ten minutes or until lightly golden and firm to the touch.

Set aside to cool.

For the filling, heat the oil in a large pan and gently cook the garlic with the onion until soft but not coloured. Spoon into the tart case, then add the spinach leaves, peas, beetroot and 1 tablespoon of the pine nuts. Mix the eggs, cream and crème fraîche together in a jug. Slowly pour the mixture on top of the vegetables, then evenly divide the goat’s cheese on top and scatter over the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Return the tart to the baking sheet and cook for 35 minutes, or until the filling is just set in the middle.

Leave to cool for 15 minutes, then remove the sides of the tin.

Before serving, top the tart with the extra thyme leaves and pine nuts, and drizzle over the honey.

 

TROPICAL CHIA LAYER DESSERT

What you need:

For the chia layer

400ml can coconut milk

4 tbsp desiccated

coconut

4 tbsp white chia seeds

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or extract

For the tropical layer

1 ripe mango, peeled, stoned and chopped into chunks

1 tbsp coconut almond butter

3 tbsp maple syrup

1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lime

Seeds and pulp from

4 passion fruit

To serve

1-2 passion fruit, halved

1 tbsp coconut flakes

(or desiccated), toasted

Mix together the coconut milk, desiccated coconut, chia seeds and vanilla in a jug or bowl and leave to thicken.

Put the mango flesh, coconut almond butter, maple syrup, ginger and lime zest and juice into a high-speed blender and process until smooth, then remove and stir in the passion fruit seeds.

Spoon half the chia mixture into the base of two large (or four small) glasses or bowls. Cover with half the passion fruit and mango mixture. Repeat these layers.

Top each dessert with passion fruit and coconut before serving.