Read this cookbook: “Leon Fast & Free: Free-From Recipes for People Who Really Like Food” by Jane Baxter and John Vincent (Conran Octopus, $29.99)
By Wendell Brock
So there’s this fast-food chain in the United Kingdom called Leon, where you can order gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes. At Leon, you’ll also find plenty of food that’s low in saturated fat and that won’t jack up your blood sugar.
For breakfast, you can have Poached Egg Pot with Saucy Beans and Chorizo. (No gluten, no wheat, no dairy!) For lunch, perhaps the West African Sweet Potato and Okra Stew with with spicy peanut-butter sauce and kale. (All of the above; plus it’s vegan!)
The 13-year-old Leon chain (currently with 41 restaurants) makes the case that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or bland; it can taste good and look gorgeous, too.
In the latest book from the brand, co-founder John Vincent and his writing partner, Jane Baxter, deliver 150 recipes: all of them free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar.
Amazingly, they take on fried chicken, jerk pork, meat loaf, Scotch eggs and sticky toffee pudding — and place those temptations alongside vegan dishes like cauliflower tabbouleh, tempeh and mushroom larb, vegetable biryani and a black-bean stew resembling Brazil’s feijoada.
While some of the recipes call for all kinds of exotic spices, flours (buckwheat, coconut, chestnut), oils (rice bran, pumpkin seed), sugars (date, coconut) and syrups (rice malt), you don’t necessarily have to go nuts stocking your pantry unless you have dietary restrictions. For example: The delicious-looking spinach, pea and potato fritters call for gram (chickpea) flour. But if you do consume gluten, you can surely use plain-ole all-purpose flour as a binder. Whether you are watching your sugar or fat intake, can’t eat nuts, don’t eat meat, do eat meat, the bright, visually appealing book has indexes to guide you to the food you’re looking for.
One recipe I plan on following to the letter is the Coconut Water Fried Chicken, which calls for marinating chicken thighs in a mixture of spices and coconut water and using rice flour and cornstarch for the coating. Hey, it’s dairy free, gluten free, nut free and sugar free. And like so much of the fare from the Leon people, it looks and sounds fabulous.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and the winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).