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When I was approached about doing a review of Sally Bee’s The Secret Ingredient ($17.90 on Amazon), I was a little hesitant. The book was originally published in England, which isn’t exactly known for its amazing food. Plus, the recipes are heart-healthy and I was afraid that might mean that they would be bland. But her story had me intrigued, so I agreed to accept a copy.* Boy am I glad I did — this book has quickly become one of my favorites!

In 2004, Sally Bee was working as a writer and a British television personality when she suddenly suffered three major hart attacks in the span of one week. She had never smoked, didn’t drink, and was generally healthy and fit, but she found that she had been born with a heart defect that had gone undetected her whole life. To make a long story short, she wasn’t expected to survive, but she did! In order to keep her health up, she needed to pay very close attention to what she ate — but she didn’t want her kids to “grow up thinking a diet of mung beans and spinach was normal.” So she learned how to cook heart-healthy meals that were also enjoyable and “normal.”

The recipes in The Secret Ingredient focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and are bursting with flavors, thanks to the generous use of herbs and spices. The dishes in the book are fast and easy to make and don’t require any ingredients that you can’t find in your neighborhood grocery store. Since the recipes focus so heavily on fresh foods, you don’t have to worry about needing ingredients that are only available in England. I also really like that Sally Bee has a similar philosophy to me when it comes to not totally eliminating ingredients that have a reputation of being “unhealthy.” In moderation ingredients like butter, cheese, and red meat can add a ton of flavor to a dish without rendering the whole dish off-limits. Sally Bee includes small amounts of ingredients like these in her recipes; she also makes a note on each recipe to identify whether it’s an “everyday” dish or a “treat” that should be limited to once a week. The recipes are also accompanied by absolutely gorgeous full-color photos.

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I tested out the recipes for the “Marvelous Moroccan Chicken” (Shared below), the “Spicy Couscous,” and the “Healthy Spring Vegetable Risotto” all three meals were fresh, delicious, and easy (and cheap!) to make. The risotto was packed full of vegetables and was very filling — it also had some pesto stirred in, which was wonderful and a trick that I’ll be using often! The flavors in the Moroccan Chicken were unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before, but we both loved it! The warm spices in it were amazing and the whole house smelled wonderful while it cooked.

Of course, there are a few negatives, but they’re really more mild annoyances that anything. The majority of the recipes require using the oven — which is fine most of the year, but not really an option in the current heat. I also felt that the dessert chapter was a little too long — some of the ideas in it looked nice, but if I’m going to have dessert, I don’t want fruit. I want dessert. So while it’s nice for the healthy options to be included, I doubt I’ll ever make anything from that chapter. There are also a few things that are weird just because the book was originally published in England: metric weights are listed first and some ingredients are referred as they are known over there (for example zucchini is “courgette” and cilantro is “coriander” — though the American English names are given in parentheses). Also, the risotto could have used a little salt (although that would have been pretty inappropriate for a heart-healthy cookbook!)

But, the most important question always is Would I Buy the Book? Absolutely. The recipes are easy enough to be followed by beginning cooks, but are full of inspiration for more advanced cooks who want to use them as a jumping off point for their own creations. The ingredients are healthy and real; the final dishes are simple but elegant. And the photos are stunning. Let me put it this way — for me, flipping through this book is like flipping through a “Healthy Delicious” cookbook… or at least its everything that I would want a cookbook like that to be. ;)

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Marvelous Moroccan Chicken Reprinted with permission from Sally Bee’s The Secret Ingredient

This recipe was inspired by my good Moroccan friend Mida Traditionally, this dish is made using preserved lemons. Though you could use fresh, the preserved ones give that authentic Moroccan flavor. They can usually be found in any of the big supermarkets or a good local deli.
1 chicken, 3—41b, cut into 8 pieces and skinned (or 6 chicken breast portions)
2 tsp paprika1 tsp ground cumin1tsp ground ginger1 tsp turmeric1 tsp cinnamonFreshly ground black pepper2 tbsp olive oil3 garlic cloves, minced1 onion, peeled and finely sliced1 glass of white wine2 2 preserved lemons, rinsed in cold water and halved, or 2 fresh lemons, washed and halved
1 cup green olives, pitted
4 1/2 cups canned chickpeas
1/2 cup raisins
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Handful of chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
Handful of chopped parsley

  1. Pat dry the chicken pieces. Combine all the spices in a large bowl, then add the chicken pieces to coat well with the spice mixture. Let the chicken marinate for 1 hour in the spices.
  2. In a large flying pan or non-stick saucepan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook for 7 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Lower the heat to medium low, then add the garlic and onion. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine (the alcohol will evaporate), lemon halves, olives, chickpeas, raisins and stock. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for an additional 35-45 minutes, stirring regularly, until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
  4. Mix in the chopped coriander and parsley, then serve immediately.
  5. Serve with Spicy Couscous (see page 38) or rice.

Serves 4-6

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*While I certainly would have had no problem writing a negative review should the book have warranted it, I don’t usually accept products that I expect not to like… it just doesn’t seem fair.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Secret Ingredient free of charge. However, I strive to review products as fairly and objectively as possible. All opinions stated above are my own.

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