I imagine being an Olympian is hungry work. While a few brisk walks a week is my idea of a fitness regime, anything more intensive than this needs a diet designed to fuel energetic exertion. This is where the torch is rightly passed to Derval O’Rourke, who during her career as a professional athlete needed to keep herself in peak physical condition.
Having retired and become a mother in recent years, Derval maintains an extremely active lifestyle and has focused on making food more than just fuel, cultivating a wealth of recipes designed to combine health and pleasure. As I’m all for the pursuit of both I was keen to try out some of Derval’s creations, even if I had no intention of going for a jog while waiting for my dinner to cook as she suggests!
A cursory glance through The Fit Foodie revealed that Derval has designed all her recipes to be accessible, easy and prepared with minimal exertion. The fact that this ethos extends to the ingredient-gathering stage is a welcome feature, as so many cookbooks nowadays require an expedition to the far reaches of artisan food stores before you can attempt a dish. With The Fit Foodie, I was able to choose my recipes to test based on the fact that I had the ingredients in my fridge or pantry already and this lack of rambling shopping list was rather satisfying indeed.
I was also extremely pleased to see that all Derval’s recipes had been subject to nutritional analysis, with a breakdown of calories, protein, fat, fibre and carbs provided for each. While there is much debate about whether this information should be available on restaurant menus, the same caveats don’t apply to home cooking. This is an excellent addition not just for athletes managing their macros but for everyone from parents cooking for their children to those who like to be nutritionally aware in general.
While I love the flavours of Italy and the holy trinity of tomato, basil and mozzerella, I often find Italian dishes too heavy when laced with starchy pasta or polenta. Derval’s fit take on aubergine parmigiana, Tomato and Aubergine Bake definitely overcame this obstacle. This dish elevated the humble aubergine with few other ingredients – simple but delicious.
I loved Derval’s use of eggs with hints of mozzarella and parmesan as a topping, as it upped the protein in this veggie dish and made a crisp, defined top that usually requires a claggy roux-based white sauce with bucket-loads of cheese. To the tomato sauce I added a dash of wine, because wine not, with a quick cooking time a little added depth was a good call. This was a hit, even better the next day and it would be superb for a Meat-Free Monday. I shared this dish with my fittest friend Triona, religious in her gym regimen and always looking for easy post workout meals, who demanded the recipe and the leftovers!
Keen to up my lunchbox game, I was drawn to a colourful, fruity salad of Quinoa with Toasted Nuts and Blue Cheese. Whipping this salad up barely took five minutes but the combination of crumbly, salty blue cheese with blueberries, pomegranate seeds and a zingy lime dressing made this the perfect summer lunch. The addition of quinoa made it heartier and added a protein hit, making it a light yet satisfying dish that absolutely anyone could make in a hurry. There are no excuses for resorting to a soggy sandwich with this handy recipe in your back pocket.
That said, I’m great at excuses and being busy has led me to develop a little protein bar addiction when I’m on the go. I have struggled to make my own portable protein goodies to cut back on my costly habit so I was delighted to discover Derval’s Chocolate and Coconut Energy Bar recipe. Derval’s recipe required nothing obscure whatsoever, that said I had no apricots so went on without them, combining protein powder, oats, nuts and seeds with almond butter and topping with dark chocolate.
I will say, I felt a little cheated as the image in the book depicts bars lathered in chocolate, whereas the nutritionally counted recipe permits just 50g of melted chocolate between ten portions which really equates to a just a drizzle on each, so I had to add quite a bit more. These were quick and easy and it is comforting to have a stash in the freezer, but I don’t think I’ve found my dream bar just yet.
In the spirit of being good, I had to work hard to jog on past the Nutty Banana Bread and Pecan and Date Loaf recipes, but with my sweet tooth at bay I opted to test Almond, Pine Nut and Hazelnut Loaf. I happened to have a bag of psylium husks that I was keen to experiment with and am not much of a bread person so I figured this would be an interesting test.
I make no bones about admitting that this bread was one of the nicest ‘healthy’ bakes I’ve ever made. Nutritionally dense and super satisfying with a toasty nutty flavour, it was hard to believe a loaf like this required so little effort to make and no conventional flour, employing ground nuts and oats instead. I had very few expensive pine nuts on hand, so subbed in some extra sunflower seeds (which I blitzed in my Nutribullet) instead and this worked perfectly. A 2 hour resting stage before baking for the psylium to do its thing as a binding agent tested my patience slightly, but the result was definitely worth the wait.
Overall, I found the Fit Foodie to be a fun and light-hearted (Derval even includes a playlist of her favourite work out tunes) take on ways to up your healthy cooking game in the easiest and most delicious way possible. All her recipes can be achieved in record time by anyone with a kitchen and a couple of ingredients on hand, they are all entirely straightforward and for the most part produce winning results.
I would have liked to keep my copy, but Triona (literally) ran off with it, calling it the perfect cookbook to fuel her fitness regime. Derval certainly sprints across the finish line to another victory with the Fit Foodie, a fantastic addition to the collection of any sporty and energetic cook.
To get your copy of the Fit Foodie click here.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!