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Lighten Up by Jill Dupleix

For the true grub-loving gastronome, the most fatal by-product of enjoying our food has to be weight gain. Monsieur and I are no different, loving our food as we do and engaged in a constant battle of taste versus calorific content. It was therefore serendipitous to catch a tweet from Quadrille Books, asking for bloggers to review Lighten Up by Jill Dupleix.

Lighten Up

I admit that Dupleix’s name was relatively new to me, so for a girl with shelves plural devoted to cookbooks, I have had to ask myself why this is the first of Dupleix’s fourteen books to break into the Epicurienne fold. As I learn more about this seasoned kitchen whiz, I am astounded that her profile isn’t  better known in London. I thought it might just be me, so I asked some foodie friends about Dupleix. Apparently, it wasn’t just me. It would seem that unless you’re a regular reader of The Spectator or The Times food columns, you may just have missed this writer, much like I have, and that is what I’d call an absolute travesty of gastronomic proportions. Here’s why.

Dupleix’s website profile tells us that she was born on a sheep farm in Australia, growing up with ‘good, fresh, no-nonsense home cooking’. (This sentence alone makes me nostalgic for the freshness of unregulated Downunder produce). But, in spite of a growing passion for food, Dupleix didn’t enter the realm of the food writer until she’d done a spell of copywriting, encompassing such non-food-related topics as cars and fashion. Then something happened along the way and a passion for food, cookery and restaurants overtook all else. Dupleix  first took the mantle of Cookery Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, later moving to London to do the same job for The Times. Nowadays, Dupleix contents herself with freelance food writing and cookbook work, which is a good thing indeed, especially for foodies whose nightmares involve a set of bathroom scales.

Bring on Lighten Up, the latest Dupleix offering, first released in 2007. From the moment I first flicked through this brightly-covered paperback, I was a fan. Then I read the introduction and became a total Jill Dupleix acolyte. Once I proceeded to test the recipes for myself, I started daydreaming about hanging out with Dupleix in her kitchen, making Chawan Mushi.

So what makes this book different from its rivals? For a start, the inspiration. Dupleix has created a more easygoing, lighter alternative to the heavier northern hemisphere diet, which sees altogether too many antipodeans expanding sideways once they’ve landed in the likes of North America or Europe. There is proven, personal inspiration also, in the form of Dupleix’s husband, Terry Durack, a restaurant critic who, through his self-professed love of long lunches, cultivated quite an impressive girth. With the help of Dupleix’s lighter approach to eating, he managed to lose an admirable 38 kilos. Now, with Lighten Up, we can all benefit from Dupleix’s tasty, healthy food and a few lost pounds to boot.

The book’s layout is so easy to follow that even a novice cook would find it difficult to make a hash of the recipes. The instructions are short and written in a brief, bullet point style, starting with the action required for each stage: SEAR, CUT, MIX, ADD, TOSS, TRIM, SERVE. The book is separated into sensible sections, such as Morning Food, Salad Food, Soupy Food, Spicy Food, Fast Food and Slow Food. These are interspersed with snack ideas using bananas, bread (yes, the Dupleix Way even bread-based snacks can be good for you!), Japanese ingredients like nori and miso, and perhaps not surprisingly, tofu. There’s a glossary of terms so you have no excuse for mistaking your tamari for tamarind, and if you’d like to know what kitchen accessories rate high on Dupleix’s list, you will find out in Lighten Up.

That’s the summary, but in practice, what are the recipes like? So far, so scrumptious. I’ve particularly enjoyed the ease of Fast Roast Fish with Anchovies, the Fresh Salmon burgers with dill pickles and watercress and Spring Onion Scallops served in their shells, which were so professionally tasty that friends might think you’d called in the caterers. Grilled Chicken with Salsa Verde has received exacting Monsieur’s seal of approval and I’m happily working my way through the little recipes in the Extras section. But what I particularly love about Lighten Up is that it’s time-friendly to the full-time working woman, allowing weight-loss to be quick in preparation with any sense of deprivation completely eliminated.

Still on food but with a whole different slant, here are some articles by Dupleix:

How I shrunk food critic Terry Durack, where Dupleix talks about transforming her husband from Mr Piggy into Mr Fit

Hollywood audiences must think we never eat, where Dupleix wonders why Great Australians are never seen eating on film

And if you want to try out some fantastic sweetcorn fritters, here’s a Dupleix recipe for you. Oh, boy, I’m actually making myself hungry now.

Lighten Up is certainly a worthwhile introduction to Dupleix, with the tantalising photography by Petrina Tinslay spurring me on to try more and more of the Lighten Up recipes. Next on my list will be Chicken Tortilla Soup with Avocado, Watermelon Carpaccio with feta cheese and kalamata olives and the Crab Salad with pumpernickel crisps. When I’m done with those I just might let have to pop along to Books for Cooks to pick up another of the thirteen Dupleix books I have yet to read. I have a funny feeling that Jill Dupleix will be popping up again on Epicurienne, so if you like her style, watch this space.

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