A few winters ago, Trevor and I spent a night at Catbird Cottage. While the little soaps in the bathroom and trinkets on the shelves—and their cat, and the perfectly squeaky buttered mushrooms at breakfast—were lovely additions to our stay, they paled in comparison to our host, Melina's complete collection of Donna Hay Magazine back issues.
Melina joined in as I oohed and aahed my way through all the chiaroscuro-ed vegetables, messily unmessy cheese sprinkles, and fairylike vegetable ribbons. I was, then, aspiring to work in food media, Melina very much seated in it, and Hay, to us both, its supreme overlord.
Cookbook author, magazine editor, recipe developer, and food stylist Donna Hay does it all—all the while, a blemish-free roast in the oven. Her eponymous magazine had a 17-year run in Australia, producing 100 issues. Since the magazine's retirement, Hay's been working on Week Light, a more hardbound collection of her famed fast and easy, but thoughtful and innovative recipes. Last week, we sat down in our respective quarantine kitchens to talk about the book. (Me fangirling the whole time, of course.)
Week Light reads like a reunion show. Familiar favorites like lasagna, crisp-skinned fish, and margherita pizza make cameos as their older, wiser, hipper selves (green lasagna, seed-encrusted salmon, broccoli pizza crust).
Especially worth celebrating is Hay's recipe for chia-crusted salmon, served alongside a mess of watery-crisp cucumbers, shaved beets, thick yogurt, and a lashing of za'atar oil. The recipe's endlessly riffable (any seeds, fish, and crunchy vegetables welcome), comes together in less than 10 minutes, and that low-lift, high-flavor seed crust had us all wondering why we hadn't thought of it.
As for the photos, don’t worry—they still look the same: fresh and light, signature Donna Hay.
Coral Lee: What did you have for breakfast today?
Donna Hay: I love to start my day with a strong almond milk coffee and a green juice—which is a combination of what I have in the garden, what I've picked up from my organic vegetable box delivery, and what's available in the markets. It changes every week, which is what I really like.
What are you able to achieve in cookbooks that you can’t in magazines, and vice versa?
Magazines are like a really fun train ride where the train keeps rolling! I got to be very “of the moment” with the magazine, whereas I feel like the cookbooks are a little more timeless. Throughout my career I've had to juggle both, so it’s really nice to be able to focus on books alone.
What questions does Week Light answer; what gap is it filling?
Week Light gives busy people new tips for getting a super tasty, vegetable-forward meal on the table with ease. Whether it’s using frozen spinach or peas, or simplifying prep, or cooking in a single pan—there are so many ways to cook and eat well, even if you don’t have a lot of time.
When you are cooking for your family, how does your approach change?
It’s always tricky to cook something that the entire family will love. I love making my super green lasagne or the vegetarian bolognese for my boys as I know they will really enjoy the entire bowl, whilst being nourished by the vegetables and whole grains.
Can you tell us about your recipe development approach?
I draw on a few different approaches when I develop recipes—either upgrading a classic, like adding miso for salty umami, or making healthful swaps, like encrusting salmon with sesame and chia seeds.
What are three styling tricks home cooks can implement into their dinner tonight, to make their food not only taste, but look beautiful?
Start with herbs and vegetables that are as fresh as possible—you can always see freshness and crunch as well as taste it. Keep it simple, and never add an ingredient just for color. Monochromatic food is totally OK!
Is there a recipe that you’ve been wrestling with as of late?
I’ve been wrestling with the perfect dairy-free coconut ice cream (I’m on test number 8)—it’s a delicate balance between lightness, creaminess, and sweetness.
How are you remaining vegetable-forward despite, or perhaps, in spite of COVID-19?
Social media’s been a hugely helpful tool for staying updated on the local vendors and farmers I support.