Photo by Hugh Forte

Sara Forte is one of those people who, even though we've never actually met, I instantly liked. If you read her blog Sprouted Kitchen (and if you don't, you absolutely should!), then you know what I mean: she's warm, she's funny, and in the stories she tells of her life and marriage, she's incredibly real. A self-taught cook, Sara is passionate about vegetables (preferably from her local CSA), grains, legumes, and other whole foods. I'd happily eat any of the dishes she creates (like Winter Greens + Crispy Quinoa Salad or Roasted Eggplant + Za'atar Pizza), and Sprouted Kitchen is my go-to spot for healthy inspiration. But the girl also has a sweet tooth, which she indulges by creating naturally-sweetened desserts like Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups. (YUM!) Based in California, Sara cooks with the seasons and creates food that is vibrant, flavorful, and good for your body. As she puts it, she just likes eating food that is "real."

Back when I first started The Yellow Table in 2011, I emailed Sara telling her how much I loved her blog and asking for some advice (given I was pretty new to the blogging world). She was so nice, and wrote back right away with encouraging words and honest feedback. Sara works as a team with her husband Hugh Forte, the talented photographer behind the blog's stunning images. Given that Brandon and I work so closely together on this blog, it's refreshing to see another couple work so well as a team!

Sara and Hugh have exciting news: their first cookbook is out!! Chock full of Sara's amazing recipes – covering the gamut from breakfast to Happy Hour – and Hugh's mouth-watering photos, The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods was perhaps my favorite Christmas gift last year (thanks, Mama Carl!). I've already made several recipes from the book, but one I can't wait to try is her Millet Salad with Arugula, Quick Pickled Onions, and Goat Cheese, featured below. Sara and I caught up recently via email to chat about her book, her food obsessions (and pet peeves!), and what she'd love to make for dinner this weekend. Read on for more...

Have you always been a healthy cook/eater or is this an interest that developed over time?

Not necessarily. I didn't really start cooking until I went away to college and was on my own. My family always had dinners together, but it was always very quick, defrostable things, and sometimes together through a drive-thru! I watched shows, read magazines, paged through cookbooks and taught myself by trial and error. I started working on the organic farm on campus and became enamored with food in its entirety, the romance of it, as opposed to the things you grab at the grocery store. There is something so fascinating about growing and picking and making food, or at least being somewhat close to that process. I was paid in vegetables from working at the farm and just figured out how to use them. I took classes on organic farming and picked things up along the way...I think that's where the health kick started.

And what does "healthy" mean to you anyway?

"Healthy" is subjective, so I want to stay as neutral as I can. First of all, I try to stay active. I get squeamish with too much sitting. I try to keep our meals and snacks as wholesome as possible - lots of nuts, fruit and such. I get a CSA basket and cook a lot of fruits and vegetables. Most of my protein comes from eggs or fish. I use a lot of citrus, olive oil, garlic: essentially Mediterranean style cooking. If you are familiar with an anti-inflammatory way of eating (minimal dairy, soy, sugar, corn, wheat), that is how I try to keep things on average, but life happens and sometimes butter and cheese are necessary, and the point is to just eat real food. That's is the short real food.

How did you decide to pursue cooking as a career?

I just started doing it! I started blogging as an avenue to learn more and create a community and conversation going about it. I picked up small catering jobs for family friends and hosted classes for girls nights. It's crazy to call it a "career"...but it came by way of saying yes to a lot of things and just trying it all. So bit by bit, job by job, I ended up here.

What does a typical day of meals look like for you?

Hugh is a big coffee guy. Quite particular and good at it, so breakfast is our thing. He has a sweet and I usually have some preparation of eggs and greens with a dollop of hummus and brown rice tortilla or toast. Waffles every now and then. Lunch is a gigantic salad with whatever is in the fridge. I always have some cooked bean or grain, roasted vegetables, and whatever is leftover from recipe testing, etc. Dinner changes. I like doing a vegetable dish and we'll have fish or I can just eat a bunch of the side and just add chicken to Hugh's to fill him up. We do different sorts of tacos, homemade veggie burgers. And ALWAYS dessert. I must have something sweet.

You recently came out with a beautiful new cookbook, photographed by your husband Hugh (congrats!). What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?

Thank you! My favorites are the leeks + beans, collard wraps, almond meal cookies, and millet salad. The lentil meatballs and tomato soup are popular from the blog and those made it in as well.

Photo by Hugh Forte

What were the most fun parts of putting the book together? Biggest challenges?

The most fun part was that I got to work on it with my husband. There is something a bit isolating about writing a book, because you are on your own, in your own head being creative and it causes you to go a bit crazy. It was nice to have Hugh around to bounce ideas off of and be a taste tester. We would style and play with the food and try to manifest our vision into what would end up on the pages, which I suppose leads me to the challenge as well. We hadn't done this before, and while the blog is a pretty personal reflection of what we're eating at home, the book was more serious. We had a tough time with meeting our own expectations, both of ourselves and from each other. It caused some disagreements and harsh words, but I think it was a learning experience and very good for each of us personally and for how we work together.

What is one of your biggest food pet peeves?

Overly salty [food]. Blech.

What are 5 ingredients always in your pantry (or in your fridge)?

Eggs. Hummus. Lots of greens. Almond milk. Goat cheese. I'll assume olive oil and vinegars are a given :)

Where do you like to shop for your ingredients?

I wish this were a one stop answer. I primarily get produce from south coast farms in San Juan Capistrano or Sprouts and I try to make it to the Farmers Market in Laguna Beach when I can. I get staples at Trader Joe's (milk, eggs, nuts, quinoa, almond meal, etc.). Whole Foods is a wonderland for me, so I end up spending too much money when I'm there. I'm glad it's sort of a drive for me.

If you were throwing an impromptu dinner party this weekend, what would you cook?

I've been having an itch to do a lightened-up Mexican menu. It's sunny here in Southern CA, so I realize this menu won't sound apropos on your side of the country! I would do grilled fish tacos and a mango avocado salsa for the top. Then have a big pot of spicy black beans and a fresh salad with pomegranate seeds and a creamy cilantro dressing. Something really casual. I would have guests bring drinks or dessert to take some of the prep off me. Oh that sounds fun. I'm tempted!

That sounds divine. I'll be on the next plane!! :)