Food Hero, Seamus Mullen

    Hero Food by Seamus Mullen is one of those cookbooks that comes along once in a while that makes you feel really inspired. Seamus is a wonderful chef, heavily inspired by his time living in Spain, beautiful ingredients and his health (he has managed to get off his rheumatoid arthritis medication by changing his diet). I caught up with him at his super delish restaurant Tertulia in NYC’s Greenwich Village and asked him about his process for the book and his approach to healthy eating, and got him to give up some recipes! See below.


    Me and Seamus

    Q: Your new book is genius. I love that the chapters are categorized by ingredient. What inspired you to organize it this way?

    A: The idea of breaking down the book by ingredient happened somewhat by accident. When I first was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis I knew absolutely ZERO about the disease and even less about how food might impact it. My mom was the first person to suggest I start looking at my diet and she bought me a whole gaggle of books on food and wellness. They all sucked. Seriously, sucked. I mean there wasn't a single thing I would have been the least bit interested in cooking. I started looking more and more, but every book I found was pretty uninspired. That's when I started to think that somebody should write a book about the impact diet has on disease, but with good recipes and solid research. I never thought I would be the one to do it, but a few months later, as I started to experiment with my own diet, I realized I had something to share.

    The first thing I did when I started thinking about the relationship between food and well-being was to make lists of all the things I like to cook with. Olive oil was at the very top of the list. Anchovies were up there too. Once I had compiled a pretty comprehensive list of my favorite things to cook with, I started reading more about the nutritional properties of these ingredients. Guess what? Most of them happened to be the best things for me (hooray for Mother Nature!) These ingredients really became my heroes, as they changed the way I feel. That's when I decided to write a book broken down by ingredient that could focus on each and present them in ways the home cook might not think of. I'm a chef; my job is to make food taste good. For a very long time I've found that the words "healthy" and "delicious" have been really challenging to say in the same breath. My hope is that this book helps bring these two words together.

    Q: The book reads very thoughtfully. It feels like a real labor of love. How long did it take you to complete?

    A: From soup to nuts, the book took nearly three years. I was insistent on making a book that wasn't just "recipe/photo, recipe/photo" with really over-produced, studio photos. I wanted it to feel personal and to have narrative and grit and realness. I am a bit of a control freak. When I have an idea for something I tend to get very involved in every aspect (I designed Tertulia which drove my contractor crazy) but I think this is part of what makes the restaurant successful. The book was no exception. I told the publisher that I would only do the book if my best friend from high school, Colin, photographed it.

    Colin captures a family moment.

    Colin and I have been working together for years, we were roommates, we're really close and I knew that the only way this book could capture my life, family and food was if he shot it. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. He's so talented and has been struggling for years as a photographer and this book has really been his big break. It meant that he and I traveled to Spain a few times to shoot, went to my mom's farm in Vermont and had dinners on the roof of my apartment. It wasn't the most efficient way to make a book, but I'm far more interested in doing it the right way, rather than the quickest way. It also took me far longer to write than it would have taken a more experienced writer, but in the end, we managed to get it done. Somehow.

    Q: We who read about food know that you have rheumatoid arthritis and that you say you have been able to heal yourself through diet. What have you cut out and or limited? Also, what do you eat on a regular day?

    A: ​You'll notice that the book isn't so much about cutting out as it is adding in. Most of the diets I read about were elimination diets, which I find very exclusive. I wanted this book to be much more inclusive. Simply from a philosophical position, there is something inherently more positive about embracing rather than rejecting. This is not to say you include just any old thing. This book is about what works for me. It is not a prescription for dealing with inflammation (though I have managed to get off of some very hardcore drugs and be nearly pain-free through food and exercise!) If you find that gluten or corn or nightshades don't work for you, by all means, avoid them. I happen to LOVE tomatoes. And corn. And eggplant. Initially I thought I was completely screwed. Then I changed the way I thought about these ingredients and I realized what I really loved about a tomato in August, the height of its season, was completely missing from a tomato I had any other time of year. I derive a lot of pleasure and joy from eating a tomato in peak season and I get nearly no joy or pleasure from eating an unripe, out of season tomato. The solution seemed pretty obvious to me: eat them in moderation, when they are best and make something of a ceremony out of it. Really celebrating that ingredient and the pleasure and joy I it gives me far outweighs the inflammatory impact it may or may not have on me. Frankly, I think a lot of the diet-related issues people suffer from have more to do with extended over-exposure to the wrong ingredients rather than the ingredients themselves. Of course I have no scientific proof to back this up, but that's what my gut (pardon the pun) tells me.

    So to answer your question, what have I cut out? Well, basically anything with an overly scientific name I can't pronounce! I've cut out nearly all refined sugar, refined flour (I will have wheatberries and farro, both of which have gluten in small amounts, but tend to be much more digestible). I've cut out most alcohol, though I have a glass of wine or Scotch from time to time. The most important thing for me is to know the provenance of the food I eat, or at least to have a sense that it's coming from a source that I trust. It can be hard to do this if you're not meticulously sourcing your ingredients but it makes for a good argument to return to a traditional way of shopping and cooking. I'm lucky that I have the luxury of knowing EXACTLY where most of my food comes from. In the summer, I actually grow a lot of my own vegetables on my roof, which is perhaps the most gratifying way to eat. Oh, and I went hunting on Saturday so I know where my birds come from ;).

    On a regular day I eat mostly vegetables. I tend not to eat too much meat. If I do eat it, it's in small quantities. I eat a fair amount of fish and shellfish and I try to eat a lot of greens. I eat granola in the morning with rice milk.

    Q: At your NYC restaurant, Tertulia, you kind of reinvent very classic Spanish cooking. Can you tell me a little about your time in Spain and why you chose Spanish food as a focus?

    Tertulia, NYC

    A: ​I nearly flunked out of high school but, much like you, I have a good ear and I can imitate accents quite well. I did very well in Spanish class and a supportive teacher encouraged me to do a year abroad in Spain. The rest is history. I ended up going back time after time, living first for two years in college, then two more years cooking in San Sebastian and Barcelona and then returning nearly every year ever since. In Spain, people eat seasonally because they still shop traditionally: they don't buy their produce in grocery stores, but rather go to the market. In the market the fisherman's wife sells the sardines and the farmer's wife sells the chicken and you don't expect the cornucopia of out-of-season options that we have come to expect in the states. This is definitely changing, but doing so relatively slowly in Spain. A traditional diet, whether it is Spanish, Italian, Korean, etc., tends to be a sensible diet. Most food-related health problems stem from overly-industrialized food "products." I fell in love with the food, the language and the culture, so it just sort of made sense that as I grew as a cook, the food I cooked would reflect that.

    I stopped in for an amazing lunch at Tertulia during a recent trip to NYC. Here’s a quick peek at what I had.

    The best deviled eggs ever. Here, he smokes the egg whites and mixes the yolk with salted cod and pimento.

    Langostines, waiting to be grilled a la brasa.

    Stunning radish salad with baby rainbow carrots and anchovy vinaigrette.

    Classic tortilla Española.

    Where the magic happens.

    Q: What is the easiest recipe from the book to prepare? Say, for a quick weeknight dinner?

    A: Hmmm....the easiest recipe would probably be the Sunday roast chicken (see recipe below). It's an easy dish to prepare and is incredibly satisfying. I actually made it last night and today I brought leftovers to the restaurant and tossed the breast in with beets, carrots and kale for my lunch salad.

    Q: What is your favorite recipe from the book to make for friends?

    A: For friends, I love making the soft cooked eggs with romesco. It's a great dish for entertaining, the eggs are unctuous and creamy, the nutty romesco sauce is awesome.

    Q: Name five ingredients you always have in your pantry.


    1. Good Spanish anchovies
    2. Good Spanish tuna in olive oil
    3. Marcona almonds
    4. Arbequina olive oil
    5. Dried Verdina beans

    Q: What is your best advice for eating well and do you think attitude has anything to do with it?

    A: I think the most important thing when it comes to eating well is to have a plan for your week and shop accordingly. Look ahead; don't go to the grocery store without a meal plan. Find a farmer's market and work it into your weekly routine. Get to know the people that are growing and raising your food, as this helps you develop an intimate relationship with your food. Attitude has a lot to do with eating well. To eat well, food needs to become an important part of your life. You can't eat on the go or eat in the car and expect food to be a part of your life. If you think of food simply as fuel, you'll never feel passionately about it and you'll never really come to celebrate it. Oh, and eat with friends and family! Food should be the grease for good conversation!

    Q: Oh, are you married? You are very handsome and you can cook. Just sayin'.

    A: Last but not least, I'm not married. Not yet, but I am engaged.

    Here are a few great recipes from Seamus’ new cookbook, Hero Food:
    Sunday Roast Chicken

    There’s nothing quite like a roast chicken to end the weekend and begin the week. Leftover leg meat, pulled apart and folded into some allioli, makes delicious chicken salad and the carcass can be turned into an easy, satisfying stock. The main problem with cooking birds is the classic cooking conundrum: the breasts and the legs require completely different cooking times. Otherwise you wind up with perfectly cooked breast and raw legs, or succulent legs and leathery breast.

    Fear not! Science prevails! Here’s a terrifically simple way to ensure a juicy bird that’s perfectly cooked on all four corners. By roasting it at two temperatures the legs cook slowly, breaking down all the connective tissue that makes the meat tougher, and the breast isn’t overexposed to high heat. At the very end, you crank up the temperature for a nice golden, crispy skin. Serve the roast with a crispy and succulent bread salad.

    Serves 4 or more

    • 1 3–5-pound roasting chicken, brined overnight and air-dried in the refrigerator
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 lemons, cut into quarters
    • 1 head garlic, 1 clove set aside and the rest peeled and lightly crushed
    • Handful each fresh basil and tarragon
    • 7 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/2 loaf country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 1 shallot, sliced paper thin on a mandoline
    • 1 quart mixed heirloom tomatoes, cut into rustic chunks
    • Healthy shot sweet sherry vinegar such as Pedro Ximenez

    1.Preheat the oven to 300°. Season the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with the lemon quarters, lightly crushed garlic, and basil and tarragon, setting aside a few leaves of the herbs for the bread salad.

    2.Place the chicken in a large roasting pan, breast side up with the wings tucked under its back, and tie the legs together to close the cavity. Roast at 300° for 1 hour, until both the thigh and the breast read 150° on a meat thermometer.

    3.Thoroughly brush the chicken with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Increase the oven temperature to 400°. Return the chicken to the oven and roast until crispy and golden brown, 10–15 minutes. Set aside to rest while you prepare the bread salad.

    4.Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the bread. Sauté until crispy and golden. Once it’s golden, grate the remaining clove of garlic and toss with the bread over the heat for 20 seconds more. Remove to a large bowl. Add the shallots and tomatoes to the bread in the bowl; drizzle with 4 tablespoons olive oil, the sherry vinegar, and torn leaves of the basil and tarragon; toss and set aside.

    5.When you’re ready to serve, arrange the bread salad around the chicken in the roasting pan or on a platter.

    - From Seamus Mullen’s Hero Food by Seamus Mullen/Andrews McMeel Publishing

    Crispy Tuscan Kale on the Grill

    When I gave this recipe to Food & Wine magazine recently it became an instant hit. People contacted me on Facebook from every corner of the world, telling me how much they loved grilling kale. Who knew? The truth is, kale done this way is pretty damn tasty, quite easy to make, and a great beginning to a barbecue. As well as being a great snack, you can break the grilled kale leaves into large pieces and toss them in a salad.

    Makes 1 healthy stack

    • 1 cup olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
    • 2 bunches Tuscan kale, stems and all, washed and spun dry
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper

    1.Preheat the grill to high or build a small fire in a charcoal grill. In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and lemon zest and juice and mix well. Add the kale leaves. Season with salt and pepper and gently toss until kale is evenly coated.

    2.When the grill is hot, carefully lay the kale leaves, as many as will fit, side-by-side in a single layer on the grill. In about 2 minutes the leaves will crisp. Turn them and grill on the other side for another 1–2 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the leaves.

    3.Pile the grilled kale leaves in a big stack on a large platter or cutting board and serve them up.

    - From Seamus Mullen’s Hero Food by Seamus Mullen/Andrews McMeel Publishing

    Farro Salad with Preserved Tuna

    Farro, also known as emmer wheat, is one of the oldest cultivated grains, dating all the way back to biblical times. I love its nutty flavor with our Preserved Tuna. Look for unprocessed whole grain farro with bran and germ intact. It is loaded with fiber which can help lower cholesterol levels in the blood as well as keep things moving to promote healthy digestion. Farro has a higher level of protein than most other grains. If it was good enough for Moses, it’s good enough for me!

    Serves 4

    • 2 cups farro
    • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
    • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
    • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
    • 2 guindilla peppers, or 2 pieces ancho chile 1 bay leaf
    • Kosher salt
    • 2 large organic eggs
    • 1/2 cup Preserved Tuna (recipe follows), or good quality canned tuna in olive oil
    • 1/4 cup Pickled Mushrooms (recipe follows)
    • 2 tablespoons finely minced Quick-Cured Lemons (recipe follows)
    • Handful arugula
    • Healthy splash My Favorite Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper

    1.Thoroughly rinse the farro in a large colander under running water. Transfer to a large heavy-bottomed pot and add the carrots, onions, garlic, peppers, bay leaf, and 4 cups water. Add enough kosher salt so the water tastes like sea water.

    2.Cover, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20–25 minutes, until the grain is soft and cooked through.

    3.Drain the farro (discarding the aromatics) and set aside to cool.

    4.Soft-boil the eggs in a small saucepan: Bring 3–4 cups water to a boil and add the eggs. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5–6 minutes. Run the eggs under cold water, then peel and quarter them. The yolks should be golden and creamy.

    5.Combine the preserved tuna, mushrooms, lemons, and arugula in a large serving bowl, then add the cooled farro and dress with the vinaigrette.

    6.Season with salt and pepper and garnish the salad with the soft-cooked eggs.

    Preserving Tuna

    Growing up, I was indifferent to tuna in a can, but the first time I had canned tuna in Spain, I completely changed my tuna tune. The Spanish are fanatical about their canned seafood, and tuna is no exception. In recent years, high-quality Spanish tuna has become available in the United States; however, it is surprisingly easy to make your own when high-quality yellowfin is available. And as I’ve said earlier, we must be careful to choose the right tuna (i.e., not bluefin). I like to fold preserved tuna with homemade all i oli and sliced cucumbers for a delicious tuna salad sandwich. Even a piece of preserved tuna on toast is great. Or toss it in a salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, walnuts, and arugula.

    Makes 4 jars

    • 1 pound kosher salt
    • 1 pound sugar
    • 1 tablespoon pimentón
    • 4 cloves garlic
    • 1 pound freshest available yellowfin or bonito tuna
    • 4 cups olive oil

    Pickled Mushrooms

    Makes 2 jars

    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
    • 1/2 pound mixed wild mushrooms such as chanterelles, morels, hen-of-the-woods, and/or oyster mushrooms
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 cup Vegetable Pickling Liquid
    • About 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

    1.Heat the butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter begins to foam, add the garlic and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté vigorously for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms start to wilt.

    2.Add the pickling liquid, increase the heat, and cook until the liquid simmers. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

    3.Drain the mushrooms and distribute evenly among 2 canning jars. Pour in olive oil to cover and close the lids. Refrigerated, the mushrooms will keep for a week or so.

    Quick-Cured Lemons

    Makes 2 jars

    • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
    • 1 pound kosher salt
    • 1 pound sugar
    • 2 cloves garlic, crushed with the back of a knife
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 10 lemons, blanched briefly in boiling water to remove wax
    • 1 guindilla pepper, or a piece of ancho chile
    • About 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Picudo or Arbequina

    1.Remove the leaves from 2 of the thyme sprigs.

    2.Mix the thyme leaves, salt, sugar, and garlic in a large bowl. Pour a thin layer of the mixture onto a platter or deep roasting pan. Slice the lemons into rounds and layer some on top of the salt mixture, then layer on more of the salt mixture. Continue layering until all of the lemons are covered. Cover and refrigerate for 3 days.

    3.Rinse the lemon slices thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. In a clean canning jar or two, layer the lemon slices, adding the remaining thyme sprigs, the bay leaves, and guindilla pepper. Pour in olive oil to cover the lemons completely. Marinated in the oil, the lemons will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.

    My Favorite Vinaigrette

    Makes 2¼ cups

    • ¼ cup good white wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
    • Leaves from 1 sprig fresh thyme
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Arbequina or Picudo

    Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a small mixing bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly while whisking.

    - From Seamus Mullen’s Hero Food by Seamus Mullen/Andrews McMeel Publishing

    The goop collection