“Horrible” – is how Niklas Ekstedt sums things up when asked how he’s fared during the pandemic.

“It’s so difficult, because I’m used to travellingall the time and meeting people from all over the world… and now I’m just stuck,” admits the Swedish chef, 42.

With more time on his hands, the chefand author has recently got very into fermenting (which is why the family fridge is overflowing with vegetable-filled receptacles), inspired by what he learned while working on his latest book, Happy Food For Life, alongside journalist Henrik Ennart.

The follow-up to bestselling Happy Food, once again it focuses on how what we eat can affect how we feel, combining the latest research with health-boosting recipes.
Ekstedt and Ennart believe a largely plant-based diet, using whole ingredients rather than processed foods, is generally best – but they don’t say you have to cut out meat altogether, unless that’s your preference.

In a bid to choose moreplant-based meals, Ekstedt originally started eating more salad, but quickly realised the leafy dishes didn’t give him enough energy.

“Less salad and more food,” was what he was craving. “I needed to complement my meal with some something warm. So soup is really good. Also use a lot of spice when you eat plant-based, like chili sauce, so you feel alive when you eat it.”

Variety is key, but the veggies don’t have to be fresh from the market every day.

“We have this almost obsessive thing about everything’s supposed to be fresh,” Ekstedt says, “and it’s gone to the level that it’s almost not good for us, because we forgot the way to can and preserve and ferment foods.”

And while a surplus of sugar and fats isn’t advisable, there’s no reason you can’t indulge in a bit of what you fancy every now and again. In fact, Ekstedt says it’s OK to “go crazy” when you treat yourself, as long as it’s not too often.

“That’s something we really apply here at home with the family, so once a week we do this, like, massive dessert or chocolate party!” Ultimately, Ekstedt is committed to teaching people that a healthy diet doesn’t have to be bland or boring. “I think we need to highlight these things in a very positive way, in a very delicious way.”

Tomato dip recipe with sourdough bread and olive oil
500g sweet and ripe tomatoes
3 shallots
1 clove of garlic
4tbsp olive oil
2tbsp red wine vinegar
1 red chilli
6–8 basil leaves, wood sorrel or herb of your choice
1. Cut the tomatoes in half and roughly chop or grate the cut surface coarsely with a grater (hold the tomato by the skin).
2. Add salt and suspend in a fine sieve for approximately one hour. If you grated the tomatoes you will obtain a thick consistency.
3. Finely chop the shallots and garlic and quickly fry without allowing them to brown in a hot pan with one teaspoon of the olive oil.
4. Mix with the tomato mixture, the remaining olive oil and red wine vinegar and season with salt.
5. Halve the chilli and remove the seeds.
6. Shred the basil leaves, sorrel or chosen herbs.
7. Top the tomato dip with chilli and herbs.
8. Serve with freshly toasted sourdough bread or roast chicken breast with grilled salad.

Pasta al dente with sage, butter and pine nuts recipe
400g pappardelle, dried
2 cloves of garlic
3tbsp butter
8–10 sage leaves, plus extra to garnish
50g Parmesan
3tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Black pepper for serving
1. Cook the pasta al dente, according to the instructions on the packaging. Drain and leave to steam thoroughly.
2. Thinly slice the garlic.
3. Brown the butter slightly and add the sage and garlic.
4. Add the pasta and mix thoroughly.
5. Serve with Parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts, extra finely sliced sage and freshly ground black pepper.

Buckwheat risotto recipe with fennel and pea sprout salad
2 shallots
300g crushed buckwheat
3tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil
600ml chicken stock
150g Västerbottensost cheese (or aged Cheddar cheese)
4tbsp crème fraîche
1tbsp fennel seeds
1 bulb of fennel
3–5 cooked beetroot
Pea sprouts or green leaves or herbs, such as basil or Oregano, to serve
1. Peel and chop the shallots.
2. Sauté the shallots and buckwheat in the rapeseed oil for four to five minutes in a wide, thick-bottomed saucepan.
3. Stir and add the chicken stock, a little at a time. Allow the liquid to reduce and add more stock while stirring until there’s still a little bite in the buckwheat.
4. Grate half of the cheese into the pan and add the crème fraîche.
5. Toast the fennel seeds in a pan over a medium heat.
6. Thinly slice the fennel – this is easiest on a mandoline.
7. Cut the cooked beetroot into wedges.
8. Top the buckwheat risotto with toasted fennel seeds, sliced fresh fennel and beetroot. Shave the rest of the cheese over.
9. Add a few pea sprouts, green leaves or herbs.

Happy Food For Life by Niklas Ekstedt and Henrik Ennart, photography by David Loftus, is published by Bloomsbury Publishing.