Sunday, December 21, 2008

Neomania (and some really great chana masala and saag)

Raw Chana Masala and Amaranth Saag

I have an insatiable appetite for the new. When I come across a food I've never tried before, all of my senses come to focused attention like a puppy at a banquet waiting for the crumbs to drop. Nevermind what I came to the shop for, I must immediately purchase and take home this rare treasure. Then comes the fun of taking little nibbles to assess its culinary properties and doing copious research on the internet to come up with an exciting preparation. Some of my experiments may be disasters, but truth be told I'm more excited by the process than the results. And every so often, my creativity may just lead to something inspired (she says modestly).

The philosopher Roland Barthes calls my penchant for novelty "neomania." In his view, a neomaniac was not a particularly flattering thing to be called, as it suggests a lack of contentment with what we already have. I suppose this is a fair enough assessment when we're talking about consumers and the need to buy more more more. But come on, a little joy over a new vegetable at the farmer's market? Far better to exhibit neomania than neophobia.

The neomaniac in me did a little jig when I stumbed across a gorgeous bunch of amaranth at my local market recently. I'm familiar with amaranth grain - it seems to be in every health food shop these days in flour or breakfast cereal form - but I've never seen the leaves for sale here in Australia. However, I've heard that they're used in northern Indian cooking in the same way as spinach or mustard greens. A nice creamy saag popped into my head instantly. I ran home and got some chickpeas soaking to make an chana masala as well, and soon a lovely little Indian spread was in the works.

A lovely green tangle of amaranth leaves

One of the drawbacks of raw cuisine is the need for patience. I had to wait three days for the chickpeas to soak and sprout. Sprout faster, little chickpeas! But my patience paid off big time. Since I've studied Indian cookery in some depth, I had an idea of the flavors I wanted to bring out in these dishes and the ingredients that might combine appropriately.

I think the chana masala was one of my best raw dishes to date, and non-raw partner J raved. The key was mimicking the creaminess of a cream-based sauce with avocado, creating the complexity of flavors in a cooked curry with raw ingridents, and balancing the spices properly. The complexity problem was solved by using sundried tomatoes as well as fresh tomatoes and red onions to up the sweetness factor, and adding fresh ginger for a real kick. I played around with the spices until I had the balance of flavors that I was looking for - using a special blended curry powder made for me by an Indian friend didn't hurt either. There are lots of good commercial curry powder blends out there in a variety of flavors and spiciness, so find one that you really love. The star of the curry was the crunchy sprouted chickpeas, which both J and I actually preferred to mushy cooked chana. They're also such a filling, nutritious ingredient for a raw foodist. So much more lifeforce in these babies than their sad, starchy cooked counterparts.

The saag was lovely as well - creamy, tangy and slightly bitter. Turns out amaranth tastes like a slightly less sweet, slightly less juicy spinach. The key ingredient here is a good mustard - I have a fantastic stoneground variety that is made with apple cider vinegar. If you can't find such a mustard, substitute some ground mustard seed and a bit of ACV. Creamy tahini and olive oil balance with tangy lemon juice, pungent scallion, and a handful of spices to create a really memorable saag. I recommend making these two dishes together, as the colors and flavors combine for a really complete meal.

With these two successes under my belt, I'm looking foward to exploring the flavors of the subcontinent in more depth. For some other inspiring raw Indian recipes, check out the creativity happening at Roshi's Raw Lifestyle.

Chana Masala

1 cup sprouted chickpeas
1/4 very ripe avocado
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 red onion
1 fresh tomato
1-inch piece of fresh ginger
1/4 cup sundried tomato (soaked if hard)
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
salt and pepper, to taste

To sprout chickpeas: Place chickpeas in a glass jar and cover with plenty of filtered water. Soak overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Attach a piece of cheesecloth or screen to the top of the jar with a rubber band and turn the jar upside down over a bowl. Or stand the jar over a fine-mesh colander over a bowl. Rinse the chickpeas twice/day until little tails appear. You can let the chickpeas sprout as much as you like. When they're ready they'll taste crunchy and slightly sweet.

To make masala sauce:
Place avocado, olive oil, onion, tomato, ginger, curry powder, cumin, and coriander in a food processor. Whir until smooth. Mix the sauce with the sprouted chickpeas.

Amaranth "Saag"

1 1/2 cups tightly packed amaranth leaves (or spinach)
1 large scallion/spring onion
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp good quality mustard
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in food processor and whir until smooth.

Friday, December 12, 2008

All-Green Meal

Inspired by a) Raw Epicurean's Green Leafy Recipe Contest, b) a lot of spinach I needed to use up before going on holiday for a week, and c) having a few friends over for dinner, I decided to concoct an all-green dinner. I felt a bit the next Iron Chef: Iron Chef Raw. And the theme ingredient is...spinach! Allez cuisine!

For starters, I whipped up a cheezy spinach dip and a classic bowl of guacamole with lots of crudite. Then a bit of finger food: nori rolls stuffed with a ginger-sesame cauliflower rice and lots of spinach and veggies. Finally, my newest creation was coconut-spinach rice, using more cauliflower of course. This last dish combined some interesting flavors that I would not normally put together, but happened to have on hand - coconut and spinach, for example, turned out to be a sumptuous match.

Coconut Spinach "Rice"

Meat of 1 young coconut
1 Tbsp coconut water (or plain water)
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 small clover garlic, minced
1/4 head of cauliflower
1/4 red onion, minced
pinch of himalayan/sea salt
1 tightly packed cup finely chopped spinach

Puree coconut meat with coconut water in food processor until you form a thick coconut cream. Add ginger and garlic and whir for another 10 seconds.

Break cauliflower into florets and add to food processor. Pulse slowly until cauliflower achieves a rice-like texture.

Remove coconut-cauliflower mixture to a bowl. Stir in minced onion, salt, and chopped spinach. Place in dehydrator to warm for several hours (either place entire bowl in dehydrator or spread over teflex sheet), or simply let the mixture marinate at room temperature for several hours for the flavors to mingle.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Before going raw, I always found a lot of joy in bread. I love picking out an artisanal loaf, or baking a special recipe myself. Most of all, I loved the simple pleasure of a sandwich, slathered with mustard and stuffed with salad.

Good new for raw foodies - bread is back! I guess it was never really gone, but my dehydrator was out of commission for a while, so I've been sadly sandwichless. Now that my dehydrator is sitting happily on my kitchen bench, plugged in and humming softly (a constant background noise that I've grown to love), I'm unbaking up a storm.

The first recipe I tried was the Sweet Onion & Thyme Bread from the RawforLife Blog. Wow, was this delicious, and easy to boot! I didn't have thyme on hand so I simply left it out. As soon as it was done, I made a little open-faced sandwich for lunch (see the photo at the top of the page). It was so satisfying that I'll admit I went back for seconds.

With my first unbaking success under my belt, I decided it was time to get a little more creative. I borrowed Debbie's base concept - sunflower seeds, flax seeds, olive oil, and water - and experimented with some other flavors. Recalling the lovely marriage of flavors that was 101Cookbook's Roasted Pumpkin and Onion Salad, which I made for my Vegan Thanksgiving feast, I opted to combine similar ingredients into a bread. Pumpkin, red onion, and coriander all manage to balance sweet and savory elements so perfectly. This bread took a lot longer in the dehydrator, as the pumpkin was quite moist, but the result was a really soft-textured bread that was amazing spread with some ripe avocado and topped with a few sprouts. Or divine j ust on its own.

And what fun would baking be without a little sweet treat thrown in there? Since I had the dehydrator going anyway, I whipped up some oatmeal cookies with ingredients that I had on hand and popped them in. A couple of these make a lovely, satisfying afternoon snack, jam-packed with energy.

All of these goodies, and not a drop of flour on my clothing! I think this is just the beginning of my adventures in unbaking.

Sweet & Savory Pumpkin, Onion and Coriander Bread
1 1/2 cups pumpkin, chopped
1/2 cup flaxseed, ground in coffee/spice grinder
1/2 cups sunflower seeds, ground in coffee/spice grinder
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh coriander
1 small red onion
juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 1/4 tsp salt

Whir pumpkin in food processor until it is very finely chopped (2-3 minutes). Add ground flaxseed, sunflower seeds, olive oil, water, lemon juice and salt, and blend until smooth and uniform. Add coriander and blend for another 20-30 seconds until well mixed. Remove to a large bowl.

Cut the onion in half. Leaving the stem-end in tact, cut it in half again (so quarters, but still connected at the stem end for easy chopping). Slice the onion as thinly as you possibly can. Mix the onion into the pumpkin mixture by hand. You will have a very wet dough.

Spread your aromatic dough thickly over one dehydrator sheet. Dehydrate at 41-45 degrees C for about 12 hours. Invert your bread onto another tray and, if possible, peel off the sheet (I found that I had to leave the sheet on for another few hours). Dehydrate on the other side another 12 hours. If still too soft, flip and dehydrate a few more hours. At 41 degrees, the whole process took about 25 hours for me, and the bread was still quite soft but held together fine.

Enjoy plain or topped with some ripe avocado, tomato, and sprouts.

Jess's Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup dates, soaked in water for 1/2 hour and drained
1/2 cup almonds, soaked overnight if you like*
1/2 cup walnuts, soaked overnight if you like*
1/4 cup flaxseed, ground in coffee/spice grinder to powder
2 Tbsp raw honey
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup raw rolled oats
3/4 cup water

In food processor, combine dates, almonds, walnuts, flaxseed meal, honey, cinnamon and vanilla, adding water as necessary. Remove to a bowl and stir in oats.

With wet hands so the dough doesn't stick, form dough into cookie shape (I use a soup spoon to get a uniform size). Place on lined dehydrator tray and dehydrate at 41 degrees C for 8 hours, or until the cookies are relatively firm (but still yield slightly to the touch). Eat them warm from the dehydrator, or store in a sealed container at room temperature.

*I don't always soak my nuts becomes sometimes I forget to do it in advance, but if you have time it is best to do this because soaking deactivates the enzyme inhibitors in nuts and makes their nutrients more readily available. Soaked nuts = greater nutrition.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who Needs Turkey?

"F Turkey" (overheard by a guest remarking on his colorful Thanksgiving plate)

This post is a homage to one of my food blogging inspirations, the talented and creative Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks. I've been a long time follower of Heidi's innovative recipes, clever photography, and insightful musings. These are just a few of the qualities that have garnered her a devoted following of avid food blog readers. I am in awe of her ability to post regularly, and of the diversity of her posts, and above all of the recipes themselves. Her recipes are vegetarian and often vegan, generally nutritious, and they actually work - they taste amazing. Personally I'm impressed with her photography skills as well - who wants to try a recipe if it doesn't gaze tantalizingly at you from the screen?

So for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, I wanted to give my Aussie friends a little taste of Americana. But no way was I going to deal with a turkey, which I would have no interest in eating anyway. On the other hand, I was a bit daunted by the idea of coming up with a raw Thanksgiving menu that I could handle without my dehydrator and that I could convince normal eaters to try. So I compromised. I made a cooked vegan feast, all inspired by Heidi's plethora of gorgeous, nutritious, Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes.

Roasted pumpkin before being mashed for the pie filling - much more appetizing than the stuff in the can, no?

So what was on the menu? A beautiful Roasted Pumpkin Salad, which teased the eye with it's colorful contrast of bright orange, deep purple, and pale green, and then the palate, playing delicate, sweet pumpkin flesh against the slight bite of roasted red onion. The creamy sunflower-coriander dressing tied up the dish, with nutty red quinoa providing a hearty background. I used quinoa because I happened to have some on hand, but it ended up serving the purpose of introducing my guests to a fantastic grain that none of them had tried before.

Nature rocks the palette - and the palate.

I thought Kale and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes were a brilliant idea. Way to sneak some greens into the buttery classic! In fact, this recipe is a total revamp of the fat-laden version we piled on our plates as kids, and much improved in my opinion. Olive oil and potatoes are a lovely partnership, and a bit of garlic adds flavor, as does a generous seasoning of sea salt. I used silverbeet instead of kale, as I personally prefer it. I also substituted soymilk for regular milk to make this a totally vegan recipe.

Mashed potatoes join the eco-revolution and go green.

Vibrant Tasty Green Beans added a nice splash of my favorite color to the table. A simple pairing of caramelized leek and dill offered a Mediterranean-inspired take on the ubiquitous green bean. Firecracker Cornbread was a big hit, as none of the Aussies had ever tried cornbread. It wasn't vegan, but it was moist and sweet with a delicious hit of chilli at the bottom. It was actually more like what would be called "spoonbread" - think of a pillowy, savory pudding. I think using fresh corn cut off the cob made a difference to the overall integrity of the dish.

A big spoon, you, and me, baby. I'm here to spice up your life.

Green beans never looked this good.

I balanced off the table with a big green salad tossed with all the Thanksgiving essentials: juicy dried cranberries, pecans, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds and drizzled with fruity olive oil and a little balsamic. To Aus-i-fy the whole meal, people brought their own items to barbeque - everything from lamb chops to kangaroo sausages to haloumi to tofu.

Thankgiving-a-licious Green Salad

Dessert was a multi-faceted affair as well. Heidi's Spice-kissed Pumpkin Pie was quite possibly the best pumpkin pie I've ever tasted. The spices were vibrant, the filling creamy, the crust crumbly. I did make a few adaptations here. Instead of coconut milk, I actually cut open a young coconut and blended the flesh with about half of the water (and drank the rest - a perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up while I was cooking away). For the crust, I used Arnott's gingernut biscuits, since graham crackers aren't available here. I did use a little butter (3 Tbsp) in the crust, and 3 eggs in the pie filling, so this one wasn't vegan. But it was still a much lighter and less sugary take on traditional pumpkin pie, though it tasted rich and satisfying nonetheless. Pumpkin is an incredibly popular vegetable here in Australia, but it always used in savory preparations. My guests really enjoyed the sweet American take on this versatile veggie.

A trio of pies

My amazing housemate Jackie made a beautiful spring fruit platter with honeydew melon, nectarines, cherries and mango. I snuck in a bit more raw goodness myself with two little raw pies - one apple, one banana-carob. I used my old American Apple Pie recipe, but used Iranian dates instead of Californian. The flavor was more caramel, a deeper, muskier flavor, compared to the honey-sweetness of Californian dates.

Banana-carob Pie was a bit of a surprise, because I made it up when I ran out of apples. A simple almond-date crust was filled with a mixture of coconut oil, carob powder, and a little agave, and then topped with sliced bananas. So simple! Bananas and carob are a lovely partnership. This easy little pie will definitely be added to my regular repertoire. All the better because it requires no dehydrating, though it would be beneficial to take the extra step of soaking the almonds overnight to activate the enzymes and release their nutrition.

When you have so much raw and vegan goodness to feast on, who needs turkey? Thanks Heidi for your inspiration!

Improvization leads to the yummiest creations!

Banana-carob Pie

2 cups raw almonds (soaked if you like)
8 large Cali dates, or 12 smaller Iranian dates
1 cup carob powder
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 Tbsp agave nectar
1 large or 2 small bananas

Rub a pie plate with a little coconut oil.

Combine almonds and dates in food processor and whir until the mixture begins to come together much like crumbly pie dough. Press the dough into the pie plate.

If your coconut oil is not liquid at room temperature, gently melt it using a double boiler. In a small bowl, mix the coconut oil with carob powder (setting aside 2 Tbsp for garnish) and agave nectar to achieve a smooth texture. Smooth the carob mixture over the pie crust.

Slice the banana(s) into discs on a slight diagonal. Arrange the banana discs over the carob layer. Sprinkle with remaining carob powder. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Salads for One: An Exercise in Simplicity

Food prep for one is a delicate art. Since my lovely partner is still in Adelaide, I've been on my own at mealtimes lately. And while making food for little ole' me doesn't exactly inspire me to get elaborate in the kitchen, I also don't want to neglect my sense of gustatory pleasure. I deserve a nice meal alone just as much as with a companion - perhaps even more so since the dining experience is just me and the food, sans conversation. On the other hand, I honestly can't be bothered spending too much time making something when nobody else is there to oooh and ahhh over my creative genius with me. I suppose that's what the blog is for: the technological solution to the old conundrum of "If genius occurs in a forest, does it make a sound?"

The other problem with food prep for one is that I can only stock a limited amount of ingredients, since I am mentally allergic to throwing food away (I can still hear my mother's voice saying "wasting food is like throwing money in the garbage"). The answer to these two problems? The three S's of raw food: SEASONALITY, SIMPLICITY, AND SALADS!

My definition of salads is quite broad, and can generally encompass a wide range of whatever I happen to have in the refrigerator. For example, recently I thought I had nothing much to make a meal out of in the house. But I managed to make the following absolutely fantastically satisfying concoction out of a few fresh ingredients, and it was one of the best and most original meals I've had in ages. Absolute proof that necessity is the mother of invention.

YUM! Those are cos (romaine) lettuce wraps with fresh paw paw, avocado, ground linseed (flax), tahini, and dried shredded coconut. Fantastically balanced and nutritious (omega 3's, anyone?), not to mention a perfect contrast of textures and flavors. I ate these sitting outside in the sunshine in my garden. This photo is only 2/3 of my meal - I'll admit I ate one before I had the presence of mind to take a photo. I was hungry!

The next salad was inspired by the gorgeous Thai green mango I found at the Queen Victoria markets. If you've never had a green mango, you simply must try it. They are longer and thinner than normal mangoes, and eaten when they look green and unripe outside. The flavor is much more tangy-tart, similar to tamarind, and crunchier in texture. Lots of crisp asian greens, some creamy avocado, a gorgeous spicy almond dressing, and a generous topping of fresh coriander complimented this exotic fruit perfectly. Yes, I made lots of noise eating this salad - I just can't suppress my sighs of pleasure over a good meal.

Another tasty treat: quinoa tabbouleh! Based on a recipe from Matthew Kenney's Everyday Raw, this one takes a little more prep but is still pretty simple. It also makes enough for about three meals worth, so I've been taking it to work for my lunch. The only time-consuming task here is soaking quinoa overnight, but really all that this requires is thinking 24-hours ahead. The fresh flavors of tabbouleh - lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, mint, tomatoes - marry so beautifully with germinated quinoa, a wonder-grain from the Andean region of South America. Did you know that quinoa contains 12-18% protein, a balance of all essential amino acids, is high in fiber, and is gluten free? I am always amazed by how many people ask me, "but how do you get protein?" First of all, most people eat way too much protein, which interferes with absorption of other nutrients. But regardless, there are lots of plant foods that are full of protein if one is just a little bit creative. Quinoa also has a wonderful nutty flavor, and is a great and easy grain to sprout.

Here are the recipes, all designed to serve one. Use them as a starting point for creating your own free-form salads with whatever you have on hand.

3 large outer leaves of cos lettuce
1/4 red paw paw, cut into large dice
1/2 ripe but firm avocado, cut into large dice
1/8 cup flax/linseed, ground in coffee or spice grinder*
good drizzle of tahini
handful of dried shredded coconut

Rinse, dry, and arrange cos leaves on a plate. Divide paw paw and avocado cubes among the lettuce leaves. Sprinkle with linseed, drizzle with tahini, and top with a sprinkling of dried coconut. Dig in!

*Linseed (aka flax in America) must be ground rather than eaten whole, because the outer hull is too hard for the body to break down, so this nutritional powerhouse will simply pass through your system if it is not pre-ground. Grind it up to get all that omega fatty acid goodness!

1 bunch of bok choy, roughly chopped
1/2 small cucumber, julienned
1/2 small carrot, julienned
1/2 Thai green mango, julienned
1/2 ripe but firm avocado, sliced
1 big handful of bean sprouts
1 small handful of pea shoots
1 few sprigs of fresh coriander, chopped
Spicy almond dressing (recipe follows)

Place chopped bok choy in the center of a plate. Top with julienned cucumber and carrot, mango, avocado, bean sprouts and pea shoots. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle fresh coriander over the top. I dare you to eat this without sighing with pleasure!

1 handful germinated almonds
1 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp tamari
juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
2 tsp honey/agave
1 small Thai chili
small knob of grated ginger

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor. These are kind of approximate measurements - when I created this dressing, I kept adding and tasting until it seemed right to me. I follow a wonderful little piece of advice that I read in Victoria Boutenko's 12 Steps to Raw Food, which is this. Your dressings/soups/recipes should contains 5 elements: sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter. When making this dressing, keep tasting and asking yourself, is it sweet enough? Is it sour enough? Etc., until it tastes just right to you.


1 cup quinoa, rinsed and soaked for 24 hours
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 large lemon, or 1 small
1 tsp sea/himalayan salt
1 cup diced cucumber
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh mint

Drain quinoa well and place in a large bowl. Add diced cucumber, tomato, parsley, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Toss well, and taste. Adjust seasoning if you wish. In the original recipe, Matthew adds minced red onion, but the taste of raw onion is too strong for me. I think spring onion would be lovely if you want some onion flavor but less strong. You can eat this immediately, but I think it's better if you leave it for a while to let the flavors mingle.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Raw Vegetable Stifado

My first waitressing job was at a cozy little pizza joint. A big fat guy with attitude to match turned out really spectacular pies and other simple Italian home cooking, and me and a couple of other skinny young waitresses served this stodgy but delectable fare to a crowd of regulars. Though the pizzas were the stuff of legend, I would usually hold out for a bowl of spezzatino - Italian stew slow cooked with tender chunks of beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, red wine and herbs.

My boss also happened to be fluent in Greek, I suppose the result of growing up around so many Greek immigrants in the Adelaide CBD. He taught me that the Greek word for stew was stifado, which immediately made sense to me because for years I'd been making and loving a vegetarian stifado from one of my beloved Moosewood cookbooks.

In this raw version, I've reworked both concepts into a celebration both of vegetables and of slow food. The key is to let the ingredients marinate overnight so they soften, then soak them in the sauce the next day to concentrate the flavors. I love the dill in this recipe and I think that's what makes it taste really "Greek" to me. Share it for dinner with friends or family, and think of many generations of peasants past gathering over a steaming pot of stew. Okay, so yours won't be steaming, but it will be bursting with life and flavor. Opa!

Raw Stifado

1 small eggplant, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 small zucchini, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 small red capsicum/bell pepper, cut into ½ inch pieces
5 swiss brown mushrooms, cut in half and thinly sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
handful of kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ red onion, cut into fine dice
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 tsp Himalayan salt

1 cup sundried tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper

Two handfuls of baby spinach

In a large container with a lid, combine eggplant, zucchini, red capsicum, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, olives, garlic, and red onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Let the vegetables marinate at room temperature overnight (or for at least 6 hours).

Combine sundried tomatoes, half of the soaking liquid, olive oil, oregano and dill in a food processor. Process until you achieve a thick sauce, adding more soaking liquid if necessary.

Toss the sauce with the marinated vegetables. Add the spinach and mix through. Add a good grind of black pepper and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Let the stew marinate at room temperature for several more hours for the flavors to marry.

This stew is really lovely topped with some raw milk feta cheese, if you can get it. If you don’t eat dairy but like the taste of feta, try out this spectacular and nutritious recipe for sunflower feta. Or, eat the stew on its own; also delicious!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spiced Rare Tuna and Lotsa Veggies Salad

When trying to create new raw recipes, I often look for inspiration in conventional cookbooks that celebrate freshness, seasonality, and simplicity. I'll draw upon the flavor profiles, ingredient combinations, and variety of textures that other chefs have thought up, and then I'll tweak the techniques until I have a raw version of the dish. Favorite non-raw publications of mine include Gourmet, Australian Gourmet Traveler, Jamie Oliver's cookbooks, Tessa Kiro's cookbooks, and good old Moosewood (which was a staple in my cooked vego days). I find that many of these publications favor fresh, seasonal ingredients, and elegant preparations that really highlight the integrity of the ingredients. I'll stay away from anything that relies on lots of canned or processed ingredients - it's really not even worth looking at these for ideas, honestly, because those kind of shortcuts have totally different (and rather unpleasant, in my opinion) flavor profiles.

The idea for this dish came from an Australian Gourmet Traveler cookbook that a friend of mine had lying around. With just a few tweaks, I turned it into a totally raw dish. Only when I tasted the raw tuna, I just wasn't that into it. Maybe it's the quality of the fish I bought - it was labeled as sashimi grade, but you never know until you taste it - but it was just too fishy for me raw. So I gave it a quick sear, which does, unfortunately, destroy a bit of the nutrition, but it made it much more palatable to me. Yes, sometimes I do opt for flavor over rawness. In general, when using fantastic quality produce this kind of compromise isn't necessary, but never be hard on yourself if you prefer to add a cooked ingredient. Stressing over the decision will harm you far more than the sear job.

I thought the original recipe was a little veggie light, so I added slivers of fat asparagus (the first of spring, and was it ever sweet and crisp!) and lovely little cherry tomatoes. There is endless room for variation, so go ahead, use your imagination.

This is a light but satisfying dish. I enjoyed it immensely, and still had room for a dessert of chopped banana and black sapote mixed with shredded coconut and drizzled with honey.

Spiced Rare Tuna and Lotsa Veggies Salad
Large handful of mixed greens
2 stalks of fat asparagus, sliced thinly on the diagonal
3 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 beetroot, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp raw honey
1/2 ripe but firm avocado
100g piece of sashimi grade tuna
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp sea or himalayan salt
good grind of black pepper
olive oil

First pickle the beetroot. Mix the apple cider vinegar with the honey in a small bowl, then add sliced beetroot and toss to coat. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Combine cumin, coriander, salt and pepper on a small plate. Rub tuna with a small amount of olive oil, then roll in spice blend to coat. Sear quickly over high heat, using a little bit of olive oil (30 seconds - 1 minute per side). Slice thinly.

Place greens on a plate. Top with slivered asparagus, quartered cherry tomatoes, pickled beetroot slices, avocado slices, and tuna slices. Drizzle with more olive oil, or another oil of your choice (macadamia, pistachio, or walnut would be lovely). Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper, and drizzle a bit of the leftover beetroot pickling juice. Yum! Serves 1.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Welcome to Melbourne, Part 1

I had always heard that Melbourne was a cool city. Known for its unusual public art, its hidden laneways, its fantastic cafes, and its changeable weather, Melbourne is a dream for tourists and locals alike. During my visit last year, I explored some of the trendy and bohemian areas, checked out plenty of art, and discovered plenty of good eats.

But what I didn't know until I moved here three weeks ago was what a sustainable city Melbourne is. People here are incredibly tuned in to environmental issues, particularly surrounding climate, transportation, and food. One of my favorite places so far are CERES (Center for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies), a fully functional community farm center right on the edge of the city. Not only do they engage much of the community in growing food, they also run a nursery, many educational programs, a cafe, music events, and so much more. I also like Friends of the Earth, which is both an activist organization and a co-op/cafe/bookshop oasis in the midst of the urban environment. It's also nice to see so many bike riders, so many organic food shops, and such obvious consciousness of treating the earth and each other with dignity and respect.

There's so much more to explore, but my relationship with my new city home is off to a passionate start. Here's a little photo montage of my initial Melbourne story:

An old narrow laneway, recalling days of milkmen

I do love living local!

These guys are the greatest sustainable food activists. Love the co-op and cafe as well.

Mosaic art decorates the entrance to CERES

Where Winnie the Pooh would do his gardening! CERES love.

Seedlings galore at CERES

A really free-range chook

I wish I lived here, though I do have a lemon tree and wild rocket growing in my backyard

How the eco set get around in Melbourne

Farmers Marketing

Winter veggies

Can you imagine a lovelier setting for marketing? Okay, okay, aside from Hanalei.

Need I say more? There's a lot to love in this city.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Loving the Lotus

Welcome to the Lotus!

Like a good raw foodie, I enjoy my fresh fruit, my salads and my smoothies on a regular basis. Their freshness and simplicity make me feel good, and I can appreciate the intense natural flavors of good, organic produce. But while I may be raw, I still put a lot of emphasis on the second part of my self-defined title - foodie. I have a weakness for the gourmet, for unexpected combinations, for well considered flavors, for skillfully designed dishes that go beyond what even an adventurous domestic cook can come up with in a modest home kitchen. It may often be at odds with the raw foods lifestyle, but I simply love restaurant food.

This passion for gourmet dishes, expertly prepared by someone else in a decked-out kitchen and presented to me while I sip a special beverage and lap up the luxury, is generally a bit of a problem. It doesn't stop me going to restaurants, but no matter how I order it's a bit of a compromise. Either I order whatever I can get raw on the menu, skipping the more exotic sounding dishes, or I go for cooked and end up with a troubled tummy. If only I could go to a restaurant that serves raw foods!

Tranquility greets you outside the Blossoming Lotus (photo from BL website).

Enter Blossoming Lotus. Okay, it's on the island of Kauai, not exactly a hop skip and a jump from Australia. But seeing as I happened to be vacationing there, I made a point of having as many meals as possible at this oasis of raw and vegan cuisine. I started with brunch on the very first day I arrived, and it was beautifully satisfying after 30 hours of nibbling on plain vegetables and fruit whilst in transit. There was only one raw option, but it was so much more fancy than anything I'd make myself at home: a parfait of fresh tropical fruit, live granola (oh buckwheat, how I love thee), and lusciously decadent macadamia cream. I suspect the secret to a good macadamia cream is in the quality of the food processor, but it might also have something to do with the rich macs that grow in Hawaii. Later that day I bought a bag of the crunchy-creamy nuggets to nibble on, and they disappeared into the mouths of my family pretty quickly. I washed the parfait down with coconut water, a fantastic remedy for the dehydration of air travel.

Blossoming Lotus is not an entirely raw restaurant. It's self-described as "vegan world fusion," and the dinner menu is true to this moniker with dishes such as Pesto Lasagna, Thai green curry, Moroccan seared tofu, and Indian pumpkin curry - all entirely vegan, entirely delicious, and entirely enormous. Jayson's dinner choice, "Senorita Bombla's Enchilada Casserole," was a particularly amazing cooked vegan dish, presented with style and tasting better than any non-vegan enchilada I've ever come across.

Vegan enchilada goodness swimming in carob mole. Exquisite.

For me, the highlight was the excitement of having gourmet raw entree and main dishes, and this excitement was actually matched by the exquisite preparations and flavors. Live Moo Shu featured lovely, soft, pliable little tortillas that seemed to be made of coconut and flax, overflowing with marinated Asian vegetables and served with sweet-tangy dipping sauce. This is something I will have to try to recreate at home if I can only figure out how to make such delicate wrappers in my modest home dehydrator. The main course of Live Pad Thai was fantastic as well - a generous mound of coconut meat and assorted vegetables cut into noodle-like strips and fantastically dressed with a well balanced almond-chili-citrus sauce. Spicy cashews added a bit of crunch and kept me going back in for bite after delicious bite. I was the only one of our foodie group who finished my entire plate, and I was also the only one who didn't walk away terribly stuffed. It may be gourmet, but it's still raw food - it satisfies in such a more comfortable way than cooked food.

Mind blowing moo shoo with super dip (photo courtesy of BL website).

Raw meets gourmet on my dinner plate.

The Blossoming Lotus is not open for lunch, but they have this market cornered with a tidy little cafe and juice bar just down the road in Kapaa town. I came back twice for their perfect individual raw pizza. A thick, crumbly base was hidden under a mountain of marinated veggies spiralized to the texture of angel hair pasta and topped with really intensely flavored pesto, garnished with a pretty little edible flower (which I just had to shock my grandfather by popping into my mouth whole). They also make really gorgeous and refreshing drinks - my favorite on a hot day was the living limeade, with fresh lime juice, coconut water and agave. Heaven. Or so I thought, until I encountered my true love...

What you should be looking at here is one big, lovely chunk of fudge. Not just any fudge, but raw fudge, and also the richest, most delicious fudge in the world. So amazingly decadent, in fact, that I had it twice and both times failed to take a photo because I was so deeply and appreciately present in the moment while experiencing it that all thoughts of photography were banished from my mind. Every non-raw member of my family was treated to a taste and they were all bowled over, even my mother who avowedly dislikes fudge. So there you have it. Raw chocolate, rocking my world once again.

Though this blog entry has mostly focused on the food, Blossoming Lotus is really so much more than a restaurant. With nightly live music entertaining diners, walls decked out with local art, and a menu that reflects consciousness of the planet and our bodies, this place is a mecca of inspiration and gratitude.

Blossoming Lotus, I want to take you home with me to Australia. If the Lotus can blossom on the tiny island of Kauai, there's no reason we can't create a similar place of joyous, blissful eating here in Oz. I put the challenge out there: let's bring the spirit of the Lotus down under and create a vegan/raw restaurant, serving quality cuisine in an invigorating space, here in Australia. I'm on board, but I can't do it alone. Who's with me?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

For the Love of Chocolate, and Permaculture

Our amazing tour guide under a coconut tree.

Perfect weather, sparkling beaches, chilled-out residents, daily rainbows, copious tropical fruits: these things and more make Kauai heaven, as I gushed in my previous post. But the reasons that I found this island to be my personal paradise run much deeper. Perfection can be found in the details. The best example can be found atop a hill, a short drive from Kapaa town.


This is the home of the Steelgrass Chocolate Farm, which I was lucky enough to tour while on holiday in Kauai. It is also the home of Tony Lydgate and his family, the inspiration behind the vision and realization of Steelgrass. They moved from the mainland to Kauai in order to develop a sustainable farm, and there they met the first of many challenges. They found that their plot of land was covered in jungle, and not the good kind. This jungle was a tangle of invasive species, the same plants that have destroyed the majority of Kauai's native species. The family set to work removing many of these plants and carefully considering what to plant instead. They wanted plants that would grow successfully, provide food, and not be invasive.



Soursop - tastes like cotton candy!

They found many answers to these problems by planting a variety of trees, many of them fruiting. Among those found in their orchards today are mango, tahitian lime, coconut, starfruit, orange, pineapple, and of course cacao, to name a few. Tropical flowers, including the spectacular vanilla orchid, make up a great deal of the land as well. They also planted several varieties of bamboo, a plant whose slender strength earned it the nickname "steelgrass," after which the farm is named.

Local orange variety

All of these plants and more were revealed to a curious group of food-lovers on the chocolate farm tour. Our tour guide not only explained the significance of each plant and organized various tastings along the way, she also filled us in on the nature of many invasive plants and what the Steelgrass crew and others are trying to do to counter this barrage. After a gorgeous and informative stroll through the lush property, we got down to business and tackled the reason we were all really there: chocolate.

Tahitian Lime, which we tasted with raw sugarcane

Though the cacao beans had recently been harvested, a few had been left hanging off the trees for our curious eyes. Tony explained that cacao beans grow close to the ground so small animals can eat them. The cacao bean itself is quite bitter, but it is surrounded by a thin layer of sweet pulp. The inner kernel needs to be dried and fermented before it can be turned into chocolate. Sitting in the shade, we tasted plain cacao nibs - and as a raw foodist, I was quite possibly the only person there for whom this wasn't a new experience. Then, while Tony delivered a captivating lecture on the history of chocolate, we blind taste tested ten of the world's best commercially produced dark chocolates.

Tony Lydgate with torch ginger and other tropical flowers

Now, I consider myself a bit of a chocolate snob, but this was an eye-opening experience even for me. Having experience in sensory evaluation, I approached the task much as I would a wine tasting. Next to each numbered sample, I wrote down the characteristics of the chocolate's aroma, taste and texture. I was actually amazed at the variety, considering that each sample contained the same three ingredients in relatively similar proportions: cacao, cacao butter, and sugar. In some chocolates I noted brighter berry flavors, while others had sophisticated earthy notes. Some suggested sunshine and lightness, others conjured up images of a worn leather chair and a glass of port, while still others were downright naughty in their dark richness.

Cacao tree with one one pod

Despite his obvious passion for chocolate (revealed by the admonition that we all eat several ounces of dark chocolate daily), Tony does not aspire to produce chocolate commercially. Rather, his ambition is to sell his seedlings to farmers all over Kauai in order to cultivate a local cacao industry. The main industry on Kauai is tourism, so the Lydgates see a need to develop sustainable industries that keep wealth on the island, and cacao farming is just that. Healthy for the body, the planet, and the local economy - who can argue with that?

Cacao bean and the nibs it crumbles into when peeled

There is a lot of passion among the staff at Steelgrass, and, even more importantly, a lot of action being applied to realizing and expanding their visions for a healthy future for the land and people of Kauai. I cannot help but draw a connection between the efforts of Steelgrass and the burgeoning farmer's market movement throughout the island, which I discussed in my previous post. The fact that on any given day there are multiple farmer's markets around Kauai means that people are starting to pay attention to the importance of protecting their local environment and economy - and their own bodies, incidentally. I am really pleased to see such a phenomenon take hold, and it gives a lot of encouragement that the lovely environment that can be found throughout much of the island is here to stay.

Vanilla orchid

To finish on a RAW note, and to tease you into checking back here again soon, I'll mention that just down the road from Steelgrass some raw cacao is being put to excellent use. That's a drool-worthy post for another day, but for now, drool over this gorgeous starfruit:

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