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.
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