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?
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