Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sprouted Wheat Salad with Tangy Tamarind Dressing

Ayurvedic beauty: a balance of flavors and nutritional elements

I've been playing around with soaking and sprouting a lot lately, and I am tickled pink with the results. Here's the deal: nuts, seeds and grains are fantastically rich sources of nutrients, particularly for those of the raw and/or vegan persuasion, but all of their goodness is locked away in dried up little packages. Luckily, the key to releasing all that nutritional bounty is one that, for most of the lucky folks who are able to read this blog, is readily available and even free! I'm talking about water, basic H2O. To turn a dry little nut, seed or grain into a yummy source of living nutrition, all you have to do is soak it (preferably in filtered water, please!).

Why bother sprouting? Well, I'll give you a little perspective from one of my raw food heroes. In her book 12 Steps to Raw Foods, raw foods pioneer and educator Victoria Boutenko relates an anecdote about her family's quirky preparation for the Y2K scare. While her neighbors were busy hoarding canned goods, Victoria went to a health food store and bought only thing: a giant bag of wheat grains. This may seem like an odd purchase for a raw family. Dry, hard wheat grains (also known as wheat berries) are not very appetizing or easily digested, and she surely wasn't going to pound the grains into flour by hand and bake bread. So what on earth was she planning to do with a massive bagful of inedible grains that would allow her family to survive a potential global crisis?

Sprout them, of course. Sprouts are a miracle of the raw food diet, and would actually be a highly beneficial addition to any type of diet. Through sprouting, a hard, dry kernel becomes a tiny living plant the delivers a powerful punch of nutrients. Just think about it: a grain, nut or seed is a blueprint for a grown-up plant. All of the nutrition that the plant needs to grow is stored inside a tight, tidy little package. And it will keep indefinately, just waiting for the right conditions to germinate and grow.

People attempting a raw or vegan lifestyle in cold climates often have a really hard time accessing fresh, organic greens. In fact, unless you happen to live on your own organic property (lucky you!), buying fresh organic produce can be difficult and expensive. Sprouting is a such a simple way to get fresh greens into your diet on a daily basis for very little cost. The beauty of sprouting is that it can be done easily in a home kitchen, in any climate, at any time of year, for minimal cost. With the tiniest bit of effort, anyone can have fresh, organic sprouts year-round.

It really is essential to germinate your nuts, seeds and grains, because this process releases enzyme inhibitors and allows the body to access the plant's nutrition. Sprouts are one of the best sources of raw vegan protein around, too - in fact, they are a much easier protein for your body to absorb than ANY animal protein. In fact, I would go so far as to call sprouts superfoods! So go ahead and give it a try - they are really so addictive once you get started. You can crunch a handful as a snack, sprinkle them over a green salad, or make them into a main dish, as I've done here.

Sprouting 101

First off, you gotta soak your grains, nuts and seeds. Give them a good rinse in filtered water, then place them in a nice big glass jar and cover them with plenty of the same. If you're worried about bugs or dust etc. entering your sprouts, cover the top with cheesecloth or screen and secure it with a rubber band.
Wheat berries after soaking overnight and 1 day of sprouting - see the cute little tails?

In Carol Alt's book The Raw 50, she's included a really useful chart on germinating and sprouting times which I have bookmarked and refer to constantly. Find such a chart on the internet, buy her book, or write one yourself, but I guarantee you it will be useful thing to have in your kitchen.

Once you've soaked your babies for the required amount of time - for the wheat berries in the recipe below I just soaked them overnight, but according to Carol they need 7 hours soaking to germinate - drain the water and rinse them again. Place the jar upside down so that air can still flow through the jar - what I do is actually stand the jar upside down ontop of a fine mesh strainer suspended over a bowl. There are lots of ways to rig this up, so again have a good look on the internet/books and I'm sure you'll find one that will work for your kitchen and with materials you have on hand.

Your nuts, seeds or grains are germinated now and ready to eat. But for many things, they are tastier and more nutritious if you give them time to sprout. For example, the wheat in the following recipe was sprouted for two days. I rinsed them twice a day, then left the suspended jar sitting around. That's it. By the third day, I had gorgeous long tails on my sprouts, so I stored them in a tupperware container in the fridge. The wheat sprouts taste lovely and sweet on their own, and I'll admit I crunched a few handfuls before I got around to making this salad.

Tada - wheat sprouts!

The salad I've created with my sprouted wheat is all about balance. Not only have I included a variety of nutritional elements, but I've also given a lot of thought to flavors and textures that will complement and challenge each other. I started with the sweet wheat sprouts, then added raisins to play up the sweet note even more and cashews for creamy crunch. Tamarind and lemon in the dressing add tartness and a bit of astringency, while coconut oil and a full palette of spices conjure up Indian imagery. A fresh burst of coriander and a hint of celery's salty crunch finish the dish. I couldn't resist a bit more green goodness on my plate, hence the cos and avocado (what can I say, I'm green-food obsessed). Harmony and dissonance in every bite - an ayervedic symphony.

Sprouted Wheat Salad with Tangy Tamarind Dressing

1 cup sprouted wheat
1 stalk celery
1/4 cup fresh coriander/cilantro
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup cashews
6 cos lettuce leaves or 2 small handfuls of mixed greens
1/2 avocado

1 Tbsp coconut oil, softened
1 Tbsp tamarind puree
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried thyme
juice of 1/2 lemon

For the salad: Thinly slice celery stalk on the diagonal and roughly chop the coriander. Combine sprouted wheat, sliced celery, chopped coriander, raisins and cashews in a bowl.

For the dressing: In a small bowl, combine softened coconut oil, tamarind puree, spices and lemon juice. Mix vigorously to form a thick dressing.

Assembly: Pour dressing over salad and toss well to achieve uniform coating. Prepare two serving bowls or plates, each with either three cos lettuce leaves torn in half or with a small handful of mixed greens. Top each plate with half the salad mixture. Thinly slice the avocado half on the diagonal, and garnish each plate with 1/4 of the avocado.

-Replace half or all of the raisins with goji berries or chopped dried apricots.
-Replace the sprouted wheat with sprouted brown rice or any other grain of your choice.
-Replace cashews with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Durian Appreciation 101

The durian is a bit of an enigma. Just look at the thing. Weighing in at 2-4 kg and covered with precarious spikes, it's not exactly screaming "eat me!" Yet here I am, eagerly watching as Sufiyo breaks into the precious commodity. All I can think is, how did I get here?

Peaches and apricots adopt lovely orange and pink hues to encourage consumption, leading one to rightly assume that the flesh will be soft and sweet. Berries shine in the sun and tempt with obvious juiciness, while mangoes and other tropicals emit tantalizing aromas. But the durian plays no such tricks. Its color is a dull brown, the countless spikes are actually quite sharp, and a fresh one smells like old gym socks (I kid you not). Why on earth does anyone eat this thing?

The fact is, the durian is a sort of raw food holy grail. If you like durian, you're a true raw foodie. Now I was having my first taste with veteran raw foodies and durian obsessees, so I must admit I felt a lot of pressure to actually enjoy this strange fruit. And strange it was. Ours had been frozen, which is, unfortunately, the only way they are available in Melbourne. So it didn't give off much of its infamous odor, which was probably a good thing for my first time. As I listened to Sufiyo explain how to choose a good durian (make sure it gives only slightly to touch, peel away the spikes a bit while the shop owner isn't looking and inspect the texture of the flesh), I felt a mixture of excitement and revulsion. But when she cracked the thing, I thought that the large, custard-colored pods looked rather inviting. So I went for it.

The taste is really something indescribable, but since I'm a writer, I'll give it a shot. My first observation was texture - creamy, smooth, custard-like. The initial flavor impression that I got was mildly sweet, sort of vanilla with a hint of almond, but slowly something that didn't seem to belong crept up. I can only describe it as fried onions. Not offensive, but really strange and hard to get used to.

"It tastes...strange."

Between four of us we polished off about 1 1/2 durians. I don't know if I could have eaten as much if it hadn't been for Sufiyo's amazing cacao sauce. She actually used Loving Earth's coconut cacao butter as a base, adding some agave and melting it in warm water, but it would be easy to make a homemade version with coconut oil, cacao powder, and agave. Dipping the durian flesh in the cacao sauce was like heaven, and took some of the oniony edge off of the fruit's flavor.

Durian + cacao = tryptophan heaven

About ten minutes into gorging ourselves I started to feel really giddy, giggly and silly. This was followed by waves of calmness. I can only attribute this to the high tryptophan content of the fruit (tryptophan is a seratonin precursor, as well as an essential amino acid). In fact, cacao is also relatively rich in tryptophan. So not only does this stuff taste good (well, interesting, at the very least), it also makes you feel good. Raw food is amazing.

So was it worth it? Well, I'm glad that I went with my animal instinct and had a chomp of this forbidding fruit. My experience was closest to that of the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who described the fruit in 1856 as, "A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds...but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes," but I must admit I do understand why chef Andrew Zimmern thinks it tastes like "completely rotten, mushy onions." I'm not rushing out to buy anothe durian tomorrow, but I am eager to taste one fresh off the tree next time I can make it to tropical paradise. In the meantime, I'll let myself be lured by the fruits that flaunt their flavor. Excuse me while I go have a mango.
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