As someone who likes to think outside the proofing box, I'm always looking to stay current and expand my culinary horizons. The idea of not cooking, or "uncooking" as it is sometimes called by devotees of raw food, first brought up images of Woody Harrelson in yoga pants, eating bean sprouts on a bio-diesel fueled bus. In his 2003 film Go Further, Woody traveled around the country with a personal raw foods chef, extolling the virtues of a plant-based raw diet.
I was mildly intrigued, but when restaurant heavyweights and illustrious chefs Charlie Trotter and Matthew Kenney came on board with gourmet raw food cookbooks, it became time to check it out in earnest.
Anthony Bourdain famously called vegans "the Hezbollah of vegetarians." The idea of people eating only foods that are raw or "living" and vegan first sounds like a very limiting, ascetic proposition. But one flip through the gorgeous color photographs of either of these books, featuring exquisite gourmet food, puts that notion into question.
This isn't cabbage and carrot sticks. It's Three Peppercorn-Crusted Cashew Cheese with Honeycomb and Balsamic vinegar. It's Asparagus and Porcini Ravioli with Lemon Cream and Balsamic Fig Puree. It's Tengusa Seaweed Gelee with Sea Beans and Jalapeno-Lemongrass Vinaigrette. Heck, it's even Tacos Three Ways.
To accomplish a full-on gourmet meal from simple raw and vegan ingredients requires some completely different skills and techniques. Take for example the taco shell., Trotter and Klein's is made from sunflower seeds, flax seeds, a filtered fermented grain water called Rejuvelac, onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and other seasonings. Kenney and Melngailis' from fresh corn kernels, red bell pepper, golden flax, lime juice, chili powder, sea salt and cumin. This is spread thinly in a dehydrator, to "bake" it into a taco shell while keeping it under the critical temperature of 105F or 115F, which each party considers the line between what is cooked and raw. For taco fillings, there's everything from a fake re-fried beans paste made from soaked sunflower seeds, sundried tomatoes, miso and seasonings, to avocado-corn guacamole, to a "sour cream" made from immature Thai coconut meat, cashews, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and white miso.
Trotter and Klein's Black Mission Fig Tart with Walnut Cream is divine and simple, with a tart shell made from raw Brazil nuts, dried figs and raw walnuts (soaked to improve flavor and for other "raw" reasons, to get rid of the enzyme inhibitors), filled with a walnut cream and topped with fresh figs and lavender honey.
There are also brilliant salads in both books. The Red Grapefruit, Avocado and Fennel Salad from Kenney and Melngailis was a huge hit at a dinner party I hosted for a rustic food-loving Italian family. The Corn, Jicama, Asian Pear and Cucumber Salad with Avocado Puree in Trotter and Klein is fresh, light, and beautifully presented.
I also thought Trotter and Klein's use of raw parsnip and soaked pine nut in a puree to create a base for sushi rice or to fill dolmas was creative and delicious. And after eating their Stuffed Anaheim Chiles with Mole and Jicama and Baby Corn Salad, I think I may never again have to gunk up my home kitchen (and arteries) frying up big batches of chile rellenos.
There are other cookbooks on the subject of raw foods, but many are filled with poorly-informed health propaganda and second rate recipes. These two stand out, not only in the quality and creativity of the foods, but as cookbooks with the wonderful format of full page color photos opposite each recipe.
If I had to pit them against each other, I would say the home cook might do better with Raw Food Real World with its more accessible ingredients, while the Chef might want to see them both, but would be more immediately impressed with Trotter and Klein's Raw. It's a little more "haute," though Raw Food Real World's recipes hold their own.
Whether it was middle age, or middle age spread that made me pick these books up, it has been an interesting and expanding look at a whole new frontier of creativity in the kitchen that's much more than rabbit food.
Now I have to run, because the coals are just getting nice and hot for the 21-day ribeye I bought from my friends who raise organic grass-fed beef. It's autumn, and the Apple Tarte Tatin in the oven is filling the house with heavenly aromas. I must go check that it doesn't get overcooked.
Red Grapefruit, Avocado, and Fennel Salad
This recipe works equally well with oranges in place of the grapefruits. Blood oranges, if you can find them, are especially pretty. Macadamia oil is really nice in this salad, but feel free to use any other cold-pressed nut oil or high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Cilantro or basil substitute nicely for mint. The cracked coriander is not necessary, but we recommend it for extra flavor.
3 large ruby red grapefruits or 5 oranges
1/4 cup macadamia oil
1 T lime juice
Coarse sea salt
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, sliced thinly
1 very small handful mint leaves, julienned
Freshly ground black pepper
1 t cracked coriander seeds (optional)
Fennel fronds for garnish.
1. To section the grapefruits or oranges, cut the peel from top and bottom and stand each upright on a cutting board. Cut down from top to bottom along the peel to remove it and expose the flesh. Cut along each side of the membranes to separate the segments, and place the segments in a large bowl, along with any juice that you can squeeze out of what remains (sometimes it helps to carefully cut the grapefruit directly over a bowl). Set aside a few tablespoons of the juice to mix with the oil.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the oil with the lime juice, a few tablespoons of the grapefruit juice, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Place the sliced avocado in a bowl and pour some of the dressing over it, tossing it very gently to coat.
3. Add the fennel, the remaining dressing, and the mint to the grapefruit and toss well. Gently combine the avocado with the grapefruit and fennel and divide among serving plates. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with cracked coriander, if using, and garnish with fennel fronds.
Reprinted from Raw Food Real World, copyright 2005 by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis, Regan Books (Imprint of Harper Collins).
Three Peppercorn-Crusted Cashew Cheese with Honeycomb and Balsamic Vinegar
This is a stunning combination of textures and flavors. First, there are the juxtapositions of the crunchy peppercorn pieces and the creamy cheese, the crispy Smoked Almonds and the chewy dried apricots, the erotic gooeyness of the honeycomb mounds and the elegant crispness of the thyme sprouts. Then we have heat, sweetness, pepperiness, sourness and acidity all rolled into one. The result is a complex, yet harmonious, enticement.
1 cup raw almonds, soaked for 8-10 hours in filtered water
1/4 t smoked salt, crushed
1 cup Cashew Cheese (see below)
1-1/2 t black peppercorns, crushed
1-1/2 t green peppercorns, crushed
1 T pink peppercorn shells, crushed
1/4 pound honeycomb, broken into small pieces just before using
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
4 t 12-year-old Villa Manodori balsamic vinegar
8 t micro thyme sprouts
Celtic sea salt
Method - To make the Smoked Almonds: Drain the almonds, place in a bowl, and toss with the smoked salt. Spread the almonds on a nonstick drying sheet on a dehydrator shelf and dehydrate at 105F for 24 hours, or until crisp. Remove the almonds from the dehydrator, quarter almonds lengthwise, and coarsely chop 8 almonds. Reserve the remaining almonds for another use.
To prepare the cheese: Press the Cashew Cheese into a ring mold 5 inches in diameter and 1 inch deep. Combine all the peppercorns in a bowl, stir well, and then sprinkle the peppercorn mix onto the top of the cheese. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Carefully remove the cheese from the mold and cut into 4 wedges.
Assembly - Place a wedge of the peppercorn-crusted cheese on each plate. Arrange one-fourth of the honeycomb pieces, dried apricots, and Smoked Almonds in a line down the plate. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the vinegar around the honeycomb pieces, apricots, and almonds. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the thyme sprouts and salt to taste.
Wine notes - Abundantly scented Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley reflects the honey, apricot, and smoked almond flavors of the dish. The Cashew Cheese is generously crusted with peppercorns, which adds up to some spicy heat. Savennieres, made by Nicolas Joly is a unique and complex wine that becomes more focused when it is paired with this course. Joly is also one of the most outspoken champions of biodynamic farming.
3 cups raw cashews, soaked for 10-12 hours in filtered water
1/4 cup Rejuvelac (below, or purchase from a health-food store)
1/2 t Celtic sea salt
In a high-speed blender or a Champion juicer with the blank plate in place, process the cashews until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Rejuvelac and salt, mixing well. Line a sieve with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Transfer the mixture to the sieve, drape the cheesecloth over the top, and leave in a warm place to ripen for 12 hours.
Remove the cheese from the cloth-lined sieve. Shape the mixture into a round, place in a covered container, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or until it firms up. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
The fermented liquid that is drained from sprouted grains, usually rye or wheat berries. You can make your own, or you can purchase it at a health-food store.
1/2 cup wheat or rye berries
Filtered water as needed.
In the evening, place the wheat or rye berries in a sprouting jar, and fill the jar with water. Let stand overnight. The next morning, drain the berries and spread them on a sprouting rack (a plastic or glass rectangular container line with wet paper towels can be substituted). Leave them to sprout for 1 to 2 days, rinsing them 3 times a day. They are ready when 1/4 inch tails have emerged.
Place the sprouts in a wide container with at least 3-inch-high sides and add 4 cups filtered water. Let stand in a warm spot for 12 to 14 hours, or until the liquid smells slightly fermented.
Strain off the liquid (this is the Rejuvelac) into a clean jar. Use immediately, or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The same sprouts may be used 3 more times to make additional Rejuvelac.
Reprinted with permission from Raw, copyright 2003 by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Ca.