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What ‘raw food’ actually is (it’s not just about salad!)

Yesterday was July 11th, and also (you probably didn’t know) International Raw Food Day (I didn’t know either, until Google told me). When I first heard about raw food I have to admit I was seriously uninspired. I imagined cold unappetising plates of salad for meal after meal, and never bothered to look any further into it.

I’d probably never have changed my mind if I hadn’t stumbled across a cafe in Fremantle called the Raw Kitchen about 9 months ago. The food at this cafe is truly delicious, and the continuous queues outside and the difficulty in finding a table at the weekends is testament to how good everyone else thinks it is too. As soon as I ate there, I was hooked. It really opened my eyes to just how tasty raw food can be.

What does ‘Raw Food’ mean?

Put simply, raw food is food that has not been heated above 46°C (115°F). As heat destroys nutrients and enzymes, keeping food below this temperature is thought to keep the food at its optimal nutritional levels, and preserve its life-force. Raw food is sometimes referred to as living food. If you’ve ever seen a plate of over-boiled, grey, lifeless and limp vegetables, you should be able to understand this premise.

Often raw food is also free from dairy, eggs, wheat and gluten. Ingredients used are unrefined and as close to their natural state as possible. To get a variety of textures, forms and flavours, techniques such as dehydrating, blending, soaking and freezing are used.

There can be lot of effort required in preparing raw food. Cooking often makes food easier to digest, so if it’s going to be eaten raw then often it needs to be prepared in some other way to make it more digestible. Raw nuts, legumes and wholegrains contain high levels of phytic acid (phytate), which is the molecule plants use to store phosphorus. Humans cannot digest phytic acid, and it binds to minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium, preventing us from absorbing them. To make them easier to digest, there’s a lot of soaking involved (sprouting reduces phytic acid without reducing the nutritional content), and this takes time (often upwards of a few hours). Then, to dry the food again, it needs to be dehydrated, which means using a dehydrator, which run at 46°C and have a fan for air movement, for 8 hours or longer in order to remove moisture. Dehydrators are also used to create the texture of oven-baked food.

My take on Raw Food

I would never eat an entirely raw diet because I love cooked food: I love the comfort of a bowl of piping hot soup on a chilly day, there is a huge space in my life for oven-roasted vegetables and eggs for breakfast on Sunday mornings has to be one of my all-time favourites. Plus, from a sustainability point-of-view, I believe we need to eat according to the seasons, and that means we need to freeze, pickle and preserve. I don’t think it’s possible to eat fresh food every day of the year without importing some of it, and it’s not sustainable to fly fresh produce around the globe.

An entirely or high raw food diet would also put a bit of a strain on the financial budgets of most people, me included. When you try to buy organic, local, free-range and fairtrade it already adds a lot to your weekly shopping basket. To me these are non-negotiable, because the cost of not doing them is far worse. So being able to supplement these with grains helps keep the overall cost of my weekly shop down. Pasta, bread and rice may not have much nutritional value but they’re cheap, filling, and help offset the price of expensive vegetables and other ingredients.

Whilst I understand the principles of dehydrating food, for me, cooking something in the oven at 200ºC for 2 hours makes far more sense. We don’t have solar panels and I don’t think I could justify running a dehydrator for lengthy periods on fossil fuels.

However, there’s definitely a space in my diet for raw food. Particularly raw dessert. There’s no doubt that refined foods have little (or no) nutrition. White flour and white sugar offer nothing but empty calories. So what could be better than a dessert that removes the nutritionally devoid parts and replaces them with ingredients that are super nutritious and tasty?! Yes, raw desserts cost considerably more to make, but our bodies weren’t designed to eat sugary, fatty, carbohydrate-loaded desserts every day (or multiple times a day).

What does raw food look like?

I want to share with you some of the photos I’ve taken from my many visits to the Raw Kitchen. It inspired me to investigate raw food, so maybe it will convince some of you doubter out there that it’s not all lettuce and carrot sticks!

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Even the doubters must have thought some of this looks pretty tasty!

A month without.

Today is the 1st July. I quite like that it also happens to be a Monday. It feels like an even better day for the start of new things. Plastic Free July has started, so it’s a month without plastic. As we don’t buy anything much in plastic these days, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it’ll be good to keep us on our toes and keep track of anything that does come our way, which we will put in the dilemma bag. The dilemma bag is for all the plastic we just can’t do without, or the sneaky plastic that thwarts our attempts to buy plastic-free. When we first gave up plastic, we kept everything in a dilemma bag but we had nowhere to keep it so after a few months we decided to stop. But we’ll resume it for the month and see how much (hopefully none!) we accumulate. Read more

Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups: A Recipe

These are my new favourite thing to make! They’re inspired by Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, except they’re made with real ingredients, not artificial ones, and of course they’re free from preservatives, additives and other nastiness.

I’ve been delaying writing this post whilst I try to perfect them, but I’ve decided I’m gonna share the recipe as it is. They’re pretty damn good as they are, but if I do make them even better I’ll be sure to let you know!

I’ve made my own chocolate from raw ingredients but if you don’t have these ingredients or aren’t fussed about making them raw or vegan you can use melted store-bought chocolate. I reckon you’d need about 1 1/2 cups, which I’d guess would be 250g. (If this number is waaaay out maybe someone could let me know in the comments and I’ll adjust the post!)

I’ve tried making these with brazil nut butter and almond butter, and I loved both, and next on my list is hazelnut butter. You can make your own nut butters for a fraction of the shop price if you have a food processor – find my instructions for making almond butter here.)

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Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups

This will make 12 (if using cucpcake-sized paper or silicone cases)

Prep time 20 minutes, chilling time 30 minutes: that means they are ready to eat in under an hour!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup coconut oil (100g)
35g cacao butter (about 3 tbsp when melted)
55g raw cacao powder (3/4 cup)
80ml maple syrup or agave nectar (1/3 cup)
2 tbsp maca powder (if you don’t have this add 2 tbsp extra cacao instead)

For the filling:

1/2 cup nut butter
1 tsp maple syrup or agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Method:

Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a bowl over a pan of steaming water.

Add maple syrup/agave and stir until combined.

Add cacao and maca and mix well.

Line a muffin or cucpcake tin with 12 paper cases. Spoon 1 dessertspoon in each of the paper/silicone cases. (This should use 1/3 of the mixture – keep the rest).

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Put the tray into the fridge to set (about 15 minutes).

Whilst the chocolate sets, make the filling. Mix 1/2 cup nut butter with the sweetener to form a dough.

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Divide the dough into 12 balls.

Take the tray out of the fridge. One at a time, roll a ball of dough and place on top of the chocolate in the cases, pressing down so the dough almost (but not quite) covers the chocolate. Repeat for all. (If you find the nut butter is sticky, put in the fridge for a few minutes to chill before pressing down).

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Take the remaining chocolate mix (if it has cooled and hardened, simply warm again as before to soften) and spoon two dessertspoons into each case. This should completely cover the dough centres.

If there is any chocolate left over, share amongst the cases.

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Pop back in the fridge to set. This will take another 15 minutes.

Before serving, top with ground sea salt or cacao nibs, or leave plain if you prefer.

Enjoy!

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These need to be kept in the fridge, in an airtight container so they don’t absorb all the other fridge smells.

Enjoy!

How to Make Cashew Nut Milk (A Recipe)

Cashew nut milk is a non-dairy alternative to cow’s (or other animal) milks. Of course it’s not a milk as such, but a blend of cashew nuts and water that has a similar consistency to milk and can be used as a dairy milk replacement in some instances.

It’s got a completely different molecular make-up to dairy milk and won’t respond in the same way to heating, but it’s a great replacement for cold milk.  As I’ve said before though, I’m not a vegan, so what am I doing making cashew nut milk anyway?

Well, I’m passionate about real food. And when that comes to dairy milk, this means non-homogenised, full fat milk with A2 proteins that comes from grass-fed cows, preferably organic or biodynamic. (If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you should probably read this post, which explains the terms and also the health implications in a little more detail).

This milk can be hard to find – in Australia you won’t find it in your local supermarket – and is much more expensive than the mass-produced stuff. Consequently, I buy less than I used to.  Coupled with the fact that I’m quite curious about food anyway, this means I have become more open to alternatives.

Before I stopped buying plastic I used to keep a carton of UHT milk in the cupboard for emergencies. However those cartons contain plastic and aren’t recyclable, so I don’t buy them any more. Now I keep a jar of cashew nuts in the cupboard instead.

Raw cashew nuts are minimally processed and highly nutritious. They contain 80% unsaturated fat which is predominantly oleic acid and also linoleic acid, an omega-6. Cashews also contain a number of vitamins and minerals including iron, phosphorus and calcium. (Have a look here for complete nutritional information).

My main uses for cashew milk are as an ingredient in smoothies, a dairy replacement for muesli and in some dessert recipes, and as an emergency in case we ever run out of cow’s milk, or it sneakily goes off. (Because it only ever goes off when ALL the shops are shut.) You can add cashew milk to tea and coffee (and it won’t curdle), but I prefer dairy milk for that.

How to make cashew nut milk

This recipe makes 750ml milk. You will need a jug-style blender for best results.

Ingredients:
1 cup raw cashew nut pieces (125g), soaked in water for a few hours or overnight
3 cups water (750ml)

Method:

Drain and rinse the soaked cashews.

Put cashews in blender with 1 cup water.

Blend until smooth. Add remaining 2 cups water to the jug and blend briefly to combine. And that’s it! No need to strain.

You can use immediately or store in a jar in the fridge, it will keep for up to 5 days.

Tips:

  • The higher the quality of your blender, the better the results.
  • The longer you blend the milk, the smoother it will be, but the heat from the friction of the blades will gradually cause the milk to warm up. If the nuts are heated too much they may go rancid.
  • Use chilled water if possible, and chill the soaking cashews to help prevent the milk warming too much whilst blending.
  • My blender is made of glass and I find it also helps to chill the jug in the fridge before using.
  • I have tried making this is a food processor and it works okay if you have nothing else, but you will get a much smoother result with a jug blender.
  • If you store your milk in the fridge, remember to shake before using.

If you need more convincing, I’ll be posting some recipes that use cashew milk on the blog in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

Ingredients I love…Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a relatively new addition to my grocery cupboard. When I was growing up coconut oil (and coconut products in general) were considered unhealthy because of their high fat content, in particular their saturated fat content. (Avocados and coconuts are unique among fruit and vegetables for containing saturated fat.) Saturated fat has been linked to heat disease. However coconut oil is now becoming popular again as its properties and their benefits are more widely understood.

It’s worth noting that the coconut oil I’m talking about here is virgin cold-pressed. Virgin cold-pressed coconut oil is produced from fresh coconut meat, which is dried and then pressed to extract the oil, usually within hours of harvesting.

Oh, and one more thing before I begin my list. All things in moderation. Coconut oil might have some amazing properties and health benefits, but eating an entire jar in one sitting isn’t going to do you any favours! Limiting consumption to only a few tablespoons a day is recommended.

Six reasons why I love coconut oil

  1. It’s tasty…and better for you!

Let’s face it, things full of fat always taste much better, and coconut oil is composed of 92% saturated fat. But don’t panic! Not all saturated fats are equal. There are 34 different saturated fatty acids, and of the four found in coconut oil, lauric acid accounts for almost 50%. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid, and medium-chain fatty acids are metabolised differently to other saturated fats.

Medium chain fatty acids tend to be used by the body to provide energy soon after they are consumed, rather than being stored as fat. If fatty acids are used this way they cannot contribute to weight gain. Lauric acid has a particularly high rate of oxidation compared to other fats, meaning it is burned off, making it a valuable source of energy.

  1. It has anti-microbial properties

Lauric acid has antibacterial properties, but can also be converted in the body into monolaurin (glycerol monolaurate), which has even greater anti-microbial properties. In lab tests both lauric acid and monolaurin have been demonstrated to be effective against viruses and pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Salmonella (research here, here, here and here).

  1. It’s good for the heart

There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). High levels of HDL are thought to protect against heart attacks and strokes (see reports here, here, here and here). The lauric acid in coconut oil greatly increases HDL cholesterol in the blood (analysis here) and decreases the total cholesterol to HDL ratio.

  1. It has a long shelf life

Because it is high in saturated fat, coconut oil is resistant to oxidation. (Oxidation is what makes oils rancid, breaking fatty acids down into aldehydes, ketones and alcohol.) Oils high in unsaturated fat are much less stable and prone to going rancid. Some particularly susceptible oils (such as flaxseed oil) will go rancid within weeks; coconut oil can last years. This is great if you’ve bought a jar because you needed 2 teaspoons for a recipe, as it will sit happily in the cupboard until you’re ready to use it again.

  1. It’s not just for eating

Coconut oil is also a great base for beauty products because it is solid at room temperature, has a long shelf life and is easily absorbed by the skin. If you want to make your own beauty products then coconut oil is an essential; I use coconut oil for making my own deodorant and toothpaste. It’s a key oil for making soap and also has great moisturising properties. The anti-bacterial properties of lauric acid have been shown to be effective in treating acne.

  1. It’s a great natural alternative to butter

Because it’s solid at room temperature (it melts at 25ºC) it’s great as a butter replacement in recipes for people who can’t/won’t eat dairy products, or want to cut down. Now I’m not a vegan but I am a fan of the raw vegan treat. Coconut oil is often found in such delights as a substitute for dairy products. What could be better than snacking on food that tastes delicious and is packed full of goodness? What, you don’t believe me that raw vegan treats taste delicious?! Try this recipe and see for yourself!

Raw chocolate

(This recipe is adapted from another recipe I found online – I used to link back to it bu as the link no longer works so it’s been removed.)

Ingredients:
170g coconut oil
110g raw almonds
60ml maple syrup (1/4 cup)
10 – 12 medjool dates
4 tbsp cacao powder

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Method:

Line a 20cm by 25cm tray with greaseproof paper.

Chop the dates finely using a knife. (Don’t attempt to do this in a food processor or you will end up with a big sticky lump attached to the blades)

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Chop the almonds in a food processor until they resemble small nibs, but not so fine that you get a powder. (If you don’t have a food processor then you could use a coffee grinder of chop by hand using a sharp knife)

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Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan on an extremely low heat until it is liquid (it will melt at 25ºC). Add the maple syrup and cacao to the pan and stir.

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Add the chopped dates and nuts and mix well.

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Pour into the lined tin, using a fork to make sure the fruit and nuts are distributed evenly.

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Place in the freezer (make sure the tray is flat) and leave for at least 30 mins until solid. Chop into squares and store in a container in the freezer. (You eat it straight from frozen.) If it doesn’t get eaten immediately, it will last for a month.

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Notes:

Maple syrup is not raw, as it is made from the heated and reduced sap of the maple tree. If you want a raw sweetener then replace the maple syrup with raw honey (which is not suitable for vegans) or raw agave nectar.

Raw cacao is preferable as it is higher in nutrients. If you cannot find it, then I recommend an organic product such as Green & Blacks cocoa powder. Don’t use Cadbury’s as it contains extra ‘flavours’!