Book Review: Practically Raw
I just love getting mail, and my favourite is definitely little book parcels from Amazon or Book Depository. Now that I am an avid Kindle user, the only books I tend to buy these days are cookbooks. I pore over the pages of cookbooks- raw and regular style- soaking up the images of beautifully photographed foods, enjoying how it is all displayed, avidly reading the recipes and noting how different ingredients are combined and always thinking how I might replicate a cooked recipe into a raw version and planning my next new meal to prepare. Yep, total food geek. So I was super happy on Friday when a little parcel arrived on my desk and delivered to me the new book Practically Raw by Amber Shea Crawley
of the blog Almost Vegan. I already own so many raw recipe books, but I don't really think it is ever possible to have too many! Kinda like handbags and shoes....Over the weekend I devoured every page of the book (as I always do when I get a new one), and then I experimented with a few of the recipes. I made the Taco Salad Supreme, which was delicious and a nice twist on making some raw Mexican dishes like nachos or burrito style wraps which use the same ingredients, but this time building them into a hearty salad. I also made the Deconstructed Sushi Bowl, which followed the same kind of idea- instead of wrapping the ingredients into nori rolls, they were built into a delicious meal in a bowl. I tried Amber's Zesty Corn Tortilla Chips recipe for my weekly batch of corn chips in the dehydrator, and was even inspired to try making my first fermented Macadamia Nut Cheese, following her instructions, which was a fun experiment I've been meaning to try for ages. Next up I want to try turning the basic cheese into Balsamic Fig Pistachio Cheese which sounds soooo yummy! The thing that I really like about this book is that the ingredients used for all the recipes are not complicated, and most raw or vegan kitchens would have the ingredients to prepare the majority of the recipes. If there is an ingredient you are missing, then that is okay, as you can refer to Amber's substitutions guide which follows each recipe. This is great for people who are just starting out with raw food prep and may not understand what each ingredient's purpose is in the recipe- providing suitable substitutions takes out the guess work. I also really like that Amber has included the nutritional information for each recipe, so if you are watching your protein or vitamin or calorie intake
this makes it really simple to calculate where you are at after eating one of these prepared recipes.
Another aspect that sets this book apart from other raw cookbooks is that it also includes cooked options for a lot of the recipes. I think this is a fabulous idea, as it takes out a lot of the rigidity that seems to happen in the raw circles which I don't think is really necessary or useful for most people who want to experiment with eating raw and who want to eat healthier. Providing cooked options would also be great for raw foodies who have partners or family members who don't follow the raw food diet, as it would save time in having to prepare separate cooked meals. The cooked versions of these raw dishes would be really healthy and nutritious cooked variations. Also in relation to nutrition, Amber uses little symbols to indicate recipes that are lower fat for those who are concerned about the fat content in their raw diet. This all helps to really make this book a practical one. The chapters in Practically Raw are also quite different to other raw recipe books, with Amber including a whole chapter dedicated to hummus, and another just to kale chips. I also enjoyed
reading her breakfast and brunch chapter, even though most of the recipes are sweeter than what I usually would make for breakfast- but that is just me! The introductory chapter which outlines Amber's philosophies with raw food provides quite in-depth information about eating raw, which is great for those who are just learning the ropes or are curious in knowing more. She explains things in a simple and clear way and provides some useful tips and tricks as well as a nutrition guide to eating raw and a detailed pantry list. Overall this cookbook is a great addition to my own raw library, and I can recommend it to anyone who is interested in raw foods as a good introductory book, that is as its name suggests- very practical. With over 230 pages of recipes, it is a good foundation point for those entering the raw world. It includes colour pictures, but not for every recipe (I'm always keen for pictures for everything!) and the quality of the pics on my copy seemed a bit over-saturated and with too much contrast. But the purpose of this book is not to be an arty cookbook but rather as one that is informational and usable and it certainly achieves that aim. Amber must be very proud of her efforts with this book, and I'm looking forward to trying more of the Practically Raw recipes soon.
Is there any better excuse to eat green for a day than on St Patrick's Day? I think not! I just love how the Irish culture manages to permeate into just about every other culture.....I cannot think of a single country I have been to (and that is a LOT!) where there hasn't been an Irish pub....or where I haven't bumped into Irish lad or lasses for that matter! Anyway, that is beside the point of this blog, which is to encourage all of you who have been thinking about it or wanting to try to try it, to eat green for a day! I don't mean literally- although that could be quite fun to attempt- but more in the sense of eating more fruit and veg than you would normally. Start your day like I did today in this picture with a green power smoothie
accompanied by some avocado on raw celery bread
and sprinkled with some special spirulina green gomashio
....or just go the green smoothie! Then try a salad for lunch and make something completely raw for dinner, something you have been meaning to give a go but haven't had the time/energy/mindset to do it. With the spirit of the green leprauchauns behind you, have a day of green power, and see how different you feel! Happy St Patrick's Day everyone!
The Knives Have It
I would easily say that the most essential piece of equipment for any chef to have, is a good knife. I never realised that choosing the right knife was actually not that easy. It definitely comes down to personal choice, and different chefs will advocate using different kinds for different reasons. In this post I want to share with you the knives I have decided to use, and why I love them so much.
Most people probably use some kind of metallic knife, probably a stainless steel one. However, I have chosen to use ceramic knives for my food preparation. I made this choice after doing a lot of research- who knew there was so much to learn about kitchen knives!
I used to always be a bit scared of using knives with a really sharp blade, however, I have since realised that it is much safer and also much more efficient to use a knife with a sharp blade that will stay sharp. Every day when preparing food, a lot of chopping takes place, particularly of fruit and veg when you are making raw foods. It is for this reason I use ceramic bladed knives.
Ceramic knives have a very thin blade that is actually made of zirconia, which is one of the strongest materials after diamonds. This means that they stay sharp for a really long time- years and years apparently!- without needing to be sharpened. The other advantage is that they are not susceptible to acidic stains or odors because the blade is non-porous, so don't cause oxidisation of the food which can affect the flavour of fruit and veg. The surface is so non-porous that there's virtually no opportunity for any transfer of taste or smell between foods, such as garlic and apples. No color change will happen to foods you've sliced as sometimes occurs with steel blades because ceramic doesn't react to acids and other agents in food. Another advantage of using ceramic knives is their comparatively light weight when compared with stainless steel blades. The ceramic blade surface is also really easy to clean.
There are several reasons why not all chefs use ceramic knives, despite their many advantages. Some chefs find that the metallic bladed knives which are just one piece with the handle and bladed offer better weight and strength when chopping. Also, ceramic blades are not so good for cutting frozen foods, or bones, things that traditional chefs will often need to chop. However, for a raw food kitchen when finely chopping fruit and veg is the main job, ceramic knives are really very suitable.
The thing that I soon discovered is that ceramic knives are a lot more costly than regular ones. When I was pricing a set of ceramic kitchen knives in Australia they were up to $200 for the knives and block. It was also going to be a bit awkward carrying them back to Indonesia with me. So I held off on buying them straight away and decided to go on a hunt in Jakarta.
I was very happily suprised when I found that Ace Hardware sells ceramic knives at a very affordable price! I don't actually need an entire kitchen block of knives- the two knives I use most frequently are a small paring knife and a large chef knife. Ace sold the ceramic paring knife for about Rp60,000 ($6) and the large ceramic knife for Rp 100,000 $10). This is very inexpensive for a knife that should last for a really long time and will also stay really sharp. I also found a ceramic vegetable peeler at Ace for about Rp50,000 ($5). I was really amazed to be ale to get these knives at this price. They seem to be pretty good quality, and are definitely very sharp! One tip I have is not to be fooled by the white colour of the blade- it might look like plastic but it razor sharp and designed to slice!
I also saw on the weekend that Ranch Market has a promotion going at the moment on ceramic Tivoli brand knives. Collect stamps with grocery purchases and buy the knives at a discounted price. This deal is going from now until 17th June. If you get enough stamps you could buy an entire ceramic knife set and block for under Rp 500,000 ($50) which is an excellent price for these sturdy knives that cut food really smoothly.
Of course it really does come down to each individual as to which type of knife they like using, but I do recommend trying ceramic knives, especially when preparing raw foods and if you are concerned about altering the taste and colour of the food you are preparing.
Have you got a preference to the type of knife you like using? Have you used ceramic knives before and found them different to metallic knives?
More dehydrating fun
Dehydrated snacks- raw corn chips, raw crackers, semi dried tomatoes, celery bread, broccoli bites
I've got into a bit of a habit the past few weeks of taking about two hours on a Sunday afternoon to make several batches of goodies to fill the nine trays of my dehydrator. I actually love this experimental kitchen time a lot, and I've got down pat a few delicious recipes, such as celery bread
and cheezy corn chips that are now staples for a few meals in the week ahead. For example, the corn chips are great to make nachos with for dinner one night, and the bread is yummy to have with my salads or to make into mini sandwiches for work lunches. Whilst I seem to have mastered a few recipes, I still haven't quite got down making the equivalent of kale chips using Indonesian spinach, nor have I got the perfect flax cracker recipe yet- though the batch I made this week are pretty close I think! Whilst I did have this small success with crackers, I am still to refine my technique for making kale chips. The kale that people in American seem to have ready access to is not the same as Indonesian kale, known as kailan
, and perhaps this is the problem. The leaves are thinner, so it is difficult to coat the leaves in a flavour and still have them dry crispy. I had a complete disaster this week with all of the leaves sticking to the "non-stick" trays! I made them by covering the leaves in a mixture of kecap manis
, Indonesian sweet soy sauce and nutritional yeast, which I massaged into the leaves before dehydrating. This was a fail, perhaps because the sauce was too sticky. It is okay though, these kind of experiments are good learning experiences and for every fail there is usually two successes for me when I get creative. I'm still always amazed at just how long it takes to dehydrate a batch of snacks like these. Most recipes I've read say that flax crackers should be done within 18 hours, but it still takes over 24 for mine to be ready. I think this is because it is just so damn humid in Indonesia that I need to add about 8 hours of drying time to my goodies. I'm pretty sure it isn't a fault with my new Sedona with its twin fan airing system and timer and temperature controls.
So I'm still toying with timings and quantities and flavours and ingredients, and I'm a geek and find all of it really interesting. The easiest and yummiest new savory snack I made this week was a batch of broccoli bites.
This would have to be the easiest recipe of all time, and the resulting bites of dehydrated, salty broccoli florets are really morish. I also prepared some semi-dried baby tomatoes, which are easy to do by chopping the toms in half and then sprinkling with some herbs before drying. These can be added to salads or soups or even eaten on their own really as a really tasty snack.
If you don't have a dehydrator and would like to try your hand at making some of these goodies, you can use your oven. This is not the ideal method and it is difficult to control the temperature and needs close supervision. It also isn't as good for the environment as a lot of energy is wasted in letting the hot air escape, but it is still an option. Just prop open the oven door about 10 centimetres and keep it on at the lowest temperature so that moisture can escape and the hot air can circulate. Put the goodies into the oven and let the hot air slowly dry the food. You will want to keep an eye on things and turn whatever you are drying so they dry evenly. It might also help to keep the temperature at 42 degrees by having a small fan circulating air around the oven also. It will take several hours depending on what you are drying, and you should be at home during that time if the oven is on, so maybe try this on a day when you will be at home for all of it. I find dehydrating
a really fun way to prepare healthy and delicious snacks. I can totally understand why raw foodists call their dehydrators an unbaking essential.Have you ever tried dehydrating using an oven? What is your favourite dehydrated snack to munch on?
Khmer Cuisine in Cambodia
I have been quiet on here the past week as I was away in Phnom Penh in Cambodia for a conference. It is always nice to travel around the south-east Asian region beyond this island archipelago I call home and to experience a culture that is slightly different to Indonesia's. That said, despite the expanse of sea and land that separates these two countries, I found that there were many similarities between the two places, particularly with the cuisine. I didn't get much of an opportunity while I was in Cambodia to really see and do much outside of the conference, but I did get to sample some of the local dishes and to have a small explore. I went to a market and found a stall that was selling natural skin care products and spices. The company, called Bodia Nature, sources local ingredients to make products such as body scrubs, soaps, creams, essential oils and spices for cooking.
At this store, I learned that many of the ingredients used in Khmer cooking and for natural skin care uses are identical to those used in Indonesia. Khmer food is based around the fusion of hot, sweet, sour and savoury flavours and the range of traditional spices include galangal
, ginger, black and white pepper, kaffir lime, turmeric, chilli
. Such familiar tastes and smells to my mouth and nose!I was able to sample a vegetarian version of the local curry called amok, which is made with a lovely blend of coconut milk and galangal, ginger, turmeric and kaffir lime, similar to the Indonesian opor curry. Another khmer dish I tried was made with eggplant, an ingredient commonly used in Indonesian cooking.
It was also really common to see stalls on the roadside selling fresh coconuts, which I presume form the basis of many Khmer dishes. I was also super happy that for breakfast I could order delicious fresh juice made from the tropical fruits that are so widely available throughout south-east Asia.On my last day in Cambodia I was very excited to go to a salad bar called Vego. This place was great, with a huge salad bar selection for mixing into your own salad creation and they also sold green smoothies! I slurped down a Magic Green made of apple, celery, lime and avocado and felt so happy to enjoy a sorely missed part of my regular daily diet.
We need a place like this one in Jakarta I think!Phnom Penh, from what little I saw of it, really seems like quite a progressive little city, and it is quite beautiful in that it is built along the Thong Le Sap River and has charming Buddhist temples and pagodas on every street. The wide boulevards and French influence in the architecture reminded me a bit of Vietnam, with PP being a smaller, quieter and more peaceful version of Hanoi. Being in Cambodia and sampling some food that was different to my normal fare has inspired me to experiment a bit more with the delicious spices and flavours in my kitchen in Indonesia, as they really are the soul of the local cuisine
of this region. I feel like they are also really healing foods, there being a slight medicinal quality to them. I also can't wait to try some of the 100% natural body care products I bought- some handmade soaps and a body scrub. If only it was possible to share smells, because the tangy yet slightly sweet aroma of the lemongrass body scrub jar when I opened it was truly invigorating. Do you use traditional south-east Asian ingredients much in your own recipes? Which are your favourites?
The Great Protein Debate
An amazing non-flesh based source of protein is tempeh
I went to a really fun pot-luck dinner last weekend. It was great to be able to make some raw vegan dishes to suprise everyone with. I made my signature main course dish of zucchini bolognese and my signature dessert chocolate mousse tarts
- I had everyone guessing what the secret ingredient in the mousse was, and suprised many people when they found out their dessert included avocado! This gathering was a really good forum for talking to people about raw foods, and to quell some of their concerns about being healthy when following this lifestyle. One question I was asked more than once that night, and which I regularly get queried about, is in relation to protein. In my studies at IIN, we have been learning about different dietary theories, and the question of protein did come up in a lecture recently. It seems to be a lot of information about the place, along with a lot of misinformation, regarding just how much protein we actually need. It seems that the mainstream population has been brainwashed over the years to believe that we need to eat more protein than is really necessary, something that has occurred from the meat industry promoting its meat products over the years. T
he reality is that our bodies need 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh. The RDA recommends people who eat primarily wholefoods should increase it to 1 gram of protein per kilo of body weight. Hence, if you are a raw vegan and weigh 70kg, you will need 70 grams of protein in a day. This essentially means that if you drink 1 cup of almond milk, eat 1/4 cup sunflower and pumpkin seeds, half an avocado, and a bunch of kale/spinach, you have had your required allowance. If you actually calculate the protein in the food you eat, you would be surprised just how much you actually have without realising it. Most people are actually consuming far too much protein every day for their bodies to efficiently process it.
Out of all the amazing places we can get protein, tempeh
is one of the best ones, with 41 grams of protein per 100 grams. This is the highest form of protein that our bodies can absorb as it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies require. You can often find natural, organic tempeh that is not that processed and is really great for you. Snacks like my tempeh manis
are perfect for getting some of this perfect protein in a raw vegan diet. In fact, everything we eat contains protein, and there are loads of other plant-based protein sources that can be eaten to sustain out daily protein needs. I certainly agree that we don't need to eat as much protein as we have been led to believe, but at the same time, it does depend on our own bio-energy. If someone is body building or a professional athlete, of course they will need more protein than the average person. Kids also need to eat enough protein when they are growing
up. For me, a mid-30s female who does spinning a few times week, yoga on the other days and who works a desk job, I'm getting enough protein solely from from plant sources in my diet. My main daily sources of protein come from green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds which I eat every, single day in my green smoothie, in my lunch and dinner, and from my snacks. I am a very healthy person. I have been relying on clean plant-based protein sources since I was a teen and I am strong and toned. I say that for people who are worried about being a vegan or raw vegan and whether they will get enough protein, perhaps consider some of the super foods that are out there. These are certainly a better option environmentally and energetically than animal/flesh based sources.
A lot of these superfood proteins can easily be added to a smooothie, shake, or salad and can increase the protein intake of your diet without any difficulty. The best thing with these superfoods is that they are known as complete proteins, the same as tempeh and soy products. Goji berries
are really cheap and readily available in Indonesian supermarkets- I throw them on my fruit salad every morning. Spirulina
is also a fabulous protein source, as is chlorella which I have noticed is now sold in the Farmer's Market. Other superfoods are not so easy to get in Indonesia, but are great additions if you can source them, such as chia seeds
, hemp seeds and bee pollens (I stock up on these items when I go home to Australia ever year). I've also been reading tonnes about the power of maca
recently and this superfood contains 17 of the 18 essential and non-essential amino acids. I haven't sourced it yet in Jakarta, but I am making inquiries to get some sent here so I can try it and see what benefits I feel. It is quite fun experimenting with how the body reacts positively to different nutrients.I could write separate articles on each of the protein sources I've just mentioned - hey, good idea, maybe I will!- because in addition to being great protein sources, they have bazillions of other great health benefits too (hence why they are called superfoods!).
So don't let your fear of not eating enough protein stop you from experimenting with eating more raw vegan foods. As a vegan, protein is actually one of the easiest aspects of your diet that needs to be managed, much to the disbelief from the wider public. If you lead a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you will find that you have increased energy and are much healthier. What fears do you have about trying to eat more of a vegan or raw vegan diet? What non-animal protein sources do you like to enjoy?