I strive to eat really, really healthy food at least once a day because, well, I know I need to balance out all the baking and miscellaneous tasting that happens in my life. But I have to confess that until recently I really didn’t know very much about how to prepare and enjoy a wider variety of raw foods. Sure, I adore salads and smoothies but a little part of me has long subscribed to the rather narrow view that there’s a reason why many people tend to call the act of food preparation ‘cooking’ – because we typically heat or cook ingredients to form tasty, appealing dishes.
So here’s what little I did know about raw food until recently:
- Supermodel and actress Carol Alt – who still looks extraordinarily youthful – is an aficionado of and ambassador for this style of eating.
- By definition, raw food is anything is not processed at over 115 degrees Fahrenheit (meaning dehydrated fruits and vegetables can still be considered ‘raw’).
- Because you are not cooking away the nutrients, proponents insist raw food has myriad health benefits.
Since reading Natasha Kyssa’s just-published book, The SimplyRaw Kitchen, I am happy to have broadened my horizons in a whole lot of delicious ways. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Dishes made solely with raw ingredients can be as delicious – and sometimes even more so – than those which are cooked and are often more easily digested.
- With some expert advice (in the form of tested, proven recipes) and a very small amount of time, it’s easy to prepare raw dishes that are tasty and satisfying enough to fuel the busiest of lives (yes, even for athletes).
- If you are serving raw dishes to people you suspect to be skeptics, just serve the food up with a smile and they will probably enjoy them without even realizing they’re raw!
I’m not usually one to gush over cookbooks because, let’s face it, there are an awful lot of recipes available online now. And yet, I find there is still something so satisfying about curling up in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and a cookbook. I like drooling over the gorgeous ‘food porn’ photos and putting little sticky flags on all the recipes I plan to try my hand at making. My copy of The SimplyRaw Kitchen now has a lot of sticky flags.
I’ve recently become a big fan of nutritious smoothies and there are so many great variations in the book that this new breakfast routine will likely never become boring. The soups are equally appealing and quick to prepare, as most are composed of just a few ingredients and whipped up in a blender. I am particularly excited to try Natasha’s recipes for ‘cheeze’ – blends of nuts and seeds that are creamy and delicious. I think the true test of the cookbook will come when I serve main course dishes to my meat-loving husband. The “Rad Pad Thai” will be one of the first ones we try and I am excited about some of the cooked vegan dishes contained in the book as well. I would be remiss in not mentioning the dessert section of The SimplyRaw Kitchen. Having tasted several of Natasha’s desserts in the past, I can attest to the fact that raw desserts are intriguing, full of flavour and in some ways superior to traditional baked ones (see her brownie recipe, below).
Perhaps this cookbook’s greatest value comes from the 40+ pages of information provided at the beginning. A discussion on the benefits of whole foods and eating a plant-based diet is followed by ‘Kitchen Essentials’ which includes not only Natasha’s food philosophy but also key ingredients, tools and techniques for incorporating raw foods into one’s diet. Nutritional information and time-saving shortcuts are sprinkled liberally throughout the book – an added bonus – and every recipe is 100% vegan and gluten-free.
I sat down recently with Natasha, who teaches classes and also operates a fantastic little café called SimplyRaw Express in Ottawa’s Hintonburg neighbourhood, to talk about raw food in general and the launch of her second book. Here’s a summary of our conversation:
Q: You’re already very busy with the café, teaching and doing consulting – what was the inspiration for producing a cookbook?
A: I would say it’s a tribute to my 86 year old mother, who taught me the value of eating nutritious, minimally-processed foods. She has contributed some recipes to the book and I am so happy to have been able to share this project with her.
Q: There seems to be a perception that it takes a lot of extra time to prepare food if you are a vegan or eat a raw diet. What is your response to that?
A: Believe it or not, I don’t actually enjoy being in the kitchen that much so for me, food preparation has to be quick, delicious and not complicated. Eating raw is actually so much simpler and faster than eating cooked foods.
Q: What’s a good place to start if you want to incorporate more raw foods into your diet?
A: I usually recommend that people start with smoothies. They are so simple to prepare, so nourishing and so easy to digest. As your body responds to this shift, you can start to incorporate things like more salads into your every day meals and then savoury soups are a great next step. Before you know it, your body will be craving raw foods and you likely will not want to eat as many of the things you ate before.
Q: Do you have any favourites among the recipes you chose to include in this book?
A: I suppose some of the desserts would be favourites, especially because I’ve been serving them to my family for many, many years. The chocolate-almond butter cups, peppermint patties and the lemon cheezecake are always crowd pleasers. I’m also very pleased with my recipes for cheeze – many vegans find giving up cheese one of the hardest sacrifices but these recipes are a wonderful alternative.
Q: What would you like people to take away from reading and cooking with your book?
A: I hope they’ll realize how easy it is to be a raw foodist, whether they eat that way all or just part of the time. Raw isn’t bland or boring; it can actually be so creative and flavourful. It’s a very accessible cuisine.
If you are interested in meeting Natasha, sampling some of her delicious food and picking up a copy of her new book, she’s hosting a launch event at her café on September 28, 2013 – click here for all the details!
Natasha has graciously allowed me to share two of her recipes from The SimplyRaw Kitchen with you. I’ve made them both and can attest to how truly yummy they are.
Real Tomato Soup
Delicious, satisfying, and nostalgic. After making this, you will never buy tomato soup in a can again!
Makes 2–4 servings
4 large tomatoes, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
½ cup (125 mL) hemp seeds
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp light miso
2 tbsp gluten-free tamari
½ avocado, chopped
1 tbsp maple syrup or a few drops stevia (optional)
dash Himalayan salt, to taste
dash freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp chopped chives, for garnish (optional)
In a blender, process tomatoes, bell peppers, hemp seeds, lime juice, miso, tamari, avocado and maple syrup until smooth. Season to taste and garnish with chives.
Note: Tamari is a “cooked” food. A naturally fermented soy sauce that contains no preservatives or sugar, it adds a rich and salty flavor to dishes (you may choose to use a reduced-sodium variety). Most tamari contains wheat, so look for gluten-free.
Righteous Brownies with Caramel Frosting
These brownies can be made (and devoured!) in just a matter of minutes, but they also
store well in the freezer. Frosting is optional, but well worth the extra step.
Makes about 12–16 brownies
1 cup (250 mL) dry pecans
1 cup (250 mL) dry walnuts
1 cup (250 mL) coconut flour
⅛ tsp Himalayan salt
½ cup (125 mL) pitted Medjool dates
¾ cup (185 mL) cacao powder
2 tbsp almond butter
½ cup (125 mL) maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla extract
In a food processor, process pecans, walnuts, coconut flour, and ⅛ tsp salt until finely ground. Add dates, cacao powder, almond butter, maple syrup, and vanilla extract and blend until well combined. Evenly press mixture into 8 x 8-in (2-L) pan.
1 cup (250 mL) cashews, soaked for 30 minutes or more
½ cup (125 mL) maple syrup
¼ cup (60 mL) coconut sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp Himalayan salt
1 tsp lucuma powder (optional)
¼ cup (60 mL) melted coconut oil
¼ cup (60 mL) cacao nibs, for garnish
In a blender or food processor, blend cashews, maple syrup, sugar, vanilla extract, ¼ tsp salt, and lucuma powder until smooth. Add coconut oil and blend until well combined. Spread frosting over brownies and sprinkle with cacao nibs.
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of The SimplyRaw Kitchen but I was not compensated in any way to write about or endorse the book. All opinions are my own.