Thursday, June 16, 2011

Raw Food for Thought

I'm stuffed! That was SO good!

I have to admit that I was skeptical about the whole "Raw Food" movement when it started gaining popularity. I understand that of course fresh fruit and veggies have more nutrients than their cooked counterparts*.

*interestingly, frozen veggies and fruit, which are often cheaper, routinely have higher vitamin and nutrient content than shipped fresh fruit. My husband swears by the "Europe's Best" brand and warns against using the generic brands since they don't taste nearly as good. Stock up if there's a sale on! Better yet, buy fresh, local produce that you've frozen yourself - best taste, best nutrition!

There are several groups of thought on why a "raw" diet is a preferrable one, many of which I (I'm sorry!) feel have limited if not incorrect 'scientific' support.

But what is important is that raw fruit and veggies do contain more vitamins and nutrients (including antioxidants), and raw food requires no cooking, so it's good for lowering energy consumption as well! Vitamins B and C in particular breakdown or leach out of fresh produce as it sits, and boiling or heating coagulates proteins (case in point - an egg before versus after you cook it! Big difference!). Some raw-foodists believe that some enzymes (which are complex proteins) found in raw food aid in digestion. This is completely debatable, but regardless it is true that cooking changes the very nature of your food.

Some people believe that the bacteria present on the surface of the raw foods either also aid in digestion, or help to populate the gut for a normal bio-flora. There is an important point I'd like to make, though - BAD bacteria are also living on the surface. Now normally it's not an issue, but organic produce (and non-organic alike) may be sprayed with manure slurry to fertilize, which contains E. coli and other fecal bacteria which can be extremely dangerous. (Keep in mind the recent E. coli troubles in Germany and other parts of Europe). Even my home-grown lettuce won't be fecal coliform-free, thanks to little sparrows doing their business on my plants!

Raw Cucumber Curry Salad - link to recipe here

So for the spinach salad I made, I soaked the spinach and cilantro in a <10% bleach solution (i.e. 1 part bleach in about 10 parts of water) in the salad spinner, before rinsing and spinning dry. (Thanks Chansonette for reminding me of this safety procedure!). I didn't do this before I accidentally gave myself a case of food poisoning (also from a raw spinach salad), but I do it all the time now. A small amount of bleach isn't dangerous environmentally, and if you leave a 10% solution sitting, the bleach will evaporate and be perfectly safe to dump.

One of the saddest raw food tragedies, which happens time and time again, is when people consume unpasteurized milk products like raw cheeses, etc. I studied Microbiology in university, and I'm always amazed by the sort of people who believe that the government or 'society' is keeping the 'good stuff' from them by requiring pasteurization. If you are one of these people, you should learn why these legislations have been put in place. The death of a pregnant lady (and of course her unborn baby) on Vancouver Island a few years back from Listeriosis is probably a similar situation to one that precipitated these wide-sweeping 'rules' in the first place; a desire to keep people alive and safe. The heart is in the right place, and so is the brain. If you don't have a degree in Micro., think twice about what you eat (or look it up online first!).

But don't be discouraged! With a little smarts and good judgment, raw can be a great meal choice! I should know - I just had a fantastic raw food dinner!

This was AMAZING! "Watermelon Lemonade" - can't recommend it enough!

If I scared you off, I apologise! Visit Gorilla Food, a raw food restaurant downtown where professionals do the meal-prep, and you won't have to worry! Otherwise, forge on ahead!

The first experience I had with raw food for the sake of raw was at a friend's place. Ranji served up raw fruit bruschetta, masala cauliflower florets, and some very appetizing crudites (which I, alas, had to pass on thanks to raw garlic or raw red onion). It was surprisingly tasty and refreshing.

Anyway, I encourage you to have a go at a raw-food meal sometime soon. On a hot summer day, no one wants to slave over the oven. Here's what we had for dinner tonight (we did cheat a bit - the beetroot hummous and rice chips weren't 'raw', but they sure were healthful and yummy!):

Watermelon Lemonade (from Bethany Tait's blog - only 3 ingredients! Watermelon, lemon juice and agave nectar. This was incredibly tasty - we loved it!)

Mango Avocado Salad (from "We Like It Raw" - easy, but not terribly impressive)

Raw Cucumber Curry Salad (from "The Raw Way" - very, very good! Delicious!)

Curried Cauliflower 'Couscous' (also from Bethany Tait's blog - another great dish)*
*I modified this by adding Kalonji seeds, which you will have on hand if you have the Vij's At Home cookbook. It added visual interest and an onion-like flavour

So the two dishes that weren't raw were:

I stand by my cheating. It was worth it.
Riceworks gourmet brown rice crisps and Beetroot Hummous
I've been wanting to make that beetroot hummous for the 7 or so years I've owned that cookbook, and boy was it delicious! I had to use up a half dozen shrivelled beets with mouldy tops in my vegetable crisper from who-remembers-when. I put them to good use alright. I think I must've eaten the beet greens and forgotten about the roots altogether... They were in surprisingly good shape, though!

The beetroot hummous is fantastic, better than the usual stuff!
There are recipes for dehydrated raw 'crisps', but I cheated a little.
I meant to make dessert as well (though admittedly the watermelon-lemonade was sweet enough), but I couldn't find Medjool dates at Central Gourmet or Kits Market (didn't make it to Apple Farm Market, unfortunately). I wanted to make a very intriguing raw chocolate mousse which I saw on the Dr. Oz show when I was home sick one day. Here's the link to "Chocolate Avocado Mousse". Another version can be found here:

So where to start? Remember that although there are trendy, 'new' recipes worth trying, there are some old stand-bys that are uncooked, too!

For example:
Waldorf salad (lower fat and add health by replacing some mayonnaise with yogurt)
shredded beet and carrot salad (from a raw-food recipe website, but it's an old favourite!)
virtually ANY smoothie
most salads
salsa and guacamole

Here's a raw food tomato curry recipe I'd like to try soon, too (on Loving It Raw)

If no-cook is what you're interested in (and not 'raw' food), here's a great link to the Cheap Healthy Good blog on Blogspot. I don't suppose there's a major difference between "raw food" and "uncooked food", except that the raw foodism movement is supposedly one of simple, unprocessed and natural ingredients, whereas your typical no-bake cheesecake contains Cool-Whip.

It's summer now, and a great time to cool off with raw food! Give it a go, and please share any winning recipes with us all!

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