This chapter is geared towards the budding raw chef who would like to develop new and delicious food based on original cooked recipes.
I don’t come from a chef background, in fact before I became a raw foodist I didn’t know how to cook let alone un-cook. Up until I was 27 years old I still lived at home where my mum always cooked for the whole family, so there was no reason for me to get my apron dirty. I would come home from work hungry and tired and the dinner would be ready to eat. How nice, I hear you all say, it was very nice, but when I turned to raw food in 2004 I knew I could no longer expect my mum to prepare my food. And so I finally began to learn my way around the kitchen. Experimenting with food was fun, sometimes tasty and sometimes not. In that time I also got involved in volunteering at any raw food event possible and just by chance landed in Chad Sarnos kitchen. This is where I learnt how to really manipulate food to look and taste cooked without actually cooking a thing.
A painting or a piece of music has to entice its audience, captivate the imagination and satisfy the senses, food preparation is the same as any art because it too has to appeal to the senses. With other art forms only 2-3 of the senses are aroused whereas cuisine plays on all five of our senses.
For all these reasons it is very important that care is taken when preparing and inventing new recipes in the kitchen especially when one is trying to entice friends and family into trying new and fresh things.
When I got tired of hearing my friends and family asking me what I ate, and thinking my diet consisted of carrot sticks and ‘boring salads’ I thought it was about time I put the lettuce leaf where my mouth is. I started to look at Greek cook books for inspiration and developed my own set of rules. My three golden rules for creating a raw recipe are:
Starting with taste; I believe that herbs and spices are the secret to successful recipe adaptation. After all it is the herbs and spices that have the most flavor and these are what we taste and smell first and what makes a dish unique in flavor. Once you have imitated the taste in a raw recipe you are halfway there. When we look at a cooked recipe the flavours which make it what it is are, more often than not, raw to begin with, so why change that. However do be careful not to introduce too many strong flavours to begin with because the combination could overpower your dish and make it inedible. The secret here is to add spices in small doses try it and if needed add some more.
With flavour out of the way we can then concentrate on the texture of the dish, it is all very well throwing all of your raw ingredients into a food processor and the flavour being spot on, but if all your food is like baby food in texture you will get bored of it very quickly and you’ll find it hard to appeal to others with a lump of brown goo. You’ll then need to consider whether you want your dish to be crunchy or smooth, or a combination of both, whether the vegetables you are using need to be softened or marinated and whether you need something to bind the ingredients together so they stick and are easy to manipulate into ‘meat’balls for example (see The Raw Greek book for recipes and inspiration).
And finally appearance is a key factor in preparing food. If you want to appeal to the masses you need to present your food in a colourful tasty looking way. When adapting recipes try to consider how the cooked alternative looks, the shape, colour and way it is presented. If you are imitating a deep fried ball of some sort you will need a smooth mixture which you can mould into a ball shape, if it is a wrap or pastry then you will need to encase your ingredients with a pastry alternative or you can use a soft or marinated leaf or vegetable to hold the filling together. This is where good kitchen equipment comes into action. If what you are recreating has been originally fried then a dehydrator is key, it allows you to give the food a crunchy exterior while remaining soft on the inside all at low temperatures so not killing all the nutrients from frying. Other useful equipment includes a mandoline which is like a mini guillotine enabling you to slice and dice any vegetable or fruit, it is very useful for slicing vegetables thinly which can then be used to wrap your filling in. And finally a good food processor to mix those lovely dips in. Most good food processors come with an array of extra gadgets such as a grater, citrus juicer, slicer etc; these parts often find their way into the back of a cupboard and stay there. In a raw foodist kitchen however, they can be imperative for achieving the perfect results.
Below is a list of some basic cooked ingredients and their raw alternatives.
Rice – Processed Parsnip looks a lot like rice and with the right spices and flavours it can taste like any rice dish.
Cous cous/Cracked wheat – Processed cauliflower also has a grainy appearance and doesn’t have an overpowering taste, so can be jazzed up with herbs and spices and will feel and taste great.
Meat – Marinated mushrooms become chewy a perfect alternative to meat. Soaked and processed walnuts are very good for savoury dishes which require mincemeat, they have a depth of flavour which is almost meaty when added to the right spices.
Cooked vegetables – Marinating any vegetable from aubergine, beetroot or spinach in lemon juice, olive oil and salt for a few hours will soften the vegetable making them less testing on the jaw and more palatable. Hard vegetables such as carrot, sweet potato, and butternut squash can be grated so that the flavour is present in an overall softer textured dish.
Pastry (something to hold the filling together) – thinly sliced courgettes do not have an intrusive taste and if sprinkled with salt and allowed to sweat a while they become soft enough to fold or roll, be sure to rinse the salt off properly first.
Alternatively you can blend together some vegetables and a fat such as nuts or seeds and spread out on a teflex sheet and dehydrate until solid but still pliable.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with equipment and ingredients. Using these key points I believe that almost anything can be achieved without the use of complicated ingredients which are hard to come by. Good luck and don’t forget to have fun.