Nutrition Ambition

Welcome to my vegan food blog! When it comes to food, my philosophy is that taking time to lovingly prepare your own meals can result in better health and greater life satisfaction. I use natural, whole ingredients to create nourishing, exciting meals which replenish mind, body and spirit. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Herbed Cashew Cheese

When I heard about making your own raw vegan cheese, I just had to try it. I'm always up for a little adventure in the kitchen! In both Vibrant Living by James Levin and Raw by Roxy Klien (see my review of this great book in a previous post), the authors give instructions on making nut cheeses. It really only requires just a few very simple ingredients and some time. See my comments below on how to make the cheese-making process safe and keep bad bacteria out of the cheese. There are a few phases to making cheese:
Step 1-making the rejuvalac:
* 2 tablespoons wheat berries
* filtered water
* a clean wide-mouth jar
* a piece of cheese cloth
* a rubber band
Start by combining the wheat berries and about 1 cup of water in the jar. Cover the opening of the jar with the cheesecloth and secure with the rubber band. Let sit overnight where the jar will not be disturbed.

First thing in the morning, drain the berries and rinse well, leaving the cheesecloth in place to keep the berries from escaping. Drain as much water as you can from the berries. Gently shake the jar on its side so that the berries spread out in a even layer. Place the jar on its side on a bowl or plate. Repeat this process of rinsing and draining three times per day for about 2 days until little white tails start to emerge from the berries.

Once the berries have begun to sprout, cover them with about 1/3 cup of filtered water and let them sit for 12 hours in a warm place (like near the stove). Cover the jar with a towel. This is the rejuvalac that will provide the good bacteria to the cheese. Note: if you don't want to make your cheese right away, the rejuvalac will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Step 2 making the cheese:
* 1 cup raw cashews
* filtered water
* 1/4-1/3 cup rejuvalac
* 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
* 2 tablespoons each: fresh parsley and chives, finely chopped
* 2 teaspoon lemon juice
* blender
* clean cheese cloth
* bowl
* paper towels or clean tea towels

Soak the cashews in the filtered water for 8-12 hours. Drain them and combine them in the blender along with the rejuvalac and salt. Blend until smooth, adding more rejuvalac as needed to facilitate blending. Do not add too much liquid--you want a fairly thick mixture simmilar to cream cheese or goat cheese.

Transfer the mixture to a triple-thickness of cheesecloth. Secure the corners of the cheesecloth with a twist-tie or string, forming a little bundle. In the bottom of a small bowl, lay down a folded-up paper towel and place the cheese bundle on top. The paper towel will absorb the water from the cheese, so be sure to change it every few hours. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm spot where it won't be disturbed. Let it sit for 12 hours.

After the 12 hours, pop the cheese from the cloth and mix in the herbs and lemon juice. Return the cheese to the cloth, bundle it up again and let chill in the fridge overnight.

I was very happy with the fruits of my labor. It is true, making raw cashew cheese is quite a process, but its worth it. The cheese is rich in good bacteria (don't worry, the chance of getting sick from this is slim if you #1: keep your hands clean, #2: use clean equiptment #3: don't let the rejuvalac or cheese ferment for more than 12 hours and #4: do not make cheese on hot summer days when the temp is above 90 degrees or so.) It is also rich in enzymes.

I thought the taste and texture was simmilar to cream cheese--slightly sweet and really creamy and rich. I loved the addition of the herbs and lemon. Serve this cheese with crackers, veggies, or dehydrated veggie chips. This recipe makes about 1 cup of cheese, but feel free to expand the recipe as needed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wild and Raw

Over the weekend, I attended a raw foods class at my local natural food co-op. Wow was it fun! I can't say I learned anything new as far as the information goes, because I have been studying raw foods for the last few months, but it was nice to reinforce the information I have picked up. However, I did learn a lot about raw foods preparation and how delicious raw foods can be.

The teachers (I can't remember their names--two very nice young ladies) started off with an introduction on raw foods and the essential equipment in a raw foods kitchen (blender, food processor, dehydrator, and juicer). Then the fun began--we ate! First we had Butternut Squash Soup which I loved. I was expecting the raw squash to be very starchy and gritty, but blended with the other flavors it was very good! Next was Chili Rellenos--easily my favorite. You could serve this to your friends or family for dinner and they would never think it is raw. The flavor was amazing and very surprising. The filling was very meaty--very much like a kicked-up veggie burger. It made me think twice about how hearty and satisfying raw food can be. It was also very delightful how the little rellenos came right out of the dehydrator slightly warm!

We also got to sample some veggie sushi. Thinly sliced ginger, fresh coconut, pea pods, avocado, bell pepper and carrot were wrapped together in a nori sheet and topped off with a Carrot-Ginger Dressing. I would have liked more ginger in the dressing, but it was very good and made a nice dip for the sushi. The rolling of the sushi was very simple; no mat was needed, just roll the sushi (do not stuff it too much) tightly with your hands.

For dessert, we had fantastic Coconut Macaroons. Or, coconut macaroon dough. They tasted just as good in the dough form as they would dehydrated. Our teachers informed us that they hardly ever bother making dehydrated cookies, because they never make it that far--just eat the dough on the spot! A very nice sweet treat that would also be good as breakfast!

Here are the ingredients for these great raw recipes (all measurements and procedures are approximate):

Butternut Squash Soup
* 1 small or medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small pieces
* 1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped
* 3-4 oranges, peeled
* 1/3 cup pitted dates
* Additional flavorings/garnish: finely chopped mint, diced jalapeno, thinly sliced fresh fruit

Combine all ingredients except garnish in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into serving bowls and let each diner chose their garnish (the jalapeno is what our teachers put in and it was good!)

Chili Rellenos
* baby bell peppers, or Anaheim peppers, sliced lengthwise to form little boats
For the filling:
* 1 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked 8-12 hours
* 1/4 cup each: chopped carrot, celery, zucchini, onion, mushroom, and cilantro
* 2 garlic cloves
* 2 tablespoons liquid aminos
* 2 tablespoons lemon juice
* 1 teaspoon good quality chili powder
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Combine all filling ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Spoon the filling into the pepper cavity and place on dehydrator shelves. Dry for 8-10 hours, until the filling is dry on the outside and moist on the inside.

Carrot-Ginger Dressing
* fresh carrot juice
* fresh ginger
* orange juice and lemon juice
* Pinch of sea salt (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

* fresh coconut meat
* soaked raw cashews
* pitted dates
* cinnamon
Process all ingredients until smooth but a little chunky. Yum!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Unexplored Territory

I took an idea from Tommie over at It's Awesome To Be Rawsome and decided to post about new fruits that I have tried recently. Since exploring the raw way of life, I have developed a new appreciation for fruits and veggies. I now look at them for what they are--little gems to be eaten as they are--rather than thinking, "how can I cook this?"
The first picture is of kumquats. These fun little fruits are like very small oranges. Instead of peeling them like an orange, they are meant to be eaten whole. The juice is sour like a lemon and the flesh and skin is sweet. When you pop the whole thing in your mouth and bite down, the first taste to hit your tongue is the sour juice, and the sweetness follows as you chew the little fruit up. To me, these are the perfect snack: bite-size, portable, and fun to eat. If you can get your hands on some kumquats, choose larger ones (the smaller ones tend to be more sour) and organic (because you are eating the whole fruit, skin and all).

When I saw these unusual-looking mangoes at the natural foods store on my most recent trip, I just had to try one. They are called Ataulfo Mangoes and are very, very tasty. To me, the flavor was very citrus-y; bright and clean with a hint of lemon and tangerine on top of the mango taste. The texture was smooth, creamy and buttery, without the fibrus strings you sometimes get with regualr mangoes. It will melt in your mouth! These mangoes are smaller than the regular mango with a smooth yellow skin (as you can see in the picture.)

Photo Credits:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Furman on Raw Foods

I was looking at Dr. Furman's website/blog, Disease Proof Your Child and noticed a post on raw foods. Here is what he writes:

Are cooked foods really dead foods?It is true that when food is baked at high temperatures—and especially when it is fried or barbecued—toxic compounds are formed and important nutrients are lost. Many vitamins are water-soluble, and a significant percent can be lost with cooking, especially overcooking. Similarly, many plant enzymes function as phytochemical nutrients in our body and can be useful to maximize health. They, too, can be destroyed by overcooking.

Enzymes are proteins that work to speed up or “catalyze” chemical reactions. Every living cell makes enzymes for its own activities. Human cells are no exception. Our glands secrete enzymes into the digestive tract to aid in the digestion of food. However, after they are ingested, the enzymes contained in plants do not function as enhancements or replacements for human digestive enzymes. These molecules exist to serve the plant’s purpose, not ours. The plant enzymes get digested by our own digestive juices along with the rest of the food and are absorbed and utilized as nutrients.

Contrary to what many raw-food web sites claim, the enzymes contained in the plants we eat do not catalyze chemical reactions that occur in humans. The plant enzymes merely are broken down into simpler molecules by our own powerful digestive juices. Even when the food is consumed raw, plant enzymes do not aid in their own digestion inside the human body. It is not true that eating raw food demands less enzyme production by your body, and dietary enzymes inactivated by cooking have an insignificant effect on your health and your body’s enzymes.

The first issue I have with this is the statement that the enzymes in raw foods do not help the human body to digest these foods and that they are essentially useless to the human body. In Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, which is considered the vegetarian and live-food bible to many people, the author points out a study done with dogs. Basically, the dogs were given cooked foods and after a week, the enzyme content of their saliva was measured. It turns out these enzyme levels were "greatly increased" in order to digest the cooked foods. In comparison, the dogs were also given a raw foods diet and within a week, the salivary enzymes were reduced. This clearly shows that our bodies (we can generalize the findings in the dogs to humans because very similar results are found in humans) will reserve its enzymes if our food contains enzymes.

In addition, Cousens points out that "Since 1949, enough research has thoroughly documented that [exogeneous] enzymes are not only active in the digestive system but will increase in concentration in the blood after being taken orally" (pg. 533). This directly contradicts Furman's statement that plant enzymes are inactive ans useless to our bodies.

The significance of preserving our enzymes is important when we realize the fact that "our enzyme reserve is exhaustible" (Cousens, pg. 520). A low enzyme content is found in people with chronic disease such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity.

Our bodies are also physically structured for a live-foods diet. Our stomach is not simply one big sac that churns food with digestive enzymes and acid. In fact, we have two separate parts of the stomach, the first part being the "enzyme stomach" which holds food for 30-60 minutes to continue salivary digestion and also for the enzymes released in the food to do their work. According to Cousens, "During the first 30-60 minutes in the upper stomach [enzyme stomach] digestion takes place primarily by the food enzymes released from the raw foods" (pg. 523). Then the food moves down into the "pyloric stomach" where stomach acid is released.

Also, I find it very interesting that human are the only species on this whole grand Earth that do not consume primarily raw foods! Every other animal eats food in its fresh, whole, uncooked state. Even carnivores. Cousens also makes the point that animals in the wild do not suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity--only modern humans and domestic animals do--both of which consume a mostly cooked-food diet. Also, humans have a pancreas (the pancreas is involved in producing enzymes) that "is three times larger, as compared to total body weight, than that of any other animal" (pg.525). The explanation for this is that the pancreas becomes enlarged as a result of excreting so many enzymes due to an enzyme-deficient diet.

Furman goes on to write:
Benefits of raw food.Certainly, there are benefits to consuming plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. These foods supply us with high nutrient levels and the smallest number of calories. But the question we are looking at is this—Are there advantages to eating a diet of all raw foods and excluding all cooked foods?
Clearly, the answer is a resounding “No.” In fact, eating an exclusively raw-food diet is a disadvantage. To exclude all steamed vegetables and vegetable soups from your diet narrows the nutrient diversity of your diet and has a tendency to reduce the percentage of calories from vegetables, in favor of nuts and fruit, which are lower in nutrients per calorie.

Unfortunately, sloppy science prevails in the raw-food movement. Rawfood advocates mistakenly conclude that since eating processed and cooked carbohydrates is harmful for us, all cooked foods are harmful.

I don't see how "To exclude all steamed vegetables and vegetable soups from your diet narrows the nutrient diversity of your diet..." Any food you eat cooked can be eaten raw. Instead of steamed broccoli, eat raw broccoli, instead of cooked tomato soup, eat a couple whole raw tomatoes. This seems very simple to me, and I really fail to see how a lack of "steamed vegetables" and "vegetable soups" in favor for the exact same foods in a raw state contribute to malnourishment. Furman even says himself that raw foods have more nutrients than cooked foods.

In addition, while there probably is a lot of "sloppy science" out there on raw foods, there is a whole lot of good science too. I challenge Dr. Furman to pick up Conscious Eating and then say that there is no hard evidence to support the raw foods movement.

My point in writing all this is to bring to light the credibility of the raw foods movement. Foods in their natural uncooked state are what nature intends for all animals, and human are no exception. Anyone interested in learning more on raw foods and healthy lifestyle should read Conscious Eating. It is filled with compelling, credible scientific evidence and is very inspiring.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Week on (Mostly) Raw Foods

It's been about a week since I started doing the raw food thing. Well, actually, I never really consciously decided this was the week I was going raw. It just happened. Last weekend I spent about $65 at the natural food store on fresh fruits and veggies, raw nuts and seeds, dried fruit and some miscellaneous things like bottled juice (which isn't raw because it's been pastuerized), agave nectar and vanilla extract. This shopping trip wasn't completely out of the ordinary, the only difference was that I didn't buy my usual flour, bread and sucanat, and I really stocked up on raw nuts and dried fruit.

All this week I've been on a smoothie and salad kick too. For breakfast I've been having All That Raz Smoothies (my own creation--see recipe below--I know the name is cheeky but I think it's clever for someone who rarely is clever) and for lunch I make myself a HUGE salad filled with nice green lettuce, kale, radish micro greens, raisins, broccoli, shredded carrot and fresh parsley, topped off with Annies Naturals Goddess Dressing. I cannot say how amazingly good this dressing is! Yeah it's kinda high in fat and sodium, but there is no added sugar and it is all natural with no fillers--plus it makes eating 2-3 servings of veggies at a time really fun and delicious.

It might sound weird, but I've been dreaming about raw foods almost every night for the last 2 weeks. I've dreamt that I was at a raw foods seminar, that I bought a dehydrator, I've dreamt about shopping for raw food and I've even dreamt about raw foods books and getting my family to go raw--very weird indeed. I guess the only thing I can do is take this as a sign that this is the right thing for me.

As much as I haven't been missing cooked foods, I still feel a little sad looking at all my cookbooks that I used to love so much just sitting on my bookshelf.
All That Raz Smoothie
* 3/4 ripe banana (use the whole thing if you like it really thick, or just pop the remaining 1/4 in your mouth)
* 1/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries (preferably organic)
* 1 tablespoon flax seed meal
* 1 1/2 cups orange or orange-mango juice
Blend everything until smooth.

PS: I'm in the process of getting my digital camera fixed, so I will be posting pictures again--yay!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Creamy Chocolate Pie

This was an experimental attempt at a raw dessert. I couldn't find raw carob powder at my natural foods store, so I opted to use natural cocoa powder, which isn't raw, but I'm not a purist. This turned out very good. I expected the fats in the avocado to solidify when chilled, but the texture of the finished product was more like pudding than a semi-solid pie filling. The crust was also very good--if you have a dehydrator (which I don't--yet) it would make a great cookie with the addition of some dried fruit or chocolate chips and vanilla extract. This recipe makes 2 large or 3 smaller portions. This is also great topped with raspberries, strawberries, or dried coconut.
Ingredients for the filling:
* 1 avocado, peeled and pitted
* 1/2 ripe banana
* 1 teaspoon lemon juice
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder (do not use Dutch or alkali-processed) or raw carob powder (add 1/4 teaspoon or so of almond extract, if you want, to make the carob taste more like chocolate)
* 4 tablespoons agave nectar or 3-4 pitted dates, soaked for a few hours
For the crust:
* 1/3 cup oats
* 1/4 cup raw walnuts, pecans or almonds, soaked for 15-30 minutes
* 4 pitted dates, soaked 15-30 minutes
* pinch of salt

Pulse all ingredients for the crust in a food processor until the mixture holds together, about 30 seconds. Press the crust mixture (it should be sticky) firmly in the bottom of a small shallow bowl about 5-6 inches across. Set aside.

Clean out the food processor and add the ingredients for the filling. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides once. Taste the mixture--if it's too bitter, add some more agave, or if its not chocolate-y enough add some more cocoa powder. Pour the filling onto the pie crust, smooth it out and chill for 2 hours, until the filling is slightly set. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fun with Fresh Herbs

As I make the transition to a raw-foods diet, I am realizing the importance of using fresh herbs to add pizazz to my raw dishes. It is true that flavor is developed and enhanced with heat, so new ways have to be explored of adding more flavor to uncooked food. This is where good-quality fresh herbs come in. When it comes to herbs (not to mention produce in general), I have found that organic definitely tastes fresher and has worlds more flavor than commercially grown herbs.

My favorite restaurant, King of Falafel, makes the most fabulous tabbouleh. It's actually about 90% fresh parsley with a sprinkling of lemon juice and only a small amount of bulgur wheat. I've always used parsley in small amounts as a seasoning, and never given much thought to making it the main ingredient in a salad. Parsley is actually very nutritious--containing lots of vitamin C, calcium, iron, chlorophyll, and magnesium. It also has liver-cleansing abilities. I love the textural contrast the walnuts give to the salad.

Fresh Parsley Tabbouleh
Ingredients (for one serving):
* 1/4 cup raw walnuts, chopped (you can soak them if you want)
* 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (Italian flat-leaf or curly both work fine)
* 2 teaspoons fresh mint, julienned
* 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Mix everything and enjoy! Best eaten right away for maximum freshness.

Apples with Mint
I had a box of fresh mint in my fridge and wanted to use it up before it wilted. So, I sprinkled some on a cut-up apple to see what it tasted like. It was amazing! The sweet-tart apple brought out the refreshing mint flavor beautifully--a perfect combination!
Ingredients (for one serving):
* 1 apple, unpeeled and cut into bite-size pieces (I like Braeburn or Pink Lady varieties)
* 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, julienned (to julienthe mint, simply stack the leaves on top of each other, roll up like a cigar and run a sharp knife firmly through, creating long thin strands of mint)

Place the cut apple in a bowl and sprinkle with the mint stands. Enjoy immediately.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Raw Ice Cream

Ok, Ok, I know winter is not the best time to be making ice cream, but I got the idea for this raw cashew ice cream and just had to try it. I did not have much expectation one way or the other for the outcome of this ice cream because #1, I have only an immersion blender and not a high-speed blender and #2, I do not have an ice cream machine. I expected the cashews to remain slightly chunky and I also anticipated to have an "ice-crystal" ice cream full of ice shards, instead of a super creamy consistancy.

Besides the texture, the flavor was very good. I did not measure anything exactly, so this recipe is an estimate as far as amounts go. Also, I very much recommend you use a regular blender for this and if you have an ice cream machine, use it!

* 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
* 5 pitted dates, soaked overnight
* about 1 cup soak water
* 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
* 1 small ripe banana
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Blend everything in a blender until very smooth. Freeze in the freezer, stirring every 30 minutes or so, or prepare in your ice cream maker.

Note: You can add fruit or nuts to this ice cream (like cherries, pecans, almonds etc.)--just stir them in before you freeze it.