It’s very hot today – in fact, it’s our first really hot day for the season – which is a pity, because I wanted to make red lemonade scones and fruit mince and Christmas Pudding, and also to start perfecting agar jellies. But it really is not the weather for that sort of cooking, so behold! Another book review! And one of great aptness to the weather, as you will see, because it is all about raw food.
I first heard of the Raw Food movement a few years ago. Since I was still in my nut-hating phase, I sort of ignored it, but a few hot summers and more extensive flirting with vegetarian and vegan food pointed me back in that direction. Unfortunately, the first Raw Food cookbook I bought was a dessert cookbook that seemed entirely sensible in the shop, but turned out to be the sort of cooking where you have to start by soaking things for two days, dehydrating them for another day, and grinding the results into flour before you can even start the first step.
While this sort of cooking has its own appeal, I am simply not organised enough – and not dedicated enough – to start planning and preparing my meals four days ahead of time. The cookbook has thus languished unused in the Big Scary Pile of Cookbooks ever since.
Yes, it contains recipes which you start the night before, and there is a bit of nut-soaking going on, and Amber certainly encourages people to make their own nut flours and milks and so forth, but the recipes are, for the most part, quite reasonable. And the ones which are more complicated are worth the effort, which is always important.
This is, of course, the point – Amber’s goal in writing this book is to make raw food more accessible and more affordable, to open it up to a wider audience, so that people can reap the nutritional benefits without having to have an entire lifestyle makeover. To this end, throughout the book she suggests substitutions for ingredients that might be hard to find, suggests ways to make your raw food preparation happen more smoothly, and notes which recipes can be made in under half an hour. She also provides cooked options for some recipes, for those of us who don’t have a dehydrator (actually, I do have one now – one hazard of this book is it will make you buy gadgets. Ask me about my vegetable spiraliser!) or who are just too impatient to wait all night for kale chips. And speaking of dehydrators and other delights, this cookbook is also not terribly gadget-heavy – you can cook (un-cook, actually) your way through most of it with a good blender and a basic food processor.
The result? A book that actually gets used, even by omnivorous me. And it’s probably going to get a lot more use in summer, too. Already, the raw vegetable korma on cauliflower ‘rice’ pilaf is a regular on our menu, and while the fiesta taco roll-ups are a bit too fancy to make every day, they are phenomenally good (though be warned – Amber likes her food very spicy, and even halving the chilli in that particular recipe verged on too spicy for me). In fact, the first time I cooked them, it was for a friend of ours who had been traumatised by bad nut-meat as a child, and she raved about them. This is because nut meat made from pistachios, walnuts and sunflower seeds, with heaps of spices and herbs and flavours ground into them is *amazing*.
One area of the book where I have spent quite a lot of time is the breakfasts – I’ve been working my way through the smoothies (though I must admit, so far I’ve been buying my nut-milks rather than preparing my own), and they are great – almond milk seems to be more filling than dairy milk, while tasting less rich. Rich food first thing in the morning is not my style, so this works well. The apple pie oatmeal is great, and I haven’t yet made the coconut yoghurt, but it is definitely on my list, because it sounds great, and the chia porridge is… interesting. I can’t decide whether I like it or not. The texture is deeply weird, at least to me – sort of like mashed banana – but then, I’ve never tried oat porridge, and don’t know how different it is. In flavour, it pretty much tasted like cinnamon, which was nice, but mildly disappointing, as I was curious to know what chia seeds tasted like.
I’m still a bit scared of my dehydrator, so I haven’t really played with the breads, but I did make raw chips – pizza flavour and chocolate flavour – and they were really interesting. I actually did a batch of each in the oven and one in the dehydrator, and found that the chocolate ones were better baked and the pizza ones better dehydrated. No idea why…
I also haven’t made many of the cheeses, since I keep forgetting to look for probiotic powder, but the Nacho cheese sauce was great (although it was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike cheese – still a good flavour, though).
I keep getting distracted by recipes I haven’t tried yet. And, let’s be honest – that’s still most of them. There are entire chapters I have not touched. But that’s got more to do with the other demands on my time than with this cookbook, which, in case you hadn’t figured it out, is a lot of fun. Everything I’ve tried so far has been very tasty and also very refreshing in flavour.
My only caveat – other than the fact that this book will make you buy gadgets, that is – is the portion sizes, which I’ve found to be a bit variable. The korma serves four, just like the recipe says, but we found the taco roll-ups were easily consumed by three people, not six. So do have a look at the recipe before you start, think about how much you eat and see if it’s actually going to fit your needs.
But other than that, I can absolutely recommend this book. In terms of dietary requirements, incidentally, everything in it is gluten-free and vegan, so that’s easy, but if you are avoiding nuts, the raw food movement probably isn’t for you, as they use it to replace everything – particularly carbohydrates and meat. If you are avoiding fructose, you might have more trouble, especially with the sweets, which are heavily fruit-based, but also elsewhere – dates are the sweetener of choice in this book, and I get the impression that a lot of Amber’s favourite vegetables are high in fructose too. I’m not a nutritionist by any means, but my feeling, looking at this book, is that most of the recipes would be pretty low GI, because most of the foods Amber is working with are unprocessed – lots of nuts and seeds, lots of fruit and vegetables, and no refined sugar or carbohydrates. So I’m not sure quite how this would work for diabetes, but I suspect there would be some useful recipes in here.
And now I think I might nip out to the shops before they shut. I’m in the mood for a smoothie…
You can by Practically Raw at The Book Depository, and I think you should!
This Time Last Year…