When I was in nutrition school, one of the alternative diets we learned about was the raw food diet, also known as the living foods diet. The diet consists only of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains (such as your garden-variety bean sprouts), as well as the occasional raw milk, cheese, or yogurt. “Living” is defined as anything not heated above 118 F (some adherents say 115 F), as that is the temperature at which the foods’ enzymes are denatured (and why pay for denatured milk when you can still get some raw milk for free?–or something like that).
I was not immediately drawn to this diet, as it does present some difficulties for me. First, and most important, eating a “living” diet 100% of the time is somewhat unrealistic in a Canadian climate, as an abundance of locally-grown raw foods is not available all year; further, your body craves warm foods in a cold climate. It’s also not varied enough for my personal palate. I have my favorite raw dishes, and I try to eat them as much as I can, along with the usual array of fruits, salads, and any other uncooked goodies I can find (some dried fruits also qualify here), but I don’t believe it’s necessary to do so all the time. And finally, I have an aversion to trying out anything completely “in the raw” (what with my 36.5 pounds of excess avoirdupois–I’m sure you understand).
Well, after learning about some of the principles behind the diet and the theory as to why it’s healthy, I was intrigued enough to sign up for a “cooking” class that featured entirely raw dishes. Everything was astoundingly delicious–I could barely contain myself from slurping up the velvety carrot and cashew soup, munching on the brilliant red peppers perfectly contrasted with the deep, glowing emerald of the broccoli florets in the “Pad Thai,” gobbling up the juicy, smooth and tangy apple pie with crushed nut crust–it was enough to make me wax poetic about produce, even.
When I got home, I pulled out my newly purchased raw foods cookbook and set about reproducing the veritable feast I’d enjoyed in the class. Once I got to work, I quickly realized, however, just how much work was involved. Regular vegetarian cuisine can be challenging enough, requiring several slots on your daytimer just for the peeling, washing, coring, seeding, slicing, dicing, chopping and grating–not to mention all the other prep–but at least you’re able to do up huge batches at at time and freeze the leftovers for later consumption. With raw cuisine, you have to eat it all within 4 or 5 days, or it spoils. Darn that oxidation!
Still, there are other benefits to eating raw. The major draw, for me, was the fact that raw foods actually aids the digestive process by providing a certain percentage of digestive enzymes needed to break food down in your body. When you consume cooked foods, your pancreas must produce the enzymes to break it down to its most basic parts–glucose molecules in carbs, fatty acids with fats, amino acids with proteins–so they can be easily absorbed through the small intestines.
Raw foods, on the other hand, already contain some of these enzymes, so your pancreas can relax a little. I’ve read that, when eating a completely raw diet, the body produces something like 60 percent fewer enzymes than when eating entirely cooked foods (which amounts to several cups’ worth in one day). Accordingly, with raw foods, your body will then have more energy to focus on other functions, such as maintenance, strengthening the immune system, or going to see Bruce Willis in Die Hard 27.
This recipe is one that I made at a recent cooking class. The participants loved it, and were even adventurous enough to try the sweet potato “crackers” (thin slices of peeled raw sweet potato) on which it was served.
(This is just a regular rice cracker in the photo, but do give the sweet potato ones a try; they are really good. Seriously.)
(“Mmmm, Mum, we love this raw pate! And, as you know, we always eat in the raw. You should try it some time, really. It’s very liberating.”)
Raw Almond-Veggie Pate
The recipe is incredibly easy–just toss all ingredients into a food processor and blend to a spreadable consistency–and it provides excellent protein through the soaked raw nuts and seeds (and soaking also renders them more digestible than dry raw versions). You can also play around with the veggies in this pate to suit your own taste. I like to include something juicy to help thin out the consistency, but if you prefer to omit the tomato, just add a little water or extra lemon juice to the mix.
1 cup raw natural almonds, soaked in water for 6-10 hours and drained
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds, soaked in water 4-6 hours and drained
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut in chunks
1/2 cup broccoli, coarsely chopped
1/2 red pepper, cut in chunks
1/2 ripe tomato, cut in chunks
1 large clove garlic, sliced
1/2 cup )or more, to taste) fresh cilantro (use the leaves and thin part of stems)
2 Tbsp. white or mild miso paste
juice of 1/2-1 lemon (to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
In the bowl of a food processor, grind the almonds, pumpkin seeds, and carrot until well ground. Add other ingredients and continue to process, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl occasionally, until you have a smooth paste. (Add more lemon juice/miso or water if necessary to achieve desired texture).
Scrape into serving bowl and chill until ready to spread on crackers or serve with crudités.
Makes 10-15 appetizer servings. Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days.