Friday, August 28, 2009

Just like Mama Makes - Raw Eggplant Parmesan

I guess I have always been a little bit of a food snob. By second grade, I was so used to my mom’s spaghetti sauce and also sufficiently food snobby that I literally couldn’t eat anyone else’s mom’s sauce. I can recall once actually gagging on it, and my friend’s mom making me a sandwich (which was very sweet – I’m sure she though I was a total brat).

My mom learned the tricks of the sauce trade from my dad’s mom, and when I left to go to my first apartment after college, she copied all of my favorite recipes, including the sauce, down in a little notebook. My sauce has never been quite as good as hers – possibly because I try to eat it too soon, before letting it mellow sufficiently, possibly because she left out an important ingredient, not wanting to give me the keys to the shop just yet. Anyway, the lady makes a mean sauce, and it’s especially killer on her eggplant parmesan.

But traditional eggplant parmesan? Not so raw. And it relies on lots of cheese. (On our first date, my Guy likes to recall, I asked him “What’s the point of cheese?” Hey, he can’t say he didn’t know what he was getting into!)

So I crafted my own raw eggplant parm recipe, all raw, baby! Here it is:

Your first step is to peel the eggplant (one is good for two people, use more and double the “mozzarella” cheese recipe if you have a bigger crowd), slice it into thin slices -1/4 inch is good. Lay them on paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and let them sit for an hour or so, then flip them and do the same thing on the other side. My mom never does this with hers, but my nana does, to take some of the bitterness out. It might take a while, but, hey – this is homemade Italian cooking, folks!


1 ½ cups sundried tomatoes, chopped and soaked for at least an hour (or not, if you don’t time)

1 ½ cups tomatoes, chopped, with seeds and all

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green bell pepper

1 big clove of garlic

½-1 cup of water, depending on how juicy your tomatoes are (use the soaking liquid from your sundrieds, if you can)

Throw the sundried tomatoes in the food processor first, with some of the regular tomatoes, to get them smoothed out, like tomato paste, and then put most of the ingredients in the blender. I put the onions and peppers in last, and just gave them a little whirl, so they were still in teensy chunks, not totally blended. Salt & pepper to taste. Make the sauce a day ahead if you can, and refrigerate until a couple hours before you use it.


½ cup ground flax seeds

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

½ cup walnuts

½-1 teaspoon oregano (depending on how much you like)

Dash of black pepper & salt

Grind it all up, and then brush the sides of the (dried) eggplant slices with a little olive oil (if you don’t have a nifty pastry brush, do like I did and use a paper towel). Pour the breading into a plate, and press onto the eggplant slices. You can skip the breading if you like – I experimented, and it was still yummy. Put ‘em in the oven on the lowest temp with the door open, or put them in the dehydrator on mesh screens at 105 (I tried both ways, as well). It took mine about 2-2 ½ hours to get soft and yummy, either method.

While you are waiting for the eggplant to “cook” make your cheeses…


½ cup pine nuts

¼ cup nutritional yeast

3 tablespoons lemon (use only one if you want your cheese really dry and crumbly)

½ teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

Food process it. I was a nerd and spread mine out on a teflex dehydrator sheet to make it a little crispy. You can just crumble yours on top.


1 cup of cashews, soaked an hour or two

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (there’s a lot of nutritional yeast in this recipe, I know…if you think it is weird or aren’t near a health food store that has it, you can skip it. It imparts a cheesy flavor, but this will still be yummy without it.)

3 tablespoons lemon

¼ teaspoon salt

1-2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons oil

Process to your heart’s content. I like mine smooth, so I used 2 tablespoons of water and processed a lot. If you like it more like ricotta, do less water and less whirling.

Assemble it all together! I made little individual piles, layering eggplant, cheese, sauce, eggplant, cheese, sauce, eggplant, more sauce, crumbled parmesan on top. I put it back in the dehydrator for a few minutes so all the parts could make friends and get warm together.

(Almost) just like Mama makes!

I served mine with spinach marinated for several hours in lemon, a few tablespoons of olive oil, diced garlic, and salt and pepper..deeeelish.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

No, I Don't Eat Sushi...What's Up with Raw Food

So what’s this whole raw thing about, anyway? I made a raw meal the other night for a group of friends, and naturally had to explain the premise of my wild and crazy “diet.” The meal was more or less the lasagna recipe from “Raw Food Real World” by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis, a big salad courtesy of my friend James, as well as my own made-up brownies, and everyone really enjoyed it (the lasagna pictured is my very adorable attempt). The lasagna was actually the first consciously raw meal I had, at Kenney & Melngailis’ restaurant in New York, and although I loved it and noticed that I felt totally great afterwards, it took me a few years to come back around to the raw food world.

I explain my choice like this: First off, there are lots of studies out there showing that animal products – meat and dairy – are linked to cancer and other diseases, so there’s the case for going vegan. (In addition to the fact that most animals raised for food are hopped up on antibiotics and weird hormones, and treated poorly…I’m not militant about animal rights, and I make my nutritional decisions for my own health, but the food chain is seriously messed up.) So why not just go vegan, and live it up on french fries, Wonder Bread, and soy “frankenfood”?

Cooking food – in the case of what’s vegan and raw naturally, that means veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds – above a certain temperature…112 or 114 or 118, depending on what you are reading…destroys enzymes in the food. That means your body has to use its own enzyme store and energy to breakdown the foods, rather than saving them up for healing itself. Raw foods are therefore easier to digest. Nutrients are also depleted at higher temps, meaning that you have to eat MORE cooked food to get everything you body needs. I started out eating raw because I was curious – and have wound up sticking with it because of how great I feel doing it. I sleep better, feel a constant “buzz” of energy, and never worry about what I’m eating, as long as it is raw. My relationship with food has changed…I eat raw treats with no guilt, because I know that even my “ice cream” and brownies are packed with nutrition! And people say you live longer and look younger on raw food…I’ll keep you posted!

But here’s a confession: I do “cheat.” For example: I end up eating cooked veggies a couple times a week, if they are in a salad I want to order at a restaurant, or if there’s simply not much else available and I’m starving. I tried my brother’s cheesesteak in Philly this summer – totally not worth it. I had a little bit of lobster with my family. That WAS pretty tasty, and I washed it down with a ton of salad, and didn’t notice any difference. On a week long vacation, I cheated a lot – staying mostly vegan, but eating bread and pasta and junk, and guess what? I gained weight and got headaches and felt awful, like a food hangover.

The point is this: Eat your veggies (and fruits, and some nuts and seeds), and eat MORE RAW! If you won’t go “cold turkey” all-raw, all the time, make an effort to do it most of the time. You’ll feel great!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Real Men Make Gazpacho

The steamy hot weather lately has been enough to wilt even this hearty flower, so light, cool food has been the name of the game. My Handsome Guy and I have made gazpacho three times within a week, inspired by the gorgeous tomatoes at local farmstands – even the “ugly” ones are pretty! Handsome has become the expert, and we’ve narrowed it down to a pretty good recipe, I think. ALL raw, great way to get your veggies! Really traditional gazpacho has bread in it, but we 86ed that and some of the fussier steps like seeding the cukes and straining out the chunks. The blender does a pretty good job with both. Here’s the recipe we used tonight:

4 huge tomatoes – squeeze out the seeds over a strainer with a bowl underneath, to save the juice

2 big cucumbers (American or English – we don’t discriminate)

½ to ¾ of a large red onion, depending on how much you like

1 green bell pepper

1 big clove of garlic, diced

3 tablespoons fresh cilantro

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp cumin

¼ cup vinegar (red wine this time, but we tried apple cider the other day and that was great, too)

¼ cup olive oil

Chop everything up, combine in a bowl, give it a good stir, and if you can, let it hang out for an hour or so. It helps if you dance around the kitchen to the Gypsy Kings while you do the dishes, we’ve found. Then blend it all up – you’ll probably need to do it in two shifts. Add half a cup of water, if you need to to get the blender going, but we’ve found the veggies to be plenty juicy, and haven’t added much water. Fancy recipes call for you to strain out the solids at this point, but we aren’t afraid of a little fiber. (Please, no gas-pacho jokes.) Let it chill for a few hours in the fridge (or not). It’ll be even better for lunch tomorrow! We garnished with some extra veggies and avocado.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Raw Pepperoni Pizza: That's Amore!

I made raw pepperoni. Let me repeat that: I made raw pepperoni.

While I was never a huge fan of meat anyway – steak, pork chops, chicken never really did it for me – I kind of have a lust for cured meats. I’m a slave for salty and spicy, so bacon, sausages, salami, and yes, pepperoni, are all very delicious and cravable to me.

So when my Guy and I were at Alissa Cohen’s raw restaurant Grezzo last week, in Boston’s North End, I had had HAD to try their pepperoni pizza. I might as well have just snapped into a Slim Jim and gone to heaven!

This serendipitous sampling of raw veggie parading as salumi coincided with my first attempt at sprouting wheat berries, and I knew I had to bring that North End treat to meet one other of my former dark masters…the coal-fired pepperoni pizza at Lombardi’s, on the edge of New York’s Little Italy.

Right now, unless you are already some kind of raw food god or goddess, soaking and sprouting and juicing all the live long day, you might be thinking, “I ain’t sprouting no wheat berries.” Don’t worry…I made a pizza bites version of my pepperawni pizza on slices of zucchini…JUST as tasty (and cute – see below). Which I might do next time…the wheat berry thing is not difficult, just a days-long project of soaking them overnight, and then rinsing them 3 times a day until they have given birth to long curly sprouts that could grow into something…cute little baby wheat things which left me wondering if meat is murder, are sprouts a slaying? So you can avoid the sprout guilt, and use zucchini slices.

Anyway – first, the roni. Grezzo used watermelon radishes, but having no access to artisanal radish, I picked the garden variety. Slice the whole bunch of them thin – I have a mandolin slicer thing my mom got me from Avon that works really well, or you can use the slicey blade thing on a grater, or just a sharp knife. Then marinate in the following (I gleaned from Google which spices make for roni flavor):

1 tsp of paprika

1 clove of garlic, diced up

½ tsp crushed red pepper

½ tsp fennel seeds

¼ tsp ground mustard, or ½ tsp mustard seeds

¼ tsp onion powder

½ tsp black pepper

1/8-1/4 tsp salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Toss it around, and let it sit for a few hours. I swear, it tastes EXACTLY like pepperoni. There’s even oil left over in the bowl that looks like pepperoni grease. But it’s a freaking radish!

As for the crust: there are lots of crust recipes out there. I realized too late (after the wheat had given birth) that all my cook books use barley or buckwheat or flax for their pizza crusts. So here’s one I made up with my wheat berry babies:

In a food processor (I had to do mine in steps, darn mini chopper!), combine:

2 cups sprouted wheat berries

½ cup ground flax (I used Bob’s Red Mill, which is probably not soaked before its ground, as it should be to activate all those enzymes)

½ cup chopped red bell pepper (about half a pepper)

¼ cup chopped sundried tomato

¼ cup olive oil

½ tsp salt

1 clove of garlic

Spread it into a round shape about ½ inch high on a teflex sheet, dehydrate 2 h at 105, then flip it onto a mesh screen and dehydrate til it can be lifted up like pizza! This made enough for two hungry peeps for dinner, but it could totally serve more as an appetizer or with sides…it made about six medium Dominos-size slices.


I got a little nerdy with my mozzarella, really trying to make it as much like the melted fresh mozz on those crisp coal-fired slices, so I used cashew butter so it would be really smooth, and “melted” in dollops in the dehydrator for about an hour. You can just use cashews or pine nuts, get it as smooth as you can, spread it out on the crust, and call it a (delicious) day.

½ cup cashew butter (or about 1 cup of raw cashews or pine nuts, and a tablespoon or two of extra water to get it moving in the processor)

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (skippable if you don’t have any)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped shallot (got this idea from Matthew Kenney’s Everyday Raw)

¼ tsp salt

2 tablespoons water

Process it up! Regular nuts will come out like ricotta


1 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped and soaked at least an hour

1 cup fresh tomatoes, seeded

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp crushed red pepper

Again, process til it’s as smooth or chunky as you like. This is enough for the pizza. Make more to have some left over!

Grab your crust or zucchini slices, and assemble your pizza with a little shredded basil. It helps if you do the cheese first. Here’s mine – it was heavenly. I served it with a pizza-parlor style salad of romaine and tomatoes and vinaigrette. That’s amore!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Don't Let the Dehydrator Scare You! It's an Easy Bake Oven for Grown-Ups...

While it is VERY true that you can make delicious and fairly complicated raw food with nothing fancier than a blender and food processor (my little kitchen necessitates a miniprocessor, which was less than $30, and gets me pretty far), I have a blast making stuff in my dehydrator. I got it last Christmas, and unlike the Easy Bake over I got when I was six, my dehydrator has always turned out pretty good stuff...and sometimes, the transformation the food goes through is even more exciting than the Easy Bake! But I have hesitated in certain categories of raw food dehydration, like crackers and breads.
I was asked by a friend yesterday morning if I ever made flax crackers, as he wanted to try some with some hummus he made for a pre-concert tailgate...the truth is, no, I haven't because they scare me a little. I've made dehydrated things with similar uses to crackers, but never crackers themselves, as they seem time consuming, and frightening - what if they aren't crispy??
So, anyway, I still haven't made flax crackers, or any other kind. The concert was last night, and raw crackers take a lot of soaking and sprouting and a long time in the dehydrator. Wasn't going to happen. But I tried to made something to be used for dipping, similar to taco shells I have made, but drier and with more flavorful ingredients, so hopefully they'd be tasty and dippable.
And they were!
DON'T let it scare you away that I made these in the dehydrator! You could put your oven on the lowest temperature, and leave it open a little, spread the dough on a cookie sheet (do yourself a favor and use a little foil or parchment paper) and be good to go! "Raw" food is supposed to be kept under 112 degrees in order to keep all the enzymes intact (which help digestion, and keep you young looking and illness-free), but I won't tell the raw police if your exper-raw-ment goes up to 113 degrees...these little flatbreads will be way better for you still, and maybe it will inspire you to ask Santa for a dehydrator...that's what I did last year, and I've been cranking stuff out of my little magic oven ever since.
Here's my Fabulous Flatbread recipe:
1 cup - about 2 ears - fresh sweet corn (frozen works, too)
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup sundried tomaters, chopped up
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Throw it all in the food processor - making sure to chop up the sundrieds...I've killed a blender with whole ones - and process til smooth. Spread it out on the teflex dehydrator sheet, or parchment paper or foil if it's going in your oven, to about 1/4 inch thickness. I dehydrated for about an hour and a half at 105, then flipped onto the mesh screen, and left it in for another 4 hours or was probably ready after another 2ish, but I was trying to get it a little more firm. Great for dips, or to use as a sandwich wrap! I got about 2 dozen 2 inch squares.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Best Things in Life Are (Already) Raw...Or, Holy Guacamole!

When people are incredulous that a vegan, raw diet could be yummy, I like to point out that many of the most absolutely delicious things they already love to eat are actually vegan and raw. Exhibit A: Guacamole. Exhibit B: Gazpacho. Not to mention every delicious fruit and vegetable they’ve ever greedily eaten, all fresh and crunchy and juicy.

Anyway, guac. It used to seem like such a huge treat to me, but now I make it all the time. Once you get in the habit, it’s super easy.

Here’s what I do:

Dice up about a quarter cup of yellow, white, or red onion – whatever you have. Maybe go a little lighter on the red, unless you really dig the spicy onion taste.

Add some diced up jalapeño. I usually use about ¼ of a smallish pepper. Use more if you love it, less if you don’t. PLEASE be careful not to stick your fingers in your eyes after you dice it, and wash your hands right after.

Throw in some fresh cilantro (say, a packed tablespoon or so), squirt a half a lime on there, and let those guys soften up together a little.

In the meantime, pick your two ripest avocados, slice ‘em up that cool way you’ve seem on the Food Network, with the fancy knife-in-the-pit trick, and smoosh them up in the bowl with the other stuff. Add a small, diced tomato (I like to take the seeds out, but you don’t have to) stir it up, and add more lime if you want, and salt to taste. I use at least an entire lime for every batch, which keeps it from turning brown. If you don’t have some of the ingredients, no worries…the keys here are avocado and salt. Use lemon instead of lime, skip cilantro if you think it tastes like grass (my mom does), throw in a pinch of cayenne instead of jalapeños.

My favorite thing for dipping is pieces of endive, just separated from their little head, and cut in half or thirds. Perfectly scoop-like. In restaurants, I ask for slices of cukes or carrot, and most places are pretty nice about it. Or throw a blob of your creamy, tangy guac right on some lettuce, and call it lunch!

Anyway, the point is this: raw or live food is not strange or kooky. You already eat it – you just need to eat more!