Dosa!

I love dosa. I think I might go out to Swad and get some dosa later. I just think I could over-dosa on this delicious gluten-free flatbread from India.

Dosa, Basically

Dosa is made from ground urid dal (a white legume) and ground rice. Some methi seeds (fenugreek) are added for flavor. The blend is mixed with water and left to ferment, which gives it more flavor. The batter is spread thinly and cooked to crispy, golden-brown-and-delicious perfection. If you’re in Austin, I recommend the aforementioned Swad (up North) or Nomad Dosa (South). Then, make it yourself.

Below: Chanha dal, soaking. We used this to make a thicker dosa.

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One of our recipes called for fresh coconut water AND we had a recipe to make a chutney from fresh coconut shreds. So, Chef Maya showed us how to open a mature coconut. Up to this point, we’ve only worked with young coconuts, which are relatively easy to hack open with a cleaver or even a regular chef knife. Mature coconuts required a bit more force, however…

Step one is to drive a pointed object into the coconut so you can drain the water.

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Below: Chef Maya about to pierce the coconut with a screwdriver.

20120701-111514.jpgBelow: Draining the coconut.

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Below: You have to smash up the mature coconut to get at the white fleshy part.

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Below: Making a perfect dosa takes some skill as the batter lacks gluten to make it stick together. I’m still working on my technique…

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Below: A fresh dosa with yummy chutney and savory potatoes. Welcome to yummytown!

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Mr. Natural

After several months of blogging I can’t believe I never got around to posting about Mr. Natural!

Mr. Natural is a vegetarian restaurant less than a mile from The Natural Epicurean and a favorite stop for students. I’ve loved their healthy spin on Mexican, Latin, and more since I moved to Austin five years ago. They have great smoothies, baked goods (including gluten free and vegan) and other stuff, too. The East location even has yoga and meditation classes.

Below: One of two Mr. Natural locations in Austin. Notice the little “I (heart)” peeking out from behind the store. How nice!

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Raw Food Lab – Dehydrated Coconut Wrappers

Rawwwwr!

A week ago Friday we had a raw food lab at The Natural Epicurean where the students worked with dehydrated coconut puree wrappers. “Dehydrated coconut puree wrappers?” you ask. Well, if you open some (okay, 36) fresh coconuts and scoop out the meat…

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… then you blend up the meat with some liquid, maybe some sweeteners and/or some spices…

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… then spread out the puree onto a dehydrator tray …

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… the result (after one hour of dehydrating) is a pliable gluten-free wrapper that has tons of applications. We did three types of coconut wrappers (1) sweet banana coconut (2) seasoned Indian samosa “dough” and (3) Italian “pasta” for raviolis. To go with each type of coconut wrapper, we prepared a wide array of fillings: fruit, sweet “cream,” fruit puree, raw ricotta, cauliflower and peas, and more.

Below: Banana-coconut wrapper for raw fruit crepes. You can see the raw samosa filling just above that. 

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Raw “cooking” is not quite like regular cooking, but the result of the lab was three amazing dishes which we raved over. My favorite was the ravioli with raw ricotta – it was rich and delicious. The raw samosas with mango-cilantro chutney were outstanding, as were the sweet papaya-mango crepes. The coconut wrappers had a slight chewiness that I thought perfectly matched the texture you’d expect in a regular ravioli and very similar to a conventional crepe. Samosas are usually crispy on the outside, which is tough to achieve in raw food, but the flavors were definitely there.

The main challenge in making these wrappers is that they have a tendency to stick to the Paraflexx sheets. You just have to be careful when peeling the non-stick Paraflexx sheets from the dehydrating coconut puree. Usually you need to go through this procedure so you can flip the dehydrated product over to ensure thorough drying.

The great thing about learning the dehydrated coconut wrapper technique is that it has loads of applications. You can season the wrappers any number of ways, then fill them and top them using a variety of options. Your only limit is your creative mind. We were lucky to have had Chef Alicia Ojeda work with us yet again on on this lab – her talent for flavor and texture really made everything a success.

Here’s an idea – dehydrated burrito wrapper made from coconut! Cumin and chili powder…I think it’s a winner. Maybe I will test it out and report back. Tough to do beans using raw method, though.

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Pour Some Sugar on Me: Muffins, Cakes, Crepes, and Pancakes

Every now and then, even a healing/natural foods cook will need to whip up a sweet treat for a client. Nothing is quite like a fresh carrot cake or a fluffy pancake. Of course, if you spend all day making such quick bread techniques and tasting them, you might get a bit sugar overloaded. Ah, how we suffer for our art!

The Gluten Angle…

We used quite a bit of spelt during our muffin lab, which contains less gluten than wheat flour so I gave it a try to see how it affected me. I didn’t have any immediate reaction, but then again with me it never is immediate. We shall see what unfolds in the fullness of time…

Below: Tools of the muffin-making trade.

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Cooking Par-Tay: India Style

Wednesday night a few fellow students and I rocked it, India-style, for a little extra-curricular cooking. Some of the ingredients we used that you may not have heard of: kokum, asafetida, mango powder, and Pakistani rose petal spread. Six dishes in four hours. All vegan and gluten free, and chock full of vegetables and traditional healing spices.

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Below: Spice-stuffed okra bombs. Delicious!

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Below: I love the color contrast of the blue Le Creuset pot against the purple cabbage and green broccoli.

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Below: This one is for Chef Alex (aka The Food Diva), food stylist extraordinaire and culinary instructor at The Natural Epicurean.

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Below: The sixth and final dish, orange slices with rose petal spread, which was sweet, thick like a jam preserve, and floral. Very unique.

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Grains Class and More

Tuesday’s class involved a presentation on nutrition followed by a session where we used the rice cooked on Monday to create more complete dishes.

Demo Kitchen – Nutrition Lecture

A major focus of the program at The Natural Epicurean is healthful eating that complements and enhances wellness. So, a lot of our time in the demonstration kitchen will involve learning the nutrition principles of various schools of thought. Radhia Gleis, an Austin-based Certified Clinical Nutritionist, will be leading us through exploration of much of the nutrition theory. One thing I love about Radhia is that she does not subscribe to the “party line” of Western nutrition, yet she has a firm grasp on the science and physiology of nutrition. Like me, she has a healthy distrust of the nutrition establishment and a penchant for treating each person as an individual rather than a sample case from a corporate-funded research study.

Below: Radhia Gleis.

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Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?

“Gluten-free” is a phrase discussed widely these days. It’s on products, in restaurants, in the news, and at the water cooler. Parents bandy concerns about gluten about like it’s the next attention deficit disorder (ADD), or that it may cause ADD. Other people, especially the types who think ADD itself is bunk, consider “gluten” to be an over-used, worn out buzzword.

Below: This blog is brought to you by gluten free bagels.

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What Gluten Isn’t

Gluten isn’t a fad. It’s not a weight loss plan. It’s not a performance enhancement strategy. You might lose weight if you stop eating gluten, and you might feel better, but not because gluten is universally bad for you.

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True Nature’s Child – Gluten Free Baking

I met Lou today. She is one of the partner’s behind True Nature’s Child, a gluten-free, vegan baking outfit which apparently had it’s first foray into the Austin Farmer’s Market scene today.

I bought, and enjoyed, a tamarind lentil empanada. It had a great crust and a moist, savory filling. I love the idea to combine those ingredients. Yum!

Looks like they’re just establishing their Facebook and web presence, but check them out!

Lou is a current Natural Epicurean student and says I’ll love it. Good luck with your new business, Lou!

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Natural Epicurean Open House

Today was an open house for The Natural Epicurean, the culinary school I’ll be attending starting in February. They had a short talk on using the underutilized – yet delicious – parts of plants and Mason Arnold, the founder of Greenling local produce delivery, presented on sustainable and local food sourcing. They also had some Q&A about the school and some of the students made an array of delicious appetizers! On top of it all, I got to speak with several staff of the school, including owner Rich Goldstein.

Everyone talked about what an exciting time it is in the world of food and health, and I’m feeling very positive about the direction I’m heading! I’m really looking forward to starting the program and meeting new people who are enthusiastic about food and living healthfully.

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Above – In the demo/lecture space, which is a new expansion for the school.

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Above – Me with Maya Farnsworth, Managing Director of The Natural Epicurean.

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Above – Gluten-free empanada with an amazing Chimichurri sauce and a gluten-free brownie bite.

Above – Greenling Founder Mason Arnold talks about distributing local and sustainable food, with Amy Ramm, founder of Nada Moo, a local (soon to be national) vegan ice cream brand. Amy is a graduate of The Natural Epicurean and an instructor.

The program will last about 9 months, with a large amount of classroom time plus two chunks of required internship and externship hours. Followed by that, I expect a lot of hard work and learning on my path. I learned that most of the students come from outside of Austin just to attend the program, and it sounds like the school is planning some big things to grow its presence in the world of healthful food education. This open house was a great chance to meet more people, learn more about what the school is about, and whet my appetite for more! Mission accomplished!