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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Macrobiotic Cooking

This past week we continued our exploration of macrobiotic cooking. We made pressed salad, a nishime* (nuh SHE may) of cooked vegetables, grains, and several other items.

Nishime is Japanese cooking style that involves an easy simmer in a heavy pot with the lid on. The vegetables soften and their sweetness develops. We add some shoyu (like soy sauce) and it is fantastic. Warm, sweet, slightly salt-ish – it feels nourishing without being too heavy.

Below: Sliced cucumber for pressed salad.

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Iron Chef – Raw Edition

We got a new challenge Tuesday – a Raw Iron Chef challenge. We’ve spent the past several days learning about raw food, so it was appropriate that we got a test of sorts – Sylvia Heisey, owner of locally-renowned Beets Cafe, stopped by to guest judge a raw food Iron Chef competition. The atmosphere in kitchen stadium was electric, as Alton Brown might say.

But before that…

Raw Mediterranean

Chef Alicia showed us how to adapt a few raw concept to Mediterranean cuisine. We made dolmas using raw “rice” (made from shredded zucchini), raw falafel, and some sauces.

Below: Plating raw falafel balls with a vegan tzatziki sauce.

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What Do I Want? Absolutely Everything

I’ve decided that when someone asks what I plan to do when I finish cooking school my answer will be “everything.” I want to do it all. Catering, restaurants, cafes, personal chef, wellness coach – I want to do all of it. With so many cool people around me, it all feels possible.

Friday Lecture

Friday we heard from three instructors who scratched the surfaces of Macrobiotic, Raw, and Ayurvedic cooking and philosophies. Chef Rachel Zierzow, Chef Alicia Ojeda, and Ellen Stansell gave us just a taste of these food and health modalities and I found each talk equally stimulating.

Macrobiotics

Macrobiotics is amazing because, as I first wrote about in one of my earliest blog posts, it takes a broad view of life beyond food. As Chef Rachel put it, one goal of macrobiotics is to “make your dreams come true.” How about that? And one of the chief ways you accomplish this is through good food choices, because macrobiotics believes that your food really does influence your life and your way of thinking.

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Raw Food

Chef Alicia Ojeda, one of the key people behind the development of the menu at Beets Cafe and former head chef there, is a true leader in raw food and her energy in speaking was a great sales pitch for raw foodism. Raw food is food that’s never brought above 118 degrees, which means that it is living food. Food that sits on the shelf with an expiration date two years in the future is inert and dead. Raw food – fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. – is alive and it provides clean nourishment to the body. And to make things even more interesting, Chef Alicia looks at least 10 years younger than her actual age. Hmmm.

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Ayurveda

Lastly, we heard from The Natural Epicurean’s curriculum director Ellen Stansell. Ellen has a PhD in Indian philosophy from UT Austin and she gave us a primer on Ayurvedic wellness theory. This theory is the one that was most unfamiliar to me upon entering the program. To sum up, Ayurveda calls upon each person to keep their body in balance by being mindful of the environment and food one eats. Your personal characteristics and environment will help dictate what food will lead to optimal health at any given moment.

My favorite part of Ellen’s talk was where she compared the Western worldview to the Ayurvedic worldview. In the West, matter is merely physical and life is simply a collection of molecules that behaves in a “lifelike” way. The Ayurvedic view is that the physical world, living and non-living objects, and food are all imbued with spirit; they are joyous and blessed. An especially cool moment was when it began to rain very heavily and many students stopped their assigned activity and went to the back to watch the downpour. Ellen actually encouraged us to watch, noting that it is inherently human to be fascinated by such weather (especially in typically arid Austin, TX). How cool is that?

 

Restaurant: Beets

I hadn’t visited Beets, Austin’s premier raw food restaurant, since it opened a few years ago, so I decided to stop by a few times and try a few of their menu items. I scanned Yelp and consulted a friend for tips, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Eating raw is a great way to eat nutritiously. This is because whole, unprocessed foods have the most nutrients. Processing of foods, which often includes harsh cooking techniques, results in overly refined foods from which the best nutrients have been stripped. Cooking also removes the water from food, so you end up eating way more calories because you don’t have the water content of the food to help fill you up. You don’t have to go 100% raw to get these benefits. Just increase the amount of raw plant-based foods you eat each day.

Below: The carrot soup is my favorite thing on the menu. It hits you with carrot, subtle orange flavor, and ginger. The soup is very opaque without being very thick, which are things I love about it. Sweet and complex, it’s a must have on any visit.

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Below: One thing that’s striking about Beets is how perfectly clean and bright it is. It’s a perfect complement to the restaurant’s mission and reminder of the health benefits that come from eating the natural and living foods on Beets’ menu.

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Below: The marinated mushroom and sauerkraut Reuben. They use a wonderful, chilled seed dressing.

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Below: The raw chalupas (yes, saying something is “raw” at Beets is duplicative, but come on – RAW chalupas!). The guacamole was cool and flavorful and the white sour “cream” drizzled on top was very close in flavor to the real thing, including the signature tang of sour cream.

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Below: Raw cinnamon roll. Yum!

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Below: Raw, nut butter based “cheesecake.” Peppermint cheesecake at that. Wow! A holiday treat with bright peppermint, creamy and true-to-form cheesecake flavor, and a nice crust.

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Beets is not a cheap place to dine, nor is it expensive. Considering the quality of the food, the care with which it’s prepared, and the nutritious benefits you get from eating it compared to the processed gruel you get in other establishments, you are getting more than a fair deal. Hopefully, Beets can inspire you to eat more raw plant-based foods at home and improve your health and well being for a lifetime.