Rich in fresh, uncooked whole foods, the raw food diet is gaining popularity among those looking for better health and more energy.
“I love to entertain,” says Arelya Hadar, leading a visitor to a sumptuous lunch spread of creamy pesto fettuccine, rosemary crackers, avocado sandwiches and coconut almond cookies.
The most amazing part about the lunch? It’s all raw, meaning all of the dishes are made from uncooked whole foods. And it’s delicious.
Initially a fringe movement popular in California, interest in raw food is steadily increasing in Spokane. Hadar prepares raw food items for Spokane’s Fresh Abundance market including Mediterranean pasta, kale chips and various breads. In the last three months, demand has soared.
“The onion bread is flying off the shelves,” she says.
Baked goods are prepared in a dehydrator, and deli items incorporate fresh produce with sauces made from nut creams and other blended whole foods. Proponents of raw food believe that the heat of conventional cooking depletes food of vital enzymes and nutrients, so nothing is heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many people with illnesses, low energy or weight struggles are drawn to the benefits of a raw diet.
“There’s a reason to eat this way,” says Hadar.
“If anyone is going to do anything, green smoothies are the place to start,” she says. “You can make it any way you want to, whatever is ripe, in season and local.”
If you’re not used to greens in your smoothie, start with the mild flavor of spinach, she suggests.
“You want the greens to be smooth or it’s not so appealing,” says Sarah Edwards of ChakRaw Living Foods, who teaches classes on raw food. She recommends blending the greens with a little water first before adding other ingredients.
Green smoothies are an easy way to incorporate more raw food into your diet, says Edwards, but in the beginning the most important thing is for them to be delicious. Sweeten them with agave nectar or dates, she recommends.
Since a raw diet has a lot of fiber, Spokane registered dietitian Patty Seebeck cautions those who want to give it a try to ease into it slowly to give their bodies time to adjust.
A raw food diet consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Coconuts and avocados are often used for rich desserts and creamy sauces. Carob and cacao powders, spices and cold-pressed oils are used to add flavor and chili peppers create a sense of heat in raw dishes. Raw fermented foods like kefir, miso and olives aid digestion and boost immunity.
“I don’t know that we need to eat 100 percent raw,” says Edwards. “Any amount of raw foods you can incorporate is beneficial.”
Focus on whole foods, cooked or raw, she says; have an apple or handful of nuts for a snack.
Germinating and sprouting
Many raw food recipes call for soaking nuts and seeds.
“Soaking nuts activates the enzymes and makes it easier for the body to access the nutrients,” explains Edwards.
Cover the nuts or seeds with water and leave them overnight. Rinse and drain them and they’re ready to be used in recipes or dehydrated for later use.
Pumpkin, sunflower and radish seeds will sprout in two to three days after soaking.
“All sprouts have different flavors,” says Edwards, who enjoys spicy radish sprouts on sandwiches.
Tools for the raw kitchen
“The dehydrator is like your oven,” says Hadar, who prepares flatbread, scones and kale chips in the dehydrator. Look for one with a thermostat, as most raw food recipes call for dehydrating at 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit.
A food processor is a primary tool for preparing raw food. “You can make your own pesto or pâté,” says Edwards.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can chop or grate most of the ingredients, it is just more time-consuming.
Both Edwards and Hadar agree that a high speed blender like a Vita-Mix is another indispensable tool.
“I use that Vita-Mix for everything – grinding nuts, making cream sauces and smoothies,” says Hadar.
Mandolines, spiral slicers and garnish tools come in handy, too.
“One of the biggest things about raw food is that it’s all in the way you prepare it. It’s paramount (to have different textures) in raw food for variety,” says Hadar, who uses a spiral slicing tool from the Kitchen Engine to create zucchini noodles.
Here are some raw food recipes to try at home:
Arelya’s Green Spring Smoothie
Courtesy of Arelya Hadar, Fresh Abundance
2 Bosc pears
2 oranges, peeled (or substitute other citrus fruit)
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen (or substitute other berries)
½ cup raspberry juice concentrate
4 leaves red or green chard (no stems)
2 cups water
If you are using a high-speed blender, simply cut the fruit into 2-3 large chunks (remove the stem from pear – no need to peel kiwi). First put in the chard, then the fruit, juice concentrate and water. If you are using a regular blender, core the pear, peel the kiwi and cut all the fruit in small pieces. Blend all ingredients until smooth and serve.
Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Yield: 6 ½ cups
Courtesy of Sarah Edwards, ChakRaw Living Foods
1 cup walnuts, soaked overnight
1 cup sunflower seeds, soaked overnight
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sage, fresh or dried
1 teaspoon sea salt or Himalayan salt (available at natural food stores)
1 apple, grated
Strain and rinse the walnuts and sunflower seeds. Using a food processor, cut the onion, garlic and sage into small pieces. Place in a bowl.
Process the walnuts and sunflower seeds into small pieces and add to the bowl. Add salt and grated apple and mix.
Use a spoon, scoop or your hand to create 1-inch balls. Place balls on a dehydrator tray. Dehydrate at 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 12 hours, longer for crispier nut-meat balls.
Yield: Makes approximately 50 1-inch balls.
Sun-dried Tomato Basil Marinara
Courtesy of Sarah Edwards, who likes to serve this sauce with nut-meat balls over zucchini noodles, which she makes with a special garnishing tool.
3 large pitted dates
¾ cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 1-2 hours (tomatoes in oil don’t need to be soaked)
1 ¼ cups chopped tomato
¼ cup fresh basil
1 tablespoon oregano, fresh or dried
1 tablespoon cold-pressed olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon onion
1 teaspoon sea salt or Himalayan salt
Soak the dates for 30 minutes in just enough water to cover. Puree the dates with the water and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor until mixture is almost smooth. Add remaining ingredients and pulse to combine, but leave chunky.
Yield: 2½ cups sauce
Cauliflower Couscous with Black Sesame
Courtesy of Moria Felber, Wild Thyme Kitchen
1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped
½ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon raw honey
½ cup cilantro, minced
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
½ cup fresh basil, minced
2 cups tomatoes, chopped and drained
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup raw pine nuts
1/8 cup black sesame seeds
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Place roughly chopped cauliflower in a food processor and process until it resembles couscous or fine white rice.
Transfer cauliflower to a large mixing bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil, and honey and mix well. Add remaining ingredients, toss and refrigerate before serving.
Yield: 6 servings
Courtesy of Sarah Edwards, who says, “I like the flavor and richness the coconut oil adds, but it is still delicious without coconut oil.”
½ cup dates, agave nectar or honey
2 large or 3 small avocados
¼ cup coconut oil (optional)
½ teaspoon powdered vanilla or vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt or Himalayan salt
½ cup raw cacao powder (available at Lorien Herbs and Pilgrim’s Market)
If using agave nectar or honey, combine all ingredients, except cacao powder, in a food processor or high-speed blender until smooth, adding a small amount of water if necessary. Once smooth, add the cacao powder and blend.
If using dates, soak the dates in just enough water to cover for about 30 minutes. Place dates and water in food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, except cacao powder, and blend until smooth. Add cacao powder and blend.
Serve immediately or chill for later use.
Yield: 4-6 servings