Finding my bearings on starting a raw food regiment..
Before I talk about the recipe, I thought I’d update a bit about my life at the moment so as to put my present approach to food and cooking into perspective. Having just started on my full-time temp job last week, I am no longer able to cook up lunch fresh nor have the time to prepare some of my favorite dinners like curries. In fact, by the time I get home which is about 7.30 pm, I’m starving, want to eat and get over with my meal so I can rest for the evening.
Couple that with my continually growing fascination for raw food, especially recipes from Ani Phyo’s cookbooks I chanced upon during my regular (prob less now since starting work) library visits. I absolutely love her straightforward approach to raw food and I find many of her recipes easy to follow, make use of common easy to find ingredients and best part is no cooking involved which drastically cuts down the amount of prep time immediately before the meal. Sure, prepping raw cuisine sometimes entails lengthy periods of soaking and/or dehydration to make raw breads/crackers/pates etc., but I find this actually works to the advantage of people with busy schedules because the bulk of prepwork can be done at night, when one is done with dinner and in a more relaxed frame of mind or even over the weekend when time is not an issue.
So I’ve taken it upon myself to advance with tiny steps at a time towards increasing the amount of raw food in my diet. Some of these changes since encountering Ani’s cookbooks include soaking and sun-drying all my nuts and seeds to make them digestible (rendering any need for roasting beforehand unnecessary). I’ve also done the same for a stash of buckwheat to make her buckwheat crispies. I’m now eyeing some of her nut/seed pates, burgers and flatbreads which I hope to make over the weekend when I have the time to monitor the sun-drying process. It is actually quite a rewarding affair to be able to make use of the sun’s natural heat where I live instead of relying on a dehydrator, which is an expensive investment to make for even a budding raw foodist.
I’ve also started something of a breakfast green smoothie regimen. The concept totally makes sense when I realise I’d be able to get that much more detoxifying goodness out of my usual morning fruit, not to mention more vitamins and minerals from green veggies should I blend them up with my fruit.
Since the sweetness from the fruit covers up the grassy flavors from the greens, what results is a nutrient blast that is light on your digestive system, since its all blended up, yet provides so much more fibre to get your bowels moving earlier on in the day. Add flax, chia or even some eucheuma/irish moss paste and you get even more nutrients, not to mention a delightfully smooth and thick consistency to slurp at to your heart’s content!
Alongside my foray into raw food, I’ve also started going for vegan culinary lessons, part of a certification course that spans till end November. These weekly classes are such a joy to attend because the recipes introduced to us will be from a variety of ethnic cuisines which I find really exposes myself to different flavors, different styles, approaches and ultimately new possibilities to design my meals and dishes. Rather than tiresome old methods of trying to replicate conventional meat dishes or even adhering closely to conventional meal patterns, lessons so far have been focused on mindful eating, with a large emphasis on nutrient dense foods to boost not only physical, but emotional and mental health.
So for the moment, my diet is really an amalgamation of the different things happening in my life right now. A bit of selected raw foods, and warming ethnic dishes learnt from the course. I do somewhat regret that I’d have a lot less time for cooking now since work now makes any weekday cooking almost virtually impossible. However, I aim to update regularly on vegan cooking lessons, any progress I make with the knowledge learnt, as well as raw food recipes that manage to fit in with my Vata working lifestyle at the moment.
The following is a dish I threw together on Sunday, after having a plethora of Thai herbs at my finger tips after Mom’s weekend grocery shopping, and after receiving all that inspiration and good karma from Saturday’s vegan Thai cuisine lesson. I had eggplant and bell peppers to use up, so simply went the Thai route with it.
Cooking Thai is simple once you get acquainted with the essential Thai seasonings: Thai soy sauce, palm sugar (gular melaka), Thai lime juice, Kaffir lime leaves, coriander, Thai basil and lemongrass. Once you’re comfortable with the tastes, you start tweaking the balance of each flavor in relation to the others all the while keeping an eye on the overall flavor of the finished dish. Might take some practice but it isn’t so hard at all, this was really, at the very end, a matter of throwing things into a pan. I have to say though, that I’m eternally grateful for the culinary lesson for having the chance to experiment with ingredients outside my familiar zone, as well as providing a valuable opportunity to grasp the essence of each cuisine highlighted. This Thai-style eggplant and bell pepper dish is a product of inspiration from the class and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!
Thai-Style Eggplant and Bell Pepper
What I used:
- 1 large eggplant, diced
- 1 yellow (or red, or mix of all three colors!) pepper, chopped or diced
- 2 tsp soy sauce*
- 2 tsp palm sugar, chopped if yours came in a block
- 4 Kaffir lime leaves, ribs removed and minced
- Juice of 2 thai limes
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- Coriander leaves
Note: I find Thai soy sauce to have its own characteristic taste. It is has a lighter and clearer taste than other Asian soy sauces. If you don’t want to buy it, substitute 3/4 tsp soy sauce, 1/8 tsp sugar/agave, 1/8 tsp salt for every 1 tsp of Thai soy sauce.
Prepare the palm sugar by dissolving in some hot water. Alternatively, put the sugar and some water in a small bowl and microwave.
Saute eggplant and peppers until cooked, about 5 minutes. Then add soy sauce, palm sugar syrup, garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and stir to mix for about 1-2 minutes. Add lime juice according to taste. Also check if more soy sauce or palm sugar is needed. Turn off the heat, plate and add coriander leaves for garnish. If liked, some minced kaffir lime leaves and toasted brown rice powder (see my last post about this ingredient) can be sprinkled over the top before serving. The raw kaffir lime leaves accentuate the taste while the rice powder helps to mellow out any strong flavors while adding a subtle rice fragrance to the dish.
Keeping the flavors fresh and alive is what I find important to keeping true to Thai cuisine so the point with this dish is to cook the vegetables and only tossing in the seasonings toward the end when the vegetables are done, mixing them just enough for the flavors to meld together. This is especially the case for the kaffir lime leaves and lime juice. The former acquires a bitter taste if cooked for too long and the lime juice loses its sharp vibrant edge if heated excessively.
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