The sixth week of the culinary course took place at our teacher’s residence. V is a former nurse at a cancer institute in Singapore whose experience with working with patients’ as well as her own late parents’ diets have spurred her on the path of health and nutrition. She will be teaching us vegan versions of local favorites such as chicken rice next week, but she also specialises in raw food, having learnt about the benefits of raw food from a raw food teacher.
Her place is well-equipped with dehydrators and specialised health food equipment such as a high-powered blender, steam oven and racks of organic health food which students can buy at a discount. I suppose her experience as a nurse has influenced her emphasis on using specifically organic and at times obscure health food ingredients in her dishes.
If you’ve never heard of molasses, it’s actually a viscous black syrup and a by-product of sugar refining. While most of the minerals have been stripped from white sugar, molasses is chocked full of high amounts of iron, magnesium and calcium of these as a result. Actually, the taste of molasses isn’t at all new to us. It’s found in the common black sweet sauce and kecap manis so actually tastes pretty familiar! However, molasses is comparatively less sweet and has a tinge of bitterness if too much is used. This drink tasted great, therefore makes it a convenient way to incorporate more of the nutrient-dense foods chia and molasses into one’s diet.
Raw Vegan Popiah
First up on our agenda list was a raw vegan popiah which we proceeded to prepare by slicing carrots! This was quite a lesson in itself as I learnt how to cut chiffonades, which is basically a technique used to produce really thin cuts of vegetables or herbs. Picture this: the really thin ‘sticks’ of ginger you find in in steamed fish? That’s kind of like chiffonades — super thin matchsticks.
Then our carrot chiffonades were tossed together with julienned jicama in a sauce of Bragg’s aminos, sweetender, lime juice and sesame oil to create the popiah filling.
Our popiah wrappers were these organic Cai Xin leaves! Kailan and Xiao Bai Cai are also suitable substitutes, however the former has a stronger taste while it may be more difficult finding xiao bai cai leaves that are large enough for this purpose.
The cai xin leaves were surprisingly mild in taste and not grassy even though raw. Apart from a slight textural difference, I felt they were pretty similar to lettuce.
So this was pretty straightforward. Smear a bit of molasses on the leaf, then pile on the veggie filling, followed by powdered cashews (a raw alternative to the roasted peanuts used) which have been soaked and dehydrated.
An integral part of raw food preparation includes the soaking and subsequent dehydrating of grains, nuts and seeds in order to remove anti-nutrients which would otherwise make them less digestible by the body. The dehydrating which spans 2-3 days in a special dehydrator enhances the shelf-life of these activated foods. Though a dehydrator may be a convenient option for the hard-core raw foodist, always know that there is the alternative of sun-drying especially in Singapore’s year round hot climate.
Next, alfalfa sprouts (which mimic the taste of bean spouts in popiah) are the last layer of our toppings. The leaf is then rolled up stem side first and secured with a toothpick. This was actually not at all finicky! To my surprise the cai xin leaves didn’t threaten to tear and were pretty sturdy though thin.
We chomped into our freshly made raw (and very green!) popiah with much gusto. It was a breath of fresh air with all the quality organic and fresh ingredients used to make it and even tasted like popiah! Using the molasses was a smart alternative to the popiah sweet sauce and the use of apt replacements such as alfalfa, cashew powder, carrots and jicama ensured that this was still recognizably popiah.
This raw vegan popiah feels like it might be an amusing appetizer to serve to party guests.
Tricolor Pasta with Raw Marinara Sauce
If you’re already into raw food then this recipe shouldn’t even raise any eyebrows. One of the standard, most basic raw food recipes is a tomato sauce pasta with spaghetti made from raw zucchini and marinara using, more commonly, a mix of both fresh and sun-dried tomatos. V’s recipe is a slight variation of this.
It makes sense to invest in a spiraliser if you are a raw foodist. Afterall, it helps to achieve cuts of veggies highly resembling noodles. Or whip it out during CNY to make homemade Yu Sheng! I envision it saving precious time in the kitchen as this was a cinch to use.
To make veggie noodles, you stick your veg through a ‘nail’ located near the shaving blade, then use the handle to clamp down firmly and crank away! With little effort at all, we successfully made noodles out of the zucchini, carrot and pumpkin. The carrot took considerably more effort due to its hard texture, while the pumpkin gave the nicest, most uniform noodles due to its large cut and slightly soft texture.
As always I think it is important to know that one needn’t spend extra to make healthy changes to one’s diet. If buying a spiraliser isn’t your thing, you can always make fettucine instead by using a peeler to shave off thin layers and then slicing into thin flat noodle shapes. I’ve been making zucchini pasta even before this lesson myself and have employed that method. Or more recently I’ve also used a special Thai-style peeler with serrated blades meant for shredding green mangoes to get nice thin noodles. You don’t actually NEED a spiraliser except for aesthetic purposes.
The sauce was a mixture of fresh tomatos, nooch, cashews, ice (instead of water since high-powered blenders tend to heat up the ingredients), fresh basil, red pepper, EVOO, Bragg’s, sweetener and salt. Bung into blender and blitz till smooth. Then pour over veggie pasta, garnish with pine nuts and more basil.
To be frank and brutally honest, I still prefer the taste of Ani Phyo’s Cherry Tomato Marinara Sauce and consists of just cherry tomatos, EVOO and dates as the main ingredients. A lot more simple to make, yet so sensational, I can’t seem to forget it every time I make it. Even my mom loves zucchini pasta with that sauce generously slathered over.
Still, raw tomatoes make raw marinara sauce really refreshing and cool in hot weather. And if you haven’t tried zucchini pasta before what are you waiting for? Spongy and mild tasting, I assure you they make such a wonderfully refreshing alternative to stodgy, starchy carb pasta.
Nut pates, raw cheezes, faux tuna/salmon/egg salad, faux scrambled egg are things you’d expect to find in most raw cookbooks since recreating healthy meatless versions by replacing with nuts and seeds is probably one of the best ways to gradually coax a person onto a wholefoods diet.
Again, this recipe isn’t mind-blowing to me since I’ve already been dabbling at making my own cheezes and faux egg scramble. Ani Phyo, my current raw food idol, whose cookbooks I’ve been poring through at the moment has a Save-the-Tuna pate recipe made of carrot pulp and almonds which I’ve been dying to try out at the moment.
Anyway, V’s recipe calls for quite an elaborate assortment of health food seasonings. First, soaked almonds, miso, sweetener, ACV, water, nooch, lime juice and other spices are bunged into the high-powered blender to create a creamy sauce.
Allow me the luxury to digress for a moment and talk about my experience watching the Blendtec in action. Unlike the Vitamix (another high-powered blender widely used among serious health foodies), the Blendtec features an electronic display and panel which allows you to select blending options such as ‘smoothie’ ‘soup’ and a whole host of other options. When making this sauce, V pressed the soup button which took about 1 minute 15 seconds.
Watching a high-powered blender in action…
Despite the hype over high-powered blenders these days it was still quite a horrifying experience watching contents get pulverised, absolutely ripped apart and violently thrown about within the space of this tiny container. It is not the most pleasant of sounds over the course of that 1+ minute. In fact, if you could picture the largeness of an industrial, say, washing machine miniaturised into a blender, it was kinda like that. My heart almost felt like it would stop as the high-power blitzing action seemed like it could just erupt any moment taking the lid with it.
Makes me pause and rethink my intention to invest in one of these high-powered blenders. Somehow the Vitamix at Onaka didn’t give me as harrowing an experience?
Okay end of digression, back to making the Not ”Tuna”. Once the creamy sauce was made, more soaked nuts and seeds, wakame and celery were thrown in and pulsed briefly to create a nutty, dollopy paste which you could just about have with anything you fancy.
The paste turned out a bit green and not quite the color of tuna, which I wasn’t too concerned about the appearance compared to the taste. I actually wouldn’t refer to this as anything remotely fish-like or meat-like as it tasted just like its contents — blitzed creamy soaked almonds and sunflower seeds, and wasn’t exactly distinctively memorable. Having said that, creamy nut sauces are always a welcome as salad dressings, raw sauces for pasta or dips to make raw veggie dishes more filling.
We had the Not ”Tuna” with the leftover veggie noodles. This made me curious to try out other raw faux-tuna recipes especially Ani Phyo’s to see how they stack up in the flavor department.
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All in all, a slightly lacklustre experience this time round due to my own expectations and experience with raw foods. Perhaps cooking at Onaka and being absolutely blown away my the work of a professional chef each week had set the bar too high? Regardless, I learnt some important lessons such as how to chiffonade vegetables, and witnessed firsthand how to use the Blendtec (courtesy of V’s patient demo).
Next week, V will be teaching us how to re-create local favorites such as chicken rice, chilli miso ramen and brown rice beehoon! The thought of these dishes is already making my mouth water. Do stay tune for further updates! 🙂