Review: Practically Raw & Totally Delicious

almond milkOver the years, it’s happened again and again.  I’d check out a raw cookbook from the library, enthralled with its pictures of fresh, colorful food.  I’d imagine the re-creations I could make of the raw nachos, pizzas, salads, and smoothies I’ve adored at Sun Café, Cru, Karyn’s Raw…  Once home, I’d pore through the recipes only to reach the same end again and again…  “Put in dehydrator for 12 hours….”  “Blend until smooth in Vitamix…”   “Spiralize in spiralizer….”  And if all of the high end equipment didn’t thwart me, the expensive ingredients would.

As much as I wanted to enjoy nutrient-dense raw fare, there were too many obstacles in the way.  I’d think, “Okay, once I buy a $400 blender and a $300 dehydrator, I can make this dish.  Pass the kale, please.  I’m making salad.”  (At this point, my home does have a Vitamix and a spiralizer, but a dehydrator continues to be on my wish list.)  After getting the cold, raw shoulder many times over, I’d give up on the cookbook and return it to the library.

That’s why Chef Amber Shea Crawley’s Practically Raw is so refreshing.  In naming her book, Amber called it Practically Raw for two reasons.  The first meaning is “virtual.”  It’s virtually raw in that almost all of the recipes have cooked options for people who don’t have dehydrators or would prefer a hot option on cold days.  Cooking kale chips, for example, at 300 degrees means they’re not raw anymore.  (For that, they’re not supposed to go above 118 degrees.)  However, they’re still completely tantalizing and good for you!  She also says that while a high-speed blender will give sauces, soups, and smoothies a creamier texture, they aren’t entirely necessary for her book.

The second meaning of Practically Raw is that she’s raw in a way that’s Practical.  It’s not dogmatic or full of rules.  If it’s 12 degrees outside, and you’d rather forgo cold kelp noodles for hot wheat noodles, that’s listed as an option.  And if pricey macadamia nuts are out of your budget or vegan probiotic powder can’t be found in your local grocery store, there are options for exchanging ingredients or leaving things out if they’re cost-prohibitive, hard to get, or not ideal for whatever reason.

Amber is a raw chef who trained at the Matthew Kenney Academy and was also certified at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute.  She also has excellent taste in television programs, as I discovered when Amber chimed in on my Doctor Who posts in October.  (Another geeky trait we share?  We’ve both nicknamed our Vitamixes the same thing – the Vitababy.  I know.  That’s embarrassing.  Don’t tell anyone.)

kale chipsAmber’s cookbook was high on my Christmas wish list, and so I was delighted when my best friend purchased the book for me.  She packaged the cookbook with a baggie of kale chips, which she made from the book.  My friend had never made kale chips before.  It speaks to the user-friendliness of the book that she was able to go to her local grocery store that was open late and pick up ingredients for the Naked Kale Chips with oil, lemon juice, and salt.  The simple ingredient list lets the kale shine.

The Naked Kale Chips are far from the only kale chip recipe in the book.  In fact, a whole chapter is dedicated to them!  I made the Pizza Kale Chips with a friend who has had bad kale chip luck in the past.  (She said she always felt like she was eating dried, October leaves.  Not good.)  Amber says about pizza chips, “If you’re at all unsure about the gustatory merits of kale chips, try this recipe first.  You’ll be shocked at how outrageously fantastic these pizza-flavored crunchers are.”  So it seemed like the right place to start.  As soon as the smells of sun-dried tomato, garlic, and fennel were emanating from the oven, my friend was sold.  “That smells so good,” she said.  And after a bite she said, “Let’s eat this entire bowl.”  And we did.  (You can see the recipe for yourself here on Amber’s blog.)

But my favorite kale chips that I’ve made thus far were the Cheesy Chili Kale Chips, which uses a cashew-based nacho cheese recipe from the book as its coating.  Like eating dried kale nachos, the spicy, cheesy chips made for some mouthwatering snacking.  (They’re a little burnt in the above picture, but that’s because I re-heated them at too high of a temperature.  If you don’t eat the kale chips right away, they become soft again in a resealable bag.  However, with a few minutes in a warm oven they’ll become crisp again.  Just don’t let them burn, like I did!)

Speaking of oven temperatures, they vary, and I noticed that my kale chips took longer to cook than in the directions by about ten or fifteen minutes.

As you’d guess from a raw cookbook, there are also a number of smoothie recipes, many of which use Almond Milk as the base (pictured at the top of this post).  With the exception of soaking the almonds overnight (8-12 hours), it is quick and simple to make.  Blend almonds with water, dates, lemon juice, and salt, squeeze through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, and you’ve got almond milk.

peaches 'n' creamsicleI followed her vanilla almond milk variation and used it for making the Peaches ‘n’ Creamsicle Smoothie, which tastes like a glassful of summer.  Peaches, banana, orange juice, and coconut butter make for a frothy bit of sweetness that taste like June in January.

apple pie smoothieThe Apple Pie Smoothie was also top notch and really did taste like apple pie in shake form.  In addition to an apple, walnuts, cinnamon, and vanilla, I added a leaf of kale (rib removed) and a spoonful of flaxseed for extra nutrition.  (This recipe was featured on Bust’s website.)

almond butter noodlesFrom the main dishes, I’ve made the Almond Butter Sesame Noodles twice.  This dish uses iodine-rich kelp noodles, which are tremendously low in calories.  The noodles have a light crunch to them; although, after they’ve been sitting in the sauce for a few hours, they soften over time.  I’ve made the sauce with almond butter and with peanut butter, and I prefer the peanut butter slightly.  However, both versions are outstanding.  I worried the first time I tasted the sauce on its own that it would be too strong and salty; however, it wasn’t a problem.  The noodles don’t have any flavor at all, and so once the sauce gets added across a whole bowlful of noodles, the amount of flavor is perfect.  (This recipe is also available on Amber’s blog.)

raw tacosI also made the Fiesta Taco Roll-Ups, which were terrific.  The taco meat is made with sunflower seeds, walnuts, pistachios, in addition to a few vegetables and spices.  I like it that Amber doesn’t shy away from heat.  I didn’t have fresh jalapeno on hand, but even without it, the nut-based meat was wonderfully spicy.  She calls for serving the tacos in romaine leaves with cheese sauce, fresh salsa, and guacamole.  However, I just added cherry tomatoes, mashed avocado, onions, and cilantro.  They had all of the spicy kick of cooked tacos but in a vibrant, healthful form.

I still have so many more recipes that I want to make.  In fact, I have raw pizza sauce ready in the refrigerator and cashew cheese culturing for her take on sausage pizza.  I’m also eager to try her paella, which calls for cauliflower instead of rice.  Oh, and did I mention she has a recipe for a raw take on biscuits and gravy?  A woman after my own heart…  If you’ve been curious about raw food and want to add more to your repertoire, I can’t recommend Practically Raw highly enough.

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    • Cadry says

      I’ve been super impressed by everything I’ve made. Plus, with the exception of soaking time, it all comes together so fast! And I love it that I’m only dirtying my cutting board and Vitamix! Less clean-up than with pots & pans.

    • Cadry says

      Yes, I was so touched! My friend isn’t typically into cooking, and so it was especially thoughtful of her that she made something completely new to her. She’s something special! :)

  1. says

    Wow, Cadry! I am so surprised, delighted, and flattered by this thorough and amazing review of Practically Raw. I’m a little speechless! Your photos are mouthwatering, and your descriptions of everything are just wonderful. Thank you SO much! And your kind friend, too – that was so considerate of her to gift you the book with a baggie of kale chips. And you call yours the Vitababy also?! HA! Too funny!

    Anyway, I can’t thank you enough for this unsolicited yet glowing review – I appreciate it so very much!

    P.S. I ADORE that kale chip graphic you made, but it’s not loading properly on my dumb computer. Any chance you could email it to me so I could share it on FB? 😀

    • Cadry says

      You’re so very welcome! Thank YOU for making such a fantastic book! The glowing review was much deserved. I feel like a kid carrying around a new toy, because I haven’t been without your book by my side for weeks. (Truth be told, I even took it with me on my vacation to Florida last week!) Everything has been so healthy, mouthwatering, and FAST!

      Yes, I had to laugh when I saw that you also call your Vitamix the Vitababy. I’d assumed my husband and I were the only ones! :)

      P.S. Of course, I’d be happy to email the graphic to you! I’ll email it in just a bit.

  2. says

    I got this book last year and I haven’t tried the kelp noodles or the pizza kale chips yet (I’m too addicted to the sour cream and onion chips to try another flavor), but I’m going to have try both now!

  3. says

    This book sounds great! I hit the same challenges with raw recipes. We don’t have a Vitamix or a dehydrator – it seems like such a high bar equipment-wise. This book is on my list for sure!

    • Cadry says

      Yes, I used to be so frustrated when I’d check out a new raw cookbook, only to discover there were just a handful of recipes that I could make! Plus, all of the equipment is quite expensive! This is definitely one I’d recommend to someone who wants to get started in raw cooking but doesn’t want to make a huge investment first… (Or to anyone who enjoys good food!) :)

  4. says

    i have to make those pizza chips.. they were in my head somewhere and now have been rescued from the maze! now i can see them bright and clear!! and those oodles too.
    A wonderful review cadry!

  5. says

    that really is such a good idea for a book. I bought a raw cookbook (if that’s the right word!) a good few months ago, and I’ve hardly used it for the reasons you mention – I just don’t have the kit that almost all the recipes call for. Looking forward to seeing how that sausage pizza turns out!

    • Cadry says

      It’s disappointing when the equipment (or lack thereof) gets in the way, isn’t it? It’s refreshing with Practically Raw that the recipes can be made now sans equipment, and someday when I get a dehydrator, I can make them again the raw way.

      I’ll let you know how the pizza turns out! All that’s left to make are the crusts!

  6. says

    Wonderful review, Cadry — your enthusiasm for the recipes is contagious. Now I really want a copy of the book. It seems like it would make raw food more accessible — especially during the winter when we’re less inclined to choose raw dishes. Your friend was doubly thoughtful when she gifted you the cookbook AND the kale!

    • Cadry says

      True! This cookbook does a nice job of straddling the desire to eat clean, fresh food after the holiday months, while still offering some warm options when it’s downright frigid outside!

      Yes, it was such a thoughtful addition that my friend made kale chips as well!

  7. says

    Great review. I’ve been pretty interested in this book but I haven’t seen in come into my bookstore… I should probably get it online. I love adaptable recipes, especially since I do that so much of the time anyway.
    Every recipe I’ve tried from Amber’s website has been wonderful so it makes sense…

    • Cadry says

      Adaptable recipes are so convenient! It’s nice to know that the recipe & flavors will still work, even with some substitutions.

    • Cadry says

      The noodle dish is a new favorite for sure! I’d had kelp noodles waiting to be used for a while, but this was the first time I’d worked with them. So easy, fast, and tasty!

  8. says

    What a great review! I’m the same way, I like the idea of trying raw recipes but all the special equipment really turned me off. Just because I like to try raw stuff from time to time, does not mean that I by any means want to purchase a dehydrator. Those almond butter sesame noodles sound delicious! I still need to attempt kale chips, I know I’m a little late to that party but I’d really like to give them a try at some point to see what all the fuss is about.

    • Cadry says

      Definitely try the almond butter sesame noodles if you get a chance! They’re so quick to make, and they keep well in the refrigerator too.

      A vegan blogger who hasn’t tried kale chips? You’re up there with the Loch Ness Monster & UFO’s! I didn’t believe you could exist! 😉 But seriously, all of the kale chips I’ve made from PR have been great, and I’ve enjoyed mixing it up with all of the different flavors. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  9. Shell says

    I’m so glad you are enjoying the cookbook! It is so user-friendly and has so many fun recipes. Your pictures made me hungry for more kale chips. :)

    • Cadry says

      Thanks again for the awesome book & tasty kale chips! If someone would have asked what you might be getting me for Christmas, homemade kale chips from your own oven would have been one of my last guesses! :)

  10. says

    I have a list of Amber’s recipes from her site to try- now I want to get the book! Chris and I have been on a kale chip kick lately, so those kale chips are totally speaking to me right now. :-)

    • Cadry says

      Yes, you need this book for sure! Since you and Chris have been on a kale chip kick, you’ll especially love it. I am burning through the kale even more than usual now! Yesterday I made sour cream and onion kale chips again, which are so fabulous, and the day before I made the cheesy chili kale chips, which continue to be my favorites.

      For those without a dehydrator, I noticed that my leftover kale chips, which I’ve stored in a baggie overnight, get the most wonderfully even crispiness when I re-bake them the next day. They’re even better than when made fresh! That’s good to know if I ever wanted to serve a variety of types of kale chips at a party. (And then I have to find some people who’d want to come to my kale chip eating party…)

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