Over 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.)
Amber’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.
I 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.
The 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.)
From 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.)
I 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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