I hope everyone had a happy 4th of July!
Our family celebrated with a delicious meal of carrot dogs and oven fries, which you must try if you haven’t already.
Anyway, last week I taught a cooking class at Southern Home & Kitchen here in Winston, and it was a great success! The theme was raw vegan, so “cooking” class is actually a misnomer. The menu included three flavors of cashew cheese, a pear and arugula salad with Meyer lemon dressing, raw zucchini and tomato lasagna, and fresh mint ice cream with chocolate date sauce. I also brought samples of my mini cinnamon rolls for everyone to try. The menu was a hit!
About six years ago, when I was living by myself in Nashville, I stumbled upon the blog of Sarma Melngialis, a gorgeous chef who started a raw vegan restaurant in NYC called Pure Food & Wine. I read about her life — how she studied French cuisine, discovered the benefits of eating raw and plant-based, and created beautiful gourmet dishes for her NYC restaurants. A few months later I went to Pure Food and Wine, where I met Sarma after enjoying the chef’s tasting menu and buying her cookbook. I was like a starstruck little kid.
After that, I was hooked. I bought a small dehydrator for my apartment and started collecting raw vegan cookbooks. I was constantly soaking nuts and seeds and reading about the benefits of raw v. cooked.
So in case you’re wondering . . .
The benefits of eating more raw foods
- Raw foods contain live enzymes that aid in digestion; heating foods above 118 degrees F kills those beneficial enzymes, requiring our bodies to use their own.
- Some research indicates that eating more raw foods slows the aging process.
- Heating foods destroys certain minerals, vitamins, and amino acids.
- Some plants — broccoli, for example — contain cancer-fighting properties that are destroyed by heat.
- Raw foods are easier to digest, so you are less likely to feel tired and sluggish after you eat them.
- Cooking foods produces free radicals and carcinogens, especially when baked, grilled, or fried.
BUT carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage and peppers supply more antioxidants if they’re boiled or steamed.
So I say aim for at least half of your daily intake to be raw fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. Smoothies and large salads can help you accomplish this goal easily.
Why soak your nuts and seeds?
Soaking nuts in filtered water, then draining and rinsing them again, makes them more digestible and removes bitter flavors. It also takes away the enzyme inhibitors in the skins, which preserve the nuts until they are ready to sprout.
One of Sarma’s most popular recipes is her zucchini and zebra tomato lasagna. She uses a lot of olive oil in her recipe, so I adapted it to omit the oil and make it more healthful. The key to a great raw lasagna is good tomatoes, so I usually wait until the summer to make this fantastic dish. The pine nut ricotta, sun-dried tomato sauce, and basil pistachio pesto complement the fresh tomatoes and zucchini and taste like summer! I absolutely love this lasagna, so if you’re having company over and have the time, it’s totally worth the effort of making the sauces!
- 2 cups raw pine nuts or macadamia nuts, soaked 2+ hrs
- 2 T. lemon juice
- 2 T. nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 6 T. filtered water
- Tomato Sauce
- 2 cups sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 2+ hrs
- 1 small to medium tomato, chopped
- 1 small shallot or ¼ small onion, chopped
- 2 T. lemon juice
- ¼ cup filtered water
- 1 T. + 1 tsp. agave
- Pinch hot pepper flakes
- Salt to taste
- Basil-pistachio Pesto
- 2 cups packed basil leaves
- ½ cup pistachios
- ½ large avocado
- ½ tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2 T. lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Assembly
- 3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
- 3 medium tomatoes, preferably heirloom
- Whole basil leaves and reduced balsamic vinegar for garnish
- Place the pine nuts, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times, until thoroughly combined. Gradually add water until the mixture is fluffy, like ricotta. Transfer to a bowl and rinse food processor.
- To make the tomato sauce, drain as much of the water out of the sun-dried tomatoes as you can and add them to the food processor with the rest of the tomato sauce ingredients. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a bowl and rinse the food processor again.
- Place the pesto ingredients in the food processor and blend until well combined but still slightly chunky.
- Cut the zucchini into 3-inch lengths and cut it into very thin slices using a mandolin or peeler. Slice tomatoes about ¼-inch thick.
- To assemble, begin by slightly overlapping 3 zucchini slices on a plate to create a square. Spread tomato sauce over the zucchini, then pesto, then a few dollops of ricotta. Top with a large tomato slice (or a few small ones), then repeat the process once more, starting with more zucchini slices. Finish after the second layer of tomato, then garnish with fresh basil, cracked black pepper, and a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar, if desired.
The only thing that can make this dish better is if you get the zucchini, tomatoes, and basil from your own garden!
Ours aren’t quite ready for picking, but when they are, I will definitely be making this dish again!
If you’re inspired by this post and are making plans to go to NYC and eat at Pure Food and Wine, I’m afraid that’s not possible anymore. In May, Sarma and her husband, who had been on the lam for a year, were arrested for running away with investors’ money and withholding paychecks from employees. Apparently they’d been using the money to travel, gamble, and buy expensive bling. Needless to say, Sarma’s restaurants have been shut down. But her ex boyfriend, Matthew Kenney, has some equally beautiful raw vegan restaurants called Plant Food & Wine in Miami and Venice, CA. Check those out if you get a chance!
Also, if you love summer tomatoes as much as I do, be sure to try my Tomato Pie recipe!