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by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein

"Raw" by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein

Imagine a world without stoves and ovens. Toss away the barbecue. That soul-warming stew with a crusty loaf of bread? Forget about it. Already a vegetarian? That’s nice but you’ll still need to reset your brain and your stomach for the world of raw and living food.

Raw foods are as basic as that apple you just bit into, or those lovely spring peas you just picked up at the market. Just be sure the apple doesn’t bake into a pie, and the peas better not meet anything hotter than 118º F.

Simple enough. To live within the raw food rules, just eat a vegetarian diet where nothing has been heated above 118º F. Anything hotter will destroy the natural enzymes that assist digestion. And, as, Raw co-author Roxanne Klein says, “without [enzymes], there can be no cell division, energy production, or brain activity. In addition, no vitamins or hormones can do their work, nor can your immune system.” If that stick of a statement doesn’t scare you into eating raw, the carrot (no pun intended) in this case is a cookbook entitled Raw, by Klein and Charlie Trotter.

Beyond Klein’s subliminal admonition, there are plenty of delicious reasons to eat raw. In fact, she also says, “My raw cuisine is about discovering the inherent sensuality of each ingredient in its natural state and then highlighting it in the final dish.” So you see, while this is all about a radical approach to healthy eating, Raw is brought to you with great balance. Trotter is devoted to the finest and freshest ingredients in his cooking, but you will certainly find fully cooked foods (including meat) on his menus. At raw food maven Roxanne Klein’s former eponymous restaurant in Larkspur, California, there are dehydrators and juicers and food processors, but nary a grill, roasting pan, fish, fowl or otherwise.

Raw is the natural intersection of these two formidable and passionate talents. The dishes are complex, composed, big, beautiful and vibrant with flavor. Trotter and Klein’s efforts here are compelling. Start with Layered Morel Mushrooms and Fennel with Two Vinaigrettes: Opal Basil and Mustard Seed. The presentation is stunning and requires lots of assembly: a ring of morel mushroom topped with marinated fennel slices, then fennel purée, then a fennel frond. Repeat twice. Then finish with the vinaigrettes. Greek Salad here means you’ll need to make Almond Feta Cheese, which entails a high-speed blender, soaked raw almonds, Rejuvelac—a fermented liquid from sprouted grains, nutritional yeast—and a dehydrator. There’s lots of chopping and assembly again, but the result is beautiful and delicious. It is a daunting task, to be fair.

When you approach Tacos Three Ways with Mexican Vinaigrette, keep in mind it is three times the challenge. The taco shells you’ll make with flax and sunflower seeds, Rejuvelac and the dehydrator. That’s a day right there. Then there’s the surprisingly straightforward Mexican Red Chile Sauce, Mexican Vinaigrette, and Guacamole. Then, each of the three treatments requires its own filling of brunoise cut, julienned, or minced fruits and vegetables.

It’s an entirely new vocabulary as you might surmise. Get used to working with coconut butter, golden flax meal, nutritional yeast, dried seaweeds, wolfberries and Rejuvelac. A good dehydrator is a must, as is a high-quality heavy-duty juicer, a workhorse of a blender, a food processor and a spice grinder.

Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragout requires the dehydrator three times (for the polenta, the ragout and the mushroom bouillon), as well as the blender and food processor. Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Curried Parsnip Purée and Tobacco Onions—once more a lot of work and a lot of equipment but, again, stunning results.

Thankfully, an ice-cream maker is also necessary—for such desserts as Chocolate Cake Rolls with Chai Tea Gelato and Star Thistle Gelato. The gelatos here are cashew milk-based, and the results are beguiling. Star Thistle Gelato incorporates gelatinous young coconut meat and distinctive raw star thistle honey. Apple-Quince Pavé with Pecan-Maple Ice Cream is stupendous, and the Pecan-Maple Ice Cream base requires only pecans, maple syrup and water.

Beverages are fun just because they’re quick and inventive. Combinations like Red Beet, Strawberry and Pineapple or Cucumber, Mint, Apple, Celery and Key Lime really work. So does Cranberry, Vanilla and Cinnamon. Coconut, Lemongrass and Pineapple is a refreshing trip back to Southeast Asia.

Raw is worth a serious look. It’s not easy and it will require you to tilt your brain a bit. The good news is that the recipes are well-written and referenced, detailed and tested. If you do the work, the results are beautiful and delicious. For some it’s simply about health, for others it’s about a quantum shift in thinking. For most, this will be another culinary adventure.

Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler

(Updated: 12/18/08 SB)

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