Raw Food Nation: A Healthy Alternative to Cooking

By Fabiana Santana

rawfood-sarmaSupermodels Carol Alt and Lonneke Engel, designer Donna Karan, and movie stars Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson are just a few of the celebrity fans of the raw food movement that has been slowly taking over the world of food. And while it might seem easy enough to throw together a salad and call it a day, these devotees and many others, know that a bunch of lettuce does not a raw food lifestyle make. So, they’ve got to turn to someone for a good meal and a good woman: Sarma Melngailis.

An investment banker turned foodie, Sarma graduated from the French Culinary Institute and started out cooking traditional meals in a traditional kitchen equipped with a stove. But when a three-day experiment changed her life, she realized that, for her, raw was the real deal and ditched her range.

There is only one rule to eating raw: in order to preserve the food’s natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals, nothing is heated above 118 degrees. It is really about honoring the ingredients and benefiting from them, rather than just not eating meat.

“There’s no cooking in the traditional sense,” Sarma explains, “and ingredients are not chemically processed, pasteurized, homogenized, genetically modified, hybridized or otherwise compromised.”

The effect is food that is more easily digested and energizing. “You end up with energy to spare to put toward other uses, such as allowing your body to heal itself, or any activity you can think of that is more fun than digestion!”

Sarma opened her restaurant Pure Food and Wine in New York City in the summer of 2004. Since then, she and the eatery have amassed a cult following of raw food lovers that really get what Sarma is doing there: creating healthful, raw meals that satisfy the body, yet still feed the soul.

A book, Raw Food Real World, soon followed that included raw food recipes and anecdotes on certain ingredients and the philosophy and healthful results of living a raw food lifestyle.

Raw food was actually something she learned about from a friend over dinner at a raw café. “I was fascinated and intrigued as the friend spoke about feeling like a whole new person, and explained the rationale behind eating raw food. That it’s full of all its enzymes and nutrition and therefore is less work for your body to digest and makes you feel amazing. It’s like pure, clean, rich fuel.”

The fact that raw food is pure and full of all its healthful enzymes is what makes the raw food lifestyle appealing and something that is easy to incorporate into your lifestyle, one meal at a time. Sarma initially tried it for what she thought was going to be a short term experiment, but it turned seamlessly into a permanent lifestyle shift – a decision that was easy for her to make after seeing and feeling amazing results after just a few days.

“Right away I noticed having more energy, and much more clarity. I just felt so much better and happier. Then it also quickly shifted into being about much more than just food. You start to notice how sort of toxic so many other things are… in particular personal care and beauty products, but also cleaning products and things around the house.”

After opening Pure, Sarma turned her attention on those things and opened One Lucky Duck, a takeout and internet order restaurant that serves up not just raw food like raw chocolate macaroons and raw mallow mars, but raw skin care products, household items, and even pet products which Sarma says will be spinning off into its own site sometime soon.

“There are all kinds of bonuses about eating more or all raw, too. It feels really good to know you’re supporting a really important ’cause’ of sorts… supporting organic, local, fresh foods, vs. the companies that make unhealthy processed foods, etc. It’s also been reported by the U.N. that the most significant thing anyone can do to help the environment is to eat less meat.”

Last month, Sarma released her second book Living Raw Food that literally takes readers into Pure Food and Wine with dozens and dozens of recipes for fresh and vibrant juices, shakes, main courses, desserts, and even cocktails.

And even though Hollywood is on board, Sarma doesn’t see the raw food lifestyle as a passing fad. “I don’t see raw as a trend, it’s more of a movement. I think it’s a shift that needs to happen given the overall decline in people’s health that’s been going on and the health of the planet. I think once people incorporate more raw into their diet and experience how much better they feel, they’re not so likely to go back in the other direction.”

Beet Ravioli w Pine Nut 'Goat Cheese' c tara donneBeet Ravioli with Pine Nut “Goat Cheese” & Rosemary-Cream Sauce

(recipe from Living Raw Food, by Sarma Melngailis, Harper Collins, 2009)

Serves 4

I made a beet ravioli dish for the restaurant menu when we first opened, and it remained popular for quite some time. Our regulars weren’t at all happy when we finally took it off the menu. On special occasions, such as Valentine’s Day, we’ve brought back variations on that beet ravioli, sometimes using cookie cutters for hearts or other sweet shapes. If you can find them, candy-striped beets are beautiful and unique, or try using golden beets, or even a combination of all three.

Pine Nut “Goat Cheese”

4 cups pine nuts, soaked 1 hour or more

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium shallots, peels and diced

Zest of 1 lemon

½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 teaspoons nutritional yeast

2-½ teaspoons sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Process all ingredients in a food processor until as smooth as possible.

You should have about 4 cups. Reserve 2 cups for the sauce, and set aside the remainder.

Rosemary Cream Sauce

½ recipe Pine Nut “Goat Cheese”

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon minced rosemary

¾ cup filtered water

Pinch of sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Puree all ingredients until smooth.

To Finish

2 medium beets, peeled

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Greens or herbs for garnish

Using a mandolin, slice the beets very thin (approx. 1/16 of an inch).

Make a small stack of the larger pieces and use a sharp knife to cut into squares – the size doesn’t matter much, as long as they are all roughly the same. Alternatively, use a round or heart shaped cookie cutter. Cut at least 40 slices – 10 per serving, with a few extra to spare.

In a medium bowl, place the beet slices, oil, lemon juice, and salt and toss gently to coat evenly. Allowing the beets to sit for a half hour or more will soften them; this is optional but a good idea if they feel stiff.

Lay half the beet slices on a clean work surface and top each with a rounded teaspoon of the cheese. Top with the remaining beet slices and press down gently.

Spoon the sauce onto serving plates and arrange the ravioli on top. Garnish with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a few springs of greens or herbs.

Pure Food and Wine’s: WHITE LIGHT TINI

Serves 4, (recipe from Living Raw Food, by Sarma Melngailis, Harper Collins, 2009)

This cocktail, created by our lovely Italian sommelier Joey Repice, is made with green tea infused with fresh lemongrass. We used unfiltered Momokawa Organic Sake at our book party. It’s milky white (because the rice particles have not been filtered out) and has a mild, sweet, and refreshing flavor.

2 tablespoons loose green tea leaves

One 1-inch piece of fresh lemongrass, outer husk removed and

Thinly sliced or shaved with a peeler

A little more than 1 cup hot, filtered water

3 cups unfiltered sake

1 /2 cup ginger juice*

1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 /2 cup agave nectar

4 fresh orchid blossoms or other edible flowers

Steep the tea and lemongrass in a little more than 1 cup of hot water and let it sit for 30 minutes or more.

Strain the tea and let it chill completely in the refrigerator.

Combine the tea with the sake, ginger juice, lime juice, and agave nectar and stir well to dissolve the agave. In a martini shaker, pour the chilled liquid over ice and shake or stir very well to chill. Strain and pour into martini glasses.

Garnish with orchid blossoms or other edible flowers.

* To make ginger juice, simply grate ginger on a fine grater and pack the pulp into cheese- cloth. Squeeze the cloth with your hand to extract the juice. Roughly one tablespoon of pulp will produce one teaspoon of juice.

More Food & Wine features from Escapes:

In the Kitchen: Italian Cooking with Lidia Bastianich
All The Single Ladies – Throw A Cocktail Party!
Cocktails and Cheese are the New Trend
In the Kitchen: Cooking with Iron Chef Cat Cora
Celebrate Summer: Cookouts & Cocktails