I have always maintained that if you give people food that satisfies their emotions and fond memories, while making them feel good physically, you can win them over to eating a high raw diet. The key is making it taste good. Most people would rather die than eat foods they don’t like, so at Living Light we focus on creating flavor, texture and appearance of the cooked “comfort foods” people love.
Many favorite comfort foods can be recreated without cooking if you know how. Dehydrate sauces to reduce and thicken them or add a thickening agent like Irish moss, psyllium husk powder, or fruit and vegetable purees; substitute a raw ingredient for a cooked one of similar flavor, texture and appearance or layer flavors to build a tasty sauce or dressing. (see July’s post). When you understand the principles of building flavor and creating texture, you can win over the most die-hard S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) eater.
Creating gourmet raw vegan cuisine is arguably the most exciting of all the culinary arts today. The ability to mimic the flavor, texture, and appearance of traditional cooked foods without cooking is what sets gourmet raw food chefs apart from the rest. The tricks of their trade include ingredients, equipment, and revolutionary food-preparation techniques that are not taught in ordinary cooking schools.
Our goal at Living Light Culinary Institute is to teach people how to make raw foods sizzle without heat. In this segment, we explore various binders, thickeners, gelling agents, and emulsifiers: ingredients that a raw chef may use to hold foods together and thicken or solidify them to the perfect consistency. Using these products and techniques allows us to create luxurious textures that linger in the mouth.
Demystifying Binders, Thickeners, Gelling Agents, and Emulsifiers
- Binders help hold food together, creating form and density. Binders may also make foods crunch, crumble, crack, or shatter under a particular amount of force.
- Thickeners are used to enhance “mouthfeel” by providing a heavy, gooey texture. They may also make the food slide smoothly over the tongue and linger in the mouth.
- Gelling agents create solids from liquids and provide resilient form, smoothness, slipperiness, and gentle firmness to foods. They can also provide textural elements similar to those of binders and thickeners.
- Emulsifiers and emulsifying techniques allow us to bind oils and liquids so they don’t separate.
Some foods, like burgers, need only minimal holding power, while others, like crackers, require ingredients to make them strong and crisp. In order to mimic a burger (see recipe below for a delectable example), you will need to create the texture of ground meat and use a binding agent to hold it together.
Knowing which ingredients to choose takes a certain amount of experience (and experimentation), but once you understand the options and how to use them, you will be amazed at the infinite culinary potential of raw foods.
Here are a few popular binders, thickeners, gelling agents, and emulsifiers used in savory recipes and a few ways to use them.
- Avocado is a fatty fruit with a creamy consistency that can be used as a thickener and emulsifier, replacing butter, cream, eggs, and mayonnaise in sauces, soups, dressings, dips, puddings, and dessert fillings. Avocado should not be over blended, or it will become too fluffy (unless a mousse is the desired result).
- Chia and flax seeds are both rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They are “mucilaginous,” meaning they exude a gooey substance when soaked, and can be used as binders, thickeners, or emulsifiers. Added to wet foods, chia and flax can be used in recipes either whole (soaked) or converted to powder or meal. Soak whole seeds in 1-½ parts water, or pulverize using a coffee grinder or blender. Blend the powder directly into soups and dressings, or use as a binder in cakes, burgers, nut and vegetable loafs, crackers, and crusts. A good ratio to use for crackers and flatbreads is 1 cup of seed meal for each 6 cups of processed vegetables, or equal parts soaked chia and/or flax seeds and ground vegetables. To use ground chia or flax as a binder or thickener, try one tablespoon per cup and add more as needed.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables, when pureed, can be used as thickeners in dressings, sauces, pates, and soups, or as binders in crackers, cookies, and crusts. Irish moss, and coconut meat can be used to further thicken or solidify the puree.
- Partially dehydrated fruits and vegetables can be pureed and used in sauces, soups and dressings to boost flavor and add body to sauces. Sweet bell peppers and tomatoes are especially nice. Peel them, sprinkle them with a little salt to help them release some of their moister (not too much salt), and dehydrate for 3-4 hours.
- Dehydrated fruits and vegetables can be powdered and added to sauces, soups and dressings to add body and intensify flavor. Sun-dried tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms are particularly nice additions to savory recipes. Just put them in your high-performance blender and add it to your mixture to thicken.
- Irish moss is a raw sea vegetable that, once soaked and blended, can be used as a gelling agent, binder, or thickener for soups, gravies, jellies, creams, cakes, and pie fillings. To make Irish Moss gel, first rinse it several times to remove the fishy smell, soak it for 4-8 hours, then rinse it well again. Remove and discard any brown pieces. Blend with a small amount of water to form a gel. For best results, blend 1 to 5 tablespoons of Irish moss gel to 1 cup of product (depending on the viscosity and flavor of the product). After blending, chill at least two hours to set.
- Psyllium is a plant-derived soluble fiber, available as coarse “husks” or finely ground powder. It can be used to thicken and give body to fillings, puddings, and sauces, and to bind wraps, crepes, and quiches. For best results, use a maximum of 1 teaspoon of psyllium powder per 2 cups of total recipe volume. Whisk or blend into recipe briefly, as the final blended item (do not over blend). For cream fillings, chill for at least two hours to set; for wraps and crepes, spread the mixture on dehydrator trays lined with non-stick sheets and dehydrate.
- Young coconut meat or raw soaked nut meats can be blended to a cream and used as thickeners in soups, dressings, sauces, and desserts. To make 1 cup of heavy coconut cream from young Thai coconuts, blend 3 cups of young coconut flesh in a blender without any liquid, until it becomes a thick, smooth cream. For nut cream, blend 1 cup of soaked nut meats in 1 cup of water. To solidify the nut cream, add coconut oil, Irish moss, or agar agar.
No need to give up the taste and texture of burgers! Here is a burger recipe that provides everything you thought you would have to live without—deep rich flavor, meaty texture and the
look of a real burger!
Health benefit: This tasty comfort food also contains omega 3 fatty acids (from walnuts and flax seeds), probiotics (from miso), and vitamin B12 from vegetarian support formula nutritional yeast.
¾ cup walnuts, soaked and dehydrated (divided use)
1 cup zucchini, shredded
1 tablespoon dark miso
1 tablespoon purified water
¾ cup mushrooms, minced
? cup celery, minced
¼ cup red onion, minced
¼ cup flax meal
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon vegetarian support formula nutritional yeast
½ tablespoon fresh sage, finely minced
½ teaspoon garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon Himalayan crystal salt (optional)
¼ teaspoon white pepper
- Place ½ cup of the walnuts in a food processor outfitted with the “S” blade, and process to a powder. Add the zucchini and pulse to mix. (Do not over process; the mixture should have a little texture.)
- Mince the remaining walnuts by hand, or pulse in the food processor until grainy.
- Place the zucchini-nut mixture and the minced walnuts in a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, use a fork to mix the miso and the water together to form a loose paste. Add the paste, along with all the remaining ingredients, to the mixing bowl and stir well.
- Form the mixture into round burgers, about ½-inch thick using about ? cup of the mixture for each. Place the burgers on a dehydrator tray lined with a nonstick sheet, and dehydrate at 105 degrees for 4 to 6 hours or until the desired texture is achieved. Turn the cutlets over onto a mesh screen (without a nonstick sheet) once during the dehydration time.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Warm in the dehydrator for an hour prior to serving to remove the chill.
- Serve on raw bread or between two romaine lettuce leaves with all the raw trimmings.
If you want to learn how to make raw cuisine that looks, tastes, and satisfies like your favorite cooked foods, join students from over 50 countries attending the prestigious Living Light Culinary Institute in California. Go to RawFoodChef.com for more information, free recipes, and to preorder a signed copy of Cherie and Dan’s new book, Raw Food for Dummies, coming out 12/12/12. Also check out Cherie’s blog at Food for Thought.