Make delicious raw soups with a good blender

Naturopath Katrina Ellis tells why including more raw foods in your diet boosts health and vitality.

Many people are turned off by raw-food diets, believing they are expensive and time-consuming to prepare. But with a good blender or food processor, you can make delicious raw soups, smoothies, nut ice-creams, dips and breads in a few minutes.

A raw food is any food from the earth that is fresh and not exposed to heat above 46[degrees]CC. When foods are cooked, a vast amount of nutrients and living enzymes are destroyed. Raw foods are naturally alkaline in nature compared to most cooked foods, which are highly acidic.

Raw foods supply abundant amounts of phytonutrients, antioxidants, oxygen and water to purify the body of wastes and increase healing potential. When switching to a raw, whole-foods diet, most people experience more vitality, younger-looking skin, better digestion and improved weight loss. Studies have shown that people who eat lots of raw fruits and vegetables have a much lower risk of developing some cancers.

I find making a yummy morning smoothie is a brilliant way to begin the day. My favourite is a combination of fresh kale leaves, baby spinach, parsley, cucumber, frozen banana and purified water. Often I add some flaxseeds for extra omega-3 or raw protein to boost my energy and immunity.

Here are my top five raw foods:

  1. Kale has made a huge impact in the “raw food” arena in the past few years. And no wonder! It is one of the most powerful super foods, containing whopping amounts of vitamin K, which aids bone health and healthy blood clotting, and more than 30 different antioxidants.
    • How to eat it: try a kale and mango smoothie or simply soak in tamari to make crunchy kale chips.
  2. Turmeric’s powerful healing qualities have been long revered by Ayurvedic practitioners. The active ingredient, famous for its health properties, is known as curcumin – a strong anti-inflammatory substance that may help protect against dementia and cancer. It is able to stop the growth of new blood vessels that feed tumours, as well as repair damage to DNA within cells. Preliminary studies show that this spice may also help prevent some cancers and heart attacks, and reduce inflammation linked to arthritis and ulcerative colitis. Scientists are continuing to conduct research into the properties of turmeric, and its potential role in disease prevention.
    • How to eat it: a delicious way to use turmeric in raw dishes is to make a turmeric and pistachio dip. Or place it in a blender with green apple, carrots, cucumber and lemon to make a superb anti-inflammatory juice.
  3. Cacao is the raw form of chocolate before sugar and fat are added. It’s a wonderful source of antioxidants, theobromine, phenylethylamine (natural mood uplifters), minerals and vitamins. The antioxidants in cacao are designed to raise serotonin levels, aiding stress relief and sleep cycles.
    • How to eat it: cacao is the perfect super food to make raw chocolate slices, puddings and even nutty chocolate milks.
  4. Seaweeds such as kelp, nori, wakame and arame are thought to have up to 20 times more nutrients than land plants. They are also one of the richest sources of chlorophyll, helping to replenish red blood cells, boost energy and detoxify the body of heavy metals. In addition, seaweeds are high in minerals such as iron, calcium and iodine, helping to improve liver and thyroid function.
    • How to eat it: use nori to make cauliflower sushi or raw wraps for the kids’ lunches. Wakame is perfect in Asian salads and miso soups.
  5. Almonds are one of the healthiest nuts on the planet. If you think they are fattening, then think again! Almonds are one of the best nuts for enhancing weight loss and metabolism. One handful of almonds can supply 12 per cent of your daily protein needs, 35 per cent of your daily vitamin E requirements, as much calcium as a quarter of a cup of milk and more magnesium than spinach. On top of this, they are a great source of selenium, folic acid, zinc and iron.
    • How to eat them: almonds are perfect on their own, and are also ideal blended with water to make a nutty milk (which can be sweetened with dates if desired). A favourite of mine is a delicious almond garlic aioli.

Built to last

WHEN my mother-in-law moved into assisted living, we went to Ohio to clean out her house, and a friend drove out in a rented van to help. My wife and I concentrated on retrieving items of beauty or sentiment–Fiesta dishes, old silverware (the dishes that were given away as premiums with refrigerators now seem beautiful, the unwieldy silver has sunk to the level of sentiment). Our friend told us to take the washing machine.

We were outfitting a weekend house upstate. Why not buy a new washing machine there? “Take this one,” he advised.

Take the washing machine

The washing machine dated from the Kennedy administration. Cars still had vestigial tail fins then, narrow and straight as rulers. Neckties and the brims of men’s hats were equally slim and snappy. The control panel of the washing machine, encased in a thin silver frame, had the same look. Your grandmother’s control panel, it implied, had to be protected from the elements–downpours, blizzards–but now, on the New Frontier, all we need is a sleek design element. H. G. Wells’s washing machinewould have had a plump porcelain dial, like the taps in an old hotel bathtub. Flash Gordon’s would have had the Chrysler Building’s panache. This was a dial the leader of the free world might twist to summon James Bond or Marilyn Monroe. Paisley and bad trips were still over the horizon. The washing machine, it goes without saying, was white.

Most of it, it seemed, was metal. It was made during the last stand of ore. Plastic would be one of the swear words of the late Sixties; plastics was a punchline in The Graduate, the soulless future that beckoned to its soon-to-be rebellious hero. Look around, and say who has had the last laugh. Everything baby boomers and their children and grandchildren use is plastic, from pens to computers to bumpers and rear-view mirrors. All these implements are lightweight, which means they get more miles per gallon if they move. But they are also junky, so after any mishap, from running out of ink to being rear-ended, you throw your tool away, either because it cannot be hammered back into shape, or because it is simply cheaper to get a new one.

The washing machine was made in heavier times. Moving so much metal took muscle. Our friend had a dolly, and there was a long enough board in my mother-in-law’s garage to serve as a ramp. As the pyramids were heave-ho’d into place, so the washing machine got loaded into the van. When it arrived at our country house, the way down was (somewhat) easier than the way up. And there, for seven or eight years, it washed out clothes, sitting in the mud room next to its companion, a new dryer.

Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton had come and gone. Another Bush is coming to the end of his cycle. Any household item that lasts that long seems like an old retainer in Waverley or Gone with the Wind. We impute character traits to it: sturdiness, loyalty. But all it is doing is converting inputs to outputs in response to commands.

Time to call in help

Then, one day, it went on the fritz. If you set the dial, the machine filled with water and began to agitate. But it would not move to the next stage on its own. It was as if Bond refused to pull the trigger, or Monroe … never mind. Our friend who had helped us move it came to look. He can do almost anything from art to engine blocks, but this made him pause. He noted a second problem–a damp spot on the floor behind the machine’s left rear corner. It was time to call in help.

The washing machine, I expect I have shown, is a bit of an antique. Now we encountered another. The store that sold us the dryer is a family business, over the ridge on a nondescript stretch of state road. It would be surrounded by fields if the fields hadn’t all gone to brush. We drove over to see what models they had on the floor; but the salesman, who is also the co-owner, told us to speak with his brother, who handles repairs, before we bought anything. He was on the road just then, repairing, so we called later. When we got him (he and his brother sound alike) he asked for the model number and a description of the problems. Don’t buy a new one, he said. Even the new models sold by the very company that made our machine–a firm famous for reliability–are not as good as what they once made: what we now had. I have already repaired your new dryer once, he pointed out. If I come out and fix your washing machine, it will be good for another 40 years. He offered a bit of advice of the kind you never find in instruction manuals: Don’t use the gentle cycle, it stresses the motor. It was a deal. Ten dollars bought a new pipe to replace the rear pipe that had leaked, $90 bought a new timer, $85 bought the expert’s labor.

We make a romance of the era that is ending. In a Thomas Hardy novel the knowledgeable brothers and our washing machine would be symbols of a soulless future, abolishing the customs, old as the Romans, of village women taking their washing to the river and singing old carols while they slapped and wrung the clothes (they had songs for the occasion because they washed so seldom). But it is equally snobbish to look down on what we know simply because we have known it.

“Give us the tools, and we will finish the job,” Winston Churchill offered. Once we had long-lived tools and men whose job it was to know them. Now we have derivatives. Those are tools too, but I don’t have any in my house (though I am sure they hover over my pension).

Ten terrific 10-minute snacks

You get home from school, and you’re starving. Friends come to visit, and you all head for the kitchen. Or you’re about to got out for a long bike ride and you need something for quick energy. What do you do when you’re hungry, and you really need food fast? Packaged snacks are tasty, but they tend to be heavy on fat and calories. How about something you can make yourself in minutes?

Here are 10 do-it-yourself snacks you can make in 10 minutes or less. Some are cold, some hot, some sweet, some not. They’re good for you, easy on your waistline, and you can make them to suit the occasion.

Quick and Cool

  1. Good Sports. This quick, cool blender drink comes from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Cookbook. 1/2 cup low-fat plain or vanilla yogurt or low-fat milk 1 cup fruit juice 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit Blend and serve in a tall glass.
  2. Oodles of Noodles. Ramen Japanese-style soup mix comes in a paper wrapper. It contains dried noodles with a permanent wave and a packet of seasoning. Put the contents in a saucepan with two cups of boiling water, cook three minutes, and it’s done. Tricks: Break up the noodles first; they’ll be easier to eat. Make this tastier and more filing by cooking chopped vegetables with the soup: shreds of carrot, slivers of green pepper, bits of green onion, tomato, mushroom, avocado. Makes one big bowl, or two medium servings.

Or, drain the noodles and veggies, add shreds of chicken or ham, top it with a little grated cheese, and eat like pasta.

Snack Attack

  1. Skinny Dipping. Do you keep strips of carrot and other veggies in a covered jar or plastic bag in the and some raisins. For more crunch, sprinkle on some trail mix.

Cut the Fat

  1. No-bread Spread. Try peanut butter on apple slices, or soft cheese on celery sticks. To cut fat and calories, try a length of string cheese, or be adventurous and try French-style goat cheese, which has a distinctive taste, with just half the fat and calories of cream cheese. Or use cottage cheese and add a dash of celery salt or lemon pepper.
  2. Tooty Fruity. Fruit in a dish with a spoon is dressier than fruit you eat in your hand, and sometimes it’s just the cool fresh style you want. For lightness, try grapefruit sections from a can or a jar, together with canned mandarin orange segments, some banana slices, and a few berries or raisins. For a richer taste, add a sliced banana, or berries, or fresh grapes, topped with a touch of brown sugar and plain low-fat yogurt.

A Pocket Full

  1. Pita Pockets. In a bowl, mix about one tablespoon each of some of these: bean sprouts, slivers of sweet pepper, bits of tomato, green onion, avocado, zucchini, or other veggies, small chunks of Greek feta cheese, two teaspoons of salad oil, one teaspoon of vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Cut the pita bread in half, and put some filling in each pocket.
  2. Pita Pizza. Leave the pita bread whole this time. Spread one side with canned pizza sauce, add shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese and your choice of toppings: slivered green pepper, minced green onion, sliced fresh or canned mushrooms, a few slivers of salami or bits of anchovy if you like, and sprinkle on a pinch of dried oregano. Microwave about 45 seconds, or broil until the cheese melts.
  3. Tea and Toast. How about a British afternoon tea–with proper cinnamon toast. Toast two slices of bread, and instead of margarine, spread one side of each with ricotta cheese. This cheese is smooth and cool, like cottage cheese without the sour tang or the lumps. Mix two tablespoons of sugar with 1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon. Sprinkle this on top, and put it under the broiler until the sugar melts and gets crispy.

Lost Bread

  1. Lazy Morning. We call it French toast; the French call it “pain perdu” or lost bread. That’s because real French bread has no preservatives and gets dry–or “lost”–very quickly. This recipe softens it up again. In a bowl, beat one egg with 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup milk. Melt two tablespoons margarine in a big frying pan. Dip the sliced bread in the egg mixture, and fry each side until lightly browned. One egg will be enough for about three slices of bread. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top, and squeeze on a few drops of juice from a fresh orange.

Kitchen machines

THOUGH THE MACHINE age took a century to reach the kitchen, it has finally arrived. Blenders, juicers, mixers, grinders, processors–we have machines that will do almost everything to food except eat it.

The most widely used–and most useful–kitchen machines are food processors, mixers, and blenders. Though each of these has its own attributes and assets, all are the same in a fundamental way. They are all labor-saving devices in which a motor drives a shaft. Clearly, the quality of the motor–its size and strength and workmanship–is vital. As a rule, professional equipment, or as close as you can come to it, will serve you best. The extra cost is more than made up for by durability and ease of operation, cleaning, and maintenance.

Food processors are all the rage–and rightly so, for they are different from the cooking tools we had before. They permit the preparation of refined and complicated things that were impossible in the past, unless we had all the time in the world, or a staff of trained professionals at our command. However, manufacturers’ claims and many food experts to the contrary, there are a number of things they cannot do. Or don’t do well. Or do in ways that are so cumbersome as to be self-defeating. After all, there are only two reasons for using a machine: it does something better than you can by hand, or it takes a time-consuming task and makes it fast and easy.

When asked to do what they do best, processors are wonderful. They make purees superbly. They turn out souffle bases that are light and silken. They are marvelous for mixing pasta dough and making bread crumbs. They take all the grief from certain messy jobs, as anybody who has ever struggled with panades, quenelles, or pate a choux will tell you. For pie crusts, they are fabulous. They work the fat into the dough more evenly and quickly and with less heat than is possible by hand, making crusts that are both firm and flaky. And for chopping, slicing, and shredding when appearances don’t matter–making cole slaw, mincing mushrooms for duxelles, cutting celery for stuffing or onions for sauteing or stew–they are a blessing.

When appearances do matter, they are less effective. When they cut, the end result is seldom uniform. In general, they fail when doing things for show. Nor do they function well with liquids. Any time the quantity of liquid rises higher than the mount around the drive shaft at the center of the bowl, it’s going to leak. And when the time comes to remove the blade, you really have a mess. Even less acceptable is the job processors do of beating air into anything. Regardless of manufacturers’ claims or articles in food magazines, you must use a beater for fluffy batters or for whipping cream or egg whites. Processors are inconsistent when grating, yielding a mix in part too coarse, in part too fine. The results are just as fast and better by hand with a Mouli or a stand-up grater. In fact, a lot of things are faster and better done by hand. When quantities are small–if you’re just chopping up some celery or a carrot–knives are easier and quicker and create a lot less mess to clean up afterward. Even when quantities are larger, a processor can be so cumbersome to use that the machine stops being labor-saving.

By way of example, the following is taken from a recent article in a national food magazine. We are dealing with fresh peppers. After being instructed to cut them open and remove the seeds in the traditional manner, we are told: “To slice into matchsticks, cut through one flat side of pepper from top to bottom. Repeat on remaining three sides. Stand rectangles side by side in feed tube, wedging very tightly. Slice rectangles using light pressure. Use Medium Slicer.” As dice players like to put it, this is making eight the hard way.

The moral, of course, is always to ask of your machine only what it does best. This caveat applies especially to attachments. All kinds are available for processors, including ones that juice and ones that make spaghetti. Though they do these jobs, they do them poorly, and they are best avoided. Stick to basics.

Processors range in price from about $100 to $400. As is often–but not always–the case, the best ones tend to be the most expensive. Processors by Cuisinart, Robot Coupe, and KitchenAid are certainly among the best. The most important thing to look for is the size and power of the motor. Small ones burn out, and they won’t perform heavy tasks, like making forcemeats or pasta dough. Then check the plastic work-bowl and lid. They should be solid and substantial, smoothly finished, with no sharp edges; it is all too easy to cut yourself on some of them. The larger the capacity of the work-bowl the better, to spare you removing, emptying, and returning it when making large quantities. The blades should seem heavy-duty; you can tell a lot by simply handling them. Take a good look at the on/off mechanism; some work more easily than others.

PROCESSORS AND BLENDERS

With their blades that spin hundreds of times a minute, perform in ways no human being could. They are like sports cars, specialized and flashy; they do tricks. Mixers, however, perform essentially as you would if you were a machine. Though they can do many things, their two unique and basic functions are beating air into substances and approximating the motion of the human hand in stirring. The movement of their paddles, stirrers, whisks, and dough hooks is an extension of the way these tasks have traditionally been done. Mixers were the first major electrical appliance to reach the kitchen, more than fifty years ago. Not only have they survived, they have prospered and multiplied. There is a reason: they are superb machines.

Only mixers permit low levels of speed. Turn your back on blenders and processors, or let them whirr ten seconds too long, and you have mush. With mixers you are in control of what you’re doing. You are also in close contact with what you are making. So much of quality and success in cooking depends on look and touch; a mixer puts no canisters or shields between you and your ingredients. You can bend close, peer, and sniff while you work.

Mixers, like processors, have an extensive range of uses. With the appropriate attachments they will slice and shred, grind meat, puree fruits and vegetables, and extrude spaghetti. On the whole, the attachments are like the federal bureaucracy; remarkable not because they perform well but because they perform at all. Even so, when you have a task that both processors and mixers can do, like grinding meat, the mixer is the way to go. It is easier to achieve the consistency you want, and you are not hampered by the size of the workbowl, because the attachments go on top of the mixer and direct food into anything you choose.

There are two kinds of mixers: handheld and counter models. Though hand held mixers are nothing more than electrified egg beaters, they are useful. They save time and effort beating egg whites and whipping cream when the quantities are small. (If you’re dealing with a dozen egg whites or a pint or more of cream, counter models, with their larger motors, are far faster.) They are easy to clean, and most brands are remarkably well made. Considering their modest price–$25, give or take a few dollars–it makes no sense to do without one.

But it is the counter model that is truly indispensable. Once again it is the size and power of the motor that is critical. Though a few brands, such as Sunbeam and Kenwood, are very good, the Hobart KitchenAid is far and away the best. Hobart’s machines are powerful, durable, reliable, and responsive, and easy to clean. The largest model for home use, the K5SS, is as close as you can get to professional equipment.

BLENDERS

Like food processors, perform their functions through the use of sharpened blades revolving at high speeds. They are, however, far more limited in range and flexibility.

What blenders do is blend. They are designed primarily for handling liquids. While it’s true that they are capable of chopping and shredding, using them for this is clumsy, time-consuming, and laborious. The motors in most of them do not provide the power necessary to deal with anything substantial or pulpy. All too often they will clog or stall. Because the blades are short and the canisters tall and relatively narrow, it is constantly necessary to stop them, readjust the food so that it comes in contact with the blades, and start them up again.

There are three kinds of blenders on the market. The standard, inexpensive blenders–they run between $20 and $50–are the ones most widely used. These are lightweight machines with lightweight motors. They are terrific for mixing milkshakes, cocktails, packaged batters, powdered drinks, and liquids of all kinds. And they can deal with certain solids if they’re soft or light enough, like sour cream mixed with cream cheese, or Tiger’s Milk. When you are blending denser substances, such as cooked vegetables or cooked fish, the addition of liquid to loosen the mass is necessary. Uncooked vegetables are hard for them, and heavy jobs like panades and thick frostings are out of bounds. The labels on the row of buttons on most models are misleading. They imply that different tasks–from chopping to whipping–can be performed, whereas in fact all that the buttons actually control is the speed at which the blades revolve.

Professional or commercial blenders are simply heavy-duty versions of the standard ones–solid, stainless-steel machines with relatively powerful motors. They are less dependent on the presence of liquids, less likely to clog or stall, less exasperating to use. They can mix and make purees very well. In fact, with certain foods, such as cooked chicken livers and poached or tinned fish, blenders of all types deliver a finer puree than processors do. Also, because of their small diameter in relation to their volume, the contents stay closer to the blades and they do their work more thoroughly, with less adjustment of the contents than a processor requires.

The third variety of blender is the great one. It is a unique and all but magical machine: the Vita-Mix 3600. If you have never heard of it, that is because the manufacturer has failed to capitalize on its extraordinary capabilities. It is sold primarily in health-food stores, and through mail order, as a juicer and a money-saving device for performing such functions as grinding your own grain into flour, and then making bread dough in three minutes.

The secret to the 3600 is, of course, its motor. Originally designed for driving a circular saw, it weighs close to ten pounds and its drive shaft rotates both ways. Its blades are instantly reversible. You flip a switch, and what was whirling clockwise goes counterclockwise. The substance in the canister is hurled against the blades with far greater impact-at speeds of up to 530 miles per hour–than when both were traveling in the same direction. This instantaneous reversibility produces results not possible before. The soups it makes are revolutionary. You simply poach whatever vegetables you like in whatever liquid you choose and dump the results into the canister. The 3600 pulverizes the contents so completely that it duplicates the homogenous texture of a cream soup, without binders. That is to say, no eggs, no flour, no cream. Nothing. Not only does this make a soup with fewer calories and less cholesterol but it accentuates and clarifies the flavors of the basic ingredients. These soups are absolutely stunning.

And there’s more. The power of the motor, whether you reverse the blades or not, is so great that the 3600 never stalls or clogs. You need not work with modest quantities, constantly filling and emptying the canister. The power also lets you deal with substances that would burn out the motors of even the best commercial blenders. Shrimp and lobster shells are literally turned to powder; thus you can turn out bisques and butters with less effort and more flavor than any other machine allows. All this does not come cheap. The 3600 is about $425, list. It is not for everyone, but if you are a serious cook, or would like to be one, it is more than worth the cost.

The choice of which machine to buy depends on your needs and skills and interests. If you do much baking, or plan to, a mixer is the machine for you. If your cooking is primarily for small or occasional meals, the blender is the wisest choice. If your goals or your abilities are more ambitious, and you cook regularly for large groups, a food processor best fills the bill.

Our kitchen has all three. This is, of course, the ideal solution; each machine is asked to do only what it does best. But if we could have only one appliance, it would be a mixer. That’s because we do a lot of baking, and because so much of what we chop and slice gets done by hand because it has to show.

Owning one of these appliances permits each of us to be a part of the revolutionary change taking place in cooking tastes and techniques. The only puzzling question is which came first–the revolution or the new machines?