Friday, April 9, 2010

Seaweeds, Crucifers, the Thyroid and Iodine

Many critics of the raw food movement claim that it is harmful to eat raw crucifers. The crucifer family which is now called "Brassicaceae" covers the largest group of veggies that people eat. Root crops include radishes, turnips and rutabagas, as well as wasabe and horseradish, two root mustards. Leaf crops include cabbage, kale, Chinese and Japanese cabbages and kales and mustards, and hundreds of leafy greens that are wild or semi-wild like arugula, cress, and rocket. Edible flowers include honesty and dame's rocket. We even eat the seeds in the form of mustards, and the oil. But the queens of this family include broccoli and cauliflower and all the crosses in between.

Why do people discourage eating raw crucifers? Because they contain goitrogens, substances that suppress the thyroid, causing its enlargement in the disease called goitre, which the USDA fights by putting iodine in table salt. Other foods that suppress the thyroid in their raw state are soybeans, pine nuts, peanuts, millet, strawberries, pears, peaches, bamboo, spinach and sweet potatoes. The goitrogens are deactivated by cooking.

Worse yet, foods containing goitrogens in combination with caffeine, are thought to cause thyroid cancer. So people who cut back their salt and start eating raw cabbage, broccoli and arugula on their salads, not to mention fruits, must be aware that they are suppressing the thyroid.

There is an easier solution. Table salt is very toxic to the body. It is bleached and treated so that it is more poisonous than is considered to be healthy, even in small amounts. However, people do need salt. Often people go overboard and do not get enough sodium in their diets. The ideal is to get a balance of potassium and sodium. If you get leg cramps, have low blood pressure or high, have headaches, and generally feel fatigued, it is probably because you have a salt imbalance. The ONLY salts that are worth eating are sea salts and mineral salts that have not been bleached or otherwise treated. They are expensive, yes, but you do not need to use a lot of salt. If your food tastes good, you can easily cut back on salt.

A better way to deal with the problem is to look at a whole food solution. This is another controversial food. Some raw foodists scorn seaweed because of the sodium content. This is silly. If you eat a vegan diet you may not see much in the way of sodium at all and that is bad.

This is Malcolm and Nutmeg from the Touchwood Project in Scotland, showing you what seaweed looks like out of the package. Nutmeg is an unusual cat, not minding the wet and cold, and I tell you, this water is COLD!

Seaweed is one of nature's wonder foods. What is totally ironic is that seafood and seaweed have been scorned in the British diet because they are associated with famine and poverty. Rich people eat salt beef and white bread, not shellfish or seaweed! Much of the tragedy of the Irish Famine could have been averted if the Irish had the fishing traditions of their Norse cousins. Scotland has much more of a sea tradition being closer to their Viking and Celtic fishing roots.

Seaweed is fabulous fresh and raw, crunchy, juicy, and sometimes a bit hard to eat. But most seaweeds favored by people are delicious. They are treated in all kinds of ways, some of them cooked, but most of them dried. It is easy nowadays to get seaweed if you are inland; yes, it is expensive, but you don't need much of it since it is full of minerals and vitamins even when dry. It also soaks up to ten times the dried size.

Sometimes people try out seaweed salad in the Japanese restaurants. This is usually not seaweed, but a seaside plant called "salsola", related to tumbleweeds and beets. It is stripped and cooked. What you see here are the stems, called "land seaweed" in Japanese. It is good, but not raw and not seaweed.

There are a number of seaweeds to try: nori, arame, hijiki, wakame--the list is endless. I like to eat cold water seaweeds from Europe, grown here locally, such as dulse, kelp, and bladderwrack, which you see in the picture above with Nutmeg. I can't say enough good things about dulse, a red seaweed, and I use kelp granules instead of salt for flavoring everything from crackers to salad dressings.

BUT, you can overdo seaweed, too. People caution against too much sodium and too much iodine leading to hyperthyroidism, the opposite of goitre. So, balance, balance, balance. If you like raw crucifers, pine nuts and strawberries, eat seaweeds to balance the iodine levels.

Next time you want to eat raw broccoli, be smart, eat it with some dulse.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cherry Blossoms and Maple with Sole

Spring has really come once the cherries start to bloom. Along with the tulips, the red maples are also starting to leaf out and bloom. As you probably know by now, I am inspired by color. However, I do not like the way that most gardening books deal with flower and leaf color. Most of the books I've seen have clashing colors that jar the eye's sensibility. I am a fan of a limited palette of color, both on the plate and in the garden, relying on texture and the subtle play of color to create a "wow" effect.

Trees have edible leaves, many of them. I recommend my favorite data base "Plants of the Future" to guide you on eating edibles. My favorite trees are linden leaves. I've made pestos with birch leaves and linden leaves. The problem with tree leaves is that they are very tough, unless just leafed out. April-May is a great time for new leaves. But taste one of them first. Sometimes they just don't taste very good. Aspen and poplar leaves are edible, but a bit acid tasting. Maple leaves are pretty boring and quickly get tough.

Before I give you this recipe, a word about edible plants and flowers. It is a sure thing that you will be allergic to some food that you may try. People tend to have bad problems with pollen. Although some plants are deathly poisonous and should not be grown at all, no matter how beautiful (rhododendron, oleander) people have trouble with allergens in plants from anything from hay fever to peanut allergies. Some plants may cause a mild reaction, some violent, some may merely give you indigestion or make your joints hurt. PAY ATTENTION!!! Your body is smarter than you are and often that migraine or stomach ache is its way of trying to tell you that you should not eat the food. You should also be aware that sometimes you can eat a little of something but develop an intolerance with larger amounts, or if also challenged by pollen. For instance, many people cut back on grains (wheat, corn, sugar, beer) when the grass is blooming because the overload of the grains on top of the grass pollen (also in the grain family) makes everything worse.

Having said that, I'm all for trying new foods once you verify that they are not poisonous. Maple is not poisonous in any form and people commonly eat maple syrup; however some people are allergic to maple pollen when the trees are blooming. I did have an allergic reaction (mild asthma) to my salad here, and I suspect maple. I did not grow up around maple trees and they are in full bloom and we've been having respiratory allergies. GO SLOWLY. Eat only a little of a new food, no matter what it is. Before I eat a "weird" plant, I read up on it and taste a little and spit it out and wait for a reaction. I am allergic to hundreds of foods, so I just have to go slowly with everything.

The Japanese have eaten cherry blossoms every spring for hundreds of years. They also eat the leaves. Many members of the rose family such as cherry, almond, apple and plum, may have edible fruit, but have toxic seeds or leaves. Cyanide is from bitter almonds. I have eaten almonds that have made my mouth numb and made me think I was going to die from cyanide poisoning. It takes a bit to suffer death, but like many other plant families common to us like celery, spinach, and tomatoes, parts of the plants can be poisonous or other members of that family can be poisonous. So, to be on the safe side, I used these blossoms as decoration, and only ate a little of them although I read enough to know that they are okay to eat. They may be okay to eat, but not okay for ME to eat. I have no allergies to other plants in this family, so I went ahead and tried the blossoms. No problem. There are also maple leaves in this salad, which are no where near toxic, but again, may cause allergies, and tulip petals which are also benign.

Cherry Blossom Maple Salad

Cherry blossoms (make sure you pull off the green parts and that they are clean and not sprayed with chemicals.)
One tulip to match the blooms
1 tbs chopped maple leaves
1 tbs mixed fresh dulse and white seaweed

I ate this salad with a fish entree. Unlike most raw foodists, I am not vegan. I am allergic to most nuts including almonds and coconut, and am very allergic to all grains and most legumes. I'm also allergic to citrus and soy and many other raw staples. I also cannot eat eggs, dairy, or chicken, so my options are very limited.

Sole with homemade tahini-dulse mayonnaise

1 tsp raw tahini
1/2 tsp dulse (you can also make a tartar sauce with chives and dill)
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar (or lemon)

Vigorously mix the mayonnaise until it gets stiff.

I eat a lot of raw fish. Many people soak fish in lemon or you can lightly steam or heat the fish on a skillet to warm it up. This sole was warmed.

I ate it with the seaweed and maple and tulips and a little bit of the cherry blossoms. Very filling and yummy!

Enjoy the flowers, but be sure you take it slow and know what you are eating. Easy flowers to start with are herb flowers, vegetable flowers and common edibles like pansies, roses, and calendula.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fun with Tulips

One of the things I look forward to every spring are tulips. If you do not like greens, tulips have the crunch of lettuce or spinach without the green taste. They are mild, with almost no taste at all, but are very pleasant to eat. Best yet, they come in all kinds of colors and can be used as "cups" for deserts as well as thrown into salads for color. I've been picking tulips around town after they've been blooming for a couple of days and are about to drop their petals. They're still good, although a little beat up, and people just don't think of eating them. What a waste! However, do NOT eat tulips bought in the store or flower shop, they might have been heavily sprayed and beware of picking them "in the wild" where there is high auto traffic or you know people have sprayed.

Although in the onion family, tulips do not give gas. Their bulbs are edible, but only just so, slimy when cooked and not very palatable. But the flowers are a cook's dream! And kids love them, too!

Here is a fun chia fruit salad.

1/4 cup chia seeds mixed with as much water and soaked for about 15 minutes
1 chopped up kiwi
6 strawberries
(honey if you want--I don't like my food too sweet)
plopped on a "flower" of tulips petals. Cut off the part that might have pollen on it.


Another Cracker Recipe

I've been experimenting with cracker recipes that do not use grains. I am very allergic to anything in the grain family, which cuts out any sprouted crackers, etc. I also have joint trouble when I eat amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. In this cracker recipe, I went ahead and broke down and bought flax meal instead of flax seed. I was impressed by how well the crackers came out.

Here is the recipe:

1 cup flax meal
1/2 cup black sesame seeds (soaked and rinsed to get rid of the oxalic acid)
1/2 cup sprouted sunflower seeds (do not use if you are allergic to ragweed)
salt to taste (do not used bleached salt--it should be grey or reddish)
1 tbs granulated kelp
1 tbs dried nettles pound up in a mortar and pestle
1 tsp powdered cumin seeds

I mixed this up with just enough water to make the dough stiff and then spread it out on my plastic cookie sheet and dried it under the fan for 24 hours. (see the other cracker recipe.)

Then I added avocado topped with a little paprika and dulse. Good snack!

Crown Chakra Pudding and Blue Edible Flowers

I'm not as keen on flax seeds as most raw foodists. I guess it's because I'm an artist and grew up with linseed oil as a paint thinner, not something to eat! The small amounts of Prussic acid in flax will not harm you; you'd have to eat pounds of it to get the toxic amounts. People eat flax to thin the blood because it is high in Omega 3 fatty acids. This is a new buzz word, but the point of Omega fatty acids is to balance them, not to just run out and eat a ton of flax oil.

Walnuts, also lauded as high in Omega 3 are also high in Omega 6. Omega 6 is necessary to the functioning of the body, but on the standard American diet people eat muscle meat from animals raised on grains (not grass) and eat too many grain products, so they get a ratio of 100-1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 instead of the recommended ratio of 3 or 2-1. A good rule is to stay under 6-1, which is very difficult if you eat a lot of grains and oils like canola and corn. Most nuts are very high in Omega 6s. Unlike many land animals, humans need the same ratio of Omegas that sea animals need.

You can get Omega 3s from sea products EXCEPT farm bred salmon, and from grass fed animals IF you eat the organ meat. The other way you can get Omega 3s is from many greens such as spinach, kale and the entire mint family. Which brings us to Chia seed, made famous by the hokey commercial where kids used the seeds to grow in ceramic figures for instant "hair." Chia is the seed of a member of the mint family: one of the sages, closely related to common garden sage. Go ahead and eat all the seeds of this family, unless the plant is not familiar to you. There is nothing wrong with peppermint seeds, except that they are TINY. Chia seeds are large for seeds in the mint family. But the cool thing about chia is that when you add water to them, they swell and get very sticky, not so much slimy as like a pudding. I use this quality of chia to make desserts.

For this pudding, I took a half-cup of chia and added about the same amount of water. Stir the seeds and let them soak. Then you have a pudding base to which you can add just about anything. Sweet, dessert type stuff is more familiar to us; if you were to add salt, the chia would be more like caviar.

Here is a recipe for a pudding to nourish the crown chakra at the top of the head. Blue-indigo is the color of this chakra. Good for the sinuses and the eyes!

1/8 cup dried elderberry fruits (soaked)
1/4 cup dried blueberries (or 1/2 cup fresh)
the chia mix
honey to taste
cinnamon or cardamon or other spices to taste
top with edible blue flowers (here I've used rosemary.)

Blue Flowers

I love edible flowers. They are often very tasty and they put pleasure into food preparation. I'm taking you on a tour of blue flowers in this post by family.

My favorite blue flower is Anchusa azarea, a plant in the borage family common to the Mediterranean. This is a tough plant and wonderful to grow. Unlike comfrey, it does not spread everywhere. Unlike borage, it is a perennial. It produces hundreds of beautiful blue flowers in late May and again in late summer if you cut it back. But the secret is: if you get to the flowers before the bees do, they are absolutely delicious. If the bees get there first, they are pretty, but not sweet, very mild. But I love blue in the garden and anchusa is spectacular. The flowers go well on salads and on deserts or are fun to eat out of hand. The plants are carefree, but might want to be tied back because the stems are so heavy with flowers that they tend to fall over! A flower for the back of the garden, the same size as glads.

The famous flower in the borage family is...borage! These little gems are also very sweet, but the bees love them. This is a re-seeding annual, another carefree plant that will keep coming back even in very cold climates. The seeds are used to make borage oil and the leaves have a pleasant taste of mild cucumbers. The flowers are beautiful and have been used for ages in sweets and candied for drinks.

There is also a beautiful blue comfrey in this family if you like comfrey. The flowers of lungwort are also a gorgeous blue color.

I keep going on about the campanulas, which used to be called "rapunsel" in Europe and are also called "rampions" and "harebells." All of the campanula flowers are edible and very benign. There are campanulas that spread like wildflower and there are some that are better behaved. Some are arctic flowers and will do well at zone 2, if you are blessed with that climate. They are tough plants and the bees love them. They have been selected and bred widely and there are rock plants and tall plants and drought friendly varieties. Although some campanulas are good for roots and others for leaves, all have wonderful flowers. Grow some just for the fun of throwing the flowers on a salad all summer.

The onion family is blessed with a number of beautiful blue flowers. However, some taste like onions! The flowers of grape hyacinth are HOT, like strong garlic or onions. So most of these are not desert flowers. You have to taste them to see.

Most of the onion family has white flowers, some light pink. But some of our favorite flowers of all time are in this family: tulips, lilies, and gladiolas. Gladiolas are wonderful flowers in mid-summer for sandwiches, salads and anything else you can think up. They are strong enough to hold up well, but not to cooking where they will turn into a little slimy mess. They are mild and taste like not much at all, but they have a texture like a baby lettuce.

There are many other flowers in the onion family that are worth trying because they are so easy to grow. One of the most beautiful plants in this family that is still wild is the camass, not to be confused with the "death camass" which has white flowers. Some are native to the Rocky Mountain West, which gives you a clue as to their hardiness. I include them here as an example of a beautiful plant to grow in a "wild" garden that will give you a little bit of "blue" to throw on your salad.

I love nigellas. There are three basic nigellas. The Spanish nigella has rather hot seeds, and the Nigella sativa has seeds that are almost the same as onion seeds, and called that by Indians. The seeds are widely used in Indian and Mid-Eastern and Slavic cooking. But the garden variety nigella, called "damascena" or commonly, "love-in-a-mist" has sweet seeds that are used in confections. The flowers are stunning, some of them pure blue. The ripe seed heads are used in dried arrangements. This is another self-seeding annual that will come back year after year. If you like Indian cooking, do not go without planting "black seed" or Nigella sativa in your garden for a spicy treat.

And violas, pansies and violets! Where would edible flower cooking be without them? I've had pansies and violas last all winter in my Colorado gardens. They are hardy, pop back after hard freezes and snowstorms and will be a staple of your winter garden in milder areas. And the color! Flowers in the viola family have been bred into every color imaginable. When I did catering, I used these flowers as the backbone of my cooking when I did weddings to match the bride's colors. Easy to grow, pest-free, the foliage is edible, the flowers are edible and they are wonderful for gout, arthritis and a host of over blood and joint problems, having salicylic acid.

The other family where you find a number of edible blue flowers is in the mind family. This is a picture (courtesy of the web--thanks!) of dragon's head, which is a citrus tasting tea plant that comes in a re-seeding annual or a perennial and is native to Eastern Europe. The leaves and flowers are delicious in teas or in salads and deserts.

Many of the members of the sage family have blue flowers and are very good. But some tend to be a bit strong, so taste first. Where I live, rosemary blooms in March, so I have used those flowers in my pudding. The flowers taste like mild rosemary and made a suprisingly good combination with the elder and blueberries. Use the flowers of lavender and mints, thyme and hyssop on all of your creations.

Cooking with flowers adds elegance and pizazz to your meals. Children love edible flowers. They also love bright colors. The next time you go out in the garden, pick some flowers. Most garden plants have edible flowers, with the exception of the tomato family, which are controversial.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fun with White Roots!

I'm keen on root crops in fall and winter. Most root crops are meant to be cooked: taro, sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams and arrowhead all have anti-nutrients in them or enzymes and chemicals that make them toxic or pretty nasty to eat raw. I've known people who ate potatoes and yams raw, but they are both so full of starch as to be pretty slimy and vile.

I eat plenty of carrots and dark greens, so I walk around with orange-ish palms anyways, so I don't worry about how much nutrition to get in root crops. I want bulk, carbs, and that full feeling that you can't get from most veggies. I also have the taste buds of a child, so I'm not keen on strong-tasting food.

I'm enticing you with this picture of a mushroom dish on some celeriac that I colored with a dab of spirulina to show you that white roots can be fun, even for kids.

Queens of the roots are the umbel family. They've been domesticated for hundreds of years as to not look like these wild roots here. But if you are running around in the wilderness in winter and KNOW your umbels (remember hemlock is in this family) you can get a pretty good meal out of even roots like this. But umbels love the mud, the muddier, the better. I'm showing you these roots in a more natural state to show you that the grocery cleans them up (A LOT) before they put them on their neat shelves.

If you grow umbels, they want mud, well not all mud, but light, almost sandy soil that is constantly moist. Any drought, any check in the moisture and those lovely carrots will be BITTER. And umbels can get mighty bitter. They can also be pretty strong, so taste them before you go crazy with them. If you grow them, they want coddling, unlike some other roots that are more forgiving of bad climate.

Umbels with edible roots number in the hundreds. But here are the more common ones you can find in the grocery: carrots, celery, celery root (celeriac) parsley, parsley root, dill, caraway, cilantro (leaves) and coriander (seeds), anise, fennel, bulb fennel (finocchio), and parsnips.

If you have enough beta carotene and want to try a sweet variety of carrot, go with white. White carrots tend to be sweeter than orange and much sweeter than red or yellow carrots. They also seem more resistant to the bitterness of the colored carrots. When you eat raw, you really notice things like bitter carrots.

(I love this cat.) Here is a pile of white carrots courtesy of the web (I'm using some of these photos that are not mine to show you what these plants look like.) You can see that white carrots look very much like parsnips. But, big taste difference. All the roots of the umbels above are edible, some very good. Fennel root is as good as fennel stalks. People use them mostly in soups, but I just like eating them for a crunchy treat out of hand or grated up in some experiment.

Most moderns don't know that the roots of parsley are good. I like growing veggies that have multiple functions. Carrot tops are good when young, and some varieties of parsley have good roots like this small one here. The large root is a parsnip. Note that the leaves of parsnips are NOT edible. Many umbels can cause dermatitis in some people, anywhere from a mild rash to a serious case like poison oak. If you get rashy after you've been pulling carrots, use a gentle soap right after you deal with the greens and don't eat them. Parsnips greens will give many people a rash, which is why they cut the tops off in the stores. But parsnips are wonderful in raw dishes. They have a spicy, sweet taste that goes well in many dishes. Experiment!

But my favorite of the root umbels is celeriac. It's grown in muck and highly sprayed. NEVER buy and eat celery and celeriac that is chemically grown. The bugs love it and it's full of pesticides. The higher price for organic is totally worth it for carrots and celeriac. Some crops don't get bugs and the organic label is more for "show" than something that you must choose.

Grated celeriac is dry and mild. I use it in my sushi recipes, but it's equally good grated for everything. It thins the blood, which is good for some and bad for others and cleans the liver, helping with gout, arthritis and a host of auto-immune diseases. You can also eat the leaves, but they are strong.

Just as carrots come in other forms, so do beets. I do not use white, golden, or pink beets because they give me a sore throat, just as other roots in the chenopod family do. Pay attention to things like this. A golden beet might make your throat sore; a tea made with yellow dock might make your throat close up (happened to me.) Be careful when trying new foods, especially in the raw form. Try a little, then wait for a reaction. But white beets, both round like this and mangels (sugar beets) are an alternate white root crop for fun. But if you find the taste of red beets to have a strong, "beety" taste, white are even stronger! They are good mixed with other roots, and again, the leaves are as good as spinach or chard.

Many people have seen jicama roots, which look like large, brown turnips on steroids. They are delicious. Many bean crops have edible roots. I'm showing you the foliage and flowers here, because, although the roots are wonderful, the seeds are poisonous. Many bean seeds are more or less poisonous, which is why most of them are cooked. If you eat raw, there are seeds you can eat as well as green and seeds you can't, like American common beans (although green beans are okay.) Jicama, like kudzu, is a tropical crop, so the roots are coming in from Mexico. They are a juicy root and a great nibble. But if you have gas problems with beans, jicama might give you gas. They are full of indigestible starches that bother some and don't bother others.

Another "gassy" root crop are the roots of the sunflower family. This is a picture of chicory, which grows a fine root. Other familiar roots in this family are sunchokes (jerusalem artichoke), burdock and many, many wild crops like balsam root and Oregon sunflower. They are tooted as a good root for diabetics because the carbs are in the form of inulin, which is indigestible, thus they are low in sugar. Some people do fine with inulin; for others it is a nightmare of gripe and gas. Eat a little bit first. Cooking does not help, unlike with beans.

But chicory and burdock and dandelion roots are unparalleled as liver cleansers, excellent for gout and other diseases of toxic blood. Beware though, of another problem. If you have ragweed allergies, do not eat anything in this family: lettuce, chicory, sunflower seeds, are all going to aggravate it. But for most people, the roots of these crops are easy to grow, giving edible leaves and seeds, are healthy and make a crunchy root for eating out of hand or grated.

Here is the other most famous of the root crops, roots from the cruciferae family: radish, turnip and rutabaga. The hot spices are found from horseradish and wasabe which are both roots in this family. Mustard is from the seeds.

Radishes, like these daikons, practically grow themselves. They are very weather resistant. But, bugs love them, so go with organic. Daikons and other radishes come in a hundred varieties, some red and green, many with colored skins from red to green to black. Daikon radish is delicious raw and is a staple in sushi bars.

But if you have a sensitive stomach, almost everything in this family may give you gas. So go slowly at first. Most people get used to this family after some time being raw, others do not.

One of my favorite roots is a weed. And I mean a weed. If you've had problems with campanula in your yard, you know that even the tiniest piece of root will grow into a hundred monster plants. Why? Well, it's also known as rampion and rapunsel and was bred to be a plentiful, cheap root crop like radishes. People stopped eating it, why? Only Rapunsel's mother knows. She had to forfeit her baby for stealing the greens from her neighbor's yard.

Rapunsel is mild and crispy. It's relative, platycon or balloon flower is as pungent as radishes and is found dried in Korean grocery stores. But Americans don't grow it or eat it and you can't even find a picture of it, only an old drawing like this. So sad. The flowers, leaves and roots are edible, some better than others. Plants for a Future Database has a long list of the best of the campanulas to try, but you must grow them. Italian seed houses still sell the seeds of rampion, but to get seeds, you may have to go to English seed houses for wild and native plants. Or check your backyard. The campanulas have wonderful purple bellflowers or harebells--yep, same plant. But some have almost no root and others, these thick crunchy, yummy roots.

Okay, enough on roots. Time for a winter dish!

Blue roots with Mushroom Sauce

One cup grated celeriac tossed with a pinch of spirulina
(try tumeric for yellow, beet powder for red and pink)

Marinate a handful of shitake mushrooms. (Do NOT use the regular button mushrooms or criminis or portobello mushrooms which are not good for you raw.) Most mushrooms are not good raw, so stick with the ones recommended, like shitakes.
Marinate in 1 tsp raw cider vinegar and olive oil
Chopped raw, oil cured olives (or sun cured)
Soaked sesame seeds (soak and wash to get rid of oxalic acid)
For an Asian dish, you can use some soy sauce. I'm allergic to it, so I've used a little bit of fennel here for a more Italian taste.

This dish is fun, filling and good!

Experiment, have fun, give your kids blue food! Hah.

Pestos and Crackers

I have a pretty intense grain allergy and a mild coconut allergy. If I eat white bread, my eyes get inflamed and I get asthma; the effects of eating whole grains are much worse--rice in particular. It is not a stomach intolerance, but a respiratory allergy, which is strange, for I don't have hay fever, although my sister, my mother and my nephew all do. One of the best things to come out of the raw foods movement is the marketing of non-grain crackers made of seeds and nuts. However, they are very pricey. All the sweet cookie type raw things are filled with coconut, so that makes me keen on doing my own thing.

Brigitte is big on flax and flax crackers. I'm not so keen on flax, but flax does make good crackers, so I'll start with the flaxseed cracker recipe.

Flaxseed, or linseed, is (yes, you guessed it) the stuff that the artists' oil is made of. It is a cheap oil when it is made for industrial uses. The flaxseed oil for edible purposes, is extremely expensive and very volatile, so it is found in health food refrigerators in brown plastic containers and hard to eat before it goes bad. It is very high in omega 3 fatty acids, as high as cod liver oil. People eat flax seeds for the same purpose, but they are very mucilaginous (slimy) and used for constipation. I'm not keen on slimy food. I found out that chia seed is higher in omega 3s and easier to eat. It forms a gel when wet and is very like tapioca, but it is not as slimy.

However, sliminess holds the crackers together.

You can see here that I've added a little water to some flax seed (golden kind is best.) Do not cover the flax seeds with water or add the same amount water, but as little as possible. Here you can see what happens after about ten minutes, you can stand a spoon in the bowl!

Now Brigitte just adds kelp to the flax and spreads it out on a dehyrator sheet. I prefer to add some pesto to the crackers, but the variations are endless. Before I go on to show you how to finish the crackers, here's one of my pesto recipes.

I take about half to a cup of walnuts and soak them in enough water to cover for about five hours. Overnight is okay.
You can see from this that I've taken the walnuts and mashed them up. You can use a blender, but it's hard to get the nuts to grind without extra water. I like a mortar and pestle for grinding nuts. I've tried to use nut grinders or grain grinders like the Bi0mühle variety, but the mortar and pestle works just fine. It takes a while, but it's kind of fun and quieter and, well just peaceful. I love these Asian mortars that are ceramic and have groves cut in the clay to rub the nuts (or leaves) against. They work very well and are surprisingly easy to clean.

Then I gather my greens. I use pestos to add in greens to my diet that are strong tasting. The basil covers up the taste of almost everything. Dill pestos are also good. When I make pesto, I don't use all basil: it's way too expensive and I find it very strong tasting, sometimes bitter. I've found that about half and half basil and parsley is a great combination in that these two strong flavored greens compliment each other and make for a better taste. When you use basil, stay away from the flower buds. They are very strong. I assemble all my leaves like this because I then:

Cut them! I've found that cutting works better than chopping and I don't have a food processor or blender. Again, it doesn't take that long, is quiet, doesn't use electricity and is easy unless you have arthritis. I've discovered that I can monitor my own arthritis in that if I cut and my hand hurts, I've got to do liver detox (more olive oil and greens, less cooked food.) Pretty soon that big bowl of greens is a quarter the size. Do this first, before you dump the greens into the walnuts.

After some mushing, which can take a long time or not, depending on how "smooth" you want your pesto, you have something edible. As I grind the leaves with the walnut mix (pine nuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds--anything works) I add olive oil. I also add dried nettles or other dried herbs that are good for me but not so fun to eat. If you are adding pesto to crackers, keep the olive oil to a minimum. If you want it for a squash dish like a sauce, add a lot of oil. I can't eat garlic, but, by all means, bring on the garlic if you like it! To get the Parmesan taste, you have to add salt. I don't like yeast, but some people swear by it to mimic the cheese taste. If you have access to raw Parmesan, go for it.

Okay, I added about half my pesto to my flax mix and added in about 1/4 cup of kelp granules. The powder is vile--use the granules. Kelp is also mucilaginous. I also added caraway seeds to this mix.

I don't own a dehydrator. Too expensive, and again my hubbie can't stand the noise. Also, even at low temperatures, your house will smell like the seashore when you dry out seaweeds. I got this plastic roll-up tray from the hardware store for $3.00. I found out very fast that drying food in a low-heat dehydrator was a way to get the mice to be friendly. It's also cockroach heaven. Nothing like finding mice turds or cucurachas on your crackers! If you live in a very warm and humid climate, you may want to dry out your crackers in the refrigerator. If you live in a dry climate, let the air do the work for you and don't worry about getting a dehydrator for your (expensive) raw kitchen. I put this sheet of crackers before a fan and they were dry in 24 hours.

Spread the mix as thin as you can. When the mix is tacky, but not dry, go ahead and cut the crackers with a knife. A bit tricky, but not as tricky as trying to make crackers out of the gluey, sticky mess they are when wet!

Be patient. You want your crackers to be crackers, not crumbly bits of moist seedy stuff. Takes about 24-36 hours depending on the room temperature, whether you use a fan or not, or whether you live in Oregon or Colorado. Stuff in the fridge takes longer to dry. You might get creative and hook up a fan in your fridge!

Here are my crackers. I put some avocado on them and made them "artistic" with some peppers and olives. Seed or nut crackers and avocado is a very filling, high-fat, meal that is great for winter.

Bon appétit!