Venturing into the Raw foods world: A super yummy vegan ‘Cheese Cake’

I have to confess…until a few months ago I did not know that there were an increasing number of folks in the world who were following a totally ‘raw foods’ diet!  My first reaction was – wow, that’s great – so healthy and ‘no need to cook’!  I looked over a lot of raw food bloggers’ websites  and saw how creative they were getting with their raw food recipes!  Gosh, it is mind boggling! Personally for me I don’t think I can manage a complete raw food diet since I would crave for warm food from time to time!  However, hats off to those who can pull it off and doing well with it.

So anyways as I have started following more raw food bloggers on my instagram, I continue to get inspired by their creations. One of these was the ‘raw cheese cake’ which is only made using nuts, dried fruits and other fruits! Watching numerous such vegan ‘cheese’ cakes and reading their recipes, I have been meaning to try making one for a few weeks now. The fact that I am currently on a AIP (autoimmune protocol) version of the Paleo diet was one reason – cos I am not allowed to eat nuts on this diet :(.  However, last week was hubby dear’s birthday. Him being a lover of cashew nuts , I thought why not give this raw cheese cake a try?

I looked for recipes and found that the basic recipe was pretty much same – nuts and dates for the crust or the base. And then a cashew nut cream filling. Then you can use your imagination for flavors – I decided to use mixed berries to create a two layer cake. And then topped it with a lot of fresh berries.  I also decided to do the crust only with shredded coconut and dates. I was so proud of my creation!  Our rhododendron had just blossomed too and the color of the topping of the cake perfectly matched with the light purple flowers! What a beautiful evening it was – my husband absolutely loved the taste of the cake!  He said it was better than any dairy cheese cake that he had before! The kids also loved it. I also had a couple bites – I had to see the result of my efforts, you see? 🙂  – Creamy, mildly sweet filling combined with the wonderful coconut crust  made for a delectable dessert! Simply superb is my verdict.

Btw, I would like to mention here a few of the bloggers who have inspired me to make this cake and whom I love to follow:

Edgar raw: https://www.instagram.com/edgarraw/?hl=en

Olivia from Lovehealthok : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoCEQG-JcqA

Sophie from A squirrel in the kitchen : http://asquirrelinthekitchen.com

Bringing this raw, vegan cake to the Plant based Potluck party this week.

Venturing into the Raw foods world: A super yummy vegan 'Cheese Cake'
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert, sugar free dessert
Cuisine: Vegan raw cake
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
For the crust:
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 9 dates
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil melted
  • Pinch sea salt
For the Filling:
  • 2 cups cashew nuts soaked overnight
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp coconut cream
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup mixed berries
Instructions
  1. Soak cashew nuts in warm water and let sit for at least 24 hours.
  2. Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch springform pan with parchment paper.
  3. For making the crust, in a food processor blend all the crust ingredients except the shredded coconut. Then mix this with the shredded coconut in a bowl to form a thick mixture. Press this mixture to the bottom of the pan. Freeze the pan for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling by blending all the filling ingredients (without adding any water) except the berries to get a thick creamy filling.
  5. Pour ¾ of the this filling mixture onto the pan after the base has set. Then to the rest of the filling mixture, add the berries and again blend to get a creamy smooth mixture. Pour this over the top of the white filling layer. Place pan back in freezer for at least 5-6 hours.
  6. Remove pan from freezer about 30 mins before serving the cake.

Happy Vishu! : Papaya Coconut Halwa (Vegan,Paleo)

   Happy Vishu to all those who celebrate – Vishu falls on the 14th of April this year. In Kerala, the start of the Zodiac New Year is celebrated as ‘Vishu’. It is believed that what one sees when one first opens one’s eyes on Vishu morning is an indication of what one can expect in the year to come. Thus on the morning of Vishu, ‘Vishukkani’ is prepared, which is an assortment of beautiful things – the image or idol of Lord Vishnu, beautiful flower arrangements and a panorama of vegetables and fruits to show abundance. Even gold jewelry and gold coins are displayed as part of the kani. It is said to be auspicious to open one’s eyes before the decorated ‘vishukkani’ on Vishu morning. And an elaborate and delicious sadya just like Onam is prepared in all Malayalee households for Vishu.

Although I don’t usually prepare an elaborate sadya for Vishu, I do make some sweet dish at least. This year that was hard too considering my dietary restrictions. But I am one not to be easily discouraged – I decided to make this Papaya halwa.  Traditionally this halwa is made using milk and rice flour along with ripened papaya. But since I am on a paleo diet, I came up with some alternative ingredients – coconut milk instead of regular milk and coconut flour instead of rice flour. The coconut flour gave it a wonderful texture. I also skipped the sugar and used maple syrup instead. The halwa came out delicious!

Mind you, this version is indeed an easy version of the traditional halwa since I cooked it only for about 30 minutes until I got the desired fudge consistency. But I remember my aunts in kerala making the traditional version of papaya halwa by cooking it over slow fire for at least a couple hours stirring constantly. The resulting halwa under the laborious process is of course even more tastier with all the sugars in it getting caramelized completely. But the result of this easy vegan version is not far behind either. So I hope you do get to try making this!

The celebration of Vishu signifies the importance of ‘making a good start’ and of asking for divine blessings before embarking on a new project. Hope all your dreams for the following year come true!

Papaya Coconut Halwa (vegan, paleo)
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Indian, kerala, fusion
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Papaya Halwa is a delectable dessert of Southern india and this version is a modified, vegan and paleo version of the traditional halwa using ripe papayas, coconut milk and coconut flour
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 cups ripe Papaya pieces pureed in blender
  • ¼ tsp or pinch salt
  • ½ cup thick coconut milk or coconut cream
  • ¼ cup maple syrup (or honey)
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder (optional)
  • ¼ cup coconut flour (or desiccated coconut powder
  • ½ cup water
  • Chopped nuts for garnish
Instructions
  1. Take a non stick frying pan or a wok style pan (kadai). Add the coconut oil and when hot, add the papaya puree to it. Add the salt and Cook on low heat stirring frequently for about 10 mins. You should begin to see the oil separating from sides.
  2. Next add the coconut milk and maple syrup and continue cooking on low heat stirring frequently. After about 10 mins, when you see the oil separating out again, add the coconut flour with the water to the papaya mixture. Stir very quickly to avoid forming any lumps and then continue to slow cook for another 5 mins stirring regularly until the mixture attaining a 'halwa' consistency - i.e. semisolid and smooth. Remove from heat. Serve garnished with the chopped nuts.
Notes
For AIP version: Skip the cardamom powder and the nuts

  

Tips for hosting a Kerala sadya at home

Since Vishu, the zodiac new year celebrated by Keralans is just around the corner, I thought doing this post now might be useful for some of my followers. I have been consulted a few times regarding tips on cooking a ‘sadya’ meal at home.  Having been cooking sadya meals every Onam (and sometimes for Vishu too) for the past 18 years in our US home does qualify me for advising folks I guess. We usually host an average of 3-4 families. I get a lot of questions from new cooks all the time! “Chechi, help!” ‘How many dishes to cook?’ ‘How much quantity to cook’ ‘Will there be enough food?’ ‘I have never cooked for so many people’ ‘Will all the food be fresh for the sadya?’  And so on and so forth. Well, my response is always the same – “Take a deep breath. Don’t worry. Its all about planning and once the plan is perfect, execution will be a breeze!”  I guess all my years leading projects at work has also helped me to execute successful sadyas 🙂  Plus I did have the best resources available to me – my husband and I together make a great team 🙂 So before embarking on this particularly adventurous mission, my strong recommendation to you is to first enlist your spouse’s or family members’ support! It will be much needed!

These are some steps that I follow for hosting a successful sadya whether it is for Onam or Vishu or just any other day when you feel like having a sadya meal.

  1. Create a Menu:  Take a pen and paper and scribble down the menu items.  I prefer pen and paper to doing it electronically since paper makes it easy to scratch off things while still letting you see what changes you have made. Just my personal preference but you can use a notepad on your phone or computer as well. Write down the different dishes you would like to make.  Sambhar and Avial I think fall in the ‘must-have’ category meaning they absolutely need to be on the sadya menu or else you won’t have a sadya! Another ‘must have’ are pappadums! After that, come all other lentil or bean type curries – let’s call this ‘Other curries’ – like erisseri, parippu, moru kootan, green mango curry, potato stew etc. I like to include at least two from this category.  Next would be ‘dry vegetable dishes’ like cabbage thoran or green beans thoran or kadala and kaaya thoran etc.  A fourth category would be all spicy and tangy ‘pickle type’ curries called as ‘thodu curries’ – these include paavakka varatharachu curry, pearl onion curry(Ulli curry), Pulli inji (ginger curry). Another very important ‘must-have’ item of the sadya is the ‘Paayasam’. Which paayasam to make?.  Although it is traditional to make two varieties of Payasam, I would recommend doing only one since not only is it time consuming to make two different payasams but after the heavy sadya, in my experience, folks generally will not have room for two different payasams and so it becomes a waste of effort. Decide which one you want to make. ‘Paladda’ is always the easy one and everyone loves that so its a safe bet. If you are ambitious enough to make Parrippu paayasam then so be it – you just need to plan adequately for it.

Here’s what a sample menu would look like. Other than the ‘Must-haves’, you can      pick one or two from each category

SAMPLE MENU
Main Dishes (Must-haves) Other Curries: Vegetable side dishes: Spicy and tangy (Thodu) curries:
Sambhaar Erishery Cabbage thoran Pulli Inji
Avial Mooru Kootan Kadala kaaya koottu Paavakka varatharachu
Paayasam Pacchadi Paavakka thoran Ulli curry
Pappaddum Rasam Manga curry
Parrippu curry Manga Pickle
Potato curry Lime pickle

2. Decide how much quantity to cook for each dish:  This depends on your final count. hence get a final count of people sufficiently in advance. Once you have the final count, divide by 4 (for the 4 categories of dishes you have) and that’s how many people you should cook each dish for. The logic behind this is that since you have so many dishes, you don’t need to make huge quantity of each dish.  For deciding the quantity of rice, I take the total headcount and take about 25% off – again the logic being that having a variety of dishes means that folks get full without eating too much rice. So if I have a head count of 20 people and say in general we cook about 1/2 cup of rice(uncooked) for 1 person for a regular meal, which would mean cooking 10 cups of rice, but for the sadya 75% of 10 i.e.  7.5 cups of uncooked rice should be sufficient. For doing all the above, if you are going to be following some recipes from your favorite sites, then make sure you print all of them first and then prepare the grocery list.

3. Plan the grocery shopping: Prepare the grocery list based on 1 and 2 above. And do the shopping sufficiently in advance -at least 2-3 days before the sadya weekend. Include all other ancillary items like plantain chips, plantain leaves, small bananas and any ready made pickles. Make sure you check the quantity of rice you have in your pantry and add to the list if you are short.

4. Stagger the cooking – Begin cooking in advance: 3-4 days before you can make the pickles or tangy curries like the paavaka curry or inji puli since they don’t spoil and keep well. 2-3 days before you can make moru kootan or mango curry etc.  1 day before you can make sambhaar, erisseri and payasam and also finish all the prep work for all the rest of the dishes. For example, finish chopping all vegetables for avial which is best when prepared the morning of the sadya. All thorns with fresh coconut should also be prepared on the morning of the sadya. You can fry the papadums the previous day but make sure to keep them in airtight containers to prevent them from getting soggy.  Create a project plan one week before the sadya so you don’t forget any important steps.  The plan need not be detailed but would look something like this :

Sample project plan:

  • Weekend 1 week before sadya/ 3-4 days before sadya day – Grocery shopping,
  • Thursday – Moru kootan, Pachadi, Inji Puli,
  • Friday – Chopping all vegetables for avial and sambhaar, make sambhaar, make payasam, fry papadums
  • Saturday(Day of sadya): Cook rice, avial,cabbage thoran

5. Ask for help: After completing steps 1-3, take a step back and do a reality check. See how you feel about executing the plan. If this is your first time doing something like this and if you don’t have enough help at home (for example having young kids etc), then consider delegating some tasks to some of your expected guests. Chances are some of your guests may call you in advance offering to help and if you are feeling overwhelmed then that would be a perfect time for you to ask for some help. You can outsource tasks like grocery shopping – either all or some items, ask them to cook one dish or just request if they could stop by early that day in the morning before the sadya – a set of hands always helps, right?

Hope these tips are helpful! What are some tricks you use for hosting a sadya at your home? I would love to know! Happy Feasting – Have a spectacular sadya this Vishu!

Yucca/Tapioca ‘Rice’ (Kappa Puttu using grated kappa)

If you have been following my blog, you might wonder why I am posting this kappa Puttu recipe again? Well guess what this is a different way of making kappa puttu.  I guess this is the traditional way of making it.  What I had posted earlier was an easy or short cut version.  Actually speaking both versions are not that hard and if you already have some cooked leftover kappa (yucca) then you can go for the recipe I posted earlier.  My aunt had suggested I try making Kappa puttu since that would be a great grain free bread option for me.  I loved the version I made before.  However my darling cousins kept insisting that I should try making it using raw grated yucca (tapioca) and that tastes much better. So then how could I not give it a try right?

My husband was kind enough to grate the yucca for me. Since yucca is hard, it is really a little tough on my weak RA stricken hands to grate this. Hence so kind of him to volunteer!  Well the resultant ‘puttu’ was moist and delicious and the texture was ‘rice’ like.!  And goes perfect with some chicken curry or fish curry! Yum!

Puttu is traditionally steamed using an utensil called “puttu Kodam’ which basically consists of a long mould that fits on top of a steamer pot.  Since I don’t have this contraption, I make do with a strainer fitted on top of a cooking pot.  To get a round shape, I pack the cooked ‘puttu’ in a small bowl and then invert it onto the serving plate. But if you have a puttu maker, you can make it in that.  You can check out what a puttu maker looks like over here.

This Yucca Puttu or Yucca Rice as I like to call it as become my staple ‘bread’ for eating with fish / chicken curry and has made my transition into a Paleo diet so much more acceptable! I don’t miss rice anymore since this yucca rice is so delicious and perfectly complements curries since it has the wonderful ability to sop up all that gravy! yum! Traditionally, kappa Puttu uses a mix of kappa (yucca/tapioca) and rice flour. But I replaced rice flour with coconut flour to keep it Paleo. But you can use same recipe replacing rice flour with coconut flour too.

Yucca/Tapioca 'Rice' (Kappa Puttu)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: Indian, Kerala, Paleo
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Freshly grated yucca mixed with coconut / rice flour and steamed to get a 'rice' like consistency that is a perfect complement to spicy Indian curries like chicken curry, fish curry or vegetable curries
Ingredients
  • 1 cup freshly grated Yucca (tapioca or kappa)
  • ½ cup coconut flour (or rice flour) - Use coconut flour for Paleo version
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated coconut (or frozen grated coconut thawed)
Instructions
  1. In a large mixing bowl, add the freshly grated yucca/tapioca. Add the coconut flour (or rice flour) and salt. Add the freshly grated coconut. Mix well using your hands.
  2. Steam this mixture using a Puttu maker or using a make shift steamer as explained below.
  3. For make shift steamer, fill a large cooking pot ¼ th with water and heat till water boils. Place a strainer that fits on top of this pot on it and spread the yucca mixture over it. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and steam cook for about 10 minutes. To serve, pack in small bowls or moulds and invert onto a plate.

 

How to Cook Banana Blossom (Vaazha Kodappan Thoran)

 When you are kids, you live in a blissful state…you take everything for granted.  Mom slogs in the kitchen and presents tasty dishes to you which you devour without even pausing to thank her for her hard work and talent. It’s not that you are a spoilt brat or anything …it just never occurs to you to thank her.  Or to peek in the kitchen while she is cooking to see how she does it. Unless of course she calls you out specifically to do a chore. In which case you do oblige as any well raised child would.  As you might have guessed, I wasn’t talking about my kids here. I was talking about myself. And why this sudden self-deprecation? Well, it all started with my buying a banana blossom when I spotted one at our local Indian grocer only to come home to realize my absolute lack of knowledge on how to go about cutting it!  And when I thought of all the times amma had cooked this for us!

So I very enthusiastically bought it one Saturday afternoon and then announced to the Mr with great aplomb that I was going to make ‘Banana Blossom stir fry’ for dinner.  Hubby dear, being the gentleman that he is, politely nodded. I am sure he was wondering in his mind about how I was planning to attack this particular piece of vegetable. Fortunately for him he had to work that weekend and so off he went to his office room leaving me alone in the kitchen to tackle this unknown beast!

I started by staring hard at it a couple times, then gently touching and feeling it. Still no clues. Do we have to remove the petals and cut it one by one or what? I vaguely remembered mom (and sometimes dad) applying coconut oil to their hands while cutting it. Which meant that this was sticky! Hmm…So I quickly googled ‘How to cut banana blossom’ About a handful of posts showed up – some were recipes and then there were a couple good albeit long videos – one from a Bengali food channel and another from a tamilian one.  I sat and watched both those videos.  Finally, I took the banana blossom and stashed it back into the refrigerator.  Husband dear was concerned. What happened hon? I responded ‘Will do it tomorrow – too much work. Plus I will call dad also in the morning first thing’. Okey Dokey, so banana blossom got postponed for the next afternoon.

Next morning had me on the phone with my dad for a good thirty minutes with him explaining me how to clean it and how to cook it too. I was glad I waited – since what dad told me was a bit different than the two videos I watched. Could be due to the regional differences. The thrifty Keralan way was to use up pretty much everything sparing the first one or two petal layers.  So finally I began to feel confident. And embarked on my mission.

As instructed by my dad, I discarded only the first red petal layer. Since the rest of the petals were very tightly attached together which meant that they were tender enough to be used. But I did use the small florets attached to the first two petals. I chopped them up too finely. I removed the tall center husky piece from each floret since I had watched that in one of the videos although my dad didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about taking that off. It is important to place the chopped / shredded pieces into a bowl of water, lightly salted and use coconut oil to oil your hands to prevent that stickiness.  The chopping method suggested by dad was pretty cool (after all he is my dad :)) – Just make horizontal and vertical cuts from the base of the blossom (after first discarding the outer petals) and then shredding the tiny pieces into the bowl of water. I was unable to do it directly from my hand into the bowl of water. So I had to use a cutting board to make the shreds.  Hopefully the step wise pictures below will help you.  Next time, I will try to do a video so you can have a better understanding.

Btw, the stir fry came out fabulous. Maybe the shrimp I decided to add to it last minute added to the flavor too! This was a perfect Paleo meal for me with the shrimp added in! Of course, you can make a vegan version without adding any shrimp and that will still taste fabulous! My dad was pleased to hear of my efforts and I am sure my mom is smiling at me from the heavens – I must have made her proud!

How to Cook Banana Blossom (Vaazha Kodappan Thoran)
Author: 
Recipe type: Side dish, Main course
Cuisine: Kerala
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-5
 
Finely shredded Banana Blossom stir fried in coconut oil with shrimp and shredded coconut mixed with cumin and other spices
Ingredients
  • 1 medium size banana blossom, shredded (see step wise pictures below recipe)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ of a red onion, finely chopped (or 3 pearl onions, chopped)
  • 5-6 fresh curry leaves
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (cayenne pepper)
  • 6-8 shrimp, chopped up into tiny pieces (optional)
For the coconut masala paste
  • ¾ cup fresh grated coconut (or frozen grated coconut, thawed)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Remove the top one or two layers of petals from the banana blossom until you get tightly fitting layers at which point you don't need to discard them. (I removed only the top one layer)
  2. Fill a large bowl with water. Add 1 tsp of salt and a few drops of lemon juice to avoid discoloration. Mix well.
  3. Hold the banana blossom such that the broad bottom is facing you. Make horizontal and vertical cuts on it by whacking on it using your knife - like you see in the picture below.
  4. Then place it on a cutting board and begin to shred it so you get really tiny shreds. Start moving the shreds into the bowl of salted water.
  5. Finish cutting all the blossom this way and place all the shreds in the bowl of water.
  6. Now strain the water using a large strainer. Squeeze the shredded blossoms to squeeze out maximum water out. Leave in the strainer.
  7. In a food processor, grind the coconut, cumin and garlic with the 2 tbsp of water to get a coarse paste. Do not grind it fine. Keep aside.
  8. In a kadai or a wok style pan, heat the coconut oil.
  9. When hot, add the mustard seeds.When they splutter, add the onions and curry leaves. After a minute, add the shredded blossoms and add the turmeric and red chili powder. Stir fry for 2 -3 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt as needed (be cautious since the blossoms were soaked in salted water already). Cover and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
  10. Next Add the shrimp and stir fry for another 3-4 minutes till the shrimp is opaque and cooked all the way through.
  11. Finally add the ground coconut masala (paste) and stir fry well for 1 minute or so until well blended. Check for seasoning before turning heat off.
Notes
For AIP version: Skip mustard seeds, cumin seeds and cayenne pepper and double the amount of turmeric