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Eating locally and seasonally is recommended by many contemporary health professionals as well as by ancient health promoting doctrines such as ayurveda and Zen macrobiotics. According to these principles, it is healthy to change our diets to keep our bodies in harmony with the changing seasons. Nature provides the ingredients for this synchronization in the form of seasonally available local foods that are more harmonious than foods imported from far away. Also, locally grown foods are often fresher because they spend less time in transit.

The spring diet should be light and bright, and include lots of raw vegetables such as young leafy greens, summer squashes, carrots and celery, sprouts, and fruits. Increasing fresh produce means that spring meals can contain less mucus-producing foods such as dairy, meat, sweets, and refined grains. More pungent and astringent flavors added to the menu will stimulate the body’s natural cleansing ability. Eating more alkaline foods such as berries and leafy greens, and restricting acidic foods such as processed carbohydrates and meat, also supports the body’s natural springtime rejuvenation process.

The benefits of eating raw food have lately been rediscovered by health practitioners. Promoters of raw food diets have generated a strong interest in Raw Food Cookery or, as it is sometimes called, Living Food Cuisine. Some naturopaths even claim that a raw food diet can be a healing solution for serious illnesses such as cancer.

Toddlers, the elderly, and people with special health issues may have difficultly with some raw foods. Also, when you travel to countries such as India or Mexico where water-borne bacteria are present in the food chain, do not eat raw produce that cannot be peeled; in those cases, the potential dangers far outweigh the benefits.

There are many styles of raw food diets. Some people eat only uncooked vegetables, others include sprouted grains, and some include grains that have been cooked at very low temperatures, usually less than 110 ºF. In each case, the goal is the same: to preserve nutrients that are otherwise destroyed by cooking. Many heat-sensitive vitamins and minerals are sacrificed to cooking. Other fragile nutrients that are adversely affected by heat include enzymes and probiotics that are essential to digestion and other metabolic reactions that create energy and support cell growth and renewal.

Raw food chefs use a number of methods of food preparation to keep a strict raw food diet from becoming tedious and cold. These include chopping, grating, and mincing vegetables to increase their digestibility and to expand their visual appeal. Cooks also soak and sprout nuts and grains and then bake them at very low temperatures to create crackers or crusts to serve with raw fruits or vegetables. Others make nut “milks” by soaking and blending the nuts, and use these as a base for raw drinks, soups, and sauces. There are many gadgets available in specialty stores to make this kind of labor easier.

I personally welcome the challenge that raw food cuisine presents. However, if you don’t want to follow a complicated raw food recipe, you can still reap the benefits of adding raw foods to your diet by adopting salad-centered springtime menus. Raw foods are enhanced by the use of fresh herbs and spices, and every meal, whether simple or complex, is made more nutritious by the increasing availability of organic and heirloom produce.

Keep your raw foods simple and serve them as a center piece or main entree. For example, fruit and vegetables that can easily be consumed raw—such as tomatoes, zucchini and other summer squashes, and leafy greens—can be cut in interesting ways and served with a nutritious raw dip such as Papaya Chutney or Raw Pesto Dressing.

Vegetarian Sushi with a Touch of Indian Spice

Here is an easy and impressive “sushi” dish for your picnic or potluck dinner.

8 to 10 large red chard leaves, rinsed, cut in half lengthwise, thick stems removed
¾ cup shredded daikon or red radish
¾ cup shredded carrot
¾ cup shredded zucchini
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
¼ cup raw tahini (sesame butter)
¼ cup raw cashew nuts, soaked in ¾ cup warm water for 30 minutes until soft and plump
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

First prepare the ingredients as described. Using paper towels, dry the chard leaves completely after rinsing and removing the middle stems. Use only those half leaves that are in perfect shape.

Shred the radish, carrot, and zucchini using the large holes of a grater and set them aside in separate bowls.

Place the ginger, tahini, and cashew nuts with their water, lemon/lime juice, salt, and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor or an electric blender. Puree to a paste and set aside.

Place a half chard leaf on a dry flat surface and spread a teaspoon of the prepared paste evenly all over it. Then sprinkle about a tablespoon of shredded radish on top, spreading evenly. Lay a second half-leaf on top and spread it with a teaspoon of paste and a tablespoon of shredded carrot. Lastly, lay out a third half-leaf and spread one teaspoon of paste on top of that. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of shredded zucchini. Roll the layered leaves into a compact “log” and set aside. Repeat the process to make several more rolls. Using a serrated knife, gently cut each rolled log into two or three thick discs (each should be about two inches wide). Use a toothpick to keep each one together. Arrange them on a platter and chill until ready to serve.

Serve with an oriental sauce or with papaya chutney.

Creamy, Fresh Papaya Chutney

This chutney makes a good dipping sauce for any type of finger food.

1 medium papaya, peeled, seeds removed, and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro or parsley leaves, stems removed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and veins removed, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice

Place all of the ingredients in the jar of a food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.

Napa Cabbage and Chiogga Beet Slaw with Pesto Dressing

Napa cabbage is easier to handle and moister than green or red cabbage. Raw chiogga beets are sweeter than red beets. The moist cucumber pairs well with the other crispy vegetables. And wait until you taste this pesto sauce made without oil or cheese!

4 cups napa cabbage
1 cup grated chiogga beets
½ cup grated carrot
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced

For Pesto Dressing:

½ cup fresh basil leaves, washed, trimmed, and drained
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
1 to 2 tablespoons purified water
½ teaspoon sea salt

Using a sharp knife, slice the napa cabbage into very thin strips. (Do not use a food processor for this step.) Place the cabbage in a large bowl. Grate the chiogga beets and the carrots using the large holes of a grater and add them to the cabbage. Dice the cucumber and add it to the bowl. Mix all of the vegetables together gently and thoroughly.

To make the dressing, place all of the ingredients in the jar of a blender or food processor and puree thoroughly, adding a bit more water if necessary to make a thick dressing. At this stage it should be like a sauce, not a pesto-like paste. Transfer this dressing to a jar and refrigerate. You will only use a small amount of it for this recipe.

To serve, transfer a few tablespoons of pesto sauce to a small bowl. Mix in a few teaspoons of water to bring the sauce to a pourable consistency. Drizzle it onto the slaw, being careful not to use too much dressing so the slaw stays crisp.


Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student. Visit Shanta’s Vegetarian Ethnic Kitchen 
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