Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tools and Equipment for the Raw Vegan Kitchen

This is the third installment in the series on information for going raw.  Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.
Early on in our decision to go raw for the summer, we recognized that the small appliances we had been using to cook food were obsolete, at least for the time being.

Consider the toaster, the microwave oven, the coffee maker, the crockpot, and the countertop electric grill.  In our home, most of these items are wrapped up and put away in the back of a closet.   The electric grill was donated to charity.  The rest may follow - we aren't completely sure we won't need them at some point.  When we cleared the counters of these things, we  made room for the new equipment that eventually followed.

It's not absolutely necessary to have each piece of equipment listed below to get into raw food, although many of these items will make it easier.

Please note:  I do not receive any type of revenue or gifts for mentioning products here, and I can't make any guarantees that anyone will be satisfied with the products.  These are simply observations and suggestions.

1.  High Speed Blender

The differences between a high speed blender and a conventional kitchen blender are the power of the motor and the speed at which the blades turn.  Advocates of the high speed blender say that the blade speed is necessary to break down raw fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, increasing digestibility and making the nutrients accessible.  It's a terrific tool for making green smoothies which is a staple in the diet of many raw foodists.

These are a big investment, however the better ones will last a very long time, and a high speed blender is useful for any kitchen, not just for raw food.   Vita-Mix advertizes that it will take the place of your juicer and your food processor, and for those who eat cooked food, it even heats soups.  The Vita-Mix comes with a seven year warranty and certain parts like the blade bearing assembly and the drive socket can be easily replaced by the consumer.  Since we use our blender several times each day and depend on it fairly heavily, we keep spare parts on hand.  We've had to replace a part only once in the last 8 or 9 years.
How to put in a new blade bearing assembly

How to put in a new drive socket

The Blendtec and the Vitamix comparison

A Vita Mix demonstration

If you can't afford a high speed blender right now, you can make many of the foods using a regular blender.  For example, most salads do not require a blender, but it may help with the salad dressing.

In order to make smoothies with a conventional kitchen blender you may need to add water to the blender and run the blender longer.  You may find that it won't completely liquify all raw foods, especially raw greens.  If you have a good food processor and a conventional kitchen blender, you might want to try a two-step process, by first pureeing your more fibrous foods in the food processor and then transferring it to your blender with softer foods and liquids to make a smoothie.  In this way you won't be as likely to burn up your blender.

Here's a comparison of a Blendtec and a Ninja 

2.  Food Processor

Some VitaMix advocates claim that they don't need a food processor because their Vita-Mix will do the job of a food processor.  However, in our home we often run both machines simultaneously, and I can't imagine getting by without both.  I particularly like the food processor for shredding, grating and slicing vegetables and fruits.

Here is a comparison between a high speed blender and a food processor. 

It's possible to do most of the jobs that a food processor will do with a knife, cutting board, grater and a large mortar and pestle.  However, a food processor will save time.   

3.  Juicer

Many raw foodists are into drinking fresh raw juice, particularly green juice.  There are a few different tools that can be used for this.  If you already have a high speed blender, it can be used to make juice simply by placing the blended produce in a nut milk bag and straining it.  Here's a video showing how. 

There are different types of juicers for different jobs:

Masticating Juicer:  This type slowly grinds and presses the fruits and vegetables, pushing juice out in the end.  These are great for greens, however some brands are criticized for not separating more juice from the pulp.
Centrifugal Juicer:  This type rapidly grinds the produce with a spinning blade, then spins the juice of out of the pulp, similar to the way a salad spinner works.  They are liked for getting more juice out of the pulp, but don't do a great job of breaking down stringy greens and wheat grass.
Triturating Juicer:  Also called a twin gear juicer.  It slowly pushes the produce between two interlocking gears.  It's widely considered the best type of juicer because it extracts the most juice and works on more types of produce such as stringy greens, however it's also the most expensive.
Citrus Juicer:  These are nice to have on hand when you need some lemon juice for a recipe or want to make orange juice for breakfast.

4.  Mandolin

Some raw food recipes call for thin slices of vegetables, such as long thin slices of zucchini to be used as a substitute for lasagne noodles, or thin round slices of jicama as a substitute for a crispy corn tortilla.  A food processor slices vegetables thinly, but doesn't make large thin slices.  For larger items, a mandolin can make even, paper thin slices.

There are a couple of concerns about these types of slicers.  One is that it's very important to use the safety guard when slicing with them, to avoid slicing fingers.  At the same time, the guard won't easily hold larger pieces of vegetables.  For this reason, it's a good idea to use it with a kitchen cut-protection glove.

Another concern about mandolin slicers is quality and durability.  A low cost mandolin will be made of plastic with cheap blades that cannot be sharpened.  The professional grade stainless steel mandolins are more durable and some of them can be dismantled and sharpened.

If you are unsure whether a mandolin will be something you will use regularly in your kitchen, it might be a good idea to purchase a cheap one and see how you like it.  If you soon wear it out, then consider whether to purchase a more expensive model.

5.  Knives, cutting boards and other hand tools

Young Thai coconuts are frequently mentioned in raw vegan recipes, but they can be tough to open.  You'll need a really good strong knife.  We have a nice heavy cleaver which works well for that.  It was an investment but it should last a long time.  At first we purchased a cheaper one, but we bent the blade the first time we struck the coconut with it.

Some raw foodists recommend ceramic knives for chopping and mincing produce.  We have one, and it's terrific, but I don't notice much difference in how it performs over other knives.  Some raw foodists say that ceramic knives help prevent oxidation of fruits and vegetables.

Your cutting board should be a type that is easy to clean and will not dull your knife blades.  Additionally you'll need at least one vegetable peeler.  We find we need a vegetable  peeler and cutting board for each member of the family, because we often prepare our meals together as a family.

Additional hand tools that are helpful:  knife sharpening tools, a lemon squeezer for those times when you just want to quickly squeeze one lemon or lime, cherry pitter, apple corer, citrus zester, nut milk bag, coconut demeater,  and Cai Bao.

6.  Spiral Vegetable Slicer

One of the secrets to a great raw meal is to take a nice firm vegetable and turn the flesh into noodles.  Put some sauce over it, and you have healthy, gluten free pasta that you can make before a SAD (Standard American Diet) cook can boil water.  There are many brands of spiral slicers available, including the Saladacco, the Spiralizer or the Benriner Turning Slicer.  If you don't have one, you can just use a vegetable peeler to create long flat strips.  A good low tech option is the noodle tool available here

7. Dehydrator

A good dehydrator has a thermostat and temperature control, so you never heat your food above the recommended temperature.  This is important because one of the main ideas behind raw food is preserving the nutrients in the food that are damaged by heat.  Raw foodists differ, but the recommended maximum temperature range is normally between 112 and 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dehydrators soften some fruits and vegetables without cooking, which is really terrific for foods like broccoli, green beans and Brussels sprouts.  They are also used to make cookies, crackers and breads without high heat.  They are even used to warm casseroles and soups.  And of course, they are used to dehydrate fresh fruits and vegetables so that they can be stored longer.

Some say it's possible to manage with a regular oven at the lowest setting with the oven door open.  It didn't work for me.  Another option might be to use the sun to dry and warm foods.  I have had some success with a sun-fry recipe by Storm Talifero of the Garden Diet.  Simply warm and wilt your food by placing it a glass casserole dish with a clear glass lid, and place it in the sun for a few hours.  If you live in a place with strong sunshine you might try drying food outside. You can find information for building a solar dehydrator here and here.

We have an Excalibur dehydrator and we absolutely love it.  We use it to dry tomatoes, which saves money on sun-dried tomatoes, and I use it to dry extra produce so that it doesn't go to waste.  Once it is dried, the vegetables can be used to intensify the flavor of your dishes.  We also use it to make snacks and breads.  Some raw foodists think that dehydrated foods are not as healthy as fresh, ripe, raw food, largely because the water content is removed.  We think that dehydrated raw snacks and ingredients are fine as long as we are taking in enough fluids and nutrition overall. 

8. Food Storage Containers

If a person decides they want to purchase a dehydrator, then they are probably going to need somewhere to put to put all that chewy, crispy dehydrated goodness.  We found that when I stopped buying bottled, canned and packaged foods, we ended up packaging all the fresh delicious food we made with the raw produce.  My pantry is currently filled with containers of dried tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, peppers, herbs, etc.  The fridge contains an assortment of fresh raw dips, spreads and salad dressings.  Salad greens and other fruits and vegetables are also placed in food storage containers.

Out of concern for the environment, we prefer reusable containers.  While we aren't big fans of plastic, it is sometimes practical when it is reusable, recyclable and  BPA free.  If it's made from recycled materials, that's a plus.

Canning jars are a great option for most food storage.  Since the seals and rings that come with conventional canning jars tend to rust, I have my eye on these reusable canning jar lids.

We also like large flat glass dishes with resealable lids, such as Pyrex or Snapware.  These are great for refrigerated leftovers as well as pantry items.

Here's a great YouTube video about storing raw food.

9.  Sprouting Devices

One really great way to obtain high protein greens is to sprout seeds.  If you decide to grow sprouts, you'll need some sprouting devices.  This website has several available in different sizes. 

Now we mainly prepare our food with a high speed blender, a dehydrator, a food processor, 3 juicers and 4 sprouting jars.  Occasionally I use an electric kettle to boil water.  My husband uses a small personal blender at work.  We found that the best tool to beat a raw cake frosting was still an old fashioned electric egg beater, just like any other frosting.  We store ripening fruit in our oven, and extra pyrex dishes in the microwave.  My son still occasionally cooks something on the stove, but usually we put a cutting board on it and use it as an extra counter top.

10.  More ideas:  a yogurt maker to make coconut yogurt, an ice cream maker to make raw nut ice creams, a small grinder for grinding seeds and nuts.

1 comment:

So what do you think? Have you tried raw vegan food?