Your kitchen—big or small—should be treated like an artist’s atelier. It needs to be a place where you can lose yourself in creative play. The kitchen has always been the center of a home. In the past it was the place of fire, of inspiration, warmth and imagination. I remember as a child sitting in front of an old Stanley stove gazing into the flames—filled with delightful visions—while my grandmother canned pears, peaches and green beans for winter. My own kitchen, out of which my High Raw food style developed, is more like a sculptor’s studio than a food preparation station. It is a place where Aaron and I can get together with friends, workmates and family to laugh and talk about serious and trivial stuff while we prepare meals together.
Your kitchen should have the atmosphere of freedom in it. Hang quirky things from the ceiling if that inspires you. Put a potted plant where you wouldn’t expect one. Paint cupboard doors in wild colors. Your kitchen should reflect things that delight and amuse you. Ten years ago I bought a gigantic soup ladle, which has hung above my gas hob ever since. It is so big that it would be ideal for a Salvation Army soup kitchen. But it makes me laugh. I like its beautiful shape and am continually amused by the absurdity of its size.
With a well-organized, well equipped kitchen, high raw meals are a pleasure to prepare. But there is nothing more annoying than setting out to make a meal in someone else’s kitchen and spending ages looking for a brush to scrub vegetables only to find that the one you used was the floor brush! Let’s look at some of the tools which are most useful for a raw food gourmet.
The one piece of equipment I would never be without is a mandolin. I prefer the simple plastic ones that sell for a fifth of the price of the expensive stainless steel variety. They have a v-shaped blade into which plastic inserts fit, each of which has different size knives so you can julienne, make chip-size chunks, slice thin or thick. Unlike the conventional grater, which mashes vegetables and fruits when you use it, a mandolin slices them clean and sharp. Be sure to use the hand-protecting device that comes with either model. If you don’t, and I know from experience, what you will end up with is shredded fingers—yours—instead of shredded cabbage.
Although it is nice to return to nature wherever possible, you have to draw the line somewhere. Using electric equipment takes the tediousness out of chopping vegetables, gives you a greater choice of textures, allows you to make splendid desserts, nut loaves, sauces, soups and whips, and cuts down enormously on preparation time. I find a few simple machines give full rein to my imagination. These are the raw chef’s equivalent of the oven or the microwave. For those who like an “all manual” kitchen I suggest alternatives, but they really are second best.
Apart from a mandolin, the three machines I consider useful are a food processor, a juicer and a blender—in that order. You can get by without a blender because a food processor does many of the same things, but it is useful nonetheless. You can buy appliances which combine the functions of all three, but keeping them separate lets you work on several recipes at the same time and encourages helpers. Choose good strong machines that will stand up to heavy use. If you have a large family, it can be worth investing in catering or industrial models which are sturdier and can cope with larger quantities.
A good food processor is a blessing to the raw food chef. There are so many remarkable attachments to choose from—a blade, several coarse to fine graters, various slicers and shredders. The blade attachment is excellent for grinding nuts and seeds, wheat and other sprouts, homogenizing vegetables for soups and loaves, and making dressings, dips and desserts such as ice cream. You can do most of these things with a blender, but if your ingredients are gooey they tend to stick around the blade and you spend ages scraping with very little to show for it. The blade in a food processor is removable and easy to scrape, so you lose very little. The grater, slicer and shredder attachments are terrific for making salads. With their help, you can prepare a splendid Whole Meal Salad for four people and have it on the table in ten minutes. Do experiment with all these attachments because, believe it or not, vegetables actually taste different depending on how they are cut up.
YOUR JUICE EXTRACTOR
The most important considerations when buying a juicer are power, capacity and ease of cleaning. The fewer fiddly parts to wash up, the better. Some have a removable strip of plastic gauze in the pulp basket which is helpful in cleaning.
There are basically three types of juicer: the hydraulic press type, the rotating blade type, and the centrifugal type. Some hydraulic presses are hand-operated and therefore less convenient than the electric kind, but some doctors who prescribe raw juices prefer them on the grounds that they reduce the amount of oxidation that takes place when juices are exposed to air. I have all three myself. Centrifugal juicers are best to start with and come in two types: either they are separators, which operate without needing to be constantly cleaned out, or they are batch operators, which have to be cleaned out after every 2lb (roughly a kilo) of material has been juiced. That gives the separator kind the edge when it comes to convenience; they expel leftover pulp rather than fill up with it. But they tend not to extract juice as efficiently as the batch operator kind. If you decide on a batch juicer, look for a large capacity model which does not require emptying too often. It can be infuriating working with a machine that insists on being cleaned out after juicing only two glasses when you are juicing for six people. One other thing to check before buying a juicer is the size of the hole through which you feed your vegetables and fruits. Some are really too small and it can be a real drag to have to cut carrots and beetroots lengthwise.
A POWER BLENDER
There is not much to choose between blenders except their power. You will need one of at least 400 watts (anything less will be unable to cope). My favorite has attachments for grating, chopping, kneading etc. which are very useful. Glass models are preferable to plastic, as plastic tends to stain and look tatty very quickly. Look for one that has a removable blade (the base unscrews) for ease of cleaning. I own three and they are all Vita Mix because they go on and on, and will do just about everything with ease.
Two other devices I find useful are an electric citrus fruit juicer and a lettuce spin-drier. The citrus juicer has a central rotating cone onto which you press your halved grapefruits, oranges and lemons. Very quick and easy. There is nothing to stop you juicing citrus fruits in a centrifuge juicer, but you need to peel them first. The lettuce spin-drier is a great invention. There are several types, but my favorite is a basket which fits into a container with holes in the bottom and has a lid with a spinning cord. You put the whole contraption in the sink, put your lettuce or greens into the basket, put the lid on, run water slowly through the hole in the lid and pull the spinning cord. This spins the basket and expels the water, in theory cleaning and drying the greens. In practice they need to be rinsed before you put them in the basket, but by spinning you get beautifully crisp non-watery leaves very quickly.
BACK TO BASICS
A few other gadgets can be helpful if you cannot afford or have basic objections to electrical equipment. But you will be more limited in the number of textures and recipes you can prepare.
- A sturdy grater—the box type with a fine, medium and coarse face, and a face for grating nutmeg and ginger.
- Hand coffee grinder—for rendering down nuts, seeds and spices.
- Meat mincer—the sort you screw to the table, with coarse and fine cutters; good for grinding grains, seeds, nuts and sprouts.
- A strong stainless steel sieve—for rubbing soft fruits through or extracting the juice from finely grated vegetables.
- Hand hydraulic juicer
- A stainless steel “mouli” rotary grinder—with coarse and fine grater inserts; quite effective for juicing finely grated fruit or vegetables.
- Pestle and mortar—for grinding herbs, spices, flowers, etc.
- A lemon squeezer
- Wire salad basket—the sort you swing maniacally round your head in the garden.
Of primary importance to raw food preparation are good knives and a good chopping board. At least two knives are essential, a large one for tackling spinach leaves, onions, carrot sticks and so on, and a smaller one for more delicate jobs. The best knives are made from carbon steel. Some enthusiasts disapprove of carbon steel because, unlike stainless steel, it encourages oxidation of cut surfaces, but I prefer them, for although stainless steel knives look nice they do not keep their edges as well and a sharp edge is important for creating beautiful salads. If none of your knives will cut a tomato without squashing it, then they need sharpening! A good sharpener is worth investing in.
Good chopping boards are hard to find. Either they lose their pretty patterns with repeated chopping, or they warp when they get wet, or they are not large enough to slice an orange on without most of the juice running over the edge. Find a decent sized wooden chopping board if you can, with runnels around the edge. Look in a professional chef’s shop for the biggest you can find. Here is my solution to the problem. When I had a new kitchen installed I kept some big leftover pieces of Formica covered board. You can prepare a salad—or leave the chopped vegetables—on one end, and the peelings on the other. If it’s big enough, it can fit over the sink so you can drop the peelings into a waste bowl underneath.
All told, the high-raw chef uses very few utensils—there are no enormous pots and pans to go in and out of the oven or to wash up. Choose dishes and platters made of inert or natural substances—glass, earthenware and wood rather than plastic and metal. Avoid all things made of aluminum. Aluminum is highly active. When it comes into contact with the acids in some raw foods, such as tomatoes, it can be bleached out and end up in the food producing heavy metal poisoning over time.
Here are some of the other things you find in my own kitchen.
- A special “vegetables only” scrubbing brush
- A large colander, with feet so that it can stand in the sink to drain
- Bread pans (preferably glass) for making vegetable loaves
- Flat boards or trays for making sweet treats
- Ice cube trays
- A garlic chopper—achieves much better and quicker results than a pestle and mortar or a garlic press
- Scissors for cutting up fresh herbs such as chives, parsley, mint and so on
- Salad bowls of different shapes and sizes
- Soup plates, fairly wide and deep, for individual “dish salads”
- Salad platters—you can create attractive banquet-like effects by serving crudités arranged on a large platter, perhaps one with several compartments for dips
- Several pairs of salad servers
- A large pitcher for drinks, and a strainer
It is important to store living foods carefully so they stay alive. I keep my seeds, pulses and grains in sealed polythene bags or airtight glass jars. Empty sweet jars make useful storage containers, as do the plastic tubs. But glass is always best. Always cover salads as soon as you have prepared them, even if it is only for ten minutes while you prepare the rest of the meal, to protect from wilting.