This story originally appeared in Ottawa Magazine’s Winter 2013 edition. Order your copy here.
By Cindy Deachman
Get back to nature — and lose weight. Attain greater consciousness — and give your energy a boost. The benefits of raw food are both physical and spiritual, tout its devotees, who consider any food cooked, anything heated above 118 C, to be “dead food.” Welcome to the world of fennel-fig-kale smoothies and no-bake chocolate-coconut-pecan tarts. And that’s just for vegetarians. Raw paleos feast on bison carpaccio and raw eggs. One Tokyo restaurant, Niku Sushi, even eschews seafood, instead serving raw horsemeat, pork, and chicken sushi.
Raw has risen to the fore, more than 125,000 years after our ancestors were all over it. (Then again, they hadn’t yet mastered the art of rubbing two sticks together.) Nowadays, the resurgence of veganism and vegetarianism encourages us to eat our fruit and vegetables. Plus, weariness with shepherd’s pie and maraschino-cherry-cheesecake ice cream has us clamouring for cleaner flavours.
Indeed, raw could well leave you feeling saintly — and, yes, if you haven’t gorged on nuts and coconut oil, you may feel lighter. But there’s also the pure pleasure of crunching on a spiral of beet carpaccio or slipping down a just-shelled Moonstone oyster. Sure, raw might be a passing fad. Meanwhile, simply enjoy.
Hamachi, hirame, hokkigai (yellowtail or surf clam), all available sushi- or sashimi-style. But please make it raw. Then there are fish eggs. Tobiko, or flying fish roe, has crunchy texture and a fresh, mild taste. A mass of tiny red-orange beads, they are often coloured, even flavoured. Find variations in green (wasabi), black (squid ink), and even, if you can afford it, golden (gold dust). Sushi Umi owner Chris Lavelle often switches it up. A jewelled mound emerging from a tulip-carved cucumber definitely makes for high drama. Some shy away from these fish eggs, but many, especially Europeans — Lavelle discreetly gestures to a regular — must have their caviar. $2.50 each. Sushi Umi, 1311 Wellington St. W., 613-724-2488.
Raw pizza? You bet! The thin crust is chewy with soaked and sprouted flax and sunflower seeds that have been ground with sun-dried tomatoes. And definitely healthy — La Belle Verte’s co-owner Nina Lavoie swears that she has evaded her annual bout of bronchitis since she started on the diet two years ago. Her Greek pizza is strewn with faux feta of sunflower seeds and black olives, raw spinach, red peppers, onions marinated in umeboshi (pickled plum) vinegar, and tomato tapenade. Pesto maison and “uncheese” cashew sauce are drizzled on top. This pizza fairly bursts with freshness and vitality. $10.95. La Belle Verte, 166, rue Eddy, Gatineau (Hull sector), 819-778-6363.
Blue Nile chef Tsedy Kassa recalls the story her mother told her about kitfo. In the early 1900s, Italian soldiers travelling to seize Ethiopia ate their beef raw. Perhaps this was carpaccio. Truth or legend? At any rate, Ethiopians developed their own style, a sophisticated steak tartare called kitfo. Clarified butter is seasoned and melted. False cardamom — korarima — is then added, along with chili powder, also known as mitmita. Cooled, the mixture is folded in with fresh raw tenderloin. Blue Nile’s made-to-order kitfo is light and buttery, with a beautifully deep spiciness. $10.99. Blue Nile, 577 Gladstone Ave., 613-321-0774.