For holidays and special occasions, my mother and I enjoy no gift more than a dazzling vegan feast. However, having spent December 24-26 at my Gran’s house down in the culinary wasteland of Alabama, we couldn’t celebrate on Christmas Eve or Day with our usual stunning meal. To make up for it, I prepared a raw dinner for the two of us during the awkward holiday period between Christmas and New Years, bringing yuletide cheer and ringing in January 1st within the same three delectable plates of food.
We began with a plate of grain-free Cauliflower Tabbouleh Dolmas—pickled grape leaves stuffed with a filling of cauliflower “rice” mixed with the standard tabbouleh staples of parsley, red bell peppers, cucumbers, and olives. Inspired by the Tabouli Salad with Mint and Olives from Affairs of Living, I adapted the recipe into a raw version, rolled it up in briny grape leaves, and topped it with this lovely Lemony Kale Pesto for a fresh-tasting Greek appetizer that would fit perfectly on any mezze in Athens.
Cauliflower Tabbouleh Dolmas (Raw, Gluten Free, Nut Free, Soy Free)
Serves 3-4 with about 12 dolmas in total.
- 1 small head cauliflower (about 10 oz.)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 medium cucumber, finely chopped (I didn’t peel mine, but you could certainly do so.)
- 3 shallots or scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup basil or mint or cilantro, finely chopped
- 5 kalamata olives, pitted and minced
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 12 (or so) grape leaves, packaged in brine
Chop the cauliflower into medium-sized florets and place into your food processor. Pulse until the cauliflower takes on a rice-like consistency—very fine, but not completely pulverized, pieces that still retain their crunch.
In a large bowl, place the garlic, bell pepper, cucumber, shallots or scallions, parsley, basil or other herb of choice, olives, and cauliflower rice. Mix well to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, cumin, coriander, and lemon juice. Pour over the cauliflower mixture and stir well to coat. Sprinkle on a couple grinds of black pepper and mix again.
Lay a grape leaf flat on a clean work surface. Place 1 to 2 modest spoonfuls in the middle of the leaf (you don’t want it too full lest it either not roll well or completely burst). Fold the left and right sides of the grape leaf over the filling, then, starting from the side nearest you (the “southern” side, I suppose), roll the leaf completely over the filling, similar to rolling sushi (the link is my step-by-step sushi rolling tutorial complete with photos).
Serve with a dollop of Lemony Kale Pesto.
The butternut squash, slightly softened, retained much of its raw crunchiness yet imparted a subtle sweetness to contrast the bold, savory filling of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, garlic, sundried tomatoes, spinach, and kalamata olives. Frankly, I’d gobble up the filling with a shovel had I no self-restraint—creamy yet crunchy with complex flavors, it would complement any vegetable crudité or gluten-free cracker for a scrumptious snack or salad topper.
Rounding out the evening with dessert, we flew to…Africa? Perhaps a stretch for this particular dish, but Africa is certainly closer to the Mediterranean than, say, the Caribbean. In any case, my mother and I positively reveled in the delectable Banana Coconut Cream Pie from Lux Hippie. I followed the recipe almost exactly, only substituting date syrup for maple syrup and forming the pies in small tart shells for individual servings.
The crust, moister and less crunchy than that of our Thanksgiving Raw Persimmon Swirl Cheesecakes due to the higher ratio of dates to nuts, provided a not-too-sweet yet utterly magnificent base for the coconut cashew cream filling, flavored all the more decadently with vanilla bean, not the wimpy extract. Thinly sliced bananas topped the cream for a classic tropical flavor combination with the coconut. I avidly look forward to finishing off the third and final mini pie tomorrow.
Meal Checklist: Protein—walnuts, pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Whole Grain—none. Raw foodism certainly isn’t heavy on grains as they usually have to be cooked, with the exception of sprouting or buckwheat. Vegetables—cauliflower, garlic, bell pepper, cucumber, shallots, parsley, basil, olives, butternut squash, sundried tomatoes, grape leaves. Leafy Greens—kale, spinach.
Local Ingredients: Unfortunately, I only employed shallots and butternut squash from the Plahnt Farm and garlic from Brantmeier Family Farm—a small fraction of the many vegetables in my raw feast. The farmers market is now on hiatus from December 24 to January 7 so I’ve had to rely on the Willy Street Coop for all of my produce needs. While all of their vegetables are organic and they do source many local products, most of my food has come from California over the past few weeks. Sigh. When will the second Saturday of January arrive?!?
My favorite aspect of our raw feast was how light and utterly non-bogged-down I felt afterwards. Even though I ate hearty portions, the dishes all comprised of incredibly wholesome, nutrient-dense ingredients to energize me, rather than induce a food coma I’m sure many people have experienced over the holidays. Man, I love raw food!
Comment Provoking Questions: What is your favorite raw dish? Which Mediterranean country is home to your favorite cuisine? Do you prefer crunchy or chewy crusts in your raw desserts? Does your farmers market stay open during the winter holidays?
Until next time, Ali.