Leading the raw-food charge
Natasha Kyssa’s second book features SimplyRaw Express recipes
In some ways, it’s as if the food world is just now catching up to Natasha Kyssa.
More than two decades ago, the then-international model returned home to Ottawa and turned to a raw diet to combat the unhealthy lifestyle she had fallen into in a desperate attempt to stay thin. Within a few years, she was eating only raw food, felt 100-per-cent rejuvenated and, soon after, quietly started a raw food business.
Four years ago, she came out with her first book, a manual for eating raw.
“Looking back, it was a big leap,” says Kyssa. “Even four, five years ago, raw wasn’t so well known.”
Then, a year and a half ago, she opened SimplyRaw Express restaurant in Hintonburg.
“I envisioned just a small juice bar, maybe some desserts,” says Kyssa. “But when we opened, we had lineups out the door, and people wanted food too. I didn’t realize that it would take off like this. It’s just exploded.”
Six months after opening her new restaurant, Kyssa was pushed by publisher Arsenal Pulp Press to come out with a second book, featuring the popular recipes she shares in her workshops and prepares for the store.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it — I wrote the book in four and a half months, though of course I’d been working on the recipes for years,” says Kyssa. “There’s been a real explosion of awareness in the last few years. People who teased me about eating raw 10 years ago are now interested.
“It seems that everyone knows someone who is trying a raw diet. Many people are turning to it because they’re facing health issues, such as cancer, diabetes, or digestive issues.
“There’s a need. People are getting sicker and sicker. We’ve strayed so far from fresh, whole foods — 95 per cent of the food in most grocery stores comes from a factory, not a field.”
But Kyssa says her new book “is far less doctrinaire” than the approach she once took to raw eating.
“I thought, ‘Let’s do something that’s simple and fun.’ People are always asking me for these recipes. You can be creative in the kitchen and transform fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts into dishes that are bold, exciting and flavourful.”
In fact, the new book even includes some cooked foods, with recipes from her 86-year-old mother, Ilse Kyssa, who ran the very popular The Pantry café in the Glebe Community Centre for 20 years.
“My mom always made the best soups,” says Kyssa, 52. “I used to love coming home to the smell of her soups on the stove.”
The SimplyRaw Kitchen, published less than a month ago, includes many of Kyssa’s childhood favourites, such as Tomato-Millet Soup, Lentil Soup with Kale, and Babuschka’s Borscht (and, since her grandmother lived to 103, you can bet that it’s good for you.)
Kyssa says she didn’t actually eat any cooked food in making the book — “I trust my mother’s tastebuds” — but she has no objection to others eating gently heated foods.
“Since I turned 50, I’ve relaxed about life. It’s not an all-or-nothing approach. Not everyone wants to be raw, and that’s OK. I cook steamed veggies for my son.
“For me, I know raw is best. Over time your body starts craving raw. But I wouldn’t recommend my diet for everyone else. It’s about being healthy and eating fresh, whole foods.”
Kyssa says she likes the location of her new restaurant, right next to Suzie Q doughnuts and Tacolot.
“I love it when a person has a hotdog in one hand and tries a sample of one of our juices with the other. You have to reel them in with their tastebuds. Clean eating can be very flavourful and exciting.”
Indeed, try Kyssa’s “alkalize” juice, which has the equivalent of two big bowls of salad in one bottle, or her famous kale salad, or her Luscious Lemon Cheezecake (recipe below), and you may conclude that most cooked foods taste muddy by comparison.
Her “cheezecakes” — which come in flavours from chocolate mint to pumpkin — are so popular, they were once carried, by the slice, at just about every health-food store in Ottawa.
Kyssa says that since she opened her own shop, she hasn’t had the time to make enough to sell to others, but hopes to do that again, as well as expand her juice line so her vitamin-packed beverages can be sold at other stores as well.
“There’s so much nutrition in the juices — they’re what I really gravitate toward. I like to have about four of them a day.”
Kyssa says that while she delights in coming up with “recipes that tantalize people’s tastebuds,” she doesn’t actually enjoy spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
“Most of us, myself included, don’t have a lot of time to be in the kitchen. It’s a fallacy that raw food dishes are time-consuming to make.
“I don’t think that any of the recipes in the new book take more than half an hour to prepare. I offer a lot of tips for shortcuts, and, after all, you don’t actually have to do the cooking part. Plus, you don’t have to scrub any pots and pans.”
New book: The SimplyRaw Kitchen, a collection of vegan, gluten-free, mostly raw recipes from Natasha Kyssa of Ottawa. $21.95.
The restaurant: SimplyRaw Express, 989 Wellington St. W.
Workshops: Kyssa teaches food-preparation workshops and leads two-week cleanses as well as 28-day detox programs.
Websites: simplyraw.ca and simplyrawexpress.com
Makes: 4-5 tacos
4 to 5 red or green cabbage leaves
2 cups (500 mL) walnuts
1 tbsp (15 mL) gluten-free tamari
2 tsp (10 mL) onion powder
1 tsp (5 mL) garlic powder
2 tsp (10 mL) ground cumin
½ tsp (2 mL) ground coriander seeds
¼ tsp (1 mL) paprika
½ tsp (2 mL) ground chipotle pepper or chili powder, or to taste
Dash freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Himalayan salt, to taste
2 cups (500 mL) chopped romaine lettuce leaves
½ cup (125 mL) quartered cherry tomatoes
½ cup (125 mL) “Sour Kream” (recipe below)
Guacamole (recipe not provided)
1 lime, quartered
1. Optional: Soak walnuts for 8 hours and dehydrate for 12 to 14 hours, or use raw dry walnuts.
2. In a food processor, lightly pulse walnuts, tamari, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, chipotle, black pepper, and oil until crumbly. Do not over blend or it will become too oily. Season to taste.
3. On a plate, lay 1 cabbage leaf. Add 2 heaping tablespoons (about 30 mL) of taco filling. Top with ¼ cup (50 mL) romaine and 2 tbsp (25 mL) cherry tomatoes. Add more walnut mixture, then top with “Sour Kream” and guacamole. Serve with a wedge of lime that can be squeezed over the taco.
Makes: about 3/4 cup (175 mL)
1 cup (250 mL) cashews, soaked for 30 minutes or more
½ cup (125 mL) purified water
1½ tbsp (22 mL) lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp (25 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp (2 mL) Himalayan salt
1. In a blender or food processor, blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy.
2. Allow to set in refrigerator.
Spicy Thai Salad
Makes: 6 servings
6 cups (1.5 L) finely sliced green cabbage
1 cup (250 mL) finely sliced red cabbage
¼ cup (50 mL) finely chopped cilantro
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 tbsp (50 mL) roughly chopped dry cashews, for garnish
½ cup (125 mL) raw sesame oil
2 tsp (10 mL) sesame oil
3/4 cup (175 mL) raw cashews, soaked for 30 minutes
¼ cup (50 mL) lime juice
3 tbsp (50 mL) gluten-free tamari
2 tbsp (25 mL) maple syrup
1 to 3 Thai chili peppers, to taste
¼ tsp Himalayan salt
1 heaping tsp (5-6 mL) Irish Moss (optional)
1. In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients and set aside.
2. In a blender, purée all dressing ingredients until creamy. Season to taste.
3. Pour dressing over salad and toss until well combined. The dressing will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
Luscious Lemon Cheezecake
Makes: 10 to 12 servings
1½ cups (375 mL) dry almonds
Dash Himalayan salt
2 tbsp (25 mL) shredded coconut
¼ cup (50 mL) packed, pitted Medjool dates
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
1. In a food processor, process almonds with salt until it forms a fine flour. Add remainder of crust ingredients and process until mixture starts to stick together. Press into an 8-inch (20-cm) springform pan. Refrigerate while making the filling.
3 cups (750 mL) cashews, soaked for 30 minutes or more
1 cup (250 mL) lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup (175 mL) maple syrup
1 tbsp (15 mL) vanilla extract
Dash Himalayan salt
½ cup (125 mL) melted coconut oil
1. In a blender, process cashews with lemon juice, lemon zest, maple syrup, vanilla extract and salt until smooth.
2. Add coconut oil and blend again.
3. Pour over crust. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. It also freezes well.
Austrian Linzer Squares
Makes: about 12 to 16 squares
3 cups (750 mL) coconut flour
1 cup (250 mL) cashew flour
1/8 tsp (.5 mL) Himalayan salt
¼ cup (50 mL) maple syrup
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
Zest of half a lemon
1 cup (250 mL) fresh or frozen raspberries (thawed)
½ cup (125 mL) pitted Medjool dates
1. In a food processor, blend coconut and cashew flours and salt briefly to mix. Add maple syrup, vanilla extract, and lemon zest, and blend until well combined. Evenly press two-thirds of mixture into an 8-inch-by-8-inch (2 L) pan, using the back of a spoon to flatten. Set aside.
2. In a blender, blend raspberries and dates until smooth. Pour mixture over crust and spread evenly. Top with remainder of crust, in crumbles.
3. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.