Sun Café in Studio City is perhaps best known as an award winning vegan restaurant, but it’s also an amazing destination to learn the art of vegan cuisine.
Co-owner Ron Russell was a vegan for twelve years and has been “raw” for fifteen. Raw means there’s no cooking involved in the food preparation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have pizza, pasta or luscious desserts. It just means you have to learn how to substitute ingredients. For example, instead of flour you can use ground nuts. For enchiladas you can substitute flax and zucchini for the tamales, ground veggies for the stuffing and sundried tomatoes for the sauce. That’s where Ron comes in.
In his 90 minute class you’ll hear how he chooses his ingredients and watch as he prepares them right in front of you, explaining the process and answering any questions you might have. And you will have some, especially if you’ve never experienced raw food.
His favorites to teach, he told me, are a Southern Creole Barbecue stew with greens, and enchiladas that taste like the real thing, but of course, these aren't cooked at all. He’s just experimented with ways to duplicate the tastes he’s always appreciated without the use of meat or dairy and keeping the integrity of the food.
The day I was at Sun Café for the vegan raw cooking class, Ron was preparing an Indian meal: Pakora, Veggie Curry and Mango Lassi. Well, as most Indian aficionados know, these items are either cooked or use dairy in some form or other. How to go “raw” was the challenge, and he definitely met it.
First he showed how to make the pakora, traditionally using flour made from grain and deep frying the little fritters. In this recipe the flour is made of seeds, therefore not requiring heat. In a blender he ground ¼ cup of flax and ½ cup of sunflower seeds, added a variety of Indian spices (2 tsp. curry powder, ½ tsp coriander, ½ tsp salt and 1 tsp cinammon). He mixed it well. Next he peeled and diced ½ tsp ginger and 1 tsp garlic, adding that to the concoction, followed by 1 cup finely chopped cabbage.
After adding 2 tbl water, he created a sticky dough. Taking clumps from the blender he rolled them into balls and coated them with 2 tbl chia seeds. The pakora can then be eaten as is, but for a more distinctive flavor and texture he advised putting them in a dehydrator overnight. Yum!
He then made a chutney dipping salsa out of cilantro, ginger, tomatillos (little green tomatoes), garlic, jalapeno, lemon juice and salt, blended together till chunky.
The curry was made of ½ cup diced onions, 1 carrots, 2 zucchini and a stalk of celery. Crimini mushrooms and peas he said, would be other good veggie choices. He marinated them with a quarter teaspoon salt and 2 tbl lemon juice in a covered container at room temperature for two hours (of course he did this before we arrived).
The sauce was made with 1 cup coconut meat, ½ cup coconut water, 1 tbl mild curry powder and salt and pepper. This, too, is blended until smooth and poured over the drained marinated vegetables. Again, if you want a more intense flavor you can dehydrate the mixture for a couple of hours.
Then last, but not least: the mango lassi, a popular Indian beverage. Instead of milk, Ron used ½ cup mangoes and ½ cup soaked cashews, well drained. He blended them with ½ tsp each of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and either dates or agave for sweetness. He actually said he prefers using frozen mangoes so you don’t have to add ice that tends to dilute the mixture.
After watching the highly informative demonstration it’s always exciting to get to taste the results. And everyone in the room seemed pleased, many ready to go home and experiment for themselves, which is exactly what Ron is hoping they’ll do.
The most useful tip I came away with was using a dehydrator to achieve a more cooked-like consistency. He even said you could make crepes by mixing bananas and cinnamon until it forms a liquid and pouring the mixture, like pancake batter, onto the Teflex surface and dehydrating overnight.
Ron Russell not only enjoys discovering new preparations as he puts together these themed classes, but is thrilled to introduce people to his healthful cuisine. Many of his students, he says, have had health issues and want to change their eating habits. Some already have and just want to learn new ways to enjoy their vegan lifestyle. Whichever method you choose, even if it’s to remain a carnivore, it’s a fun class to explore, and you won’t go away hungry!
10820 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
Fore more information visit the Sun Cafe website