Five years ago, when my now husband was offered a job outside Columbia, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. Faced with the choice of spending more time in a long distance relationship or moving to a town commonly referred to as “the armpit of the south,” it kinda felt like a lose-lose situation.
After living here five years, I have to say, Columbia isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s kind of grown on me. When we first moved here, there really wasn’t much to do in the conservative capitol city of SC other than go out for burgers or to a college bar. But over the only but over the past few years, Columbia has evolved tremendously. Maybe I’m biased, but I think much of it’s growth can be attributed to the local food movement spurred by our farmer’s market, Soda City (Columbia –> Cola –> Soda City…get it?). Every Saturday morning, our newly revitalized Main Street shuts down for dozens of local farmers and artisans to sell their goods. Along with local produce and organically and humanely raised poultry, beef and pork, you can find world famous Anson Mills grains, a mobile juice bar, handmade fresh pasta in the most incredible flavors (pear and gorgonzola!!!) and local brews, now that new legislation has made our state one of the most craft beer friendly.
In the past couple years, Columbia seems to have a much greater appreciation for enjoying high quality, nutritious foods. Within walking distance from our house, you can find what’s literally the best Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, a craft beer and growler store specializing in local beers, and a shop selling premium flavored olive oils and vinegars. Last year, our favorite college bar reopened with a menu packed with organic and local foods. We even got Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to join our Earth Fare, Rosewood Deli and Fresh Market.
I knew Columbia had officially made it when Good Life Cafe, a raw, vegan restaurant opened on Main Street. For realz. The city of burgers, pimento cheese and mediocre college football (couldn’t help it!) now has a restaurant with items like cashew cheese, kelp noodles and eggplant bacon right smack dab in the middle of downtown. I did little happy dance when I first walked through the doors.
I’ve been there a few times, and everything has been amazing. The “burger” is has hearty as anything that once mooed, their juice is the perfect blend of sweet and vegetal and the zucchini manicotti with almond ricotta is seriously delish. Still, the first dish I tried, the raw vegan tacos, are by far my favorite.
I know what you’re thinking. Raw, vegan and taco are not three words you would expect to hear, or maybe like to hear in the same sentence. But hear me out. The filling, made from walnuts, is finely chopped into a ground beef texture and seasoned with all sorts of smoky spices. It’s then drizzled in cashew nacho cheese, which y’all already know I’m a fan of. It’s served with big scoops of guacamole and salsa on top of the crispiest tortilla shell, which I have no clue how to make.
With the hot summer months and our determination to save on the electric bill, I’ve been cooking (errr, I guess not cooking) more raw foods than normal and decided to recreate this favorite dish. I don’t advocate at 100% raw diet (goodness knows I love my maillard browning reactions – throwback to Food Chemistry 414 with Dr. Chen), but I do think its important to incorporate raw foods into your diet on a daily basis. While the absorption of many nutrients is enhanced by cooking, most notably lycopene, which is thousands of times more available in it’s cooked versus raw form, many nutrients are partially degraded by heat. Vitamin C, B vitamins and polyphenols seem to be most sensitive. Plus, raw foods have a greater water content, which helps keep you hydrated. Unfortunately, the only raw food most people eat consist of the occasional salad and raw fruit fruit for snacks. If you’re looking to incorporate more raw foods, here are some of my favorite raw foods that aren’t fruits and vegetables:
Raw chocolate, raw cacao powder and cacao nibs // Enjoyed plain, blended into smoothies, stirred into yogurt, blended with a frozen banana into ice cream
Raw nuts // Enjoyed plain, blended into nut cheese, mixed into trail mix, blended into a smoothie, turned into a nut butter
Sprouted grains // on a salad, in an open faced sandwich, blended into a smoothie, in a nori roll
Kelp noodles // tossed with peanut sauce, toss with pesto, mixed with a fresh tomato sauce
Fermented foods // kim chi, sauerkraut, fermented pickles
I think you’re going to fall in love with this nut meat (go ahead and giggle). The soy sauce, spices and sun-dried tomatoes give it a rich, smoky flavor and it really does taste surprisingly meaty! Toss it with fresh tomatoes for a raw “meat sauce” on zucchini noodles or make a taco salad. Although it’s not totally raw, you could toss it with cooked brown rice and veggies for a grain based salad that would be perfect for packing for work lunches.
- Sour Cream:
- ½ cup cashews, soaked 2 hours in water, drained
- ¼ cup water
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Walnut Meat:
- 1½ cups walnuts, soaked 2 hours in water, drained
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- Dash cayenne
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Pico de Gallo:
- 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- ¼ large yellow onion, finely minced
- Juice from 1 lime
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
- 8 small toasted corn tortillas or lettuce leaves
- 4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
- 1 cup prepared or homemade guacamole
- Nut meat (see above)
- Cashew sour cream (see above)
- Pico de gallo (see above)
- First, make the sour cream. In a food processor, blend the cashews with ¼ cup water, apple cider vinegar and salt. If you like a thinner consistency, add another tablespoon or two of water. Set aside until ready to use.
- Rinse out the food processor. Place the walnuts, soy sauce, sun dried tomatoes, spices, and minced garlic in the food processor and blend until it forms a crumbly, ground beef consistency. Be careful not to blend it too long or you'll get a nut butter consistency! Set aside until ready to use.
- In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients for the pico de gallo and season with salt to taste.
- Divide nut meat among the tortillas or lettuce leaves. Top with shredded lettuce and drizzle with sour cream. Serve with guacamole and pico de gallo.