Reviewed by Judy Pokras
Measuring 6 inches wide by 8 1/4 inches tall, and having 112 pages, The Raw Food Primer by Chef Suzanne Alex Ferrara is a very pretty little book. It has well-chosen colors, a slightly glossy paper stock, and an appealing design. The letters of the word RAW on the cover are clever pictographs of people. Chef Ferrara’s to-the-point writing style is easy to digest.
Ferrara starts the book with small sections on types of raw diets, stocking a raw pantry, resources and tools. The bulk of the book is her recipes, divided into sections representing meal courses. She also provides a sample dinner party menu and an index.
The recipe sections offer only a few selections each, kind of like the menu of a good restaurant. As the reader, you hope that means these were chosen because they are the very best. There is a vegetable stew that Ferrara says warms her on cold days, and a sweet and sour ginger dressing she brings with her to restaurants. There are eggplant tacos that she calls “the ultimate snack food,” and an assortment of Italian dishes that sound fabulous, like “manicotti bites with marinara and sun-dried olives” and “fettucini alfredo.”
She has some interesting tips, things I haven'’t come across before. For example, she suggests storing ginger in the freezer, saying it's easy to grate that way; and she uses a spice mill or coffee grinder to turn shredded coconut into coconut flour. (I always like anything raw called flour because it gives me hope for replicating traditional cooked recipes.)
Raw food purists might balk at Ferrara's recommending Maranatha "raw" almond butter, as many people in the raw community tend to believe that that product isn't raw. (Not that the manufacturer is necessarily lying, but that the machine they use to grind the nuts reaches a temperature over 118 degrees. That product tastes like roasted almonds, not raw ones. The only commercially available RAW nut butter I have seen is from Rejuvenative Foods. There might be others, but they all have to be kept in the store's refrigerator case. If not refrigerated, nut butter goes rancid really quickly.)
Purists would also protest Ferrara’s use of maple syrup in so many of her recipes, despite her admitting that maple sugar and maple syrup are not raw. Author and chef Victoria Boutenko says that maple syrup is boiled for 28 hours, which is really, really, really cooked! Ferrara doesn't want to offend strict vegans who won't use honey, but if you blend dates with water, you have a sweet syrup that is as good as maple syrup and it is raw. Coconut nectar is another option, although my favorite is KAL Pure Stevia.
Small books have their advantages (such as easy portability while taking a long walk, for luddites who don't care for e-readers), but they must of necessity be concise. Because of its concision, Ferrara’s tools section might be inadequate for readers who prefer to have more technical information.
She assumes that we will know which brands to buy of certain items, like coffee grinders and spice mills. But readers who want to know which brands are easiest to clean, make the least noise, and can handle larger amounts would appreciate some recommendations.
Similarly, readers who seek guidance on what power blender to buy may be misled when Ferrara recommends the Vita-Mix, because she makes no mention of its extreme noise level (especially when you add nuts, like for a nut milk), or of its steep price.
Chef Ferrara has some refreshingly original ideas. She uses wilted leaves of Butter Lettuce as wrappers for raw ravioli. I tried her recipe for lemon rind candy made of just lemon rinds and honey and cinnamon. It had a nice taste, but the lemon rinds remained very hard to chew. The honey flaxmeal raisin cookies look like they would be fun to eat. There are other desserts I'd like to try, but most contain maple syrup. I would replace that with stevia, but I’d have to figure out what amount to use in order to wind up with something like Ferrara’'s recipes. Fans of young coconut will find that she doesn't use or mention it anywhere in the book.
Finally, the recipes are accompanied by Ferrara's rich and colorful paintings. Art lovers will appreciate how pretty and evocative they are; flipping through the book is like walking through a gallery. Readers who like to see what recipes will look like made up may feel that the paintings -- which take artistic license, as paintings often do— -- aren't as helpful as photos or more traditional illustrations would be.