The concept of a raw-food diet may be interesting to some simply because it promotes eating healthy, fresh, unprocessed foods. A raw-vegan diet consists of eating foods in their most natural, uncooked and unprocessed state. It is based on a diet mainly of fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables, seeds, sprouted legumes and grains, and dehydrated breads and crackers that have not been heated above 46 C. Proponents of the raw-food movement also generally believe that the greater percentage of raw food in the diet, the greater the health benefits because raw foods generally contain more nutrients and antioxidants and digestive enzymes. I was intrigued when I heard of Refresh Organic Bistro's five-course, raw-vegan dinner; it's the kind of food that I know I should be eating more of, but it just seems like a lot of work.
A friend and I arrived at Refresh Organic Bistro promptly at 5:30 pm for this twice-a-month event. We had prepaid the $35 to hold our reserved spot—this is a must as seating is limited and the event is quite popular. Refresh is a small shop on Whyte Avenue selling health foods and natural products in addition to housing a café that makes delicious and healthy lunches, snacks, dips, smoothies, desserts and coffee as well. The half-dozen tables were pretty much full so we pulled up two chairs and sat down with some regulars who, as it turns out, have all been eating a raw-vegan diet for quite some time. In fact, most of them seemed to know one another and we soon discovered that most were members of Raw Vegan Edmonton, which describes itself as "a group that meets regularly to enjoy and discuss the raw food lifestyle."
Our first course began with a sparkling mint and blueberries drink which served as a nice start to the dinner. It was light and fresh, basically blueberries and mint blended with mineral water and garnished with a pea shoot and an orange slice. Our next course was the celery and zucchini chowder. The chowder is served cold of course, and lacks any milk or cream associated with traditional chowders, but I was blown away by this fresh and delicious soup, like a winter gazpacho: chunks of zucchini, celery and tomatoes with nuts and seeds to thicken it up a little and blended for a creamy consistency. It was drizzled with a sesame seed and garlic sauce and it was quite delicious. So far so good. While we waited for our next course, I took the opportunity to grill my co-diners on the raw-vegan diet. "Don't you miss eating bread? What about rice? Do you drink alcohol?" I ask. The answers, by the way, were no, no and no. Everyone was friendly and eager to discuss their diets while we enjoyed the next: marinated broccoli and corn on spinach leaves and red onion with a garlic and sesame dressing. Marinating the broccoli and corn rather than cooking them softens these veggies up just enough while retaining their crunch—it was hard to believe that the julienned broccoli stems hadn't been cooked. After all, this is the part of the broccoli that most people throw away. Our neighbors told us that once you start to eat only fresh corn, you can never go back to the cooked stuff. I am starting to see their point; the salad, it turned out, was my favourite part of the meal.
Next up is the pizza with pesto and cashew sauce. I love the idea of a "raw" pizza, but you really do need to forget about any previous association with regular pizza. My co-diners explained that the pizza crust is likely made of buckwheat and flax, sprouted, then blended and dehydrated for several days in a very low temperature oven or a food dehydrator. This may not sound appealing or simple to make, but it sure tastes great, not unlike a regular cracker or pita bread. The crust is then covered with fresh spinach, tomatoes, pea shoots and cashew sauce with "parmesan cheese" sprinkled on top. The parmesan is really, from what I can tell, brazil nuts and salt, ground up until crumbly. Altogether it was delicious, but I did find the crust and the parmesan to be quite salty and I was grateful for the vegetables to balance it all out.
Our fifth and final course was a banana-berry sorbet with carob-almond fudge garnished with dried cranberries and speaks for itself, the fudge, I am guessing, is made of ground almonds and carob (a naturally sweet chocolate substitute) with a hint of cinnamon. It tasted both healthy and decadent, and my friend declared it his favourite part of the meal.
We took a walk around the store, still open to customers, and chatted with a few people about the evening and the food. My friend thought the dinner was quite good, but found it a little expensive. I think the price reflects the quality of the ingredients and also the fact that all that sprouting and dehydrating takes time. The only downside to this experience, I think, is that you are eating this great food in a grocery store, so the atmosphere isn't as relaxing as one might hope. It might be nice to start the event after the store is closed, so at least the lights could be dimmed and music could be played. That said, the food is delicious and healthy; we left feeling full and content—not full in that heavy kind of way, but just right.
In addition to their café and twice-monthly raw-vegan dinners, Refresh has a stall at the Strathcona Farmers' Market where you can purchase tortilla chips, dips, salads and delicious carob balls made with dates and nut butter. They make eating dessert feel virtuous. Raw Vegan Edmonton meets once a month for potlucks and discussion, if you are interested in attending an event, contact email@example.com. To attend an organic, five-course, raw-vegan dinner, contact Refresh Organic Bistro and pre-register, as these events sell out. The dinner happens every two weeks, with the next two happening on Thursday, April 8th and Thursday, April 22. V
Thu, Apr 8 (5:30 pm); Continues every second Thursday
Refresh Organic Bistro's Five-Course, Raw-Vegan Dinner
10151 – 82 Avenue