Ani's Raw Food Desserts by Ani Phyo

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Ani's Raw Food Desserts by Ani Phyo

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: An attractive book with tasty sweet treats - if you can find the ingredients!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Perseus Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0738213064

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I'm always keen to try new desserts. I'm also - in a low-key kind of way - quite a fan of raw-food eating. I read a couple of books on the topic some years ago, and was inspired by the medical anecdotes, and also the 'green' aspects of eating primarily raw food. But most of the raw food recipes I've come across are over complex. So most of the time I made raw juices and smoothies, and eat some salad and fresh fruit and nuts, but my diet is mainly non-raw.

Ani Phyo's book is a delight. It's a square format paperback that opens flat fairly easily. The first chapter talks briefly about the importance of eating raw food for health, and weight control; it then explains some of the ingredients used in the book. Then it moves onto the recipes themselves: 85 of them, in ten broad sections. There are frozen desserts, cakes, cookies and more. There are appetising photographs on almost every page. Interspersed, every so often, are extra pages of hints for such things as boosting metabolism, or keeping one's skin young. The last couple of chapters - for drying food in a dehydrator, or cooking with champagne - didn't really appeal to me, but the rest certainly did.

So, treating it purely as a book, I'd rate it very highly. I don't often sit down and read a recipe book right through from start to finish, but that's what I did with this book. The photos are very appealing, and I found myself more and more inspired as I read.

However.... this isn't a book simply to read, and sigh, and feel good. It's a book of recipes. So I decided to try out a couple of the recipes. But some of the ingredients sounded strange to me: agave syrup, mesquite powder, coconut oil, cacao nibs, Medjool dates. I'd never heard of any of them. Full of confidence, I popped into a health food shop. None of these items was anywhere to be seen. I tried another shop with the same problem.

We returned from the UK to Cyprus, and I called into the two health food shops in our town. No luck there, either. The assistant in one had at least heard of coconut oil, but said it was extremely difficult to get hold of. So I searched online. I could buy these items - at enormous cost - from places in the USA. But, it turns out, most of them are not actually raw. They have to be heat-treated in order to keep. The book told me that I could substitute yukon syrup or maple syrup for agave syrup, if I wished. I've no idea what yukon syrup is, and while we can get maple syrup here sometimes, it's extremely expensive. Why, I wondered, was honey not suggested as a widely available and reasonably priced alternative?

I went through the book again. The section on cookies looked hopeful, since most of them didn't include any unknown ingredients, other than Medjool dates. I decided to try a simple looking recipe which uses oats and raisins, but to substitute ordinary dried dates. I was supposed to use raw oats (which I can't find here), but the book assured me that regular ones would work. The recipe called for half a cup of firmly packed Medjool dates, pitted. One shortcoming of this book is that all measurements are in American cups only - no metric, or even imperial measurements. It's not a problem for me as I have a set of American measuring cups, and know that one cup is eight fluid ounces. But it could cause confusion in many parts of the world.

So I pitted dates, squashing them into my half cup. It took about twelve. I put them in the food processor with the other ingredients... and ended up with a crumbly mixture of oats. I decided I needed more dates. By the time the mixture was going together sufficiently to form cookie shapes, I'd used 36 dates. Three times what the book stated.

I have to admit, though, the result was extremely good, if a little too cinnamon-flavoured for our tastes.

Then I tried a recipe called 'trail mix' cookies, which is similar, but uses nuts rather than oats. I managed to find some juicier dates for that, and the quantities were about right. They, too, were a success, although I would probably leave the cinnamon out altogether another time.

Looking at Ani Phyo's website, it seems that being vegan may be more important to her than eating raw food. Honey is not technically vegan. However, we can buy plenty of honey in Cyprus, so I decided to try that. I also realised that the sachets of creamed coconut which I use in some curry recipes, while certainly not raw, are probably a reasonable substitute for coconut oil.

With that in mind, I produced an approximately recipe for frozen key lime bars. This mainly involved soaked cashew nuts (also easily available in Cyprus), and some freshly squeezed lime juice, plus honey and creamed coconut in places of agave syrup and coconut oil. These, too, were pretty successful, although we would have liked a more pronounced lime flavour.

I may well experiment with more; we have various friends and relatives who are dairy-free, and/or gluten-free, and/or diabetic. Almost all the recipes in the book would be suitable for any of them. But I'm disappointed to find that so many of the ingredients are difficult to find and expensive; particularly when the author states, in the introduction, Most of my recipes use common, easy-to find ingredients. Perhaps American shops do sell these items along with flour and sugar, but neither the UK nor Cyprus seems to. I still don't know what I might use use as a substitute for cacao nibs. Diary-free chocolate chips, perhaps?

So: five stars for the layout and photographs; four stars for the items I've made so far; three stars for the lack of international viability. Giving an average of four Bookbag stars overall. If it's important to you to eat raw foods, then one of the books by Leslie and Susannah Kenton would probably more helpful. But if you're looking for relatively simple dairy-free gluten-free desserts to make a change from fruit salad, and don't mind either paying the earth to order ingredients online, or finding something roughly similar to substitute, then this book is certainly worth having.

Thanks to the publishers for sending the book.

If you are (or cook for) a vegan, you might also be interested in Vegan Lunch Box Around the World by Jennifer McCann.

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