The Kindest Cut of All - How to Slice and Dice Fruits for Your Favorite Raw Food Dessert Recipes
Posted on June 01 2010 | (0) Comments
Category:Raw Ingredients and Equipment
In this article, I’m going to talk a bit about how to slice and dice fruits for raw food dessert recipes. My raw food cookbook Raw for Dessert has detailed instructions for cutting fruit for each of the recipes. You’ll learn how to master everything from a prickly Hawaiian pineapple to a sweet Georgia peach...not to mention a Thai young coconut, an extremely useful (and delicious) raw food ingredient.
I decided to talk about raw food dessert knife skills for several reasons. Let’s start with two of my favorites: simplicity and popularity. Of all the raw food recipes you can make, raw food desserts are probably the easiest. The knife skills required are usually quite basic and many recipes require nothing more than the ability to peel and slice fruit.
Raw food desserts are also popular. Since almost everyone loves fruit, raw food desserts that feature beautifully sliced strawberries, melon, kiwi, watermelon, etc. are generally well-received and gobbled down by even the most finicky adult or child eater.
Safety First, Good Taste Second
I know you’ll be pleased to hear that proper knife skills will save you time and energy when you’re whipping up a raw food dessert recipe...and cut down on Band-Aid expenses! Understanding how to use your knife to ‘attack’ a fruit will prevent kitchen mishaps and open you up to a wide range of incredible raw food ingredients that you may have been avoiding like pineapples and coconuts.
Knife skills serve another important function. When you’re ‘handy’ with a knife, you can create raw food dishes that quite literally look as good as they taste. We all eat with our eyes as well as our other senses, so the ability slice apples razor-thin or create matchsticks out of pears is a real plus.
Raw Food Knife Skills
With a chef’s knife, a key tool in raw food cooking, you should grip the handle close to where it joins the blade, with your thumb against the side or on top of the blade. Then, place the knife tip on the cutting board, beyond the far side of the fruit (or veggie).
Begin cutting with the middle portion of the blade. Push gently down and forward. Pull back and repeat. Use your free hand to hold the fruit from above with a claw-like grip and your thumb tucked under to protect your fingers.
When a raw food ingredient, such as a fresh herb like mint, needs to be minced, I recommend the fan technique. Gather the to-be-chopped ingredient in a pile on your cutting board. Please the tip of the knife on the far side of the pile and rest your free hand on top of the blade.
Being careful to keep the knife tip on the board, move the blade up and down quickly as you pivot the base of knife in a fan motion. Stop periodically to re-gather the ingredient and continue to chop until you’ve got just the right texture.
Some of the fruits in raw food recipes require a different technique to release to sweet flesh from the pit. Mangoes are a perfectly example. So wonderfully sloppy and goopy that I’ve heard people say they should only be eaten in a bathtub, mangoes are featured in several of my favorite recipes including a Mango Carpaccio with Strawberries and Kiwifruit.
The ‘secret’ of the mango is that it has a long, flat pit that runs almost the whole length of the fruit. To prep mango for a raw food recipe, I recommend that you slice in lengthwise into quarters, cutting all around the pit. Then, scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
If you work carefully and take your time, you can work your spoon under the skin and ease the mango out in one large quarter. In the alternative, you can peel the mango first and then slice it off the pit.
Either way, once you’ve ditched the pit, your mango is ready to slice, dice, or chop. At my house, it’s not unusual for me to spoon out the mango and then pop it straight into my mouth because I just can’t wait for dessert!
Cracking the Code on Coconuts
Despite its appearance, a coconut is NOT a ‘hard nut’ to crack. In fact, despite its name, it’s not even a nut. A coconut is a seed. The white, fleshy part of the seed is the coconut ‘meat’ that you’re familiar with and is featured in many raw food recipes, including mine. The ‘nut’ is the layer located on the inner surface of the shell and provides oil for cooking and making margarine.
In my raw food dessert recipes, I use young coconuts that have been harvested early for their soft meat and sweet water. Thai young coconuts, as they are commonly called in the U.S., have already been husked, and are white rather than brown. I also love these young coconuts because the meat can be kept for up to two months in the freezer.
So how do you get to the good stuff? With a simple process...and a little practice.
First, lay the coconut on its side on a cutting board. Using a good, sharp cleaver, shave off the outer layer of the cone all around, until the inner brown shell (the nut) is showing. Good work! That’s step one.
Step two is to cut into the cone deeply enough so that you can pry off the top of the coconut. This next part is a little tricky, so keep the kids out of the kitchen when you’re mastering the technique.
To create the deep cut you need, start by striking the cone with the cleaver about 2 inches from the cone’s point. The cleaver blade should lodge in the shell, but not cut off the top. If you were to cut off the top completely, the coconut water on the inside will spill out. That would be a really shame since coconut water is a wonderful raw food ingredient.
With one hand on the coconut and one on the embedded cleaver, lift up the coconut and cleaver simultaneously...keeping the side of the coconut parallel to the cutting board. Then bang the coconut down on your cutting board hard enough so that it produces the deep cut you’re looking for.
The cleaver can be wiggled out easily at this point. Then turn the coconut upright and set it on the cutting board. Pull the top of the cone with your fingers to release it and pour the liquid into a bowl or jar.
Like fresh coconut, dried coconut is a real star in the raw food kitchen. But unlike the fresh meat, dried coconut can be yours without the use of a cleaver. And you don’t need to call your laundry appliance into play, either. It’s a packaged ingredient that you can purchase at stores.
Dried coconut that is specifically labeled raw dried coconut is packaged, but not processed in the traditional sense. The coconut is removed from the shells, and washed in pure, filtered water with no no chlorine is present. The meat is then shredded and slowly dehydrated at 98.6° F (37° C).
The result is shredded, raw coconut that tastes great, has a wonderful texture, and contains the nutrients found in coconut. Dried coconut is used to make this versatile Coconut Crust:
- 1-1/2 cups unsweetened dry coconut (shredded)
- 1-1/2 cups raw macadamia nuts or raw walnuts (unsoaked)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup pitted Medjool dates (unsoaked)
Place everything but the dates into a food processor fitted with an S-blade. Process until coarsely ground. Add the dates and process until the mixtures resembles coarse crumbs and begins to stick together. (Be careful not to over-process)
Want a great filling for your crust? Try my Tropical Fruit Tart recipe featured in Raw Food Made Easy for 1 or 2, a recipe that tastes even better than it looks, if you can imagine!
The crust is filled with rich mango pudding and topped with a bonanza of your favorite fruits. (I like to use kiwi and a variety of berries.) This particular raw food dessert recipe is a real crowd pleaser in the summer time, and it’s also a wonderful way to bring a taste of summer to a winter dinner party. Just use fresh-frozen fruit instead of market-fresh.
This raw food recipe is a perfect way to practice the knife skills we’ve been talking about.
It’s not always about knives in raw food cookery. To get at the meat within the coconut itself, work the back of a large spoon between the shell and the flesh to loosen it. Work your way down the coconut, scooping all around until the meat is extracted.
Don’t forget the top! There’s delicious coconut meat waiting for you in the underside of the top that you just popped off. You can simply scoop the goodness out of the top... and right into your mouth if you want! (I call that the ‘There’s No One in the Raw Food Kitchen but You’ chef’s advantage)