Laura-Jane Koers is a food writer, stylist, and photographer and the blogger behind TheRawtarian.com, known for doable, approachable plant-based recipes. She also hosts the Raw Food Podcast on iTunes. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! Hello, hello everybody, hello hello everybody, hello [singing]. It’s Caryn Hartglass here, with “It’s All About Food.” Thank you for joining me today. Guess what we’re going to be talking about: food! My favorite subject. And it’s going to be fun and I think lively today. Because we are going to be talking in just a moment with cookbook author Laura Jane Koers who has a new book out called Cook Lively: 100 Quick and Easy Plant-Based Recipes for High Energy, Glowing Skin, and Vibrant Living. Laura Jane is a food writer, stylist, and photographer and the blogger behind thrawtarian.com known for doable, approachable plant-based recipes. She also hosts “The Raw Food Podcast” on iTunes. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Laura Jane, hi!
Laura Jane Koers: Caryn, hello, thank you so much for having me on “It’s All About Food.”
Caryn Hartglass: You’re very welcome. You know I was in Halifax very briefly a little over ten years ago and just knowing that you come from there is bringing back some really lovely, lovely memories. I have a silly memory, and when I was reading your cookbook I remembered it even more. So I grew up in New York and bagels and lox, with Nova Scotia lox, was a very popular thing that people ate especially from my culture. And I never put together what Nova Scotia was, it was just lox! But it came from Canada and in a specific place and I felt so silly, it wasn’t until I was there that I connected all the dots. And you have a lox recipe!
Laura Jane Koers: I sure do! Well because I too love a good bagel with lox and cream cheese, that’s a perfect breakfast in my view so I had to do a vegan and actually sort of a raw vegan version of that and it is tasty. We love that fishy flavor without the fish.
Caryn Hartglass: Right because fish are your friends, not food.
Laura Jane Koers: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: I learned that from Finding Nemo.
Laura Jane Koers: Didn’t we all!
Caryn Hartglass: Actually I knew that before the movie but I was so excited when they said it. Fish are your friends, not food, everybody. Okay I’m kind of jumping ahead of things here…so Laura Jane, you are The Rawtarian, and tell me, what does “rawtarian” mean to you?
Laura Jane Koers: Oh, good question! Well I sort of gave myself that name back in the day, back in about 2009 when I started eating a raw vegan diet which I did completely, 100% for over five years. And yes that was in rural Canada. I was actually–I wasn’t living in Halifax then, I was living on a smaller island called Prince Edward island in the same area and it’s cold in the winter but I persevered for five years of that and I loved it so much so I started blogging at that time about it. And since then I’ve shifted a little bit more into still definitely vegan but I’ve added a few cooked ingredients now compared to before but I still am very rooted in that way of cooking and so, I don’t know, The Rawtarian it means to me, it’s my life and my simple approach to food as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I did raw, all raw, for two years and I included cooked foods I think a lot more than you have since that time, but what was your reason for adding some more cooked foods in your diet?
Laura Jane Koers: Well see I got tricky, I got so good at developing raw food recipes that were maybe not so healthy for me. So as I know you know, eating a raw diet, you have a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and near the end there I started eating a lot of nuts, which I still eat tons of nuts, but I was looking for something to satisfy me when I was kind of craving nuts. At that time I thought well I think it might be healthier to maybe have some cooked lentils instead of like, a lot of heavy nuts so for me that was kind of an evolution. Also as I learned a little bit more about nutrition and about my body and kind of reading what it needs. So for me I still eat a very high-raw diet, there’s just a few things that I wanted to add back in like cooked quinoa and cooked lentils are two of the big things that I eat a lot of now and I feel like they really are great for my body and they’re healthy sources of protein so for me it was just the next evolution in my food journey.
Caryn Hartglass: I get it, I totally get it. You know we’re all individuals so I really appreciate you adding “for me” at the end of each line when you’re talking about what you’re eating because we’re not all the same and I know a lot of people have struggled on the raw diet getting enough calories. And some people, amazingly, they can live on 12 bananas a day and not much else and it’s amazing and I applaud them. But we all have different microflora, different gut biomes, and our bacteria and everything else in our bodies are craving certain things and need certain things and not everything works for everyone.
Laura Jane Koers: Absolutely. And I think it’s actually a really fundamental skill that we don’t all have and even I had to learn it when I first started trying to eat better. But it’s to understand how you feel, or to even be aware of how your body feels after you eat something. I think–before I went raw in 2009 I was what I like to call a “junk food vegetarian.” I was vegetarian, but as you know chips, cookies, soda, and frozen burritos, those were all vegetarian and I was actually eating very very unhealthily but I didn’t even really know just how physically uncomfortable I felt in my stomach when things weren’t digesting well. But I didn’t even really notice that I was feeling badly until I started eating better and then I was like, oh my gosh! I have energy! I want to move! So for me when I decided to go raw back in the day it was because I had some extra weight and you know I always struggled with cystic acne as an adult so I was kind of looking for a change, but I didn’t actually realize that it would physically make me feel so much better until I started eating that way and realizing, wow this feels really good!
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s just talk about acne for a moment. Now I have not met you in person, I’ve seen your photographs, I don’t know if they’ve been retouched or photoshopped but you look like you’ve got really beautiful skin.
Laura Jane Koers: Well thank you! I mean they have been photoshopped but in a general way it definitely was something I absolutely struggled with as an adult. I was fine as a teenager but just as I was in my twenties–I’m 35 now–but right now my skin is glorious! But I do notice for me, I’m not sure what it is, it definitely goes in my family. If I eat a normal standard American diet, I think probably particularly dairy, it just comes through in my face and it’s terrible! So I haven’t had to deal with that in a long time now, for me just cutting out dairy I think really was a huge part in helping my skin improve for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: That gets back to the point where we are all individuals. So for some people eating that standard diet of white flour foods, dairy, whatever, some people–not very many, but there are some people that can live a long life feeling good that way. Most people can’t, and we all kind of degrade and fall apart in different ways. Some people might get acne and some people might get diabetes and heart disease and a whole host of autoimmune diseases. It depends because we’re all individuals, we all fall apart differently but we don’t have to fall apart. We can look and feel good for a long time, right?
Laura Jane Koers: Absolutely, absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So I wanted to talk about a few recipes that I dog-eared and then I had a handful of questions and hopefully we’ll have enough time to get to them. So I always like to pick out the recipes that stand out to me as things that I’ve never thought of or made of before because first I have to say I have been a vegan for 30 years, I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 45, I got on the vegetarian path when I was 15 and yeah, a long time. And I look at cookbooks all the time, I cook all the time and I’m always tickled when I see something like oh! I need to try that. So I’m really into baking foods instead of using oil and frying them for one reason or another, so your fluffy baked pancakes–
Laura Jane Koers: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: –jumped out at me. I haven’t tried them but they’re dog-eared on my list.
Laura Jane Koers: Well it’s funny, for sure. I mean a little bit about recipe development, for me it’s very important to keep things simple. So I actually don’t like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and when I develop recipes I just get excited about thinking we can eliminate this, we can eliminate that, maybe we can make pancakes with only these few ingredients. But when I was developing this recipe I definitely knew that I wanted to make a pancake recipe that normally I would dehydrate it, because sort of my raw food groups I’m really used to dehydrating, but all of the recipes in my book I also have oven instructions as well because certainly not everybody has a dehydrator! But yes, much like you were saying I wanted to make a no-fry pancake recipe that was easy.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, and it looks great! I make potato pancakes by baking them, I don’t fry them. So I can see how this could work, I’ve just never thought of doing, it’s not necessarily sweet, I mean it has a little maple syrup in it, but more of a sweet side than a savory side. And it looks good with blueberries!
Laura Jane Koers: Yeah it is. And these are mostly–they have zucchini and banana and some coconut in there and flax meal to kind of help it all stay together and a few other things.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so when you included cooked foods back into your diet you did not include flour foods, am I correct?
Laura Jane Koers: Yeah, I mean you are correct. Usually if I’m going to have anything that’s like a flour it’s usually either almond meal which I like to say, also known as ground up almonds, so that’s tends to be what I use as flour or I actually do use dried shredded–
Caryn Hartglass: Oats.
Laura Jane Koers: –yeah, a little bit of oats but also coconut, they sort of perform like flour. So they suck up excess liquid and that kind of thing. So those are some of my go-tos and yeah I have used a little bit of gluten-free oats as well.
Caryn Hartglass: So I’m looking at the cauliflower toast, which is also on my list, and I have yet to get into the cauliflower rice or grinding up cauliflower, using it as a grain. I’ve seen it, haven’t done it and one of the reasons that I haven’t done it, it’s because I love cauliflower just steamed, curried and every time I think, okay I’ve got a cauliflower, what kind of fun thing am I going to do with it? I just think, I’m just going to steam it because that’s how I love it. And then I finally got into mashing it and making like a mashed potato, only mashed cauliflower. I’ve used it for creamy sauces, so I’m moving along, I still–steamed cauliflower is still my favorite. But I have to try this cauliflower toast for example. So tell me what it’s like, can you describe it?
Laura Jane Koers: Yes I absolutely can. I have to explain first though, taking a tiny step back so what I developed first for this recipe cookbook was a pizza crust that is very similar to the cauliflower toast so I was experimenting with many many tries with pizza crust, how can I make it chewy and like a dough. I spent a lot of time developing a pizza crust that uses, in the end what I went with was 2 cups of cauliflower, again some coconut and some cashews and a few other things. So that pizza crust, when I finally came up w something I was really excited about, then I used that pizza crust (which is in the book) to–I was like, what else can I do with this? So then I developed the toast which is very similar to the pizza crust but with no toppings!
But I can relate to what you’re saying about cauliflower because I do love my smoothies! but I feel similarly, when I have say some amazing grapes or watermelon or beautiful, succulent fresh strawberries, I can never blend those up cause I feel like, that’s wrong, I should just eat them! I don’t feel that way about cauliflower but I do feel that way about a lot of fruits so I can relate.
Caryn Hartglass: I love my steamed cauliflower, I don’t know where it came from, it’s not like I was raised on it or anything…enough said. But the next one I really liked was the sunflower croutons! Made with sunflower seeds. You know people love croutons and that’s another product if made traditionally with white flour foods and oil and whatever, it’s not good for us.
Laura Jane Koers: Yeah, one of the nice things about– again coming back to my standpoint, because from vegan recipes we can have gourmet recipes, things that will take hours and taste amazing but I kind of like the sweet spot of, how can we make it quick and so that it tastes really really good but isn’t too complicated and also, I like to be able to make things in big batches so one of the things that’s great about these croutons, which are just very simple, it’s like garlic, sunflower seeds, flax, some olive oil, and a couple of spices and then you just form them into little cubes and pop them in the oven or the dehydrator. but what I like is if I’m going to have a big salad say for lunch, I love to have things in my pantry or in my fridge that are just easy to add to a salad to make it exciting because there’s nothing more boring–even though you might be vegan and like to eat healthy–nobody likes a boring salad with just some greens and nothing exciting on it so I like to use these croutons, just I keep them in the pantry and they keep really well for a long time and they add some crunch and some texture and I usually add them to salads.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I just have to interject here and say, sometimes I love a boring salad!
Laura Jane Koers: Oh you’re giving me–no! This is like, the people that don’t eat healthily they’re like–
Caryn Hartglass: I know, I know.
Laura Jane Koers: It makes me laugh in a good way.
Caryn Hartglass: I mean sometimes I just take a–if I’m traveling or something on the road I buy a bag and just eat salad greens like chips, I’m very happy.
Laura Jane Koers: Okay, this is so reminding me, I grew up in a really healthy household and my mom is like you in that way. She would be like, “I love romaine lettuce!” and I would be like a 12-year-old looking at her and being like, “Mom what is wrong with you,” but I’ve actually struggled with this, because I grew up fighting my mom at every step, cause she was like, “This half a romaine lettuce is so delicious!” and I would be like, “Mom that’s not delicious, let’s go to McDonald’s, please.” So I have always had a palate that–that’s I think one of the reasons why in my book I have a lot of things like pizza or fish sticks and junk food flavors because my palate really wants those things and I’m trying to come up with ways to easily satisfy my terrible cravings that never went away with healthy ingredients. But because I get bored and I like to have a lot of sweets but I just try to figure out healthier ways to satisfy those cravings. Sorry, I kind of cut you off, keep going. But generally, my mom was like that and so I’m like, oh no!
Laura Jane Koers: No problem, I love that story. Our upbringings affect us in so many ways and it affects us with food, in positive and negative ways, many people struggle with food as an adult because of things that happened to them as a child, either because of foods they loved or because of how they were treated related to food. Often food, candies and sweets, were offered as a negotiating tool, as a bargaining chip to make the child stop whining. Children learn that, I have more power if I have sugar foods and all kinds of issues with food so I appreciate your story.
Laura Jane Koers: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: And on the subject of these healthier versions of foods that aren’t so good for you, many kids love chicken nuggets and you have the zucchini nuggets which I’m thinking is a great recipe for summer, I know so many people who have gardens and then all the sudden their gardens are overflowing with the zucchinis and they just don’t know what to do with them. Here’s one more thing they can do with them, make zucchini nuggets! They look good.
Laura Jane Koers: Yes. These are actually so good. and I think one of the things that we love about–sorry to say it, has this word ever been said on your show?–Chicken McNuggets, but I think a lot of what people like about those things even kids is you can dip them, they’re easy to eat and there’s something really nice about a finger food that you can dip in a ranch or a honey mustard type of dressing. so that’s kind of where this recipe came from, if you bake it it really does have the texture that kind of crunchy, really satisfying texture that, I’m sorry to say it, a Chicken McNugget would have! But I think it’s also about–
Caryn Hartglass: That’s okay. That’s okay, you live in the 21st century, we all talk about Chicken McNuggets and I think we’ve mentioned it on this show a few times, probably because there are many processed plant meats today that are taking the place of chicken McNuggets and I am all behind that. Not that I would eat them personally, but I want to say first, I am a vegan first, I am someone who does not believe in killing animals, I am someone who does not want to support industry that cause pain and suffering, and if I can get anybody off the animal and eating something that’s from plants, I think that’s a good thing. But then you know there’s a subset and that is for those who are looking for really healthy options to feel good for a long time and that’s where zucchini nuggets would be a better choice than an isolated soy protein, pea protein, highly processed plant meat.
Laura Jane Koers: Yeah. It’s funny because now, as you know, having been vegan for so long there are so many processed options for vegan food and while it’s great for so many reasons but there’s just something really lovely when you can make something at home, and sometimes, I know so many people aren’t used to spending time in the kitchen, even if it’s not long, making food from scratch, be it vegan or not, a lot of people are not accustomed to cooking. But I think it’s one of those things that if you can get started doing it and just get in a groove of making things from scratch, especially easy recipes, and making it sort of a hobby not necessarily something you come home after a busy work day and the kids are screaming, that’s not really the time to try to make a new way of eating. But if you can try to learn a few skills in your little pockets of free time then it becomes normal. So that’s kind of my passion.
Caryn Hartglass: I made a few more notes, I wanted to talk about buckwheat groats. because you use them in a number of recipes and you use them raw, which I’ve cooked buckwheat groats, I’ve toasted and cooked buckwheat groats, I’ve soaked and dehydrated buckwheat groats, and I’ve ground buckwheat groats into flour and then made them into something–
Laura Jane Koers: You’re a buckwheat groat hero!
Caryn Hartglass: –but I’ve never eaten a plain buckwheat groat!
Laura Jane Koers: Yeah! So if anybody doesn’t know what they are, I think they’re also called kasha?
Caryn Hartglass: Kasha! Kasha, I’m sure. My grandfather used to come up to me and poke me and say, “Do you like kasha?” [laughing]
Laura Jane Koers: [laughing] What was he getting at there, like what does it mean?
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know. Anyway, kasha, buckwheat, sarrasin in French.
Laura Jane Koers: Oh wow, you know a lot about buckwheat groats. But generally they’re extremely hard and crunchy. So people are not necessarily used to eating them raw and certainly it’s not something you should just be eating in great handfuls instead of popcorn. The way I tend to use them when raw is I have a really nice simple breakfast cereal recipe that I make a huge batch and I just put that in my pantry, kind of like my box of cereal. So it’s like, I usually use them very sparingly so it’s maybe taking up 5% of the recipe, and they just really add a nice crunch when you’re not eating too many of them. And usually if you’re also adding some milk, you know almond milk or whatever, on your cereal they’ll get a little bit softer as well. But yeah! I do eat them raw and you can eat them raw for sure. But just be careful of your teeth.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good to know, something I’d never seen before and I like seeing new things. The last question I have is about mushrooms. And you have a lot of mushroom recipes in the book and I’m assuming most of them are raw and not cooked. And there’s some concern about eating raw mushrooms, certain mushrooms raw. Do you have any opinion on that, or–how you feel about raw mushrooms?
Laura Jane Koers: Yeah. I don’t have a strong opinion on it, I think when…let me gather my mushroom thoughts here. Firstly I’ll just state, in my recipes I often am using mushrooms–like I have a mushroom burger, or actually those zucchini nuggets I think they have some mushrooms in them as well. And one of the things they add–and usually they’re cooked actually in those two recipes, in the dehydrator or the oven–but they usually add kind of a meaty texture which is why I like to use them. In terms of, I think it’s really fine to eat most mushrooms as far as I know that you purchase in a grocery store, you know for human consumption, raw. I do know you have to be careful in how you store them, you don’t want to leave them out, they can go bad. So I think the way you store them, like after the recipe is made or before you make them I think you should be a little bit careful but generally I think, I don’t know, do you have a different thought on that?
Caryn Hartglass: Well, yeah, I have eaten all mushrooms raw, and now I eat them all cooked, I love mushrooms, they’re really healthy and occasionally if I have a raw mushroom it’s no big deal. But I have read that mushrooms, specifically white button mushrooms, cremini, and portabello have something called the agaritine toxin, and it’s recommended not to eat raw, and then also there’s the potential that the mushrooms have some bacteria that you don’t want on it because everything today is just filled with all kind of things, I mean that’s a concern in general about eating raw food, where has it been and what’s been left on it. But mushrooms also have very tough cell walls that are not digestible unless you cook them. So it’s little bits of toxins, carcinogens…I know I love the flavor of a raw shiitake mushroom, its almost buttery, but I know that if I eat more than one my body doesn’t like it. so I’m sure there’s something in there, well I know there’s something in there, so I think earlier when we were talking about diets are different for individuals, if something bothers you when you eat it, don’t eat it.
Laura Jane Koers: Yes, absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: If it doesn’t bother you, it’s probably fine.
Laura Jane Koers: Well, and I don’t know about this, but with oats, say just standard rolled oats or that kind of thing, I find that those are really not good to eat uncooked, I forget why but I know they do not–I have like an iron gut, nothing bothers my stomach, but that’s something that seems to be common now, is people making overnight oats–
Caryn Hartglass: Soaked oats, yeah.
Laura Jane Koers: And I find, I forget what it is, but there’s some sort of acid or something, I forget the technical word, but that is not healthy to eat raw so I’m trying to get that message out there because I feel like even I, with my iron stomach, that really bothers me so there’s definitely something there and that can lead to some health problems. So don’t do too many raw oats.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah and I’ll reiterate what I just said. If you find that there’s a food that doesn’t sit well when you eat it then you don’t have to eat it. I always recommend eating all kinds of green foods, I’m a pusher of dark leafy green foods, all green vegetables, and then some people will say well I don’t like broccoli. Don’t eat broccoli if you don’t like it, there are so many other green foods out there! You don’t ever have to be miserable with broccoli.
Laura Jane Koers: I completely agree with that! And there’s a section at the beginning of my book where I just have some tips about how to try to eat healthily and I have that as a tip it’s like, if you don’t like eggplant, don’t try to like it! just don’t ever make a recipe with eggplant in it because it just isn’t for you even if it’s–whether it’s a physical thing or just a taste thing, there are so many, as you said, just look for an ingredient that you do love.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so the last thing I want to say is probably the best recipes, in my opinion, in your book and in raw food in general are the desserts. I mean this is the best kind of desserts you can possibly have. I think they taste better than any other kind of dessert and they are good for you, it’s crazy.
Laura Jane Koers: I know. That is certainly the gateway recipe for many people, it was for me for sure, desserts. Have you made many raw desserts?
Caryn Hartglass: Are you asking me?
Laura Jane Koers: Yes!
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yes! and I kind of got away from them for a while because I do have some–I love baking and gluten-free baking to make things that people are used to having and I want people to not eat animals and if they find they’re gluten free I don’t want them to feel like they have to go back so there’s all that. But then I started rediscovering the raw desserts which feel better and taste better and they’re good for everybody!
Laura Jane Koers: Yes. I love them, they’re my favorite recipes to develop. I always have like ten times more dessert recipes than any other recipes. I have a sweet tooth and I find most of the desserts that I develop tend to be frozen because that works really well so I have a frozen banana cream pie and a really nice creamsicle ice cream cake that are of course all vegan, and I love making desserts it’s my favorite thing to do.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, well, Laura Jane! thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and your book, Cook Lively: 100 Quick and Easy Plant-Based Recipes for High Energy, Glowing Skin, and Vibrant Living–Using 10 Ingredients or Less. I recommend starting in the back with the desserts and moving left. Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Laura Jane Koers: Caryn, thank you so much, have a delicious week!
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, you too! That’s my tagline and she knew it.
Transcribed by Hayley Hinsburger 10/20/2017