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>> Thoughts for food: Good raw deals

Thoughts for food: Good raw deals

A few years ago, as I was rinsing and snapping the ends off asparagus, prepping it for cooking, I wondered how fibrous the discarded stumps might be, right where they broke off. I took a bite, and found the first half-inch or so to be very tender, and very tasty as well. It had never occurred to me to eat raw asparagus. I assumed there must be an important reason not to, or more people would. But it really tasted good and didn't seem to hurt me.

Ten years ago, most of us wouldn't have considered eating raw broccoli, zucchini, or cauliflower. Nowadays, they are regulars on party buffets, along with more familiar carrot sticks and a sour cream dip.

So what is OK to eat raw, and what isn't? The more I looked into this, my notions of raw and cooked became less clear. And trying to determine what is all right to eat raw seems closer to politics and religion, where the choices are highly individual.

We eat many foods primarily in one form or the other. Avocados and lettuce are rarely cooked, potatoes almost always are. Many foods we enjoy both ways, like sweet fruits, tomatoes (which are also fruits), cabbage, and mushrooms.

Some foods generally require cooking because they come to us very hard, like rice, dried beans, and pasta. While there are legitimate public health reasons for cooking some meats, more often we cook meat for reasons of flavor and custom.

We may be surprised when we hear about some foods that are eaten uncooked. I wondered how long to cook corn until I saw a TV chef munch a bite from a raw cob. I tried that and learned that raw corn is delicious, as evidenced by the growing popularity of raw corn salsas and salads. Corn really doesn't require cooking, just enough warming to melt the butter and satisfy a desire for hot food.

Raw garlic probably doesn't appeal to most of us, but it's indispensable in hummus, my favorite dip. A little bit also really perks up guacamole, which may be everyone else's favorite.

While we wince as Rocky Balboa gulps raw eggs through a string of movies, we occasionally eat uncooked eggs unknowingly. Mayonnaise, Caesar, and some other salad dressings are usually made with uncooked yolks that have been frozen or otherwise treated to eliminate the Salmonella risk. That mile-high meringue on chocolate pie is primarily raw whipped egg white, browned merely on the surface.

Some foods that we think are raw actually aren't. Many people squirm at the idea of ceviche, the citrusy Latin American seafood dish that looks raw. In fact, marinating seafood in citric acid changes the meat protein in ways similar to those that occur after thermal cooking. The fish is chemically cooked; you need squirm no more.

Similarly, delicacies like salmon often are smoke-cooked at low temperature. Next time you're enjoying Norwegian smoked salmon, or lox, ask yourself whether it really looks or feels much different from raw salmon.

Which brings us to sashimi, the raw seafood found in sushi bars. For all the jokes about eating bait, eating raw fish is no weirder than eating raw asparagus. Both are delicious and very healthy. Only the freshest and highest-quality seafood is used for sushi. Try to think about flavor and freshness rather than our baseless cultural limitations.

Once you've conquered the sushi bar routine, consider a taste of raw beef. Carpaccio consists of paper-thin slices of raw beef tenderloin. It's named for a Renaissance Venetian artist whose canvases' bright, fresh red colors came to the mind of the dish's "inventor."

Steak tartare sounds even more exotic, its name coming from the medieval tribes that marauded Europe. Folklore has it that the low-quality, tough beef of that age required extensive hashing to be edible. Rushing from raid to raid, the Tartars had little time to build fires and cook, so they mixed in various spices and seasonings to make the chopped meat palatable. We recreate their recipe with better beef, and, from reliable sources, it's safe and delectable.

Salmon tartare carries this concept to seafood. The Middle Eastern equivalent, using ground lamb, is kibbe. No doubt many other cultures have their own raw meat specialties.

A small slice of the population maintains that we should eat nothing but raw food. They believe that cooking destroys important enzymes, decreases food's nutrient value, and renders it toxic. I'm not sure we need to go quite that far, but there are clearly fun and tasty new things for you to discover in their uncooked state.

Source: Texarkana Gazette http://www.texarkanagazette.com/articles/2005/02/02/local_news/features/features01.txt


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