The other night at work we did a big rehearsal dinner. It was unlike anything we'd ever done at the restaurant—a whole room blocked off for hours, passed apps and a cocktail hour—not to mention that all of the food was kosher, and some of it was even vegan. Considering the amount of pork and shellfish and butter and heavy cream we go through most nights, it was pretty amazing.
Sometime toward the end of the night, after we'd run the entrees and made sure everyone had enough wine and silverware and water and fresh cracked pepper, the line cooks called me into the kitchen. Go out back! they told me. There's something you need to try.
I walked down the line, through the heat, into the back room where the dessert chefs were plating. We'd brought in a special raw food, vegan chef for the occasion—a Wellfleet woman named Katie Reed—and she handed me a spoonful of something creamy and blue. Blueberry cheesecake, she told me. Made with local berries. I was ready to be skeptical—in high school, a vegan chocolate cake turned me off of vegan baked goods pretty much entirely—but one bite, and I was sold. There was no cream cheese, and the cake wasn't cooked, but somehow it was rich, decadent, and even creamy.
Later, I went back to talk with Katie. She said nuts made up the base—pureed cashews and almond cream—mixed with local blueberries, agave, coconut oil, vanilla, and Irish Moss—to act as a stabilizer. Then for the crust, she used sprouted, dehydrated walnuts, mixed with Medjool dates and organic raisins for sweetness. The end result was pretty amazing.
It was also raw, vegan, and gluten and dairy free—which is the way Katie cooks and eats, always. She got into vegan food as a kid because she had so many food allergies, and eventually, she went to culinary school to keep learning. She used to live out in Portland, Oregon, where she says raw food is more of a known quantity—but here on the Cape, she's still working to spread the idea through good recipes. She and her sister have started a raw food catering company, and they also offer raw food cooking classes and sell some of their dishes at the Orleans and Wellfleet farmers markets.
The cool thing is that they have farm land to back all these efforts up. The two of them are working a 2 acre parcel in Truro, growing produce for their catering events and to sell at the farmers' markets. Katie picked the blueberries for the cheesecake from a wild patch in Truro, and she says usually, if she hasn't grown it, she's either picked it in the wild or from a friend's farm somewhere local.
If you're interested in learning more, look for Farm Maid Foods at one of the farmers' markets, and say hi. There's a lot to learn, and all kinds of good food to try.
This is Katie's recipe. She says cashews and almond cream are pretty typical in raw cheesecake bases—they're what give it the creamy taste.
for the crust:
2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup Medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup Thompson seedless raisins
a pinch of salt
for the filling:
3 cups cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
1 cup almond cream*
1 cup agave nectar
1 cup coconut oil, warmed to a liquid state
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons lecithin
2 tablespoons Irish moss paste**
1 vanilla bean pod, soaked and scraped
a pinch of salt
2 cups fresh blueberries, divided
Make the crust. Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until you get a coarse meal. Be careful not to over process the nuts. Coarsely chop the dates and raisins and add them to the walnuts along with the salt. Process until the dates and raisins are incorporated and there are no more pieces. Empty this mixture onto the bottom of a spring form pan. Use your fingers to flatten the crust along the bottom of the pan and for a final smoothing use an offset spatula.
For the filling, combine the cashews, almond cream, agave nectar, coconut oil, lemon juice, lecithin, Irish moss paste, vanilla, and salt in a high powered blender. Blend until smooth. Reserve one cup of this mixture and place it in the fridge (this will be the glaze that goes on top of the finished cake). Add 1 and 1/2 cups of the blueberries to the remaining mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour this mixture into the spring form pan on top of the crust and place the pan in the fridge. Chill for several hours, or until the cake sets up completely.
Set the cup of frosting out an hour before serving to allow it to reliquify. Take the cheesecake out of the fridge and cut it into slices. Drizzle the icing over top of each slice, and garnish each slice with a handful of fresh blueberries. Serve at once.
*Note: To make almond cream at home, soak 3/4 cup almonds overnight. Drain them in the morning and place them in a high powered blender with 1 cup of water. Blend thoroughly and strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Reserve the cream. (You can use the almond pulp to make raw breads, cookies, or crackers.)
**Note: To make Irish Moss paste at home, soak the Irish Moss seaweed for 24 hours in water, draining and replenishing several times throughout the day. Blend in a high powered blender with 1 part seaweed to 3 parts water. Pour the paste into ice cube trays and reserve for later dessert making. This recipe calls for 2 ice cubes worth of Irish Moss paste.