Review - 'The Uncook Book; the Essential Guide to a Raw Food Lifestyle'
Why Tanya Maher's 'UnCook Book' Isn't Like the Rest
Verdict: Worth Buying?
Yes! Hands down this is the best raw food book we have seen on the market. Great for beginners to advanced, and for anyone who wants to add some extra nutrition into their lifestyle. You don’t need to change your whole life, but there are almost 150 recipes in here which are packed full of flavour. Most importantly, the recipes are easy to follow and the majority do not require endless ‘fancy equipment’.
Introduction to the UnCook Book
You think of raw vegans, ‘raw foodists’ as they often call themselves, and probably visualise a hippie, tree-hugging, namaste-chanting yogi. They may be beautiful and smiling, but it seems almost over the top, like something upstairs is not right. After all, to love fruits and vegetables so much that you rule out eating anything else must be CRAZY, right? Then enters Tanya Maher, a Kiwi-Russian ‘Brit’, who is oozing elegance in London’s Chelsea borough, shaking up all your preconceptions and making you too join the raw food movement.
Who is Tanya Maher?
We all have those moments in February when the dark and grey days seemed never-ending, and our daily lives continue, hoping to find some colourful energy to snap us out of winter’s coma. Five years ago, to escape the slumber, I decided to do something different. I thought a cooking class on eating healthy foods might be fun, so I sat down and googled “healthy cooking classes London”. Up popped Tanya Maher’s blog Better Raw, offering “Spring into Spring with Raw Foods 1-day class”. I’d never heard of raw food, but saw a menu item involved chocolate fudge brownies, so I signed up. My life has never been the same.
Tanya is more than an advocate for living the raw lifestyle - she lives and breathes to inspire others to find better ways of living their lives. Her successful blog, classes and e-books led to her own London restaurant (Tanya’s Cafe), which opened in 2014 with much success. Tanya is a certificated Health Coach, understands flavours and surrounds herself with colleagues who have the same dedication to innovation that she does. This perfect blend of qualities leads to finding new combinations which celebrate foods for their natural flavours.
After my cooking class all those years ago, I was inspired to make changes to my diet, and to remember that you can get joy out of cooking, especially for your friends and loved ones. I’d forgotten that, getting caught up in the London scene where literally anything you need is at your fingertips. I was so glad to receive her book here in the DR Congo, to be able to test out the recipes for myself.
**Note, if you are in the London area you can get loads of fresh raw juices, smoothies and other foods delivered to your door. Super jealous as we do not have that in the DR Congo!**
The UnCook Book
Hay House publish some stunning books. Upon receiving it, I immediately loved the feel of the book, the quality of the pages, and the bright vivid colours. The size is perfect for throwing in my bag and taking to the supermarket, where I’ve already tabbed loads of recipes.
UnCook Book is broken down into three main sections:
Section 1 - explains what raw food (or ‘uncooking’) really is. Don’t worry friends, this isn’t a secret cult with words to convert you. This is a book which reminds you that eating real food makes a huge impact on your well-being, your health and your energy levels. This section covers everything from how to get started, interesting nutrition facts that you may not know, key equipment (including for high and low budgets), and key pantry items. The book doesn’t leave you needing to run out the door to spend hundreds of dollars on ingredients you can’t pronounce - that’s why I love it so much - it’s accessible, provided you remember the names of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds! I personally love the how-to (with photos) for opening coconuts, making nut mylk, etc.
Section 2 - contains recipes, from drinks, to breakfast, to mains and sides, to desserts. Friends, Tanya is the queen of innovative desserts, and this section is definitely where I’d recommend starting if you’re new to this kind of thing. Even non-vegetarians will rejoice, promise. What I like about this section is that there are kid-friendly recipes (which I personally find moorish and eat all the time), plus on-the-go ideas for travel - this is key when trying to eat more from this kind of lifestyle. What was also new for me was a list of sauces and dressings - like healthy 'ketchup' or 'ranch' or 'ceasar salad'. And they work!
Section 3 - provides a glossary to give you more information on some food items that may be new to you. Yes, I just promised above that there’s nothing too crazy. That’s true, but if you’re really new to eating “clean”, you may wish to learn more about agave, or bee pollen, or hemp, or tamari. Trust me though, when I learned all these words five years ago, it was so hard to source them, but now, you can get a lot of these products for low costs in supermarkets across major cities, or on amazon. This section also provides tips on shopping and where to source items - a very handy addition to save you time looking for the best ones.
Recipes I’ve tried
I’ve had the book about two months, and have made thirty of the recipes. Each week, I would make a short list of the ingredients needed for about three breakfast recipes, two or three mains, and one or two desserts. I’d spend a Sunday afternoon prepping most things, such as soaking nuts, chopping veggies, etc. They would all go in my fridge in plastic containers. Then, during the week, the prep was fast to make easy meals - lunches are the best - instead of buying low-quality sandwiches I would dazzle with fresh and filling options. This was enough for one person for me to eat all week, substituting with snacks like fresh fruit and raw granola bars (I just got Squirrel Sisters Snack Bars and they are amazing!) In future I'll make my own using recipes from the book, but I didn't have quite enough time for everything each week.
Top 5 Notable Favourites
- Cheesy Spaghetti (pg. 143) - yes this is the kid’s section but this is hands down my favourite recipe. I warmed it just slightly in the microwave for lunch (I figure 30 seconds won’t kill it), and have eaten it again, and again, and again…
- Apple Cinnamon Chia Porridge (pg. 45) - I loved the idea of using a blender to make like an apple ‘smoothie’ which was added with the chia seeds to make a hearty and sweet pudding. This kept me full until lunch time, with no need for snacking.
- Aubergine Bacon (pg. 49) - this was easy to make and I was surprised with how smokey it tasted. The recipe recommended eating with bananas. I was skeptical, but somehow it worked.
- Thai Curry Kelp Noodles (pg. 97) - I’d never eaten kelp noodles, but they were light and delicious with this sweet/sour/salty coconut broth. I added the ‘roasted veg’ as per the recommendation in the recipe. These chipotle style veggies were genius and made the whole dish stand out. I’ll be using that marinade for so many other purposes now!
- Taco Feast (pg. 98) - this was the most time consuming - but had the biggest rewards. I invited friends over to try the taco shells made with corn, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, the guacamole, the pineapple salsa, and a take on refried beans made entirely with mushrooms, sunflower seeds and sun-dried tomatoes. This was brilliant, and completely surprised my guests who loved the food so much, they polished off all 35 tacos. Even our 18-month old friend kept saying “nom nom nom” - I can’t really top that to explain how delicious it was, and how fun to serve a fantastic, healthy lunch to friends. See photos below.
UnCook Book- What I love
The best part about Tanya and the UnCook Book, is that every last word is written with purpose. Tanya’s vision board, shared on her blog in January 2015, showed her thoughtful plan to create a restaurant space unlike any other, which would showcase her passion on a plate (literally!) From here, Tanya’s Cafe was born, and the UnCook Book was next in line.
“There are so many authors whose work I respect and words I treasure, but the majority happen to be Hay House authors. I’ve decided long ago that this is a publisher for me but only added them to my vision board in 2014. In July I received the most exciting email of the year, from none other than… HayHouse!” (Tanya Maher, Better Raw)
Why Raw Food?
I first found the idea of going raw to be a bit too bizarre. I couldn’t imagine giving up everything. Slowly, slowly I tried new foods, new recipes, and grew to love eating fruits and vegetables. For those of us who don’t eat this way, or never have, it can be a major change. I grew up in a Scottish household where the low-fat version was margarine instead of butter, so I feel you! I was also overweight as a child, and watched my grandparents die of cancer, heart disease and strokes, all due to poor diet and nutrition. So if I had the choice of “watermelon….or death”, I’d choose watermelon every last time (think Eddie Izzard's famous 'Cake or Death', and I personally hated watermelon…but have grown to love it, through patience and determination).
The UnCook Book is refresingly approachable, I really think there is something in there for everyone, even if it’s a ginger juice, or mango ice cream, or chocolate peanut butter cups. Yes, there is preparation, but the satisfaction you get from eating real food is worth it. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed. The kids section is creative and perfect for starting out!
What Could be Improved
The book does a lot in 192 pages. As such, sacrifices need to be made. Would I have liked to see more on eating raw while living in colder climates? Yes. I also think that the on-the-go section could benefit from extra tips and advice for those who spend a lot of time in transport. Also a section on storage, fridge/freezer use, etc. Ella Woodward's 'Deliciously Ella Everyday' cookbook has a longer section on this, and a section in the UnCook Book would have been excellent (although the Better Raw site has more tips and info).
Also, many of us live in places where foods are hard to source, so a substitutions list would be most useful (especially me in the Congo!) I also found the measurements in the recipes a bit hard to follow, as I bought the UK version, but don’t really cook using grams/oz. I found it really hard to use my non-electronic scale to measure 90g chia seeds, for example, as they were too light to register accurately. Using cups/tablespoons in future would be a huge help. Lastly, some of the recipes are onerous - not most, but some. The Sarah Britton's 'My New Roots' cookbook has a handy guide on each recipe to signal to the reader which recipes involve more preparation, and what kind of preparation, as an extra heads up.
Maybe these suggestions can be taken into account for book number two - if there will be a book number two. I would definitely be the first to sign up!
In summary, I’ve tried to make the review of UnCook Book as balanced as possible, which was hard being that it is probably in my top three of my favourite cookbooks at the moment (and I own a lot of cookbooks). The photos are so stunning and I keep flipping it open and just looking at them again, and again. Tanya is so beautiful and her glow permeates through the pages - if this isn’t an advertisement for going raw, I don’t know what is!
Hope you found this useful. If you have any other questions, please comment below.
Reference - Other comparable Raw Food Cookbooks on the market (no particular order)
- Judith Wignall's book collection
- Matthew Kenney's Book Collection **app available**
- Ani Phyo's Book Collection
- David Wolfe's Book Collection
- The Blender Girl: Super-easy, Super-healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts, and Drinks-100 Gluten-free, Raw, and Vegan Recipes! - Blender Girl (2014) **app available** - Tess Masters
- The Fully Raw Diet: 21 Days to Better Health, with Meal and Exercise Plans, Tips, and 75 Recipes (2016) - Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram
- The Rawsome Vegan Cookbook: A Balance of Raw and Lightly-Cooked, Gluten-Free Plant-Based Meals for Healthy Living (2016) - Emily von Euw
- Raw: 150 dairy-free and gluten-free vegan recipes (2015) - Omid Jaffari
- Live Raw: Raw Food Recipes for Good Health and Timeless Beauty (2012) - Mimi Kirk