Fermentation Master Class with Amy Levin and Jo Balfe

On Saturday 19th January, I attended a fermentation masterclass, taught by raw food expert chefs Amy Levin and Jo Balfe. The venue was Russell James’ fully-kitted out space, a perfect venue for the class.

Russell, Amy and Jo

Russell's place

Fermentation is a process that has been around since the dawn of civilisation, employed by people to preserve foods, make them more digestible and more nutritious. Amy and Jo are both masters at fermentation and through extensive experimentation and practice, have created recipes simple to learn and to make, with fantastic results both in taste and nutritional abundance.

Rolling cheese

The first thing we learnt to make were various fermented nut cheeses. Nuts in their raw state are not so easy to digest, but when fermented, they become a probiotic rich food, much easier to digest. Amy demonstrated clearly and efficiently how to make cashew, macadamia and almond cheeses. The cashew cheese was used to make the filling for a mocha chocolate cheesecake. She also made a macadamia cheese rolled in chives and parsley and an almond cheese covered in a crust. The results were absolutely delicious.

Lunch was a wonderful mix of many of the foods made on the day. Salad with sauerkraut, almond and macadamia cheese, tomato salsa, chutney and crackers were all served and hugely enjoyed by all!

Jo then demonstrated how to make a number of other fermented foods. First she made chutney. Due to the high fruit content, chutneys do not require a long fermentation time. She made a pear and ginger chutney, using date paste as the sweetener. Next to be demonstrated was a tomato salsa, an excellent way to preserve tomatoes ripened over the summer, beautifully flavoured with cumin and red onion.

Making Kimchee

Kimchi was the next recipe, a spicy ‘kraut’, which is a staple food in Korea. It usually consists of Chinese cabbage and other vegetables, mixed with hot spices and ginger, not only amazing tasting, but also full of health benefits, including anti-cancerous properties. Koreans actually have a separate Kimchi fridge in their homes, as they make and eat so much of it!

Making sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is another incredibly healthy fermented food that has been eaten for centuries. The naturally occurring bacteria present in cabbage produces lactic acid, which helps our digestive process. It is easy to make and Jo and Amy made it with a mixture of red and white cabbage, resulting in a sauerkraut with a beautiful pink colour and a fantastic taste.

Kefir grains

Pouring the kombucha

Last to be demonstrated were the fermented drinks Kombucha and Kefir. Kombucha is made when a Kombucha mushroom or ‘scoby’ is mixed with sugar, water and tea. The resulting fermented drink is full of enzymes, probiotics, B vitamins and Vitamin C to name a few. Kefir contains up to 30 strains of beneficial bacteria, vitamins and amino acids and is slightly quicker to ferment that Kombucha. Whereas Kombucha has a slightly more acidic and vinegar-like taste, kefir is more carbonated and milder tasting. We tried hibiscus Kombucha, mango and goji berry and also mixed berry Kefir. The possibilities for different flavours are endless!

Kefir and Kombucha

Amy and Jo were incredibly supportive and answered questions throughout the whole day. They have also set up a fermentation Facebook group to provide on-going support and expertise to all those that attended the course.

I left feeling totally inspired, educated and eager to get fermenting! This class is a must for anyone into fermenting, looking to boost their health or simply a lover of great food.










For further details on upcoming courses with Amy and Jo, please visit http://www.ooosha.co.uk/teaching1.html.


World Raw Food Series – Japanese themed!

On Friday 9th November, in partnership with Irene Arango, founder of Bliss Bites and Detox, we taught the next instalment in the World Raw Food Series. These workshops look at different cuisines from around the world and include a demonstration on how to make the recipes and a sit down dinner afterwards.

This workshop focused on Japanese cuisine. Japanese food is very popular and uses beautiful aromatic flavours, delicate ingredients and has many health benefits. We only have to look at Japan having the longest life expectancy and minimal levels of obesity to conclude that they must being doing something right with their food. In terms of raw cuisine, we wanted to stay faithful to Japanese principles but also put our own spin on the recipes to ensure that they are raw and have the highest levels of nutrition possible.

There are certain aspects of Japanese cuisine, which a number of people avoid, including meat, soy products and cooked food such as rice. We aimed to demonstrate how alternatives to these foods can be made and incorporated into dishes, so that the authentic Japanese dining experience can still be enjoyed. The workshop started with refreshments and the guests got to try the first recipe, wasabi coated almonds. The first recipe demonstrated was raw nut tofu, an excellent alternative to soy-based tofu. This ingenious recipe uses Irish moss, a thickener commonly used in raw food recipes and agar agar flakes, a natural vegan gelatine to create a food which has a remarkable tofu like texture and a subtle but flavoursome taste. This recipe definitely sparked the guests’ interest from the start!

After this demonstration, raw sushi was the next recipe to be shown to guests. This recipe uses parsnip to create the rice filling and traditional nori sheets. The beauty of sushi is that there is a huge variety of different fillings that can be used, which can allow the person making the sushi the freedom to customise the dish to their own tastes. We involved the audience a lot in this part of the workshop, allowing people to come up, prepare and roll their own sushi, with excellent results! As well as using parsnip ‘rice’, we also demonstrated how to make a beautiful pink rice, which uses beetroot juice or powder to colour the rice.

A number of salads were also demonstrated on the evening. The first to be made was a seaweed salad. Sea vegetables, such as wakame and hijiki have long been recognised as hugely beneficial for health, due to the high levels of antioxidants and trace minerals they possess, their highly alkalising effect on the body and the fact that they can also help in the breakdown of carbohydrates and improvement of thyroid functioning. The seaweeds were mixed with other vegetables and coated in a thick and creamy ginger miso dressing, which complements this kind of salad really well. The other salad made on the night was a broccoli, carrot and almond salad, dressed with a light and very flavourful dressing, which used a number of Japanese flavours such as sesame oil and rice vinegar, for that authentic taste of the Far East.

To round off the savoury part of the dinner, a miso soup was made. This incorporated the nut tofu made earlier on and also contained barley miso, seaweeds and spring onion.

The final dish to be demonstrated was a macha green tea ice-cream. This delicious and highly satisfying non dairy ice-cream includes cashew nuts, macha green tea powder and coconut oil blended and then placed in an ice-cream maker with blissful results!

After these demonstrations had been completed, the dishes were enjoyed as part of a sit down dinner. Refreshments included Japanese plum wine and kombucha, a cultured drink, which can help to promote a healthy digestion. It was a great night, highly interactive and fun for all who took part. Irene and myself are very much looking forward to the next instalment of the world raw food series, which will be taking place early next year. Please sign up for my newsletter to receive details of our upcoming workshops and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Advanced Raw Chocolate Masterclass with Amy Levin

On Saturday 3rd November, Irene Arango, founder of Bliss Bites and myself, Rich Havardi were fortunate enough to host a raw chocolate masterclass taken by the highly talented raw chocolatier and all round raw food expert Amy Levin.

Amy is a professionally trained chef who has worked at some of the UK’s top raw food and chocolate companies and also worked at Saf Restaurants in both London and Munich as a Senior Sous and pastry chef with the world renowned Chad Sarno. She has taken the skills and experience of her earlier career to develop her own business, which incorporates teaching raw food classes from her home and throughout the UK and North America. From her website, she also sells a variety of raw chocolates, has a blog and a recipe journal as well as many other resources. For more information please visit Amy’s website – www.ooosha.co.uk.

At the start of the class, Amy presented all students with a detailed and comprehensive booklet, a chocolate bible if you will, outlining all the information, techniques and recipes covered on the day. An invaluable guide, created by a master of her craft, this would give the students everything they needed, once the class was finished to go away and start creating their own amazing raw chocolate creations for themselves and if they so wishes as a viable business.

After a brief introduction about herself and the course, Amy gave an in depth explanation about tempering, a fundamental process that gives chocolate its characteristic sheen and snappy texture. It involves heating and cooling chocolate in the correct way so that it hardens into a uniform crystal structure. She also gave a low down of the various chocolate moulds, how to use them and also how to store chocolate for best results.

Another aspect of making exciting and unique chocolates involves creating filled, dipped, coloured, flavoured and textured chocolates. Amy outlined what foods can be used to make textures, for example nuts and dried fruits and what aromas can be used to flavour chocolates, e.g. fruit extracts and essential oils. In terms of coloured chocolates, Amy made up a number of different colours of chocolate on the day. From the basic white chocolate recipe, which she demonstrated, she then added natural colours to create red, yellow and green coloured chocolate.

A detailed explanation of different natural sweeteners was also given. One of the fundamental advantages of raw over cooked chocolate is that natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar, xylitol and a number of others are used, instead of refined sugar to sweeten the chocolate. Refined sugar has been linked to health problems and natural sweeteners are far more nutritious and don’t have the same health detriments that refined sugar can cause.

During the break, the students were treated to a raw food lunch made by myself and Irene, which included nut cheese, crackers and salads.

After this brief interlude, it was on to the magic of raw chocolate making! Amy demonstrated how to make white, milk and dark chocolate. She used both the Vitamix, a super high powered blender to quickly and easily melt raw chocolate and also melted chocolate in a pan, a more time consuming process than the Vitamix, but still a common and straightforward way of making raw chocolate if the Vitamix is not owned.

Another exciting variety of raw chocolate made on the day was filled chocolate, the filling being a delicious mango and raspberry jam. Other beautiful confections made included coconut bonbons and pralines, which contained a hazelnut paste.

There was plenty of interactivity in the class as well, with students helping to temper the chocolate, dip the chocolate and bonbons and create flavoured and multi-coloured chocolates. All the chocolates made by the students were very gratefully taken home by them, although for some that may have not ended up being too many, as a number of the students were unable to resist and ate them before they left!

It was a fantastic day and a wonderful learning experience, not just for the students, but also for Irene Arango and myself who were hosting the class for Amy. Even though we have attended the class before, it was a real bonus for us both to learn from Amy again and for myself, it has given me a renewed confidence to continue creating new and even more exciting raw chocolates.

We look forward very much to collaborating with Amy again in the future, if the opportunity presents itself. She is truly a master when it comes to chocolate making and an inspiration for budding raw chocolate enthusiasts!

Don’t forget Irene and I are running the next of our World Raw Food Series Workshops tomorrow. Come join us for an educational and delicious journey into raw Japanese cuisine. Still time to book your place here.

You can keep in touch with me on Twitter and Facebook where I share lots of great tips and recipes (and lovely photos of all the raw food goodies I’ve been making at Down To Earth Café.)

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