MUSHROOM SERIES 2: INTERVIEW WITH RUSSELL JAMES + RAW AVOCADO SOUP AND SOUR CREAM (GF, GrF, P, V+, R)

INTERVIEW WITH RUSSELL JAMES + RAW MEXICAN AVOCADO LIME SOUP WITH HOME-MADE RAW VEGAN SOUR CREAM

Though still in the midst of Winter, the sun was shining brightly the day I got to hang out with the most influential Raw Chef in the UK – Russell James. Many of you will know Russell from his youtube channel and other may know him from his popular blog The Raw Chef. I was lucky enough to meet him at an uber-cool converted South London warehouse which is his live/work space. It houses not one but two stunning, envy-worthy kitchens; the first kitchen Russell uses to teach his super popular raw food classes, the second one (an electric blue one nonetheless), is his personal kitchen which is as high tech as it is inviting and beautiful.

Now what do you do when you meet a vegan foodie superstar with more than 190,000 facebook followers? Talk plant-based food of course ;)

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Photo provided by Russell James

TLP: Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got into raw, plant-based food?
Russell: Throughout my teens and early adult life, I suffered from acne and was desperately searching for a solution. Conventional medicine didn't really provide me with the answers I was looking for. So in 2004 I tried raw, vegan food and not only did my skin clear up, I felt so much better for it. I've never looked back.

When I started changing my diet, animal welfare was not at the forefront of my mind, but over time I feel I have become more conscious and aware of how my food choices affect the world and other beings around me. I don't feel I am 'better' than those aren't mainly plant-based and I find it important not to turn raw, plant-based food into something unattainable and elitist. Yet, I do feel I have become a better version of me by going down a raw, plant-based path.

TLP: Can you tell us how you first go into blogging?
Russell: I started my blog in 2005, when food blogs were brand new concepts and only a handful of food bloggers existed. I really wanted to write a blog, so as to document my journey to following my heart and becoming a raw food chef. The blog quickly grew from there.

TLP: Do you exclusively eat raw vegan food only?
Russell: No. I also eat cooked foods, especially in Winter time. I just find that my body responds really well to warm, comforting, cooked foods during the colder months.

I am well aware that some raw foodists believe that we need to eat 100% raw all the time to truly be healthy. Though I appreciate that this might work for some, it's not what's right for me. You know, eating is such a personal thing and – though it may sound like a cliché – I truly believe that the right way to eat is so individual; what works for some might not work for others. That's why I try and be really open-minded and accepting of other people's food choices – everyone has got the right to find a diet and lifestyle that makes them feel happy and healthy whatever that may be.

TLP: Many perceive you as a role model and spokesperson for the raw, vegan movement. Does that mean that you feel a certain pressure to always eat healthily?
Russell: Sometimes I can feel that pressure. But to be honest, raw, vegan, healthy foods are at the centre of what I eat, as a result I don't find it requires a lot of effort on my part anymore. It just comes naturally to me now.

TLP: What about craving? Do you get them sometimes and how do you manage them?
Russell: I don't deny myself anything and so if I feel like having a piece of dark chocolate, I will have it. I suppose I am more interested in why I sometimes crave particular foods. I have noticed for example that when I do have a craving, it is usually for something sweet. So, I've started to explore what that's all about. It has taken me down a fascinating path of exploration of my genetic past.

TLP: For those who are just starting to dip their toes into the world of healthier foods, what advice can you give them? What's the best way to start?
Russell: A healthy breakfast! It is a great way to kick start the day and set yourself off on the right track! For example, it's just wonderful to start the day with a nourishing juice. Smoothies are also great and easy breakfast options.

Preparation is key! Mornings can be rushed so on the weekends, make 5-6 smoothie bags and freeze them. You can then take a smoothie bag out in the morning, pop the contents in a blender and start the day right. It all takes less than 2 minutes.

Increase healthy foods. I appreciate that eating raw or plant-based only isn't for everyone or that some prefer to start a new eating regime slowly and gently. If that's you, see what happens if you just add some steamed veg to your main meal or have some fruit as a treat (rather than a candy bar). It's a gentle but helpful step in the right direction.

Focus on the positives! When you start a new way of eating, it is easy to think about what you're giving up – the fried foods, processed foods and the candy. But try and focus on all the new things that can become a part of your life – fruits and veggies you never heard of before. It can be exciting and give you new culinary experiences you never thought you'd have.

Eat superfoods! Chlorella, spirulina and celery are great foods to include in your diet because they are cleansing and so great for those of us living in the big, polluted and stressful cities.

TLP: What makes London such great place for raw and plant-based foodies?
Russell: There is always something happening in London and it is great to feel part of something as vivid, diverse and alive as this city. I feel it is one of the best places in the world and has a real buzz about it. There are so many cool people living here and doing lots of different things. It's very inspiring.

TLP: What are you food predictions for 2015? What's next in the world of plant-based food?
Russell: What's clear to me is that the interest in raw and plant-based food is here to stay. I predict it will only grow and generate more interest and curiosity as it continues move into mainstream.

I think we're going to see more and more coconut based foods as well such as coconut chips. I also believe that the public will want to learn more about new, emerging superfoods. Finally, the new buzz word is longevity. Key foods to achieve longevity are medicinal mushrooms which are only now starting to attract attention, but have treasured in China and Japan for centuries.

TLP: What's can we expect from you in the near future? Any exciting projects in the works?
Russell: I'm excited to announce that I'm working on my first raw food book, which will be published in 2016. I have been approached about publishing a book many times over the years but for the first time I feel I have enough time to dedicate to the book, to make it as good and cool as I want it to be.
In the interim, I'll be running my raw food courses and teaching on-line courses in raw food styling. So, watch this space.

To stay up to date with all that Russell is doing, you can follow him on instagram, facebook, twitter or subscribe to his youtube channel.

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Russell shared the recipe for this Raw Mexican Avocado Lime Soup and Home-Made Sour Cream from his blog with The Little Plantation. It is SO yummy. Think guacamole – only creamer. Think gazpacho – only kinda greener. And think the BEST home-made, vegan sour cream EVER - and you're there.

Inspired by Russell's talk about medicinal mushrooms, I added some raw Shimeji mushrooms. They are not only beautiful to look at, but super tasty too. AND they are really good for you - packed full of protein, copper, potassium, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. It is thought that the mushroom helps support our body in its break down of sugars, strengthens our immune, nervous, digestive and cardiovascular system and supports our liver. An all around star, don't you think?

Enjoy this beautiful, fresh and easy soup and thanks for reading everyone.

IMPORTANT: To make this gluten-free, please use a gluten-free soya/tamari sauce. For a paleo/grain-free version, completely omit the soya/tamari sauce and replace with a pinch of salt. Rember you can find more tips at the end of the recipe.

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RAW MEXICAN AVOCADO LIME SOUP WITH HOME-MADE RAW VEGAN SOUR CREAM (V+, R, GF, GrF, P)

Pre-preparation Time: 2-4 hours soaking
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4 as a starter

Ingredients for the soup:
2 (organic) avocados
3/4 of a medium (organic) cucumber
1 (organic) celery stalk
Juice of 1 lime
Small handful of fresh (organic) coriander (cilantro)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used this one)
1 teaspoon (organic) tamari or dark soya sauce
1 cup (filtered) water

To garnish:
sour cream (see recipe below)
chopped (organic) chives (optional)
Shimeji mushrooms (optional)
a pinch of ground paprika (optional)
poppy seeds (optional)
(organic) baby tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes

Instructions:
Peel the avocado and remove the stone.
Wash the other ingredients.
Blend everything in your food blender until nice and smooth (I used a vitamix but any blender will do)
Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with sour cream, a pinch of paprika, poppy seeds, some chopped chives and mushrooms.

Ingredients for the raw, vegan sour cream
1.5 cup (organic) unsalted cashews nuts
2 tablespoons lemon juice (juice from 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon (organic) apple cider vinegar
1 cup (filtered) water
1/2 teaspoon Pink Himalayan salt

Instructions:
Soak the cashew nuts for 2-4 hours. Drain the water away and wash the nuts before using them.
Then blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth. Use to garnish the soup. Any left-overs will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days and make for a great dip :)

Tip 1: I wanted to keep the recipe raw, but you can of course marinate the mushrooms in olive oil and garlic and then pan fry them :)
Tip 2: Eat with some home-made crackers. SO good!

Want to find more recipes using medicinal mushrooms? Then just click here.

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