Raw Vegan Gnocchi With Asparagus And Beet Puree

October 8, 2021
Bruno was a big, brown Dachshund with a heart full of silly-putty love. Bruno was my best friend. His eyes, luminous brownish-gold pools of love never hid his feelings, whether it was joy, fear, loneliness, mischief or anxiety. His tail was always wagging; in guilt from bringing yet another mole into the forbidden territory of the living room, or from my 5 year-old lips kissing his big, silly head. That tail wagged like a hydro pump.

We had lots of adventures together. We ran in the yard and lay on the grass, having long, rambling conversations, I sang to him and proudly recited nursery rhymes. He was such a good listener. I used to love playing with his giant, floppy ears, prodding inside with my fingers or stroking his whiskers, exploring his doggy-ness. I used to lay my head on his belly, listening for the sounds that came out of him, like I did with my Mother. I loved pressing the tips of my fingers into the soft pads of his oversized paws, as he lay on his side. They felt like squishy marshmallows. His nails were thick, black and hard and I used to pretend to manicure them as he sat nicely and let me, listening to my 5 year-old ramblings with such rapt attention.

He always lay there just letting me scratch and poke, kiss his head or place wild daisies on him, crowning him, “Princess Bruno”. He was calm and still when he played with me. I needed him near me. He was my guardian angel and my confidante. I never had to explain or defend myself to Bruno. There were a few occasions when I squatted on the floor, crouching towards him and cried into his soft, golden coat. He would clumsily collect my tears with his tongue. Sometimes, we would just look into each other’s eyes, causing love explosions, the colors of the rainbow, to burst in my heart. That’s when I first learned unconditional belonging.

He was never allowed into the house, and yet, he always stood at the front door, tail pumping furiously, waiting for permission, hoping to be included with the family, wishing for warmth, but always denied. I also felt the same, quiet desperation and the same inability to express how much I wanted him inside the house. I would beg on his behalf, especially in the cold, Winter months, but my pleading always fell on deaf ears. The loud, strong “NO!” and irritated clicking of the tongue would ricochet through my body.

Bruno was always covered in fat, gray ticks. I remember my older brothers bathing him with a hose and bucket in the garden but ticks in South Africa were relentless and we didn’t seem to know any better about how to keep them off him. He was always scratching, twisting suddenly and doing his best to reach impossible places.

I don’t have a clear memory of why, but one day I started sharing my meals with Bruno on the patio, straight off my plate. We would both lie on the floor and eat together. Bread. Luncheon meat. Breyani. Potatoes. Green beans. Buttered rice. Chocolate cookies We shared it all. He would eat slowly and I would watch his big, flappy jowls rhythmically open and close as saliva started to dribble from them onto the patio floor. The tiles cool under my belly, I would finger paint with my best friend’s drool on the floor. Bruno never seemed to get enough to eat. Aside from his supermarket dry dog food, he would also get leftover scraps from the pot, stew gravy soaked in bread, bones thrown onto the broken cement of the backyard.

Bruno had many things thrown at him by my parents. Brooms, shoes, empty cans and mops. He would be called ugly names. He would be shouted at and tied up. I could never ever ever understand why. When I asked them, they said “He’s a terrible dog/ a wild dog/ a badly-behaved dog.” My 5 year-old brain always played the refrain on repeat: “But he’s a dog. He doesn’t understand human rules. We have to show him”.

My poor, beloved, confused Bruno was never really shown how, never patiently taught, never properly guided. Zero patience. Zero tolerance. Broken brooms on small Daschund backs are powerful teachers. This is when I first became aware of the physical feeling of despair and helplessness. I didn’t know what their names were, but I started feeling a constant, crushing feeling in my chest. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Little did I know that that feeling would grow bigger and feel worse as the years moved along.

We soon moved into our new, bigger house, the one Dad had built and was so proud of. It had a big backyard that dipped into a valley. We each had our own bedrooms, some with doors leading directly into the garden. I was so excited about all the adventures Bruno and I would have together in that big, open space.

But, we didn’t get to have any adventures at all. One day, soon after we settled in, and while we were outside pottering around the yard, a white station wagon reversed and parked in our driveway. It had a red sign on the side and the windows were caged. Bruno and I ran up the driveway to see who it was, when, to my horror, the man got out of the car and picked Bruno up, dumped him in the back of the station wagon, slamming the trunk shut. I felt wild panic envelop me. My heart started thumping faster. I was so confused. Words would not come out. I froze.

All I could do was stare at Bruno, as he balanced his giant, sausage paws at the edge of the back window frame and stared into my eyes with those big, dumb, beautiful eyes. Our gazes locked for what seemed like an eternity. My limbs turned icy cold...you know,,,,that feeling you get when you’re in a car crash. I couldn’t move.... The station wagon sped off, leaving me dumbfounded and wrecked. This is when I got my first taste of paralysis.

My mother had already turned to walk away, back to the house. “Where are they taking him?”, I croaked. “To the shelter,” said the back of her head. “He was becoming a nuisance. He’ll find a new home.”

The sidewalk. Gray, bumpy asphalt. My knees, buckling as I crumple down to the ground in a hunched-over squat. My tiny, shaking fingers graze the asphalt over and over, feeling the roughness burn into me. I feel the sun on the top of my head. It is so hot, it also feels like it is burning a hole into me. I clumsily drop hard onto my bottom as a sudden lightheadedness overcomes me. I feel small. I feel alone. Maybe I can disappear into the sidewalk if I try hard enough. The dizziness feels pleasantly alarming.

In this recipe, I see Bruno’s personality and my ability to finally express how much I loved him. I see his audacity (how dare you call jicama “gnocchi?”), his joyfulness (the colors, the colors, the colors) playfulness (yes, vegan food is fun and unapologetic) and even his naughtiness. I do not want the memory of Bruno to remain, as it has been, stuck in some dark place in me. Instead, I want to remember the joy we created together. I invite you to go on this journey with me.

Raw Vegan Gnocchi With Asparagus And Beet Puree

utensils YIELDS 2 entree portion or 3 - 4 appetizer portions
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  • Gnocchi
  • 1 whole jicama
  • 1 cup (soaked) cashew
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper powder
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning powder
  • 1 tablespoon (squeezed, pressed) raw pumpkin pulp
  • 1 tablespoon (squeezed, pressed) raw beet pulp
  • Beetroot-Dill Puree
  • 1, whole beetroot
  • 2 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon dill powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon xantham gum
  • Asparagus Puree
  • 2 bunches young asparagus
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 - 2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup smoked almond
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup wood chips or dried tea leaves
  • 2 tablespoon chervil
  • Pickled Asparagus
  • 1 bunch aparagus
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
  • 1 piece bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon caraway
  • ½ cup water
  • Candied Walnuts
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup young spinach leaves
tomato
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Directions

A] Gnocchi
1. Wash and peel Jicama. Roughly chop.
2. Pass through juicer. Collect pulp. (Drink the juice, it’s yum!)
3. Press pulp through nut milk bag. Remove any large chunks.
4. Next, process pulp with cashews in a food processor.
5. Add the rest of the ingredients except beet and pumpkin pulp.
6. Spoon into a bowl. Taste. You are looking for a fragrant, flavorful, cheesy, herby taste.
7. Next, quenelle 1 tbs of the jicama and cashew pulp, adding little blobs of beet and pumpkin pulp to different areas of the quenelle. (refer to pic and watch video in the link to learn how to make a quenelle)
8. Make sure you continue to quenelle after you add both the pulps so that the gnocchi is evenly shaped and looks a bit like it’s been painted on.
9. Finally, spread out and dehydrate at 45°C/ 113°F on a teflex sheet for about 4–5  hours until it develops a skin. If you don’t have a dehydrator, dry it in the oven at 90°C/ 194°F for about 1 hour with the door slightly open.

B] Beetroot-Dill Puree
1. Peel and chop the beet.
2. Process with the rest of the ingredients on medium speed for about 5 minutes until silky smooth.
3. Press through chinois or any fine-mesh sieve. Chill.

C] Asparagus Puree
1. Add the almonds to a pot of very hot water. After 10 minutes, rinse and remove skins. Pat dry.
2. To smoke your almonds, cover a cake rack with aluminum, place wood chips or dried tea leaves (puer works brilliantly but even a simple black tea will do) around the base of a large pot. Place the cake rack on top of the leaves. Put the lid on and turn the heat on to low-medium. Leaves burn rather quickly but wood chips can bear more heat so keep this in mind. The lid should fit as tightly as possible, not allowing any of the smoke to escape.
3. After a few minutes, check to see if the leaves started smoking, spread the almonds on top and put the lid back on. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off after 10 minutes and let the almonds absorb all that smoke for a further 20 minutes. Don’t take the lid off.
4. After 20 minutes, taste an almond. If it isn’t smoky enough, repeat this process with fresh leaves or wood chips.
5. While the almonds are absorbing all that yummy smoke, snap off the woody bits of the asparagus. You should end up with about 3 cups of asparagus.
6. Plunge the asparagus into hot water for 2 minutes, then drain and dunk into an ice bath. This keeps the colour fresh and the texture just right.
7. Next, process everything together, including smoked almond for about 5 minutes on medium speed.
8. Press through chinois or any fine-mesh sieve. Chill in fridge.

D] Pickled Asparagus
1. Snap off the woody bits of the asparagus.
2. Combine with water and vinegar in a jar, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well until the salt and sugar are absorbed.
3. Add the asparagus, making sure it is properly submerged.
4. Close the lid tightly and leave in a dark cupboard for 2–3. We don’t want an intense pickle but a delicate one.

E] Candied Walnuts
1. Soak the walnuts for 8 hours. This removes phytic acid and other inflammatory compounds.

2. Rinse well. Dry for 8 hours at 45°C/ 113°F or toast in the oven until crisp but not too brown.
3. Cool down and coat with maple syrup then put it back in the dryer for another 4–5 hours or until the syrup has hardened around the walnut. Store in a jar in the fridge.

F] Plating
1. This is best plated on a long, rectangular plate.
2. Drop 5 tablespoons of asparagus puree in an irregular pathway along the length of the plate. Make sure there is space between each dollop.
3. Carefully place 5–10 gnocchi on top of the puree at alternating angles. Refer to picture.
4. Next, using a teaspoon, elegantly drop a small drop of beet puree in between the asparagus puree. This works best if you angle the teaspoon so that just the tip of it touches the plate then quickly pull away, directly upwards, to allow the puree to form its own organic shape and to line the asparagus puree in a thin red line. Refer to pic.
5. Now, you unjar the asparagus pickle and let 5 pieces drain on a paper towel. Add these to the plate at oblique angles to the gnocchi. Stand them up. This adds dimension.
6. Scatter fresh, young spinach leaves around the plate and between the gnocchi.
7. Scatter candied walnuts around the gnocchi and on the beet puree.
Serve.


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Prashantha Lachanna hails from the sunny east coast of South Africa, a warm and friendly city called Durban. She grew up with big, slobbery dogs, loved weeding her Mother's garden in her pajamas with sleepy dust in her eyes and could lift the front of her Father's car clear off the ground by the age of 14. Now though, she prefers lifting cups of tea to her lips, writing menus and meandering through the thoroughly dazzling, labyrinthine alleys of Taipei where she is a permanent resident. She works as a chef and teacher and owns a vegan cheese and chocolate company.

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