Night of the Living Lasagna

Could you survive three nights of raw organic vegan meals?


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“It’s good,” she said. “Terrific, really.”


Here are some things John Heckathorn had to say in past months. Go to our Dining page to read more reviews!

• Stage
Honolulu Design Center
1250 Kapiolani Blvd.

“This is serious food," served in a dramatic dining room.  "This was the most flavorful coq au vin I've ever tasted."  "I hope Honolulu deserves" this kind of vision. 

Reviewed in the June 2007 issue.

• Side Street Inn
1255 Hopaka St.

"Instead of a fancy setup, you get your silverware and a pair of wooden chopsticks wrapped in a paper napkin," but, "the food is upscale."  Everyone always eats the friend rice, but try the oysters, the rib eye or the Nalo greens salad.

Reviewed in the December 2006 issue.

• Mi Casa Taqueria
3046 Monsarrat Ave.

"The location is a charming one, a stand-alone stucco building open to the street."  "A splendid dinner, full of clean, direct flavors."  Try the carne asada, mahi fillet and house-made corn tortillas.  The restaurant is BYOB.


Reviewed in the March 2006 issue.

My fear of death faded. The whole dish was a harmony of onions, since it came with a salad of cucumber, chopped marinated red onion and Nalo Farm onion chives—dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and raw organic apple cider vinegar.

“Isn’t all vinegar raw?”

This is unfiltered, unheated, unpasteurized, I pointed out righteously. So, of course, it still contains “the mother,” the strandlike enzymes from the original apples.

On top of that, the salt in the dressing is harvested from ancient riverbeds in Utah once covered over by volcanic ash and hence unpolluted by the modern world.

“Yes, but the good part is that the flavors are really alive. Maybe too many red onions,” said Barb.

The quiche was a meal for one, but I had a second ready to go. Living lasagna—which sounded to me like a great title for a horror flick. Night of the Living Lasagna!

The noodles were marinated strips of zucchini. The filling, spinach sweetened with tomatoes and sun-dried tomato powder. The biggest flavor blast was a basil-parsley pesto with miso, garlic and Red Star nutritional yeast.

The whole thing was topped with a thick layer of beige “ricotta,” which, of course, wasn’t ricotta at all, but a “cheese” made by soaking raw organic pine nuts, pulverizing them in a food processor and letting them congeal over days into a paste.

I didn’t mention that it also contained Barlean’s highest lignan flaxseed oil, because I didn’t have the slightest idea what a lignan was. It’s a phytoestrogen, a kind of antioxidant, and, having learned that, I still don’t have a clue.

However, flax seeds and flax oil are, at least in the current state of the nutritional art, supposed to be good for your heart, bones, hair, prostate and breasts (though presumably not both of the last two in the same person).

“The lasagna is even better than the quiche,” said my wife, “so fresh.” It was the tastiest, richest thing you could imagine uncooked. Even more so because it, like the quiche, came with a side salad—a sweet corn, grape tomato and mint salad. It was dressed with white wine vinegar, shallots and sea salt.

It looked good, with the corn bright as sunshine, the little slices of grape tomato a vivid red, the thin green stripes of mint. It smelled good, sharp notes of shallot and wine vinegar in the dressing. And it tasted wonderful—a reminder that the key to cooking is often just getting out of the way of the ingredients.

At meal’s end, we were craving sweets. Barb rummaged in the Licious Dishes bag and found—chocolates. Yes, it’s possible to make live vegan candy. These were made of Green and Black’s cocoa powder, which the company’s Web site asserts is from “fine-flavored cocoa beans” that are both organic and fair trade.

The sweetener was one I actually recognized, organic agave nectar. Agave is the same wonderful cactus that gave us tequila. Its syrup is sweeter than honey, though less viscous and with a lower glycemic index, so it produces a diminished sugar rush. It’s expensive and fabulous in place of sugar syrup in cocktails.

I’d neglected to put the chocolates in the refrigerator, which was a mistake. Without the stabilizers and emulsifiers of commercial candy, they turned into a lumpy chocolate soup, the lumps being organic walnuts. We had to use spoons—but we ate all of it, every bit.

“Well, we didn’t starve,” said Barb. “I’m full, but it’s a nice kind of full, not like sometimes when you eat a big steak and then regret it.”


Part II: Why Are We Eating Like This?

We are eating like this because my friend Pete Thompson had a heart attack on Thanksgiving weekend, 2003. He’s fine now, but that weekend was difficult for his wife Sylvia, especially when Pete’s cardiologist suggested she bring his will to the hospital.

For decades, there was no more gourmet couple in Honolulu than Pete and Sylvia. I used to corrode with envy when they returned from San Francisco, New York, Paris or Burgundy, with tales of the multicourse, extravagant dinners they’d consumed. They belonged to all the elite wine societies—and Sylvia was such a good cook she’d invite Alan Wong to dinner.

Licious Dishes owner Sylvia Thompson shows off her inspirations—fresh vegetables, and husband Pete, who went vegan after a heart attack.

But after that dark Thanksgiving, Pete, stent in place, decided he’d had enough of hospitals. Sylvia converted them to a vegan diet. “I was worried I’d never cook anything good again,” she recalls. She began showing up at jazz concerts and poetry slams with vegan dishes—and found them a surprise hit.

The Thompsons still dined in three- and four-star restaurants. They just ordered the vegetarian prix fixe. Slowly, they began to eat in raw vegan restaurants as well, of which there are several gourmet examples on the Mainland.

Finally, having been converted to raw vegan food by the lemon “cheesecake” at a San Francisco restaurant called Alive, Sylvia and her friend Becky Woodland (author of The Blonde Vegetarian) took the plunge, putting in six weeks of eight-hour days at the Living Light International Culinary Arts Center in Fort Bragg, Calif. Living Light bills itself as the premier organic raw vegan school in the world.

Having learned to “uncook,” Sylvia started Licious Dishes in the Dole Cannery Shops.

Licious Dishes is not a restaurant. “I didn’t want a restaurant, I wanted to spend evenings with my hubbie,” she says.

At Licious Dishes, you simply pick up a bag with five meals in it.

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