A Day on Megan May's Plate + Cacao Hazelnut Slab Recipe
Megan May turned years of struggling with food allergies into a thriving organic food business that creates natural food free of refined sugar, dairy and wheat. Combining her knowledge as a chef and her family history in organics, Megan founded one of New Zealand's leading health cafes.
As well as running three cafes in central Auckland, Megan is a mother, author, and has just released the successful app The Unbakery. I recently caught up with Megan to discuss the app and learn her best tips for healthy living + Megan shares with us one of the indulgent recipes from the app.
How did Little Bird's journey begin?
Megan: Little Bird began in 2010. The company is a combination of my upbringing on an organic farm, love of food as a chef, the environment as an environmental scientist and my lifelong struggle with food allergies that forced me to find my own way of enjoying food and finding health through eating predominantly raw food.
What inspired you to open a raw cafe?
Megan: I have wanted to have an organic food business since my early 20’s - I just didn’t know it would be a raw one. It was through adding more raw food into my diet that my health improved dramatically, and after suffering for serval years with serious illness, I fell in love with it and the potential it had for other people. I couldn’t imagine serving any other type of food so in a leap of faith I opened a raw café not really knowing if anyone would be interested in it. Thankfully they were, and now 6 years later it’s almost becoming mainstream. The food scene has changed so dramatically over the past 2 years in Auckland. I’ve always been very grateful that the Auckland food scene and media have been so welcoming to our little business and idea of serving fresh, organic, and mostly raw vegan food.
Many raw dishes require planning and preparation. What is your go to meal when you haven't planned ahead?
Megan: As long as you have a good dressing in the fridge and some nuts/seeds or raw crackers in the cupboard then you can pretty much grab whatever veggies you have in the fridge or garden and make a big tasty salad - I also throw on some sea veggies. It helps if you have some sauerkraut in the fridge to have on the side too. There is such an abundance of nutrients in a meal like that and it only takes a few moments to throw together.
If you could pass on your number one health tip, what would it be?
Megan: Eat more veggies! And eat the majority of foods in their fresh whole form. It's important to learn what your body thrives on. We are all so different and while there are some general rules that apply to pretty much everyone like eat your veggies and stay away from processed foods, one person's body might thrive off eating lots of fruit and another might not, so it's really about taking responsibility for your own health and discovering what actually works for you. Not what a magazine or newspaper headline tells you.
How do you stay active amidst running a business and having a family?
Megan: Haven’t nailed that one yet – it feels like a luxury for me to have time to do what I used to before having a baby. But I know I just have to make time - we can all fit in 10-15 mins here and there, a short walk, a quick yoga session or a strength workout online. Movement and exercise are so important for our health and mental wellbeing but it needs to realistically fit into your schedule – it is a stress on the body and can easily lead to burn out if we strive too hard when our plates are already very full. I think we need to be kinder to ourselves.
Many people don't know where to begin when it comes to living a healthier life. Which healthy rituals can people easily incorporate in their day to day lives?
Megan: Start slowly - begin by adding in a green smoothie or green juice every day. Adding fresh greens into your morning can be really transformative and those drinks often end up replacing coffee, which is another benefit for your health (for most people).
Secondly, I would say people need to get connected to why they are doing it – to give themselves a reason and the motivation to really embrace a healthier way of eating.
We have been so brainwashed with advertising from processed foods companies since we were kids – we don’t realise how as adults that still heavily impacts our food choices (eating candy is not a treat… so many of them contain things that are literally toxic to your body). Re-educating ourselves is an important part of the process.
Watch documentaries or read books on how our food is processed and the impact it has on our health and the environment; the Nigel Latta series on TV1 was brilliant and movies like Cowspiracy, Food Matters, That Sugar Film, The Omnivores Dilemma and Cooked by Michael Pollen. By no means is this a definitive list - there are so many great books and movies in this area.
Getting educated about the current food system makes you realise how wrong it is; the science is very clear. Once that resonates with you it makes choosing fresh, whole foods right for so many reasons. Healthy eating just got a whole lot easier, no will power needed.
What Does a Day on Your Plate Look Like This Winter?
Megan: I usually start with a green smoothie or I make a big juice with my daughter, which is just with whatever she is in the mood for that day.
Then a cup of matcha tea with a dash of homemade almond milk.
I will usually eat at one of the cafes for lunch so whatever is on the menu that day. Yesterday was the kelp noodle salad with kale, avocado and sesame nori crisps.
In the afternoons I would often have another juice or smoothie depending on what I had in the morning. I’ve been having a lot of our sunrise juice with turmeric, carrot and orange lately, as I often feel like those flavours in winter.
Then throughout the day we often test-taste new dishes and treats for The Unbakery so that is usually my snacking done…
In winter I don’t generally have a fully raw dinner - it’s often a combination of cooked and raw, such as a really big salad of different greens with sprouts, radish, carrot and beetroot served with something cooked like the turmeric fries from the app (they are sooo good) served with cashew aioli. Or some middle eastern flavoured quinoa with sprouted hummus and green falafels. It's often quite comforting food served alongside a pile of fresh raw veggies.
More often than not, I finish the evening with a raw cookie and a lemon tea.
Hazelnut & Cacao Slab
The filling of this slab is our raw ode to Nutella. We top it with sumptuous, crunchy, activated hazelnuts for the perfect soft and crunchy Nutellery dessert.
Make time: 45 mins
Setting time: 6 hours
Makes: 1 medium slab or about 12 portions
Equipment required: food processor, blender
- 1/2 cup dried activated hazelnuts
- 1/3 cup cashews
- 1/2 cup dried coconut
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cacao powder
- Pinch sea salt
- Pinch vanilla bean powder
- 2 tbsp melted cacao butter
- 3/4 cup dried activated hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup hazelnut milk (to make: simply replace the almonds in my almond milk recipe with hazelnuts)
- 3/4 cup organic maple syrup
- Pinch sea salt
- Optional - 1 tsp of hazelnut extract
- 1/2 cup melted cold-pressed coconut oil
- 1/4 cup melted cacao butter
- 1/4 cup cacao powder
- 1 1/2 cups dried activated hazelnuts
TO MAKE THE BASE
- In a food processor, blend hazelnuts, cashews and coconut into a coarse couscous texture. Add the dates, cacao, salt and vanilla powder and blend until combined and mixture is slightly sticky. Add the melted cacao butter and pulse a few times until well incorporated.
- Line a small rectangular container or tin (approximately 12cm x 15cm) with plastic food wrap. Press mixture firmly into the tin - it will need to be approximately 4 to 5mm thick on the bottom to maintain the structure. Place in refrigerator while you're making the filling.
TO MAKE THE FILLING
- Place hazelnuts, hazelnut milk, maple syrup, salt and hazelnut extract (if using) in a high speed blender, blending well until very smooth.
- With the blender still running, slowly pour in melted coconut oil and cacao butter and blend until completely combined into the mixture.
- Lastly, add cacao powder and blend until completely incorporated. Pour over prepared base, spreading well with a spatula.
TO MAKE THE TOPPING
- Top with activated hazelnuts, pressing them down slightly into the cream so they are partially submerged.
- Leave to set in the refrigerator for approximately 6 hours.
- Once set cut into 3 x 6 cm rectangles and store in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.
- To make activated hazelnuts, soak them overnight and dry for 24-48 hours in a dehydrator, or until crunchy. Alternatively you can buy them ready activated from health food stores, or simply use raw, unsalted hazelnuts.
- Like this recipe? More delicious raw recipes by Megan can be found on her new app, The Unbakery, available on the app store.
Uses for Hazelnuts extend far beyond Nutella - they are wonderful in raw desserts and also make naturally sweet nut milk high in Vitamin E, an antioxident essential for healthy, glowing skin due to its ability to protect against harmful free-radicals.