by Deborah Rogers –
“To learn how to feed my family.” “Following my doctor’s recommendation.” “I don’t want to keep buying vegetables, then putting them in the compost!”
These were some of the reasons given when participants of a new “Plant-Based Foods” cooking class were asked why they were there. And me? Well, I was there for my February “Day Out!” The rise of interest in plant-based eating has been unmissable in recent years. Many people globally now try for a Veganuary (that’s a vegan January) and whether for diet, health, environmental or animal-rights reasons, a shift towards eating less meat and dairy has taken place.
Chantal Davis is our host and instructor, running the three-week class through Panorama Recreation. I got to take part in the inaugural class, though plant-based cooking is Chantal’s life and she brings years of kitchen and nutrition knowledge to her students. After a brief survey of what the students wanted to get from the class, Chantal quickly got down to business. She had a menu planned for the evening, with a mix of pre-prepped items and those that the class would need to make themselves. There are questions that arise around a plant-based diet such as: can you ensure you get all the right nutrients, how do you get enough protein, what do you replace staples like butter and eggs with? The informal structure of the class allowed us to ask and discuss these points and more whilst we had our hands in bowls of fresh ingredients.
First on the menu was a kale caesar salad. We split into groups, dividing up tasks like tearing the kale, whisking the dressing, and preparing chickpeas to roast in the oven. Chantal provided us each with a recipe booklet, and in our small groups we shared cooking tips and found out a bit more about where each of us sits on the plant-based scale.
I admit I tend to rely on pre-made dressings, so my first takeaway from this class was how good a vegan caesar dressing can be. It was packed with flavour from lemon, garlic and capers, and thickened with a scoop of hummus (also pumping up the protein factor). While we waited for oil-drizzled chickpeas to roast, we were introduced to a nifty bit of kitchenware.
The Almond Cow is a plant-based milk maker! I’d never considered that you could make almond milk (or oat, cashew, hemp etc.) at home. But before our eyes we saw Chantal turn a cup of pumpkin seeds, pecans and oats into a jug of smooth, creamy(ish) “milk.” This blew my mind a little bit: drinking milk from the fridge is just such a routine part of life I’d never considered that people might want to, be able to, or find benefit in, making their own. The benefit of course is that you can adjust the recipe to taste, you know exactly what’s in it, once the cost of the equipment has been accounted for it’s cheap, and there’s no packaging. It could be a game-changer! In the next session Chatal will demonstrate how it’s possible (easy even) to make tofu at home starting with soybeans and this nifty gadget. That I have to see.
Back to our dinner … the chickpeas had crisped up nicely and were added to the top of the kale salad; garlic bread was sliced; and then we saw what Chantal had prepared as the main dish. It was an incredible lasagna. Containing roasted vegetables, a tomato lentil sauce, cauliflower ricotta and cashew cream, it checked all the nutritional boxes and introduced the class to some new ingredients. This was not a dish that could be knocked up in a two-hour class, but we all have the recipe to try it at home.
Sitting down with a plate full of colourful, delicious smelling food,and a glass of the “milk” we’d made earlier, we spent the last portion of the evening discussing nutrition questions. The food was so good – and I can confirm that one avowed kale-disliker had his mind changed – dispelling the myth that plant-based means bland and textureless. I learned a lot about alternate sources of protein and trace nutrients, but more importantly I was reminded that it’s worth experimenting with different ways of making familiar dishes.
What do you want to see Deb do next? Send your ideas or invitations