Healthy eating: exploring vegan options (recipe)

Last week I was invited to attend a cooking demonstration with Chef Tal Ronnen at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Chef Tal was on a book tour, promoting the conscious cook, a full color vegan cookbook published in October 2009. Chef Tal prepared vegan meals for Oprah’s 21-day vegan cleanse in the spring of 2008, and then catered Ellen deGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s vegan wedding (aside: have you seen Portia de Rossi in Better of Ted? Very funny!).

My initial reaction when receiving the invitation was to decline – I am not interested in vegan cooking, I like meat, and really consider myself an omnivore. However, I also like cooking with more vegetables and grains, and I was curious to learn more about incorporating those items into my recipes. Plus, I have always wanted to take a class at the California Culinary Academy. So, what the heck, let’s give it a try…

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The class was held in one of the school’s classrooms, and included chefs-in-training as well as head chefs from the school. It was exciting to sit in the classroom with the presentation kitchen, including cameras. After a brief slide presentation, Chef Tal launched into his demonstration.

A few key elements of vegan cooking that he demonstrated included Cashew Cream, Nutritional Yeast Flakes, and meat analogs (fake-o meat for those carnivores among us). Chef Tal also used Earth Balance, a vegetable oil-based spread, a vegan butter substitute. We also had the opportunity to taste Gardein, a protein made from whole grains including quinoa and amaranth, and we watched as Chef Tal used a massive VitaMix to blend everything from Cashew Cream to soup.

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“Chicken” scaloppini with shiitake sake sauce

My favorite recipe of the day was a Celery Root soup with Granny Smith apples, and one that I would probably make again. Check out the tip for adding salt to a pan as it heats, to create a non stick environment.

Celery root soup with granny smith apples

Sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium celery roots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 quarts faux chicken or vegetable stock (try Better Than Bouillon brand)
1 bay leaf
1 cup thick Cashew Cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Granny Smith apple, unpeeled, very finely diced
Chive Oil (recipe follows)

Place a large stockpot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds, being careful not to let it smoke. This will create a nonstick effect.

Add the celery root, celery, and onion and sauté for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until soft but not brown. Add the stock and bay leaf, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the Cashew Cream and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender, cover the lid with a towel (the hot liquid tends to erupt), and blend on high. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls. Place a spoonful of the diced apple in the center of each serving, drizzle the Chive Oil around the apple, and serve.

Makes 6 servings

Chive oil

1 small bunch chives
½ cup canola oil
Pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the chives for 30 seconds in boiling water, then drain and chill in an ice bath. Drain, wrap the chives in a towel, and squeeze the moisture out. Place in a blender with the remaining ingredients and blend for 2 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Put the chive oil in a plastic squeeze bottle with a small opening or use a spoon for drizzling it on the soup.

Makes 1/2 cup

Cashew Cream

If you’ve thumbed through the recipes in The Conscious Cook, you’ve seen the ingredient “cashew cream” a few times. It’s a vegan-chef staple that stands in for dairy in a variety of ways. In the raw-food world, where it originated, it’s used in lots of desserts. When you cook with it, though, it can be so much more—from cheese filling in ravioli to heavy cream in soups. It can be stored 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to 6 months (although after it’s defrosted it can be a bit lumpy, so it’s good to give it a spin in the blender to smooth it out before using it).

The trick when making cashew cream is to use raw cashews. They have no flavor of their own; they’re just a vessel for fat and creaminess. (It’s the roasting that brings out the familiar sweetness in cashews.) Because it has a nice fat content, cashew cream reduces in a pan even faster than heavy cream. (Soy milk, which some people use in vegan cooking, has no fat, so it doesn’t reduce into a thick sauce—it’s really not an alternative.)

For different applications, there are different consistencies—thick and regular. (I’ve also included a recipe for Whipped Cashew Cream, which is a great accompaniment to desserts.) Both are easy to make but not quick, because the cashews need to soak overnight. A shortcut is to put the cashews in a pot with water, bring them to a boil, then shut off the heat and let them soak for an hour. But this starts to leach out the sweetness, so you’re better off with the overnight method. Also, there’s at least one decent brand of store-bought nut cream, called Mimic Cream, which combines cashews and almonds; you can usually find it on the shelves or in the refrigerated section near the soy milk. Of course, nothing compares to homemade, and once you get used to it, there may be no turning back.

2 cups whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry), rinsed very well under cold water

Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place them in a blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. Strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.

To make thick cashew cream, which some of the recipes in this book call for, simply reduce the amount of water when they are placed in the blender, so that the water just slightly covers the cashews.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups thick cream or 3 1/2 cups regular cream
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus soaking overnight.

Recipes provided by Gardein and Chef Tal Ronnen.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 4, 2010 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    Dear Kitchen Gadgetgirl, I cant believe you got to see a demo by Chef Tal Ronnen. That is awesome you were originally going to turn down the invitation because you are not vegan cause it would cross my mind too, but then you would have never gotten the celery root soup with granny smith apples recipe! There are a lot of hardcore vegans, and I have noticed they do come up with some awesome dishes, even an omnivore would go crazy for. When I was going through the celery root soup I thought “Wild Thing”, you make my heart sing! Loved and saved this recipe. I shall revisit you soon. Thank you for sharing.
    Cheers, Gaby
    You can always visit me at http://ptsaldari.posterous.com.

  2. Posted March 11, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Nice article. Looks like it was fun. I too am a meat eater however my wife will appreciate the celery soup recipe. I’ll try it was well. :)

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