by Amanda Gilley
On Thursday March 1st, 2012 I spent a few hours at Anna’s House Women and Children’s Shelter in Maryland sharing some culinary vegetarian tips that I have gathered through my culinary school education and my internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG). I started the night off by showing the women how to make a flavorful Raw Kale Salad with Cashew Dressing. I made the salad dressing in a blender using nutritional yeast, cashews, mustard, herbs, oil, salt and a little bit of water. Adding nuts to a dressing for a salad that involves dark greens cuts the bitterness of the greens and makes the salad heartier.
I then moved onto making the Mac and No-Cheese with Zucchini “Cream” Sauce recipe from a back issue of the Vegetarian Journal. This recipe uses cooked zucchini to mimic the texture of cheese, but I felt the flavor of cheese was missing so I added nutritional yeast and mustard to try to bump up the flavor. I also added fresh spinach and roasted mushrooms to give the dish various textures. Roasted mushrooms added a meaty texture which the women thought made them feel more satisfied.
One tip I emphasized to the women was the importance of tasting the food as you cook so you can add seasonings during the cooking process, in turn creating layers of flavor. The next dish I made was a Seared Spiced Tofu with Balsamic Glaze. I must admit I set the fire alarm off with this one, but hey, I achieved a great sear! I chose this dish because the previous times that I had gone to volunteer with the women they had complained of tofu being very soggy and not appetizing, so I wanted to show them that tofu could be delicious. As the fire alarm was sounding I gave them a couple tips about searing, always have proper ventilation (open a window, turn on a fan) and make sure your pan is hot enough, which mine definitely was.
The last dish I made was a Vegan Chocolate Mousse which I served with fresh sliced strawberries. I made this mousse by using avocado and unsweetened applesauce as a base. To this base I added cocoa powder, melted vegan chocolate, vanilla extract, maple syrup, cinnamon, and a little salt. When I served this last dish the room was very quiet as everyone ate in surprise of how delicious this dish was even though there was no butter or heavy cream involved. As I was cleaning up, many of the women told me that after tasting the dishes that I served they definitely see eating a vegan meal once a week as a possibility. After volunteering with this organization many times and hearing many negative thoughts about vegetarian food, I felt like I had finally accomplished my goal of showing these women how delicious vegan food can be.