VEGETARIAN JOURNAL'S FOODSERVICE UPDATE

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Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions

Volume VI, Number 1  Winter 1998  

PROFILE: NANCY BERKOFF, R.D., D.Ed.
By Michael Vogel

Every job has its share of nice little perks. As editor of Vegetarian Journal, it is my privilege to work with a number of excellent writers who provide a multitude of tasty recipes. Every week, the mail brings a new treasure trove of tempting dishes. We open the envelopes, read the recipes, and often lament the fact hot samples did not accompany the written words. This saga is particularly true of the articles written by Nancy Berkoff, R.D., D.Ed., one of our most cherished contributors. Recently, I was able to meet and eat with the estimable Ms. Berkoff. After spending a couple of hours talking to her about what she does, I came away with a greater understanding of how she works her gustatory magic.

A great deal of Nancy's food wizardry can be attributed to her childhood environment. Nancy's father was a food technologist, and was instrumental in the development of freeze-dried coffee. He got his degree in organic chemistry and went to work in a flavor and fragrance house. Another of his endeavors was developing natural flavors for soda companies. He was also fond of working in enfleurage, a process involving the exposure of vegetable shortening to the exhaled fragrance of fresh flowers. Nancy's father preferred to use rose petals, and he made tea with rose hips long before it was fashionable to do so.

Nancy's great-grandmother spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Through her, Nancy was introduced to the marvelous grain, kasha. At first, Nancy wasn't enamored of the grain, "My great-grandmother kind of forced it down my throat," she remembers. Now, she's a strong kasha advocate, and she can rattle off great recipes using kasha for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Her great-grand mother was also a proponent of buying and cooking by the season; she'd buy whatever fresh produce was readily available at any given time. Some of Nancy's early food memories are of her great-grandmother's vegetable soup and black bread, and huge pots of borscht teeming with potatoes.

Growing up in a kosher household also contributed to Nancy's food awareness. "Keeping kosher made it easy to make food without meat," she says.

These days, Nancy keeps busy with a variety of food-related tasks. She teaches at Los Angeles (California) Trade Technical College, guiding "chefs of the future" through either a two-year school program or a three-year apprenticeship with classes. She readily challenges her protegés with assignments such as the creation of vegan alternatives to Hollandaise and other dairy-based sauces.

The budding chefs don't always appreciate the challenge to create. "They hate it," Nancy affirms. "When you're in a student mode, you want someone to open up your head, put some knowledge in and sew it back up," she laughs. She says that dietetic students tend to be dogmatic and don't embrace the challenge. But like most students, they can see the significance and the importance of the task once they've actually followed through.

Nancy also provides consulting services for retirement communities and other chefs who suddenly find themselves in need of vegetarian or vegan fare on short notice. She's mildly amused when chefs seek her expertise. "They call me because they don't know that they know how to do it themselves," she states modestly.

Another interesting sidelight is her role as the "Chef on Call" for a local newspaper. Readers write in with descriptions of their family, their eating habits, and eating goals. Accompanied by a photographer and a reporter, Nancy makes a house call and creates an entire vegetarian dinner for the family, using only the items found in their kitchen.

"All I know is the family's intentions," she says of this unique experience. "I never know what I'm going to make until I get there."

On one such excursion, she created a feast for a family with four children ranging in ages from five to fourteen. The family enjoyed the meal, but apparently they weren't sated. "The mother mentioned to me that the kids were used to having dessert," Nancy explained. A check of the cupboards revealed only some rice syrup. But Nancy didn't panic. Instead, she called upon her well of creativity. Minutes later, she served up what she likes to call "Act of G-d Rice Pudding," made with brown rice, soy milk, dried fruit, and some spices. And she didn't even need the rice syrup.

Nancy also planted a vegetable garden on a plot of unused land at the Hollywood Park (California) Race Track, much to the joy of the head landscaper. "He was thrilled to death," Nancy remembers.

Among her other experiences are working with culinary chefs to come up with a six-course gourmet meal for the Culinary Olympics, a $500-a-plate-dinner. Also, the CEO of a large company sought her services after he was diagnosed with cancer.



Nancy shares these tips with foodservice professionals who want to provide excellent vegan cuisine to their clients:

Nancy serves the following sauce recipe as a sauce on top or underneath cooked pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, couscous, barley, etc. It can also be tossed with cooked grains and baked for an entree or side dish casserole. She suggests you use your imagination and the bounty of the season to vary the taste and the texture. This is a terrific sauce for catering and buffets.

OH-SO-ADAPTABLE VEG-MED SAUCE

Thanks to Nancy Berkoff for the following copyrighted recipe.

YIELD: 60 (3-ounce) servings

INGREDIENTS                     AMOUNT
Vegetable oil                   6 ounces
Carrots, diced                  14 ounces (1 pound)
Onions, diced                   14 ounces (1 pound)
Garlic, minced                  4 ounces
Celery, diced                   1 pound
Bell peppers, diced             ½ pound
Mushrooms, sliced               2 pounds
Broccoli, chopped               1 pound
Soft-shelled squash (zucchini,
     crookneck, etc.), chopped	1 pound
Tomatoes, canned, diced (not	
     drained)                   2 pounds
Tomato purée                    1 pound
Tomato paste                    1 pound
Dried oregano                   2 Tablespoons
Dried basil                     2 Tablespoons
Black pepper, ground            1 Tablespoon

PROCEDURE
In a steamjacketed kettle (or in a double boiler) heat oil and sweat (cook until they glisten) carrots, onion, garlic, celery, and peppers. Add mushrooms, broccoli, and squash and continue to cook until the veggies are soft.

Add tomato products and spices. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer until flavors have married and desired texture is achieved (about 30 minutes).

NOTES FOR THE RECIPE

Low salt: Simply use fresh tomatoes and/or low sodium canned products.

Low fat: It is!

Diabetic exchanges: If served with ½ cup cooked grains, approximately 2 bread exchanges and 2 vegetable exchanges (+ ½ fat exchange).

Garnish suggestions: Chopped fresh herbs, such as basil and oregano, crumbled; seasoned tofu (marinated in Italian, Spanish, or Greek herbs for 2 to 3 hours before crumbling); sliced olives or seasoned croutons.

To prepare as a casserole: Combine sauce with 6 pounds of cooked pasta (rotini, shells, and penne are good shapes) or cooked grains. Will yield one full 400 steam table pan (12"x20"x4").

Freezing: Sauce can be frozen (be sure to chill and thaw properly) for up to one month.


Excerpts from the Winter 1998 Issue:


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