It’s 8:00 sharp on Saturday morning. I am standing in the big, bright kitchen of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Gloucester, MA. The talented author Janet Ruth Young happens to be on the board of this church, and I happen to know her. When she asked me to be a guest speaker at her church as part of their green initiative lecture series, I readily agreed. I cannot imagine passing up a chance to share my knowledge about vegan nutrition, food and recipes. I am to give a winter root vegetable cooking demonstration and talk. I know it’s not specifically a vegan topic, but I am going to make it one. A good one. No one will notice that they are eating vegan. They are only going to notice that what they are eating is delicious.
My partner Bill and I weave in and out and around each other and the giant ten burner gas stove, double oven and two-sided sink. We wash, scrub and peel vegetables at the big sink, then move them over to the chopping area. Bill is far more diligent and focused than I, and so while I move my knives, bottles of spices and jars of hemp oil, ginger Nama Shoyu salad dressing and equipment I have brought from home, he makes fast work of the vegetable prep. We have no idea how many people to expect, but I am as prepared as I can be with enough ingredients to feed 30 people.
Folks start trickling in early. Some of my friends come, and there are lots of new faces, too. I am not nervous doing this any longer, so it is with joy and excitement that I begin. There are about 20 people, a small enough group that they can all fit into the kitchen and watch everything. I talk and talk, answer questions, and demonstrate how to cut Brussels sprouts. I give a brief lesson on massaging kale. When I explain that I use hemp oil as much as possible because it is easy to digest and filled with nutrients, everyone laughs when I confess that I have it on auto-ship from Amazon. I use a spiral slicer to make noodles from raw carrots, sweet potatoes and beets. I invite a couple of volunteers to try, too.
While I chatter away, Bill mans the ovens and the stove, roasting a giant baking sheet of the sprouts and another of chopped root vegetables in preparation for a creamy, roasted vegetable soup, toasting pecans in a dry skillet so that I can teach the group how to toast and spice nuts.
The time flies by and soon everyone is digging into the massaged kale and spiral sliced raw vegetable salad. They barely finish their full plates when I present the warm Brussels sprouts salad served over baby mixed greens, garnished with blackberries, avocado, raw pumpkin seeds and toasted spiced pecans. I show how to make a balsamic reduction, using Blackberry Ginger infused balsamic from the Cape Ann Olive Oil Co.
The final tasting is of the roasted vegetable soup. We have roasted garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots. Bill pulls the hot baking sheet from the oven and we manage to scrape all those lovely, browned vegetables into the stock pot. We add water, vegan bouillon, black pepper and minced fresh sage to the pot, bring it to a boil, then Bill turns off the heat, purees the giant potful with an immersion blender and it’s ready. He moves the pot to a serving table and I ladle out hot mugs of the soup to everyone. It’s hard to ladle soup into tiny blue Willow ware cups, but I pull it off without spilling much. The group raves and raves about the food. I answer more questions. And here I must mention how grateful I am to my friend Krissi, who takes notes for me sometimes and today, hands me a legible list of topics and reminders of what I have promised to give attention to when I email the recipes to the group. After the event is over, the first thing I do I look for leftovers. There are none. Every bite has been consumed. With enthusiasm!
Clean up today means I wander around, packing up the knives, bottles, jars and other gear while Bill and a woman from the church wash the dishes, pots and pans. We are finished by 12:45 and I leave tired and happy, knowing I have shared food, recipes, and a lot of what I know about eating a healthy vegan diet with a receptive audience. I know that those who came today learned enough to make changes in their eating habits—for their health and for their environment.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Toasted Spiced Pecans
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c pecan halves and pieces
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 T maple syrup
6 cups mixed baby greens or 1 bunch kale*, washed, torn into bite-sized pieces and massaged with 1 T olive oil until volume is reduced by about half
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 bulb fennel
balsamic vinegar—I use blackberry-ginger balsamic from the Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. Main St. Gloucester
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. Put them on a large baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Turn all the Brussels sprouts so that they are cut-side down on the baking sheet. Place baking sheet on center rack in oven and roast for 18-20 minutes. The bottoms of the Brussels sprouts should be nice and brown, some of the tops should be dark, too. Remove from oven, liberally sprinkle with the balsamic, toss to coat, add salt and pepper to taste.
While Brussels sprouts are roasting, heat a small skillet over medium heat on the stove. Add the pecans to dry pan and toast until they become aromatic, flipping them occasionally to prevent burning. When pecans are toasted, add olive oil, cinnamon, cayenne and maple syrup. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until maple syrup bubbles. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
Wash the rest of the vegetables and fruit. Thinly slice fennel, open the avocado, remove the seed, and slice the avocado across and down. Use a tablespoon to scoop out the avocado flesh. Use a paring knife to remove skin from the orange. Chop the orange into bite-sized chunks. Reserve juice.
Assemble the salad: In a large salad bowl, add the mixed baby greens or kale. Add the orange juice, if any. Arrange the Brussels sprouts, sliced fennel, avocado chunks, orange chunks and berries on top of the greens. Sprinkle with 1/4 c more of the balsamic. Add the nuts to the top of the salad and serve immediately.
*If using kale, massage with a couple of tsp oil until tender before assembling the rest of the salad.
Raw Root Vegetable Noodle Salad
1 bunch kale, washed, removed from stems and torn into bite-sized pieces
2-3 T hemp oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1-2 medium sized beets, washed and peeled
1 large carrot, scrubbed
1-2 sweet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 avocado, halved, pitted and cut into bite-sized chunks
raw pumpkin seeds and toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (recipe below)
Place the kale in a large bowl. Drizzle with the hemp oil and massage the kale for about 3-5 minutes, or until kale is slightly wilted and softened and reduced in volume by half. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, salt and pepper and set aside.
*Spiral slice the sweet potatoes, carrot and beets. Slice the beets last because they are the messiest and will juice on the other vegetables. If the beets are very juicy, you can rinse them under cold water to keep their juice from spreading too much. Use kitchen scissors to cut the vegetable noodles into manageable lengths. Add the vegetable noodles to the kale and dress generously with Ginger Nama Shoyu dressing. Toss to coat and distribute vegetables. Arrange the avocado chunks on top of the salad. Sprinkle the top of the salad with the seeds. Drizzle a small amount of dressing on top and serve.
Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (adapted from Life Alive Restaurants)
fresh garlic cloves, peeled and pressed to fill a 1/4 c measure
1/2 c plus a little more fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
3 T Nama Shoyu
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t sea salt
1 c olive oil, or a mixture of hemp and olive oil
In a powerful blender, add the garlic cloves, the ginger, the Nama Shoyu, and the sea salt. Add 1/3 c of the oil. Blend on medium-low until everything starts to move around. Turn off blender and scrape down sides if necessary.
Turn the blender back on medium speed, then to high and blend until smooth. Take the little inner cap off of the blender cover and slowly drizzle in the remaining oil. Turn blender on high and blend only long enough to emulsify the dressing. Transfer dressing to glass jar or bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps at least two weeks in the refrigerator.
*If you don’t have a spiral slicer, you can grate the vegetables instead. It tastes just as good!
Creamy Roasted Root Vegetable Soup
extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
2-3 ribs celery, washed and cut into chunks
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bunch parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
3 double sized cubes vegan bouillon, mix of salted and salt-free
1/4 c fresh sage leaves, washed and minced, or 2 tsp dried sage leaves
1 c orange juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place prepared garlic and vegetables on one or two large baking sheets so that they are in a single layer. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat. Roast in oven 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and slightly browned.
When vegetables are done, remove from oven and transfer to a large soup pot. Add the bouillon cubes and cinnamon. Add water to about and inch below the vegetables. Heat over high heat until steaming. Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender. Alternatively, allow soup to cool slightly and puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Return soup to pot. Add the orange juice,, sage leaves and black pepper to taste. Heat until steaming hot, being careful not to let the soup boil. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve with hearty bread and salad for a delicious meal. This soup freezes well.