It was one of those days where it was pouring down with rain and of course I forgot my umbrella at home… As I was trying to find a free space to sit in the library and dry off, I got an email saying that the Vegetarian and Vegan Cooking Demonstration will start in 30 minutes. The excitement instantly arose, along with my appetite.
Great Food at Leeds and Global Community organised the event with two chefs, Simon and Chris, from the Refectory who showed us some of the vegetarian and vegan recipes they came up with. The reason I wanted to attend this event, even though I’m not vegetarian myself, is because I know that as a student it can be hard to always find the time to make healthy meals and especially include vegetables alongside the oven-baked fish sticks or chicken nuggets!
The event started off by doing a fruit and vegetable quiz. The winning group would get a whole box of cake – which is quite the incentive. We had to identify 15 different foods, by smelling or touching them to help us decide their names. I worked at a grocery store so I thought this would be an easy win – but I could only get 7 names right… I didn’t know there were so many varieties of radishes or mushrooms! One of the fruits that I’ve never seen before was a kumquat – I was sure it had to be just a very, very small mandarin orange. Safe to say our group didn’t win the box of cakes – but the dishes we got to taste after were a treat in themselves.
The first recipe was the Red Onion, Sprout, and Coriander Bhaji with Mango and Chilli Chutney. I know almost everyone is scared of brussels sprouts, but I’ll admit that this was one of my favourite combinations. The chefs started out by adding chopped steamed sprouts to the bowl – he mentioned that you could also boil them in salted water. He mixed ground flour with soya milk (an alternative could also be yogurt). He started to chop a red onion – so fast that I didn’t even know where the knife was. He asked if anyone would like to try their chopping skills but I’m pretty sure everyone was too intimidated after the way he was doing it. We finally had one brave volunteer who actually seemed to do a good job – they even got compliments from the chef himself.
The chef then added turmeric, fresh coriander, a touch of baking powder and mixed it all together. The best thing about this dish is that you could do it with any root vegetable – if the thought of eating sprouts is still scaring you. It all came together in a nice paste. He added a little spoonful of the combination into hot oil and cooked it for 2 minutes. It became so nice and crisp! The chef used a deep fryer but you could also do it at home in a frying pay with about 2 inches of oil and just turn them around to cook both sides evenly. It was served with a mango and chilli chutney but the chef mentioned that you could also serve them with a yogurt, cucumber, and mint sauce or any type of pickle (which is definitely what I’ll be doing since pickles are my favourite).
The second recipe almost made me forget about chicken… The chefs put together a Whole Baked Cauliflower Shawarma with Toasted Pine Nuts and Pomegranate. It is such an easy (and cheap) meal to make. All you have to do is steam or boil the cauliflower for 20 minutes until a knife will go straight through it, and then smear the shawarma butter all over it before putting it in the oven for another 20 minutes. The shawarma butter consists of soft butter, and spices like lemon juice, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg and tahini paste (sesame paste). You can also make this butter and put it over chicken breasts or fish – I’ll be trying this on my salmon next time for sure. As the butter melts, it runs all the way through the cauliflower, making a nice centrepiece with every part getting some of the spices. The side dish was a mix of toasted pine nuts with coriander, pomegranate seeds, and maple syrup.
Last but not least, dessert! This last dish probably surprised me the most. I’ve never had vegan cake, but I always thought that cake needed to have eggs and flour in it… But you don’t need any of that for the Banana, Cranberry and Medjool Date Loaf. The base is actually just bananas. All you need to do is mash up the bananas with a fork, mix it with cranberries and medjoul dates (which are actually said to be the best dates in the world). The bonding agent is actually sunflower oil, not eggs! Even though it’s a vegan cake, the bananas make it so moist. The sunflower oil allows the banana flavour to be more prominent. But one of the students suggested that you could even use coconut oil as an alternative. That would mean you could put less brown sugar in it too. The loaf was so moist and delicious, I made sure to get a second serving since I wouldn’t get the box of cakes to take home.
These demonstrations are meant to inspire cooking. If you want some type of meal or cuisine featured in an event, all you have to do is let the organizers know and they will make sure to incorporate your request in the next cooking demonstration. There will also be a practical workshop coming up if you want to practice actually making the meal yourself. Every time I attend one of these demonstrations, I end up making new friends and get a free meal out of it at the same time, with new ideas about how to impress my parents the next time I’m home for the summer – to finally convince them I’m an independent adult!
Make sure to take a look at the other events that will be going on during the Christmas season, and check out the recipes below if you’re interested in making these dishes yourself.
Check out the recipes below:
Banana, Cranberry and Medjool Date Loaf with Mandarin Drizzle
4 Ripe Bananas
80g Light Brown Sugar
250g Self Raising Flour
80g Dried Cranberries
1 teaspoon Mixed Spice
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
5 fl oz Sunflower Oil
50g Icing Sugar
Zest and juice of one Mandarin Orange
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
- Butter your loaf tin or dish
- Mash the bananas in a bowl, once pureed fold in all the other ingredients except the oil, icing sugar, zest and juice of the orange.
- Slowly mix in the oil until a creamy consistency is reached
- Place in loaf tin and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown, allow to cool
- In another bowl mix the icing sugar, zest and juice until a smooth paste and drizzle over the slightly warm loaf
Red Onion, Sprout, and Coriander Bhaji with Mango and Chilli Chutney
200g Finely Sliced Red Onions
100g Cooked Shredded Sprouts
1 Bunch Chopped Coriander
100ml Plain Yogurt
1 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
1 teaspoon Chilli Flakes
150g Gram (Chickpea) Flour or Plain Flour
Salt and Pepper
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
Mango Chutney (you can buy this ready-made, it’s easier!)
Oil for Frying
- In a bowl mix the sliced onions, cooked sprouts, and chopped coriander
- Add the turmeric, chilli flakes (reserving a few flakes to go in the chutney) and the yogurt and fold all together
- Sift in the gram or plain flour and gently fold in along with the baking powder until the mixture is stiff
- Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes
- Carefully spoon small amounts into the hot oil until golden brown and crispy
- Serve with the mango chutney with the remaining chilli flakes folded into it
Whole Baked Cauliflower Shawarma with Toasted Pine Nuts and Pomegranate
(Serves 4, depending on the size of the cauliflower)
FOR THE GLAZE AND GARNISH
1 Whole Cauliflower
Juice of 1 Lemon
Small amount of maple syrup
2 Tablespoons toasted Pine nuts
A little Chopped Parsley
FOR THE SPICED BUTTER
100g Soft Butter
Juice 1 Lemon
1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Cumin Powder
80g Tahini Paste
- Carefully trim the green leaves from the cauliflower but leave whole
- Cook in boiling salted water until you can pierce right through with a knife
- Mix together all the ingredients for the spiced butter and brush all over the cauliflower
- Place back in a very hot oven for about 10 minutes until the cauliflower becomes charred and black
- Remove from the oven and drizzle with the maple syrup and lemon juice
- Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds, chopped parsley and pine nuts on top and serve