I decided to become vegetarian about a year or two ago along with my husband. More recently, I decided to give up animal-derived products too. Despite the misperceptions, it’s been easy for us adjusting to our new lifestyle and I’ve enjoyed the culinary journey I’ve taken since becoming vegetarian.
I’m the sole cook in my household, and I love creating new meals using fresh ingredients sans animal products. My husband enjoys finding new recipes and ingredients for me to try as well. So, I was very excited when the opportunity to attend a creative vegetarian cooking class for RedBalloon came my way!
My class was scheduled for 6.30pm on a Thursday night and I arrived a little early – partly to beat the peak-hour traffic, but mostly out of keenness to start my class! I was greeted by our teacher Pip, who motioned me to sit down and enjoy a coffee while I waited. Gradually, the rest of the class filtered through the door; six of us who were excited to learn Pip’s secrets.
Pip’s passion for food and cooking was evident early in her no-nonsense, dive-in approach. All of us had varying levels of dietary requirements, allergies and cooking skills, so Pip was quick to explain things to remember while working in any kitchen, such as hygienic practices, and her delectable menu we’d be cooking:
- Roasted Tomato Soup
- Risotto Cakes with Roasted Capsicum Sauce
- Stuffed Zucchinis with Chimi Churri Sauce
- Chocolate and Orange Mousse (using avocado!)
- Cranberry and Walnut Muffins
Pip knew our dietary requirements prior to the class. In our group, there was gluten intolerance, vegan, fructose intolerance and mushroom allergy. So, she was able to make adjustments and offer alternative ingredients as much as possible, to ensure the bulk of the recipes were suited to each of us. This, together with the freshest ingredients, is the key to creative vegetarian cooking. Throughout the night we would learn that vegetarian cooking is not as hard and scary as some people think, and there are so many recipes out there that can be tweaked slightly to suit people’s needs without compromising on taste or portion size. It’s a matter of being creative and being bold!
Cooking, according to a quote painted across one of Pip’s kitchen walls, “is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” This was such a fitting quote for us, as we dived into our class without much time to lose. Before we knew it, we were hands-on – chopping zucchinis and hollowing them for stuffing, coating truss tomatoes, whole garlic and onion with extra light olive oil for roasting, chopping up a basket of parsley, mint and thyme, peeling avocados and zesting oranges for the mousse. The sweet smell of freshly chopped herbs and roasting tomatoes filled the air quickly and it wasn’t long before we all felt our tummies grumble in anticipation.
Pip instilled some very helpful tips for me, like:
- Extra virgin olive oil is used for dressing and extra light is used for cooking
- It’s important to match oils with the right flashpoints to different types of stove-top cooking methods
- Keeping tomatoes on the vine for roasting
- Letting roasted capsicums steam in a bowl covered with cling wrap before peeling
- Achieving a creamy risotto by allowing portions of hot stock to absorb completely before adding more in
- Choosing the right, good quality, ingredients such as French tarragon and white garlic with a purple tinge to its outer skin.
She also told us “not to feed our bin” with veggie scraps like celery off-cuts, as they can be used to make delicious stock – the perfect base for our risotto. Pip’s knowledge was also helpful during the preparation of our ingredients. If our cooking techniques weren’t quite right, Pip jumped in to show us a better way or the correct way.
Pip proved again and again throughout our class: “The eye does the eating first.” Once each recipe was cooked, we all needed to ensure our presentation was slick. We learned how to clean the rims of glasses once mousse was spooned into them, and turn out serves of risotto onto plates from moulds. Each meal was taken to Pip’s communal table where we enjoyed our latest creations over a mineral water or glass of white wine. Not only was our presentation fit for a restaurant, the ingredients we used took pride and place on our plates. Enjoying the rainbow of colour in each dish complemented our newfound skills, confidence and creativity.
If there was one final quote from Pip’s kitchen walls to take away, it would be this one from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star.” I enjoyed discovering these new vegetarian recipes, new techniques and expanding my culinary creativity. Now that I have Pip’s recipes and tips, I can’t wait to cook some new, tasty meals for my husband. Buon appetito!
A lovely little RedBalloon offer for you:
Receive $30 off when you spend $129 or more on any RedBalloon experience!
Visit www.redballoon.com.au and enter the promotional code REDBLOG at the checkout to receive your discount. Offer valid until June 30, 2014. Promotional code can only be used once per person. All purchases are subject to RedBalloon T&Cs.
Disclaimer: I attended this Creative Vegetarian Cooking Class as a guest of RedBalloon.