Confessions of a vegan chef
Updated: Jan 28
WHY I COOK FOR OTHERS ...
I have always cooked. Well, as early as I can remember. First helping my mother in the kitchen and then, as a teenager making things I wanted, for friends, or on weekends. As a midnight snacks... can anything be better than home-fried potatoes late at night when hungry and with plenty of ketchup?
Since, I have never stopped. I ventured into the wood business having studied forestry, but when I was off, whenever I had reason to, I would cook.
My dietary choices have been passed on from family to family, parents to child and I must admit that many of my food habits originally come from my family's cooking, all vegetarian.
Then I changed, I became vegan.
I always wanted to be vegan, but it was not easy, then my older children started to explore the idea. It was all that I needed to change completely.
Becoming vegan was a moral choice, but I had to learn the culinary aspects to it - how to make vegan food taste good. Vegan food always tasted good, but my cooking had to catch up.
THE CREAM SAUCE CHANGED EVERYTHING
Children love cream sauces. Pasta in cheese sauce was a regular favourite and trying to change it was not easy. For a time I always made two dishes, one vegan and one with dairy cheese. No matter what I did some of the children would not eat my vegan version.
But then one day 'we' cracked it. One of my daughters who dabbles in creative cooking came up with the idea of frying up an onion then blending it, and to be added to my vegan bechamel sauce and, it worked! Umami, we needed that umami taste. For the first time everyone ate of the vegan creamy pasta dish. It was a real breakthrough, and it meant that I would only have to cook one meal instead of two!
With time and practice I perfected it to the point that cheese is never even mentioned anymore.
Pasta Bake - We often bake the pasta and cream sauce in the oven with a layer of bread crumbs to make it crispy on top. And sometimes I mix in a few other ingredients like fried red onion and green peas... why not?
The cream sauce recipe is included at the bottom of this post ...
WHY I COOK FOR OTHERS
Special moments in my life, sharing a meal with family and friends.
I DO IT TO SHARE, TO GIVE.
There is nothing better than to offer someone a plate of food and when they ask for more, the satisfaction. I guess it is my personal gift.
I COOK TO HAVE PEOPLE AT MY TABLE.
Having people together, eating, talking, discussing, arguing, laughing...is happiness.
I COOK PLANT FOOD, VEGAN FOOD, BECAUSE I AM VEGAN.
Today, vegan cooking is the only cooking I know, I do what I know best.
I COOK VEGAN FOOD SO PEOPLE WILL KNOW THAT IT IS TASTY.
I want the food I cook, vegan food, to be so tasty that people will not question if vegan food is good. If fact the biggest compliment I get is when someone says, " is there no dairy, cream, or cheese in this? " or " To be honest with a dish like this, I would never miss the meat." That is to me success.
TODAY, I COOK VEGAN FOOD BECAUSE I WANT TO SAVE THE WORLD.
My mission is to save the world...one meal at time. Each time someone eats my vegan food or makes vegan food inspired by my cooking, the world is a little bit better for it.
RECIPE - MY VEGAN BECHAMEL SAUCE / CREAM SAUCE
Note - When I now make sauces or cheeses, I am not trying reproduce exactly how it was when dairy was used. It really cannot be done, we are using different ingredients. But, we can make very nice food, and that is our aim here.
For two cups of bechamel.
2 tbsp - plant butter - soya or oil based
2 tbsp - white wheat flour - I use strong, but any will do
2 cup soya milk* or oat milk
1 small onion - softened in the pan
1/4 cup cashews - soaked for 20 minutes in 1/4 cup of water
2 pinches of garlic granules or two minced cloves
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast ( optional, only if you have it in the cupboard )
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 pinch of grated nutmeg
Sea salt to taste, start with 1/2 tsp and see if you need more
A little fresh ground black pepper
*N.B. I like to use soya milk as it has lots of protein and makes the sauce very creamy.
Melt the butter on low heat in a small pot.
Add the flour and make a paste.
Slowly pour the milk into the pot, a little at a time, and using a whisk or a fork, stir continuously and quickly so the flour paste melts into the milk and you have no lumps.
Add the rest of the milk, and while still stirring, bring to the boil, it will them thicken.
Blend the soaked cashews with the water and the fried onion and add it to the sauce.
Add the minced garlic or granules, nutritional yeast and a pinch of salt and mix well.
Turn off the heat and let it set.
Trick - for lumpy sauce - I use a hand blender and make it all smooth then put it back on the stove and stir until it thickens.
To make the Pasta Bake seen in the photo above - Cook 250g of macaroni and then mix it into the sauce. Pour it into an oven tray / Pyrex dish. Over the pasta sprinkle a nice bit of bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil. Baked in at 180C/360F for 10 to 15 mintues to brown the top.
You can mix in some grated vegan cheese with the crumbs which gives it a lovely crust.
The chef after a few days of cooking over Christmas!
Photo courtesy of Mostafa Darwish