Filed under: Cooking | Tags: caribbean stew, cashew, coconut milk, kidney bean, mango, pilaf, spelt
I was recently cooking for a group of young Russian NGO – people. Vegetarian food was quite clearly a new concept for many of them, but the praise I got for my cooking was unequivocal. One of them even said in the feedback round that she shall now became vegetarian and convert her family and friends too! I was so happy to hear that since now I can think that besides some money for me, I may have achieved something much more important: actually a tiny little change in the world towards a more sustainable future. That felt like a great achievement for my fingers that were coarse from cutting veggies and legs that were trembling from too much standing up.
Working in the kitchen, even if it is creative and fun, and a profession where you’ll be loved and praised much, is mostly a lot of hard manual labour. Since I’m no Michelin Star chef, I do my own dishes and chop my own veggies, and spent a lot of time lugging heavy bags from one place to another. For some reason, it is always these more than twelve-hour days you end up doing. By the way, if you want to become my slave, get in touch immediately!
Some tips, if you end up cooking for a crowd of people:
– Reserve enough time, and plan ahead: when one pot is cooking, can you make the salad meanwhile? How long does it take for each thing to boil or bake, and how long does it take you to chop the ingredients? A good cook can concentrate on several processes at the same time.
– Learn to use your knife, and always bring your own. Generally, if you can chop fast, you should be able to cook for many people, no problem. I do like get some help, if I need to make a meal for more than 40 people and the time is limited.
– It’s often hard to estimate how much people will eat. Generally, a meal should be about 300 g, though it depends a lot: men eat more than women, alternative people eat more than mainstream people, people who are active outdoors eat more than people who have spent time sitting in a meeting.
– Usually, I estimate about 4- 5 dl soup as a single course, or for a meal 70 – 80 g grains or 150 – 200 g pasta and about 2 – 3 dl of curry or sauce, and about 2 dl salad. It doesn’t matter how you count, you can also multiply recipes or think how many potatoes each one will eat etc. The important thing though is that you do some kind of an estimation of the amounts that you’ll need, and plan the things on your menu.
– Any kitchen often lacks these: a proper knife, a lemon squeezer and a hand held blender.
– Don’t be shy with spices (there are a few exceptions though, like black pepper and cloves).
– Afterwards, remember to enjoy the praise!
This is the kind of food that I usually make for people: quite a general vegetarian fare, but tasty and wholesome. The following recipes are by Tuija Ruuska, slightly modified, except for the salad which was a moment’s creation. The amounts are enough for 15 – 20 people.
Caribbean Mango Sauce with Kidney Beans
500 g carrots
7 large potatoes
2 large bell peppers
1 tbsp grated ginger
5 fresh chillies
3 cans of kidney beans in salt water
2 cans of coconut milk
300 g frozen green beans
150 g frozen mango puree (you could basically use any kind of pureed, unsweetened mango)
1 tsp allspice
juice of one lemon
water for cooking
Start by chopping the onions and the chillies finely, and the potatoes, carrots and the bell pepper into big chunky pieces. Add oil and the onions, chillies and grated ginger to big cooking pot, and fry until the onion is limp. Then add the chopped carrots and the potatoes, and enough water to cover them as well as salt, bring to boil and let simmer about 10 minutes. Then add the bell peppers and coconut milk, and let boil until everything is tender. As last add the mango puree, frozen and canned beans, lemon juice and allspice, and heat up once more.
Spelt Pilaf with Cashew Nuts
1,5 g broken spelt kernels
water for cooking
300 g green frozen peas
200 g cashew nuts
1 dl canola oil
1 tbsp turmeric
First cook the spelt. Two things about cooking grains: wash them first, to get rid of dust, and always add them to cold water that you then bring to boil, in order to avoid making porridge. So wash the spelt kernels first, generally it is good to change the water a couple of times and really rub the grain, as if you were doing laundry by hand. Then put the spelt, some salt and water into a big cooking pot. The water should come about 5 cm above the level of the spelt. Then bring it to boil and let simmer until the spelt is cooked, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the cashew nuts on a dry frying pan, turning constantly, since they burn easily. Then fry the onions in canola oil, together with the turmeric. Add the peas, the cashews and pour the mixture into the cooking pot with the spelt and mix carefully.
Cucumber and Coconut Salad
4 dl mung bean sprouts
1 organic orange
2 dl grated coconut
1 dl canola oil
juice of one lemon
pinch of salt
First wash and cut the cucumbers, and cut up the orange and grate the zest. Mix the coconut, the grated orange zest, lemon juice and the oil and some salt with a blender. Mix the cucumber pieces, the orange, the mung bean sprouts and the coconut mixture.
I usually don’t eat much rice, since the environmental impacts of rice are almost as bad as those of meat. Luckily there are many delicious substitutes for rice available. One that I use quite a lot is whole oat kernels. At least in Finland they are locally grown and can be obtained in organic stores. The thing with oat is that it becomes porridge very easy, so it is important to start cooking them in cold water, and preferably use too little water in the beginning, instead of too much. I usually start cooking them with about 50% more water than oats, and then add water little by little when the oats have absorbed it.
This time I decided to try to make some kind of a risotto out of them.
Lemon Risotto with Whole Oats (2 portions)
2 dl whole oats
3 dl water to start with
1 tsp salt
Half a lemon’s grated zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 dl oat cream
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 dl cashew nuts
I added the oats and cold water into a cooking pot, and let it boil until the water was absorbed. Then I added 1 dl of water and let the oats simmer on low heat until they were done. This took about 30 minutes, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on the oats, because the time might vary a bit, as well as the amount of water. Also they should remain a little bit chewy, since it is so easy to overcook them. When the rest of the water had absorbed, I added the oat cream, olive oil, and lemon juice, and let the pan stay on the cooking stove on low heat still for a while. Then I added the rest of the spices. The cashw nuts I roasted lightly on a pan and sprinkled on top.
There is sometimes a slight bitterness in the taste of whole oats. I think combining them with lemon was a good idea, because the tang of the lemon covers this bitterness. Also cashew nuts were nice in this dish, since their sweetness complemented the sourness of the lemon very well.