My Vegan Journey – Demuths Vegan Diploma

Around this time two years ago, I dedicated two weeks to attend Demuths first Vegan Diploma course. I wasn’t vegan (and I’m still not) but an amazing trip earlier in the year to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Bali and the Philippines with the sole purpose of doing yoga and healthy eating (and visit my brother in HK) had led to my discovery of vegan food. And it was a revelation! I came back from the trip quite a few pounds lighter, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of energy. I also knew that I didn’t want my vegan ‘journey’ to stop there.

A residential Vegan Diploma course at Demuths ticked the boxes. A renowned vegetarian cookery school in Bath run by an award winning vegetarian chef and her experienced team. I love the West Country and it doesn’t get much better than being based in Bath for two weeks. Dog sitter? Tick. I was lucky that my sister-in-law’s parents live in Bristol and agreed to look after my beloved Westie, Dizzy Rascal. I think they also secretly hoped to share some vegan deliciousness at the end of each day!

I was apprehensive and excited but mainly curious at the start of the course. I didn’t know what to expect. Two weeks seemed quite a long time to learn to cook just plant based ingredients? I’m half Italian and a confident home cook, given I’ve been cooking from an early age but in no way, could I call myself a chef. Would I be out of my depth, I asked myself?

On arrival, we were all invited to sit in the cosy seating area above the kitchen and started to introduce ourselves over coffee, tea and delicious homemade vegan biscuits! A good start. After a warm welcome from Rachel, it was time to get our aprons on and wash our hands ready for the first demonstration! There were about eight of us on the course which felt like the right size to maintain a feeling of intimacy within the class. As students with varying degrees of experience and backgrounds, I think we all enjoyed meeting each other as well as swapping ideas and recommendations. Interestingly, some of the students had already attended a few Demuths courses and I now understand why!

Classes were a mix of demonstration and hands on preparation and cookery. Dishes were international and based on seasonal ingredients and availability. The course was broken up into four modules over two weeks. Module One ‘Pasta, Sauces, Soups and Stocks’, Module Two ‘Grains, Legumes and Vegetables’, Module Three ‘Bread’ and Module Four ‘Pastry and Desserts.’ As well as learning lots of recipes, we were also taught preparation methods, cooking techniques and safe, hygienic practices. Pretty much what you would expect in any professional kitchen.

The tutors were friendly and fabulous, so knowledgeable and patient! What I really appreciated were the extra tit-bits of info that they were willing to share about products and recipes. And we had A LOT of questions! Although we worked to a strict timetable each day, the atmosphere was relaxed and fun. Every lunchtime we sat down to eat the delicious food we had prepared and the same again in the afternoon. We were generously provided with leftover boxes to take food away with us at the end of each day.

I learnt so much from the course about ingredients, spices, techniques and flavours. There were so many ingredients I had not heard of before! Even learning to taste every time I added an ingredient to a dish, may sound like an obvious technique yet it taught me the importance of recognising flavour combinations, particularly with ingredients I had not used before. I went through so many teaspoons! The two weeks went by in a flash. Here are some of the highlights (there were a lot, these are just a few!)

  • The wonder of aguafaba. Chickpea water instead of egg whites to make meringues? Yup.
  • Making vegan cheese from rejuvelac and soaked cashew nuts. Never thought it possible. And so delicious!
  • I discovered tempeh. A sexier, meatier soy product than tofu.
  • Experienced tutors. These ladies really know their stuff. I was in awe.
  • Flax batter instead of egg? For making desserts and cakes.
  • A makeshift smoker made from a wok and a cake rack to smoke tofu. Genius!
  • Sauerkraut. I never thought fermented cabbage could taste so good!

Demuths Vegan Diploma course was thorough, professional, varied, interesting and fun. I loved the creativity of vegan cooking and as its plant based, I felt it was also doing me good.

I looked at the photos we took on the last day of the course and saw myself grinning like a Cheshire cat holding a plate of vegan deliciousness that I had made. Yes, the course is a commitment in terms of time however, it was a life changing experience that came at the right moment for me and I loved every minute of it. I would have moved in if I could!!!

I realised at that point that I had started a journey and shifted my diet to being plant-based. On returning to London alongside my corporate career, I volunteered at a vegan community kitchen and a vegan café. Two years on I have left the corporate world in London to dedicate myself to a MSc in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health at Bristol University with specific research interest on the Mediterranean Diet. I’ve qualified as a yoga teacher and taken over the villa that my father built to create The View, Sicily. A holiday home that offers yoga and vegan and vegetarian cookery classes based on the Mediterranean Diet i.e. local, seasonal produce. Fruit, wine and olive oil are produced on site. Now I’m plant- and solar-powered!

The Demuths Vegan Diploma is a 2-week course that runs throughout the year http://demuths.co.uk/rachels-blog/article/Demuths_Vegan_Diploma_My_Vegan_Journey

More information can be found here.

 

 

How to keep cool in Sicily. Balsam Mediterranean Kitchen recipes: Chilled “I carried a watermelon”, ginger & mint shots PLUS watermelon & tomato salad with ricotta salata (salted ricotta)

I’m supposed to have started my dissertation on the Mediterranean Diet this week but it’s JUST TOO HOT to do anything. PLUS I got seriously distracted last week visiting my new born niece in the UK (too cute, miss her already). So, I thought I’d ease myself back into things by posting a couple of recipes on one of my favourite summer fruits, watermelon. I promised myself at the start of this year that I would take myself out of my comfort zone and trying new recipes with watermelon sits in this category!

I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to certain foods. Take avocado for example. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to stick such as wonderful thing in a blender when it tastes so good on its own? I feel the same about watermelon. What could be better after a hot and humid day then that first sweet, slightly crunchy mouthful of ripe watermelon? I take my watermelon purchasing seriously, a few taps here and there in anticipation of a hollow sound to confirm its ripeness. If I can’t make up my mind then there’s usually an intense discussion with the fruttivendolo (greengrocer) as to which I should choose. After all, watermelon takes up a lot of space in the fridge. Too ripe and you can find yourself eating watermelon for breakfast, lunch and dinner just to finish it before it gets too soft. Not ripe enough and not only are you stuck with at least 6kgs of unripe fruit but, the integrity of the fruttivendolo who sold it to you is usually brought into question. These are actual topics of conversation at the dinner table in Sicily.

L’anguria or cocomero contains over 90% water so it’s ideal for hydration yet is nutrient dense. A rich source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and lycopene. Several studies suggest lycopene may have antioxidant benefits supporting the immune system and providing health benefits in the prevention of disease. Vitamin A helps maintain healthy eyes and skin. Watermelon also contains a non-essential amino acid L-citrulline which is converted into L-arginine, important for heart and blood vessel health. Buon appetito!

Chilled “I carried a watermelon”, ginger & mint shots

Makes 4 shots

500 grams of ripe watermelon (deseeded and cut into cubes)

1 teaspoon of fresh, peeled ginger (+/- according to taste)

Squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice

3-4 mint leaves (+/- according to taste)

*Blend the ingredients together

*Refrigerate for at least an hour

*Put into shot glasses & enjoy!

*Add more ginger or lemon/lime juice if the watermelon is very ripe and sweet. If it needs sweetening then add some honey

Watermelon & tomato salad with ricotta salata (salted ricotta)

Serves 2

80-100 grams of green salad leaves

200 grams of tomatoes (that’s about 2 tomatoes sliced or chopped)

200 grams of watermelon (sliced or cut into cubes)

30 grams of finely sliced olives

30 grams of finely sliced red onion

30 grams of salted ricotta or feta cheese (+/- according to taste)

A glug of olive oil

A dash of pepper

Balsamic vinegar to taste

*Assemble the ingredients together

*Add pieces of salted ricotta (it is very salty so you will not need any additional salt)

*Add the olive oil, pepper and balsamic vinegar (+/- according to taste)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balsam Mediterranean Kitchen. Simple Sicilian artichoke salad

Che bontà! Spring in Sicily is a time to reap the benefits of its fertile soil and warm climate. Wisteria and blossom are in abundance, fruit is beginning to take shape on the trees and the temperature is warm enough to make you forget that winter ever existed. It’s a time to be enjoyed before the overwhelming heat arrives.

On every street corner, you will find the local fruttivendolo selling a cornucopia of local freshly picked fruit and vegetables, either from the back of a small lorry or 3-wheeler. I am usually overwhelmed at the choice and variety of local produce during this period that I don’t know where to start. But start I must!

Artichokes are nutrient powerhouses. A little tricky to prepare but delicious and full of health benefits. Artichokes are packed with phytonutrients providing antioxidant benefits and are full of dietary fibre, so great for digestive health. Rich in vitamin K, potassium and manganese which can help protect brain and cognitive health, lower blood pressure and boost metabolism. Additional health benefits include liver protecting properties and reduced blood cholesterol levels which can help protect against heart disease.

Simple artichoke salad (suitable for vegans and vegetarians)

The literal translation for carciofi conditi is “seasoned artichokes” but this description does not do them justice!

*Approximately 2 artichokes per person.

*Using rubber or latex gloves, start to clean the artichokes. Hold the artichoke so the stalk is upright and start to pull off the leaves from the stalk down until you see the leaves are white (usually tinged with pink).

*With a sharp knife, clean the tail end of the stalk, removing any green bits on the stalk and where you have pulled off the leaves.

*Slice off the top of the artichoke (the other end to the stalk) and then slice in quarters.

*Cover and soak the sliced artichokes in lemon juice and water whilst you continue preparing the remainder of the artichokes (this will prevent them from discolouring).

*Cook the artichokes in boiling water, salt, lemon juice and a splash of white wine vinegar.

*Drain the artichokes.

*When the artichokes have cooled down, dress them with plenty of olive oil and chopped parsley, vinegar (optional) and chilli (optional).

Buon appetito!