I spent Wednesday night last week at a cookery demonstration by the Christchurch branch of the New Zealand Vegetarian Society. No, I’m not going over to the dark side – I love meat too much – but their description of the evening intrigued me. Vegetarian Cuisine for the Non-Vegetarian sounds just like my cooking style in Ireland. That was, of course, before I landed in New Zealand and discovered that meat is cheap, there are several good butchers nearby and even the supermarket meat comes with a sticker indicating what it should be used for. Still, I am always open to new kinds of cookery and the line-up of dishes, which included Mushroom Nut Croustade, Savoury Polenta, Cinnamon Pear Cream, Vegetable Pakoras and Puris was very tempting.
So I took myself along to the Canterbury Horticultural Centre on Riccarton Avenue on Wednesday night and had a fascinating evening. There were a total of ten dishes demonstrated by three people – Yolanda Soryl, who runs an eco-friendly B&B by English Park, an Indian lady called Janaki Kandula and Vanya Maw of Wyenova Organic Farm. There were about 30 people there, many who seemed to know each other well, and it was all very relaxed and informal.
Yolanda was up first and she started with Mushroom Nut Croustade which she said was based on a recipe from famed vegetarian cook Rose Elliot that she got from the radio some years ago. My first misgivings arose when she used olive oil margarine and soya milk. Coming from a farming background – I was even an occasional milker of cows at my grandfather’s farm in Oldcastletown – I am a lover of dairy products, especially butter. However, as Yolanda had told us that we would have the opportunity to taste samples of all the dishes at the end of the evening, I decided to wait and see how it actually tasted before making snap judgements.
An entertaining demonstrator, Yolanda has been doing this since 1988, and she had plenty of tips to offer. I discovered where to buy cheap sacks of nuts in Christchurch, a replacement for my beloved Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon Powder (Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon), that Brazil nuts are always organic and that my local health food shop – Piko Wholefoods – stock organic homemade peanut butter. It was also interesting to learn that you can make pesto with silverbeet – seeing as the Boyfriend is a devoted lover of silverbeet this could be a new dish to try out on him!
Janaki Kandula runs a series of Indian cooking classes at nighttime in Riccarton High School. After the mustard seeds that she cooked for her Tomato Chutney tried to asphyxiate us, the demonstration went off smoothly and we learned how to make Puris – a type of Indian bread – Date and Tamarind Chutney and Vegetable Pakoras. During Janaki’s demonstration she passed around jars of her own pungent-smelling ginger-garlic paste and fragrant all-spice powder and told us how to make these ourselves. (ginger-garlic paste: blend 100g ginger with 50g garlic and 25g salt; all-spice powder: crush together 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds, 6 cloves, the seeds from 6 cardamom pods and 1″ cinnamon stick).
Vanya Maw was last up and in her demonstration she strongly emphasised the nutritious value of food. We were treated to conspiracy theories about the dairy and beef industries, a diatribe on the evils of sugar and positive tofu propaganda. I have to admit that tofu is something I despise but, as with the soya milk and olive oil margarine, I decided to go with the flow and let the proof of the pudding be in the final tasting. And pudding was what we got from Vanya. After she made a batch of Savoury Polenta, she moved on to Chocolate Nut Brownies, with the aforementioned tofu, and a Cinnamon Pear Cream which was a simple (and surprisingly tasty) blend of liquidised tinned pears, cashew nuts and cinnamon.
In the tastings, I have to say that I was hugely impressed with my piece of Mushroom and Nut Croustade – although I think it might be even nicer with butter, milk, and perhaps a bit of bacon. Heresy! It was definitely the nicest dish of the evening, although the Puris and Vegetable Pakoras were also compeditors, and something that I definitely will be cooking at home. I also hope to make Vanya’s Cinnamon Pear Cream as it had a richness which belied the simplicity of its ingredients. The Brownies? Well, let it just be said that tofu and I are still not on good terms!