As the fall semester nears its conclusion, I find myself in the midst of a catering quasi-business. My position as co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) has developed to include (and I’m thrilled that it has) the responsibility of event-catering alongside speaker-coordinating, meeting-facilitating, campaign-organizing, and conference-planning. Indeed, in the past three months, I’ve provided quality vegan grub for two campus lectures hosted by VARC: the first delivered by the ubiquitous Carol J. Adams (author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, don’t-cha know), the second by thought-provoker extraordinaire James McWilliams (can you say vegan pizza buffet?).
Most excitingly, my burgeoning catering skills have begun to elicit requests from other student organizations to provide fabulous animal-free goodies for their events. Doing so works to cultivate my ideal role as an animal activist of opening individuals’ hearts and minds to veganism through bountiful, flavorful, satisfying, and creative plant-based foods. Not to mention, it offers me a legitimate excuse to devote my time and energy to experimenting with new recipes and cooking techniques…for a profit, no less.
My first non-VARC catering request came from the Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC), who planned to host a spoken-word poetry night with the two queer activist poets (and gluten-free vegans) Alok and Janani who comprise Darkmatter, and wanted to host a small dinner for the artists after the event (funny how many individuals who fight for other forms of social justice also lead a vegan lifestyle…). Check out a couple of Darkmatter’s powerful performances here.
Stipulating only that I not use any walnuts and include a kale salad, QCVC bestowed upon me full reign over the dinner menu, with a budget of “not ridiculously expensive.” Turning to my infamous 49-page “Recipes to Try” Word document, I formulated an autumn-inspired catering menu to satisfy the vegans in the group and wow the non-vegans.
The meal began with a succulent, creamy Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup, inspired by the Parsnip-Chestnut Bisque in the newly released (and positively magical) Vedge cookbook. With only olive oil, onions, parsnips, hazelnuts, coconut milk, salt, and pepper as ingredients, the soup highlighted the sweet, earthy flavor of the parsnips, accentuated further by the toasty richness of the hazelnuts. Though I would have loved to create the original soup recipe with chestnuts, the natural foods store I visited for catering ingredients did not carry them. Thus, I turned to nuts of a similar sweetness as chestnuts, and ended up immensely pleased with the modified soup’s final flavor. Served in a slow-cooker, the soup remained steaming hot throughout the entire dinner.
To provide textural contrast to the smooth soup, I roasted up two trays of chickpeas coated in maple syrup and cinnamon, inspired by My Whole Food Life. Proteinous croutons, no?
Next to the soup sat a big ol’ bowl of kale salad. Though I didn’t follow an exact recipe for the salad, I did draw inspiration from this salad featured on Choosing Raw. My method of salad creation follows: cut three bunches of lacinato kale into chiffonade; massaged said kale with the flesh of two avocados, two tablespoons of olive oil, four tablespoons of maple syrup, and two lemon’s worth of juice; stirred into the massaged kale one kabocha squash’s worth of roasted squash cubes and 1 1/2 cups of toasted pumpkin seeds. The resulting salad featured an amalgamation of flavors and textures, with the melt-on-your-tongue, succulent squash; the crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds; the rich, creamy avocado; the complexly sweet maple syrup; and the tanginly acidic lemon. Honestly, though, how could a dish that incorporates kabocha squash, maple syrup, kale, and avocado not inspire gastronomic nirvana?
As per the request of my VARC co-president Katie, the meal’s vegetable side dish comprised of meltingly tender roasted sweet potato fries, accompanied by the oh-so garlicky cashew aioli from Christy Morgan’s cookbook “Blissful Bites.” One spoonful of this aioli and it became all I wanted to put in my mouth for the rest of my life (well, until I remembered kale…and roasted brussels sprouts…and kombucha…okay, the sentiment didn’t last very long). I only wish that my blender could have pureed the aioli into a smoother consistency, though I suppose I’ll have to wait for perfectly silky cashew creams until I receive a Vitamix for my college graduation gift (some students ask for cars, Ali prefers blenders).
Because I’m familiar with the sheer joy of encountering good-quality gluten-free bread, I wanted to bake up an artisan loaf for Alok and Janani. I had seen this recipe for Farmhouse Seed Bread circulating all over Pinterest and garnering rave reviews for months, and yearned to experiment with it myself. Since the natural food store I visited did not carry teff or sweet rice flour, I substituted equal amounts of buckwheat and tapioca flours, and experienced fabulous results. The boule featured a crackly crust and a moist, dense interior—ideal for soaking up the Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup.
Finally, to round out the meal, I made the dessert that never fails to impress any eater, no matter how picky or averse to veganism: a raw cheesecake. With a silky smooth filling and a simultaneously crunchy, chewy, and caramely sweet crust, it’s no wonder that of all of the catered dishes, only the cheesecake did not produce at least a small amount of leftovers. I employed this basic raw cheesecake recipe, layering thin slices of crisp apples on top along with a scant drizzling of maple syrup.
The dinner guests offered only positive feedback about all of the dishes. I can hardly wait until my next catering gig, and in the meantime, will plan to engage in some publicity measures in order to gain attention for my…business? Wish me luck!
Until next time, Ali.