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Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.


Spring 2003 Special Edition: Recipes for Peace

12 Days in Culinary Heaven
by Joan Zacharias

I love to cook. My favorite weekends are spent reading recipes, prospecting for interesting ingredients at natural foods stores, chopping, blending, measuring, sauteing and, the best part, tasting and serving my newest dishes to my grateful husband and friends. But I’ve always felt a little insecure about my cooking: What do the pros know that I don’t? And what makes them "pros" and me a mere "home cook?"

So on January 1, 2003, I headed to Santa Fe for a 12-day vegan culinary arts program at Chef Al Chase’s Institute for Culinary Awakening (ICA). Chef Al is one of New York’s own - a Red Hook native who grew up working in his dad’s deli. His path took him to the Culinary Institute, followed by years of training and working at some very fancy West Coast bistros, country clubs, bakeries, inns and hotels. In the ’80s and ’90s, Al began moving toward plant-based cuisine.

"My first ‘a-ha,’" says Al, was deleting dairy products from my diet. My sinus problems, which I had my entire life, simply went away." Chef Al’s ICA now focuses on education and training.

I expected a boot camp, where we lowly enlistees methodically and laboriously practiced and perfected our small dice or julienne techniques, while being critiqued by our white-hatted taskmaster from the Culinary Institute. Instead, Chef Al and his partner, Donna Benjamin, invited us into their home kitchen, starting each day with sage tea and smoothies, soft Native American music, and the warmest, most nurturing and personal educational experience I’ve ever had. Instead of a big white chef’s hat, Al wears colorful Lakota-style headbands - and instead of stereotypical chef arrogance, he displays modesty, grace, humor, heart and soul. And tact - which I discovered when I mistakenly doubled the mint in one recipe, turning our carrot soup into orange toothpaste.

Chef Al’s cuisine is a fusion of French, Southwestern and bistro, with splashes of raw – and incredible sweets. He is a treasure in the vegetarian community.

The students became a little community for 12 days: Carolyn, a beautiful movie makeup artist; Kerry, a courageous farmed animal rescuer; and Anne, a health/nutrition educator and devout Seventh Day Adventist. Donna made sure we knew where to go and what to do with our free afternoons and evenings in Santa Fe, a magical and very veggie-friendly place to visit.

Classes were structured by theme: soups, salads, appetizers, entrees - and my favorite - baking. Woven throughout were lessons in plate presentation, rolling sushi, working with phyllo pastry, and how to measure, chop, mix, saute, bake and flavor for best results. Field trips included visits to a 300-year-old organic farm and a culinary supply store, where we learned how to select good knives, gadgets and equipment. I also took several field trips on my own to a wonderful local chocolatier, who sold such creative treats as vegan cranberry-pistachio bark and chocolate-covered chile peppers and ginger.

The best part of the training was, of course, sitting down together each day and devouring our creations, all developed by Chef Al. Favorite dishes included Jamaican Bean Soup, Coconut Tempeh Strips, Chapati Chips with Black Bean Avocado Dip, BBQ Tempeh Napoleon, Falafel with Lemon-Mint Tahini Sauce, Anasazi Cornbread, Tempeh Sloppy Joes, Chocolate-Avocado Mousse, Chocolate Banana Nut Phyllo Rolls with Coconut Whipped Cream, Pecan-Cranberry Pancakes and Chocolate Raspberry Torte with Lavender-Almond Sauce.

It was a transformative, heady experience - was it the altitude or the endorphins from all that chocolate? I recommend the training to anyone who wants to be a more conscious cook and incorporate more local, organic and healthy ingredients into a plant-based diet.

Here’s a taste of what I learned from Chef Al:

1. Mise en place - French for ‘everything in its place.’ The easiest way to reduce stress in the kitchen is to measure everything out BEFORE you start to cook. Also, read the recipe and really understand it. Have your head in the right place, too. Cook with mindfulness, love, patience and gratitude - the food will taste better.

2. Use coconut and flax oils - Unrefined, organic, non-hydrogenated coconut butter by Omega Nutrition www.omeganutrition.com  is preferred by Chef Al for high-heat sauteing and for baking. Flax oil is perfect for condiments. Omega Nutrition makes wonderful flavored flax oils, including garlic-chili and butterscotch. Quality olive oil is always a good choice, too.

3. Switch to Celtic Sea Salt and cayenne pepper - For $15, you can join the Grain & Salt Society www.celtic-seasalt.com  and receive discounts on the most natural, tasty sea salt available. And, instead of black pepper, which is an intestinal irritant, switch to cayenne pepper.

4. Organic Rapadura by Rapunzel Foods, Grade B Maple Syrup by Shady Maple Farms, and organic Medjool dates are among the best sweeteners available for vegan desserts. Use organic, fair trade cocoa and chocolate, too.

5. You probably knew this, Part 1: Label and date all food and ingredients. Keep masking tape and a pen in the kitchen for an easy way to eliminate ‘mystery leftovers’ and stale spices.

6. You probably knew this, Part 2: Use a spoon to peel ginger.

7. Create ‘layers of flavors’ - For best results, follow this procedure: Brush coconut butter in your sauté pan. First, sauté onions, then other veggies, then garlic. Next, add dry herbs and spices, then stock (or sauce), and finish with fresh herbs. Serve with condiments.

8. Don't be afraid to prepare dishes with avocado, nuts and coconut.  These vegan foods are luscious, rich and absolutely pleasure -   able to eat.

9. Think before you eat - Grow your own, go to farmers' markets and support local providers of organic, sustainable food.  Connect   with the plants, land and farmers.  The food will be fresher and healthier for you and the planet.

10. Eating is an event - Say grace, thank Mother Earth, the cook, the farmers, the insects and life itself.

Chef Al will be conducting classes in our area this fall.  For more
information about ICA and its programs, call (505) 466-4597 or e-mail

Coconut Whipped Cream by Chef Al Chase

(Quite possibly the best thing I have ever put in my mouth ? use as topping for your favorite vegan desserts)

1 can of coconut milk
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Place the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and then remove the thick, fatty part at top and save the    rest.

2. In a blender, mix the cashews and coconut until smooth.

3. Add the powdered sugar, then blend just until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.

4. Transfer to a small bowl, add vanilla and stir.

We look forward to hearing from you

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