After living at the Inn for a couple weeks, I quickly realized that I really like spending time in the kitchen. Chef Sadhana, the creative director at The Ravens’ Restaurant, was nice enough to let me observe and take pictures of a private cooking class she gave my second day here, and ever since then I’ve been quick to snap up other opportunities to learn how they make and develop their vegan cuisine!
Wednesday nights at The Ravens’ are ethnic nights, and for the month of June they’re focusing on Salvadoran food: pupusas stuffed with mushrooms and sweet potatoes with a cabbage slaw topping (anything involving masa = awesome in my book), served alongside fiery rice and flavor-packed beans. So when Sadhana asked me to help her prep for last Wednesday’s special cuisine, I was more than happy to put on an apron and help her in the restaurant’s kitchen.
We started on the black beans around noon in order to be ready for 5:30 pm dinner, since those take the longest. We filled two massive aluminum pots with the dried, rinsed beans and water, accompanied by a stick of kombu (dried seaweed) for flavor in each. Seaweed in beans–too cool! I was then put in charge of making a pureed-greens-and-spices blend for the beans while Sadhana got started on the mushroom filling for the pupusas.
Check out the beautiful greens that went into the sauce! Green onions, cilantro, and garlic. After washing them and giving the green onions a rough chop, I threw everything into a Vitamix (wish I had one of those at home) to blend up with some black pepper and a TON of red chili powder (or at least it seemed that way–I’m also not used to seasoning food in that quantity!).
Here’s what it looked like after blending about half of it (not the prettiest color because of the spices). I then stirred it into the beans we had cooking on the stove.
While I did that Sadhana had also started on the rice. I don’t remember exactly which seasonings she put in, but this is certainly the largest pot of rice I’ve ever seen (it spanned two burners). Here she’s dumping some vegetable stock into the pan.
While all of this was going on, I suddenly got a whiff of the most amazing smell ever coming out of the oven. Carson, one of the other chefs working the kitchen, had just taken two carrot cakes out. But, to be honest, the strong scent of nutmeg filling my nostrils reminded me more of the old fashioned donuts I used to get with my dad as a Sunday morning treat at home. Mmmm.
All around us, other cooks were getting other components of meals ready for dinner last night. It was so cool to be surrounded by the everyday operations of a real, professional, working kitchen. I love to cook, but my past experience has generally involved the small kitchen in my parents’ home or in the dorms at school. Oh, and measuring spoons. I had to ask Sadhana how big of a “pinch” she meant when she said “pinch.” We quickly determined that one of Sadhana’s “pinches” was two of mine. But in my defense, this definitely looks like more of a “very small handful” than a “pinch” to me.
Next up was the part I was most excited to learn: the pupusas! Into the bowls went masa, vinegar, garlic powder, salt, baking powder, and warm water. And then lots of kneading. Estaban, one of the other cooks helping Sadhana prep, showed us how it was done: there was a certain push-and-grab action that we attempted to master. I was then tasked with making 2.4 ounce balls of the dough, which we formed into little pouches for the sweet potato and mushroom fillings. We then closed them up like little coin purses and flattened them out like pancakes between our hands. The masa was sticky! My hands were totally caked in the stuff when I was done. I think I still have a little bit stuck on a few of my nails. But it was so worth it–the results were delicious!
Around 3:30 we took a break to get dessert ready for tea time at the Inn: a raw, vegan carrot cake (different than the ones that had earlier come out of the oven!) I had made the day before with Jen. Of course we had to take a small slice to taste, so we would know what to pair it with Check this beauty out!
We then threw the pupusas on to a cast iron flat top grill to cook, and all of a sudden I was alone with the main component of tonight’s special. A short moment of panic ensued when I realized how much faster those on the center of the grill were going than the those on the edges, but I soon settled into my pupusa-making mojo and had an awesome time–it was like flipping pancakes on a massive griddle.
Finally, about 6 hours after we started, it was time for me to head out, right as dinner was beginning. I think I fell face-first into bed as soon as I got to my room, and only emerged a few hours later to get some tea before bed. Being in the kitchen all day is hard work! My feet were certainly ready for a break by the end of the day. That said, it was an awesome day, not only learning how to make a delicious vegan meal, but also spending a day seeing how the Ravens’ kitchen gets everything done to produce a high-quality vegan dinner every night. I hope to do it again soon!
PS- Being that it’s a Wednesday night, you can try out these dishes tonight at the Inn!
This article was written by monica