Last weekend I had the chance to participate in Chef Sadhana’s Garden-To-Table Cooking Class—it proved quite the culinary adventure.
One of the special things about this particular class is that it didn’t start in the kitchen, but in the garden. Sadhana took us on a tour of the Inn’s gardens and encouraged us to handpick anything along the way that we wanted to incorporate into our dishes: fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers (all of which were edible!). We harvested fresh broccoli, kale, mustard greens, and berries.
When we arrived at the classroom (the gorgeous main dining room of the Ravens’ Restaurant, outfitted with a portable kitchen unit), garden loot in hand, Sadhana called upon us to get our creative juices flowing. Instead of cooking our way through recipes she’d developed and selected beforehand, she wanted us to draw inspiration from our freshly picked ingredients and let the food be our guide. One of the students expressed that extemporaneous cooking wasn’t her forte because she didn’t know which flavors complemented each other. Sadhana encouraged us to trust our instincts and gave us a tip that I will definitely take home with me—if you’re not sure, smell the ingredients together.
Before long we’d generated with several excellent combinations: peach and basil, blackberries and lavender, zucchini and garlic. Based on everyone’s ideas and suggestions, we came up with the a basic plan for our dishes:
—Blackberry, peach, and lavender sauce
—Kale salad with white peaches and basil
—Quinoa with cashew cream sauce
—Oven-roasted zucchini and tomatoes
—Herbed cauliflower steaks
We began with the sauce since it would take the longest to boil down. We chopped up yellow peaches and threw them in the pot with the whole blackberries and lavender petals. We used agave as our natural liquid sweetener and added a pinch of salt. We left it in the pot to boil until it reached the right consistency. Sadhana set some aside to use as a sweet accompaniment to dessert and then added balsamic vinegar to balance out the sweetness of the sauce so that we could pair like a compote or chutney it with our savory dishes. She emphasized the importance of balance in cooking. The three basic elements are sweetness, saltiness, and acidity, and adding more of one can neutralize the others. There was an incredible difference between the sauce with and without the vinegar, yet they both worked for their intended purposes.
As we were deciding which veggies we wanted to roast, Sadhana suggested cauliflower steaks as a versatile base for other elements of the meal since it’s easy to spread and stack ingredients on top of them. We sliced the cauliflower into “steaks” and seasoned them with a little salt, basil, and olive oil, before roasting them in the oven. We then chopped up some garlic, tomatoes, and zucchini to roast as well.
A few of the students were adhered to gluten-free diets, so when Sadhana mentioned her quinoa-based tabouleh, they jumped at the chance to make this fresh take on an old Mediterranean favorite. We started with the quinoa base and added the classic elements—mint, cucumber, parsley, garlic red onion, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, a splash of golden balsamic and a dash of black pepper. Sadhana’s taste-as-you-go method encouraged us to look for the elements that needed to be balanced. In almost no time at all we’d finished the dish and were ready to move on to our other quinoa creation.
We opted for a risotto-like dish made from quinoa and cashew cream sauce (which tastes remarkably like nacho cheese but better, richer, and healthier). We mixed it together in a pot on the stove and added in elements as the inspiration came to liven it up a bit—chives and garlic for flavor, salad greens for color, sliced almonds to vary the texture and give it a distinct crunch. The end product was unique and delicious, the result of some serious culinary improv.
Finally, we turned our attention to the kale salad. Sadhana taught us about the importance of massaging kale (yes, it’s exactly what you think—rubbing the leaves between your fingers and working out the tension). Kale has a very thick cell wall that many people find difficult to swallow in its untreated form. But, if you chiffonade the kale and massage it into some olive oil, it not only gives it a more appealing texture but it also changes the flavor (most would argue for the better). If you don’t already, I challenge you to get intimate with your kale and give it a nice massage next time you’re preparing a salad. You won’t be disappointed. We added in our white peaches and basil, threw in some sliced carrots and crafted a fantastic dressing from olive oil, vinegar, and a tad of our blackberry, peach, and lavender sauce. The salad was sweet, fresh, and nothing short of delicious.
Sadhana’s Garden-To-Table class wasn’t just a lesson in vegan and whole foods cooking—it was a lesson in how to be your own culinary muse. Let your ingredients guide you and don’t be afraid to experiment, take risks, and try something different. Pick a night each week where you keep your cookbook on the shelf. I’d wager that more often than not, the results will surprise and delight you…
…Especially if they are anything like ours!
This article was written by Eden Ohayon