When I found out that we were moving to Seattle area, I got very excited: this city in the Pacific Northwest is well-known for its vegan-friendly vibes, which is quite different from what we were used to living in the Deep South. (As Rob recently described the typical Southern restaurant fare, ‘It’s hard to find a salad that doesn’t have a rack of ribs in it.’ Okay, that’s not always true, but you get the point.) What’s even better, there are lots of opportunities in and around Seattle to enjoy delicious vegan food while socializing with like-minded people without going to a restaurant. Case in point: vegan cooking classes!
This past Sunday, May 18th, Rob and I enjoyed a cooking class by Renee Press of Fire and Earth Kitchen, a Seattle-based personal chef business that Renee runs with her partner Nick. Renee offers a variety of cooking classes, as well as food coaching and chef services for anyone interested in learning about plant-based vegan and gluten-free food. Fire and Earth Kitchen operates all around Seattle and its surroundings, with cooking classes taking place at different locations in private homes of people who invited Renee to host a class.
Our class took place in Langley right here on Whidbey Island, which was very convenient for Rob and I since we didn’t have to get off the island and drive to Seattle. The class was about the flavors of the Southeast Asia. Renee put together an impressive menu of Napa Cabbage and Mushroom Dumplings, Fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce, Creamy Thai-Style Beachfront Curry, and a dessert of Mung Bean Dumplings in Coconut Cream. As the class went on, she prepared each dish in front of us and served us samples to taste.
Renee’s approach was very easygoing and friendly. She made sure all of the class attendants were at ease, and welcomed their questions throughout the class. As the class went on, Renee highlighted a lot of the ingredients common to the Southeast Asian cuisine (such as raw turmeric root, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, etc.), and provided information on their nutritional benefits and tips for use. Did you know, for example, that a lemongrass stalk can be kept on your kitchen counter in a glass of water for quite a while? It may even continue growing right out of the glass!
Interestingly, Renee didn’t go through formal culinary training: she has been interested in art since she was a child, and later studied fine art at Pratt Institute in NYC, which explains her approach to treat food as a form of art. It was fascinating to witness her easygoing teaching style and ‘thinking outside the box’ when working with food during the class.
The preparation steps of each dish were put together in a convenient sequence, which allowed Renee and Nick to work on all of the dishes at the same time. They started with cooking split mung beans (a.k.a. moong dal) and making the rice flour dough for the dessert of Mung Bean Dumplings in Coconut Cream, known as Bahn Ja’Neuk in Cambodia:
While the beans were cooking, Renee made the cabbage-mushroom filling and the gluten-free dough for the Napa Cabbage and Mushroom Dumplings. As the filling cooled, she proceeded to make a deliciously fragrant curry paste of lemongrass, fresh turmeric, ginger and a few more things, grinding them all up in a large mortar with a pestle:
After this, stir-fry veggies were chopped and added to a large pot along with the curry paste and coconut milk. A few more chef’s touches, and this beautiful curry was finished and served:
Next up were the cabbage-mushroom dumplings. Renee rolled out the gluten-free dough, cut it into circles with a cup, added some filling to each circle, sealed them up and added the dumplings to a steamer basked lined with parchment paper:
The parchment paper helped prevent the dough from sticking to the basket as the dumplings cooked – a clever tip that I was glad to learn. Once the dumplings were done steaming, they were lightly fried and served with a side of coconut aminos-based sauce:
The next dish was the fresh vegetable spring rolls. I make spring rolls at home quite often, but it was interesting to try a different version of this dish. I’ve always used rice flour-based spring roll wrappers, but Renee chose to show us how to use tapioca flour-based wrappers. Rob liked those wrappers so much that after the class was over, we went straight to the grocery store and bought tapioca wrappers. Looks like I’ll be making a different type of spring rolls one of these days…
The final dish of the night was dessert! Usually when I think about Asian food, not a lot of desserts come to mind, so it was exciting to try Renee’s mung bean dumplings in coconut cream, a traditional Cambodian dessert/snack food. To make them, Renee mashed up the split mung beans that were cooked earlier, added a few ingredients to them, shaped them into little balls, and inserted the balls into rice flour dough patties. Her assembly line looked like this:
The resulting dumplings were then boiled, cooled off in cold water, and then sautéed in a coconut cream sauce. Renee ground up some toasted sesame seeds and sprinkled them on top of each dumpling once it was done:
I cut my dumpling in half to show you the yellow mung bean stuffing inside – can you see it in the picture?
Once the dumplings were served, the class was basically over. Renee answered a few more questions and sent us off equipped with a set of beautiful recipe cards for the dishes she made. Rob and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience: even though we don’t usually make a lot of foods with oil or coconut at home, it was nice to learn about the traditional foods of a different region of the world. It was great to see that Southeast Asian food can be delicious without any animal products added.
Disclosure: I wasn’t paid to write this review, but Renee kindly provided me with a complimentary ticket to this class. All of the opinions expressed are my own.
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