I decided a year ago that I absolutely had to go to culinary school, and I needed to do it immediately. Thankfully, with the support system I have around me I was able to make that happen pretty quickly. Not only that, but I enrolled in the best plant based program out there- the chef training at Natural Gourmet Institute. In a class of 16, we learned everything from knife skills to cooking a gourmet meal with only 5 ingredients (think carrots, onions, mushrooms, kale, ginger) . Each of the animated and charismatic chef instructors brought their own vastly different experiences ranging from sushi cheffing in Japan to catering for the biggest clients in NYC and everything in between. One thing they clearly had in common was the incredible amount of passion they each infused into their teaching- sharing their wisdom while carefully guiding us on our own culinary journeys- with All-Clad pots and pans in tow. What was even more remarkable however, is the group of people I was lucky enough to call my classmates- I can confidently say there is no better group to make 1283 different croquettes with. Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more diverse, and yet we were able to bind together like the best flax-egg ever made over our deep love of food and a burning desire to make a change in the way the world eats. The more we cooked together the deeper our bonds became- these people are now all lifelong friends.
One of the final projects was creating a three course balanced plant based menu with a group of 5 other classmates. My group chose a Spring Caribbean theme and after countless recipe testing, failing, regrouping and testing again, we came up with a delicious menu that we were immensely proud of. We did all the costing, sourcing of hard to find ingredients (culantro, bitter oranges, etc), eating, eating some more, and finally executing the menu for 100 people which was an experience I will never forget. I was personally in charge of the dessert, with the final iteration being a cashew-coconut based cheesecake with a raspberry-hibiscus swirl/flavor explosion on top. We paired it with a bright pink sorrel sorbet and dark chocolate bark with edible flowers. A couple people even said this was the best cake they’d ever had in their life…
Now that my training at NGI is complete, I’m excited to test new recipes with all of the knowledge and techniques I have under my belt. As most of my recipes, this one was inspired by the bountiful summer farmer’s market. The dragon-skin-like (and incredibly aromatic) shiso, plump agretti, neon-green fava beans, and crisp cucumbers were the ingredients that I scooped up with a refreshing salad in mind. It all came together when I realized that using the shiso leaves in the dressing was the key to making the dish unforgettable- it paired beautifully with the tender, nutty-flavored fava’s.
Agretti- what is it? Admittedly, I had no idea what it was when I bought it from the folks at Tamarack Hollow Farm. It looked so unusual with its long, chubby chive-like leaves and since my rule is to pick up an ingredient I’ve never cooked with before whenever at the market, this was the perfect opportunity. Come to find out, agretti is actually a hot commodity as of late, even causing stampedes at the market in Italy! Lucky for me, the Tamarack Hollow Farm stand had plenty of bunches of this elusive veggie. Agretti has similarities in taste to spinach but it’s a bit earthier, and slightly crunchier. You can either sautee it or keep it raw, which is how I enjoyed my first ever bunch.
Shiso- you may not be familiar with this plant as grocery stores do not usually carry it, but if you find it, pick it up immediately! I was blown away by the complexity of the flavor- it has hints of basil, mint, even cinnamon! It’s quite strong, so cutting very thinly (chiffonading) the leaves ensures that no mouthful has an overpowering shiso taste.
- 1½ lbs fava beans
- small bunch of shiso leaves (save 3-4 leaves for the dressing)
- 2 organic persian cucumbers, chopped
- ⅓ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
- handful of mixed greens of your choice
- few sprigs of agretti
- edible flowers for garnish (optional)
- 3-4 shiso leaves
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp tamari
- juice of half lemon
- 1 Tbls ginger juice
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2 tsp mellow white or chickpea miso
- ½ tsp umeboshi paste
- 3 Tbls olive oil
- To prepare the fava beans, take the stem and pull down the seam to remove the string. Remove the beans from the pod, place in a bowl and rinse with warm water.
- Before you blanch the beans, prepare a bowl of ice water so that you can immediately stop the beans from cooking once they have been blanched.
- Boil 4 cups of salted water ( should be as salty as sea water) and drop the beans in for 45 seconds. Quickly drain the beans and place them into the ice water for a couple of minutes.
- Drain the water and shell the beans by squeezing it out of its skin (if the beans don't come out easily, carefully make a small slit with a knife or your fingers and slip the beans out).
- Chiffonade the shiso leaves, by rolling the leaves into a cigar shape and using a sharp knife to slice very thin pieces.
- Combine all of the salad ingredients.
- To make the dressing, place all ingredients into a blender and blend on high until shiso leaves are broken up and the dressing is a deep pink color.
- Combine the salad and dressing.*
- *I used a ring mold to create the cucumber shell, but this is not necessary- the salad will be just as delicious regardless! However if you'd like to do this, rub a couple drops of olive oil on the inside of the ring mold, then carefully layer thinly sliced cucumber, barely overlapping. Place the ring mold on the plate and scoop the salad into the ring mold, careful not to overstuff. Carefully remove the ring mold, leaving the cucumber slices in place.
- Garnish with flowers if using.