This year many of us have already tried Veganuary on for size. But even if eating more plant-based meals remains one of your goals for 2019 rather than a reflection of your current menu, it’s a good idea to get your nutritional facts straight before embarking on your plant-based journey.
With this is mind I signed up to a day’s course at Demuths Cookery School in Bath. Owned by chef, restaurateur and pioneer of vegetarian cooking Rachel Demuth, the school specialises in plant-based cooking courses covering cuisines from all over the world, as well as raw and gluten-free cooking classes too.
The course I chose was Healthy Vegan Nutrition with plant-based nutritionist and psychologist, TJ Waterfall. [Our day-long course promises to be a mix of informal presentations and Q&As with TJ, cooking and, happily for me, eating.
We start the day with a demo by Helen, one of Demuths’ fantastic in-house tutors, who shows us how to make a delicious Super Smoothie, with ingredients including fresh turmeric, ginger, spinach and spirulina.
Any remaining cobwebs I’m feeling on this brisk Sunday morning are swept away and I feel alert and ready to learn. Our next task is to prepare our mid-morning snack, kale crisps seasoned with nutritional yeast, and I soon discover why my homemade veggie crisps are always either slightly burnt or soggy – the key to successful crisp-making is to release the steam from the veg, which means opening the oven door every five minutes to let the steam out until the moisture has all gone (this is where I must acknowledge that my slap-dash approach to following recipes, ie. rarely through to the end, falls short).
TJ Waterfall, who teaches the course at Demuths
We get to sample the results of our endeavours (so more-ish) during the first of TJs talks. He begins the morning by explaining how to tell a trustworthy nutritional study from a flaky one – useful to know as we’re bombarded with so much conflicting evidence, not to mention questionable health claims, on a daily basis. (In a nutshell, look out for studies which have ‘meta-analysis’, ‘systematic review’ or ‘randomised controlled trials’ as part of their catchy title – these are the most wide-ranging and robust.)
Armed with our new knowledge of how to tell a superfood from a super fad, we head back to the kitchen to prepare our lunch. Our menu includes spicy vegan and gluten-free baked falafel, a tahini sauce and a colourful winter coleslaw with a walnut and dill dressing.
Helen shows us how to make the carrot and chickpea falafel first, we taste and season and the mixture is delicious, even before it has been baked. We move on to our seasonal ‘slaw and Helen demonstrates how to slice, shave and chop our veggies so that we have a pleasing mix of textures.
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With our ‘slaw veggies prepped, we massage and scrunch the veg with our hands to soften it and release the juices before adding a mix of nuts and seeds. It tastes sensational.
Over lunch around a large table in the lovely kitchen, we chat about our reasons for coming on the course and discover we are a mix of vegans, vegetarians and ‘flexitarians’.
Three of the group are runners and keen to make sure that they are eating the right foods to fuel their marathon training; all of us are keen to learn more about balancing our diets, as well as the chance to sample some new dishes (we are given a copy of all of the recipes we make on the day to take home with us).
Rachel Demuth, founder of Demuths Cookery School in Bath
Over the course of the afternoon, TJ talks us through the key nutrients our bodies need and the best plant-based sources, as well as giving us practical tips on how to combine these ingredients into balanced meals.
I soon have a list of foods I plan on incorporating more of into my diet, and am pleased to note that there’s nothing fancy or tricky to source on my list – in fact, most of the items are already sitting in my store cupboard.
Our final cooking demo is a gorgeous silken tofu lemon posset and some energy-boosting raw cookies, which we help to make and then savour during a last session with TJ. By the end of the day, I have a deeper understanding of the nutrients my body needs and the foods that make up a healthy plant-based diet.
I’m also keen to recreate the dishes we made during the day and I leave the kitchen feeling inspired and well-nourished in body and mind.
Read more about Demuths Cookery School and find their upcoming courses at demuths.co.uk.