April 11, 2016

Marchin’ into Good Health

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Cornell celebrated the end of March, National Nutrition Month, with a recipe contest in which Cornell Dining’s very own chefs faced off with original, plant-based recipes.

The event took place in Willard Straight Hall at lunchtime, so I stopped by between classes and followed the “free food” signs to a bustling ballroom of chefs serving up their recipes for students, faculty and staff to taste. Each taster was given a strip of tickets and told to vote for their favorites by dropping tickets in the baskets on each chef’s table. It was a foodie’s heaven! Here, I had a chance to try out recipes like the ones I add to my Pinterest “food” board, but better because they were created and prepared by professional chefs. Each dish came with a recipe card, so I could even try preparing my favorites at home.

The variety of foods was impressive — there were even plant-based desserts. I’ve detailed the seven recipes I was able to taste below.

Quinoa Crackers with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip

Don’t let the name fool you: This “cookie dough” is actually made from oatmeal, white beans and soy milk, with dark chocolate chips. It looks and tastes like the real thing, just with a slightly more savory tint that added a fun twist. The cracker is also made of quinoa, a healthier alternative to wheat flour. Although the cracker is a little dry, I would eat the dip by the bucketful.


Kale and Quinoa with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

This dish is occasionally served in Risley Dining Hall, but it was my first time trying it. It reminds me of something I’d see on a menu back home in a Bay Area eatery, where kale and quinoa are all the rage. I’m a sucker for chickpeas and tomatoes, so I loved this dish and found that the onions, peppers, garlic and lemon juice added flavor to the kale.


Vegetable “Pasta” with Eggplant Coconut Curry Sauce

This mélange of eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, carrot and cilantro became flavorful and interesting with the coconut curry. It was one of my favorite dishes.


Stuffed Vegetable Flatbread

This whole-wheat flatbread stuffed with potatoes, zucchini, squash, eggplant and peppers reminded me of the Indian flatbreads I always used to get from the Farmer’s Markets back home; the throwback to my elementary school lunch days made me instantly fall in love with the dish. Although I didn’t care much for the carrot-ginger dip (I would’ve preferred chutney, but that’s probably just my nostalgic bias), the flatbread earns an “A” in my book.


Purple Maki Rolls

The chef for this dish told me that he got the idea for this recipe when he accidentally stained rice purple from beets, and I loved that the fun twist purple rice added a little something extra to the sushi. As a beet and sushi lover, this one was a hit for me.


Beet Brownies

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my major sweet tooth, so I was most excited about trying this dish. I had heard of black bean brownies, but had never before seen beets used in one. While the beets did provide a dense moistness that I loved, they also created an earthy flavor that I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t quite sure if I liked it or not, but it was definitely fun to try.


Potato Bisque

This soup was probably the most popular dish by far, and for good reason. The chef said that in devising this recipe, he sought to create a flavorful vegan soup with few allergens or unhealthy ingredients, and he definitely accomplished that. While “potato bisque” may sound bland, this soup was anything but that, and tasted more like a flavorful squash soup than any potato soup I’ve ever had — but I’m not complaining.


Other recipes included a coleslaw and a “broccoli bone” stew, which I was unfortunately unable to try because they ran out.

This fun, free event attracted quite a large crowd and demonstrated that eating a healthier, plant-based diet can be flavorful and exciting — it doesn’t have to be an endless parade of salads. I recommend that anyone attend in the future, whether they want to try new foods, are interested in healthy eating, or are simply a food lover. Almost all of the recipes were vegan and gluten-free, so anyone can enjoy regardless of dietary restrictions.