One of the biggest concerns any vegan has when going to college is finding a healthy, tasty variety of vegan food available to them at mealtimes. In the Cornell dining halls, there are many vegan options that switch out every day, but sometimes I still find myself missing the high-quality vegan food I would make at home. In the midst of autumn, I reminisce about the cozy, at-home vegan meals I used to cook for myself and realize that, while not the same as back home, I can still cook meals here. While the dorm kitchens are not necessarily ideal for someone to cook a large meal due to the limited space and fussy appliances, I challenged myself and cooked two autumnal vegan dishes to share with other plant-based Cornellians: fall Brussels sprouts salad and cornbread.
The recipe I started with was the fall Brussels sprouts salad. Its ingredient list was a bit eccentric for what any normal college student would have in their personal food pantry, but after a trip to Wegmans, I was good to go. The whole list of ingredients I used to make this recipe and the directions can be found at emilieeats.com.
In reality, the only ingredient I already had in my dorm was the salt, so this recipe isn’t a very convenient start. After I procured everything I needed, it was time to cook in my dorm kitchen. It required lots of cookware, which I thankfully already had in my room: a spoon, a fork, paring knives, a baking sheet, baking gloves, measuring cups and spoons, a cutting board, a pot, a small bowl and a large bowl. Since this recipe calls for so many ingredients and cooking supplies, I would only recommend it to students who cook frequently, or else the leftover ingredients and cooking tools would be a waste. Once I made the three trips down to my floor’s kitchen and set up all my ingredients, it was time to start.
While cooking, I was limited by the lack of counter space I had for this recipe. With my floormates’ coffee machines lining the counters, dishes drying and cups covering the shelves, I was confined to a small plot of space to cut the Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, deseed the pomegranates, prep the dressing and cook the quinoa. I was also slightly annoyed with my cookware itself; I had too many cooking tools in my space, but simultaneously not enough. I had to borrow a floormate’s baking sheet for my butternut squash while using my own for the Brussels sprouts, which cooked about 10 minutes longer than the 25 minutes the recipe calls for. Overall, this particular recipe was not very convenient to prep or cook for, but the final product did not disappoint. Eating this warm salad was definitely refreshing in comparison to the food served in the dining halls. The Brussels sprouts and butternut squash made the salad hearty, but the pomegranate seeds and citrus dressing gave the dish an unexpected tanginess that pulled the earthy flavors of the vegetables and quinoa together in an interesting way. Another thing about the dish that I learned as I cooked it was that it was pretty difficult to mess up, and even if one did, the recipe’s relative simplicity provided little room for error. While demanding, laborious and not the best recipe to make in a dorm, it yielded a great dish in the end.
The second recipe I cooked was a vegan cornbread from itdoesnttastelikechicken.com. Cornbread is a dish I’ve rarely seen made vegan, so I was very excited about it. Most of the ingredients I already had because I baked vegan chocolate chip cookies a few weeks into the semester, but I was still missing some things. The only ingredients I needed for this recipe were the cornmeal, non-dairy milk (I chose almond) and frozen corn kernels. I also picked up a bread loaf pan to bake the cornbread in, something I intend on getting my fair use out of. So, this recipe was much easier to shop for and has some pretty versatile ingredients. I would say this recipe is a little more practical out of the two for students who cook frequently and for those who only enjoy cooking every once in a while. Once I had my ingredients laid out, it was time to reenter my floor’s kitchen with a new task at hand. I followed the instructions posted on the website and got to work.
Compared to the first recipe I tried, this one was a walk in the park. All I had to do was mix everything together in a bowl and pour it in my loaf pan to bake. The baking time was a little longer than the recipe let on, but I would admit fault to that because I accidentally had my oven set on 375 degrees Fahrenheit, not 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Other than my error, the recipe was easy to follow, and my cornbread came out just as I had anticipated from the recipe. I was pleasantly surprised at its sweetness as well as its similarity to the non-vegan cornbread I used to eat before I switched to a plant-based diet. Swiping some vegan butter onto my slice of cornbread really made it taste like comfort food, and I got to enjoy the feeling of home-cooked food again. This cornbread brought me into autumn, and I’ll definitely be making it again.
Cooking food in the dorm certainly wasn’t the same experience I’d have at home, but making two festive dishes was fun and something I enjoyed as I love to cook. For both recipes, you will be left with excess ingredients, so if you don’t cook often, you may find that you spent money on ingredients you’ll never use again. For the more frequent cook, however, these recipes may be more appropriate, but that’s not to say they are too complex or intensive for students who don’t cook very often. Both dishes were rewarding and made great-tasting fall food, and if you’re looking for something to do on the weekend to get into the fall spirit, cooking these recipes is a great option to appreciate the season and the foods associated with it.