After writing about Laura Dakin's new cookbook, "Cookin' Up a Storm," I decided to reach out to the famous vegan chef and find out a little more about what it takes to prepare 100 percent plant-based meals at sea. Dakin, a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society since 2005 — and the head cook of the SSCS Steve Irwin for nearly just as long — was kind enough to also pass along some recipes from her new book.
MNN: I imagine most of the crew are not vegan while off-board. For those just being introduced to the diet, what are some "crossover" foods you like to prepare?
Laura Dakin: Usually, especially when all the campaign crew arrive, I'd say about 60 percent are non-vegan (many transition to a vegan lifestyle permanently after they disembark). It can be quite challenging for some at first to go 'cold turkey' on their meat and dairy addictions, and so it is always in my mind to try and make the transition as easy as possible for folks. I basically learned my vegan cooking out of non-vegan cookbooks. So we really simply eat veganized versions of common dishes. For example, shepherds pie with mashed potato and gravy, chickpea burgers, pancakes and veggies sausages etc. I use a lot of coconut cream to make yogurt sauces and creamy curries, and whip up cashews for cheese.
Generally, the non-vegan crew are pretty impressed and surprised that vegan does not mean rabbit-food. They are full and satisfied after they eat. I always try to provide a choice, so crew can pick food that might most resemble the meals they eat at home. Often the heavy, high calorie foods are an optional extra (like dressings, sauces, breads, etc). There is always a big cake or pie or cookies on the go, which are exactly the same as their non-vegan imitations, so that part is easy!
When did you go vegan and what inspired you?
I went vegan about a year before I jumped on board the Farley for the Seal Campaign. I was interested in fabric at first. The clothing store I was working in at the time began selling this super soft leather jacket. I felt it and my first reaction was "Wow its so lovely and soft!" Then I asked what kind of leather it was and the answer was baby camel skin. I was pretty weirded out by that, and began thinking and researching about skins and furs. That sent me on a roller-coaster ride covering the entire world of animal exploitation. I went from being a meat-eater to vegan over night — so that was 11 years ago.
Are you encouraged by how much veganism has grown in awareness?
Sometimes you really have to stop and think about it, because vegan awareness is happening so gradually, in a way. When I first went vegan, eating out in Australia was a major bummer. Now it's so much easier, especially in the cities. There are media campaigns encouraging veganism, including TV ads and billboards at airports. It's pretty cool! It's definitely encouraging. It totally gives me an injection of energy whenever I see a supermarket embracing vegan forms of food, or a 'go vegan' sticker on the back of someone's computer, or some sweet graffiti with a vegan message. It's rad. I always thought to myself, "If only people knew, they would be vegan for sure." Now it seems, folks are beginning to see.
The Sea Shepherd are planning on building their first-ever custom ship from the ground up. As a chef, what features would you like to see added in the kitchen?
On the Farley Mowat we had this insane cast iron Gyro-stabilized fry pan. It was a massive, free-standing structure, big enough to actually sit in, and you could make about 50 pancakes in one go, regardless of the weather. I have been bugging Paul [Watson] for ages about getting one for our other ships. I hope I can convince them to install one in the new galley!
How do you prepare for each season out a sea? How long does it take to gather all of the foodstuffs?
I usually make sure I am on the vessel about 3 months before a big campaign. That is how long it takes me to clean out store rooms, take detailed inventory and gather supplies. I am also cooking non-stop for the crew, so I try to get preparations done before the bulk of campaign crew arrive.
What's you favorite guilty-pleasure vegan dish?
I love to make and eat ridiculous sandwiches and wraps. I'm a total sucker for bread loaded with things like roasted veg, left over pasta sauce and breakfast potatoes. Potatoes are awesome. I would probably have roasted potatoes with all the weird and wonderful toppings you can imagine every night if the crew would let me! It's a good thing potatoes last a long time at sea! They're something that we never run out of if I am cook!
Below are three recipes Laura shared from her new cookbook, "Cookin' Up a Storm: Sea Stories and Vegan Recipes from Sea Shepherd's Anti-Whaling Campaigns."
Captain's Favorite Carrot Cake
Yields: 8 servings
Ingredients for the cake
- 2 cups (500 ml) peeled and shredded carrots
- 1 cup (250 ml) dark brown sugar
- 1 cup (250 ml) vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup (185 ml) apple juice
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) ground flaxseeds
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 2.5 cups (625 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1.5 teaspoons (7 ml) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking soda
- 1 cup (250 ml) walnut pieces
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) salt
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) ground cloves
- 8 ounces (225 grams) vegan cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) powdered sugar
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Line a 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pan with parchment paper.
- To make the cake, put the carrots, brown sugar, oil, apple juice, flaxseeds, and vanilla extract in a large bowl and stir until well combined.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a large bowl. Add the walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves and stir until combined.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
- Scrape the batter into the lined pan using a rubber spatula. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before removing from the pan.
- To make the frosting, put all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.
- Scrape the frosting into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
- When the cake is completely cool, remove it from the pan and transfer to a serving dish. To frost the cake, spread the frosting over the top using a metal spatula.
Yields: 6 servings
Ingredients for filling
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegan butter
- 3 cups (750 ml) sliced button mushrooms
- 1 leek, thinly sliced (tender green parts only)
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 stalk celery, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) reduced-sodium tamari
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups (750 ml) no-salt-added vegetable broth or water, plus more as needed
- 3 cups (750 ml) dried French lentils, picked over, rinsed, and drained
- 2 tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) nutritional yeast flakes
- 4 potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- Pinchof salt
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) thinly sliced fresh chives
- To make the filling, put the oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Decrease the heat to medium and add the mushrooms, leek, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tamari and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes.
- Add the broth, lentils, and tomatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Decrease the heat to medium, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. If necessary, add more broth as the lentils cook so they don’t become dry. Stir in the vinegar and nutritional yeast. Transfer to a 4-quart (4 L) casserole.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius).
- While the lentils cook, prepare the topping. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, partially cover, and cook until soft, about 15 minutes.
- Drain. Add the oil and salt and mash until the potatoes are smooth and creamy.
- Spread the topping evenly over the filling. Sprinkle the chives evenly over the topping and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
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