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Downright healthy and downright good: a California spa chef shows how vegetarian cooking has a place in Deep South cuisine.

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German-born Beatrix Rohlsen never expected to come to Mississippi. As executive chef at the White Lotus Foundation, a spiritual retreat in the mountains overlooking Santa Barbara, California, Beatrix often talks with guests about vegetarian cooking. Sometimes she is asked to give lessons on preparing vegetarian meals at their hometowns. So when Beatrix met Brandon resident Melissa Reynolds, she wasn't entirely surprised by an invitation to fly across the country to teach a cooking class.

Melissa visited the White Lotus Foundation with her Pilates teacher Rebecca Laney-Meers. Impressed with the beauty and taste of the vegetarian cuisine at the spa, she struck up a conversation with Chef Beatrix, confessing that she was worried about her sister's diet. "My sister Marcie is a vegan, and all I ever see her eat is beans!" Melissa laughed. She felt that several friends would benefit from gourmet vegetarian training, and she worked with Beatrix to schedule a weekend-long cooking class.

Beatrix, whose life is as multi-layered and well seasoned as her cuisine, worked in Germany as a teacher and therapist. When she moved to the United States, she came to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, to work and heal. And, as fate would have it, she ended up working in the kitchen, which suited her just fine. "I love kitchens," she grins, "I've always loved cooking." Traveling the world has added depth to Beatrix's cooking.

"I have gotten a lot of recipes and knowledge from women all over the world," she notes. "You have to enter different cultures to understand the part food plays in their lives."

Beatrix has been at White Lotus for eighteen years. She creates gourmet vegetarian meals that teach people to make better food choices. "It's helpful for people to know their choices and learn how certain foods make them feel," she explains. "After 16 days at White Lotus, people realize they feel so much better, and they learn to let go of foods that make them feel bad."

Melissa was not at all surprised to learn that Beatrix is also an artist. "When I saw the food on the plate, it looked like a piece of artwork," she says. "It was beautiful." Beatrix sold her first painting in high school, but put painting aside until she was in her 30s. Her cookbook, The Art of Taste, showcases some of her paintings tucked among the vegetarian recipes and original poetry. "I started writing recipes and it was kind of boring," she laughs. "So I painted and wrote a poem and decided, 'This is fun!'"

Chef Beatrix flew into Jackson on a mild Tuesday in January for the weekend cooking class. She had created a course cookbook using some of her favorite recipes and wanted a couple of days to shop for ingredients. "When I designed the menu for the class, I called around to make sure the ingredients would be available locally," she notes. She and Melissa were able to find the ingredients at Rainbow Foods in Fondren and at the Kroger on I-55 North.

On Friday, the cooking class participants gathered at the Ridgeland home of Julie and Scott Koestler. The couple, who own Shapley's Restaurant, designed their Tudor-style home with a professional kitchen befitting Chef Scott's culinary talents. The U-shaped kitchen has dark wood cabinets with raised panel doors and long stainless steel handles. The commercial appliances are nestled under stainless steel countertops, anchored on one end by a large commercial refrigerator and freezer. The massive island is topped with a thick slab of white marble. The kitchen is open to the keeping area and separated from the breakfast area by a marble-topped bar supported by dark-stained beams with inset stainless steel panels. Beatrix was delighted. "Many home kitchens just aren't set up for teaching," she says, "but this one is like a kitchen stadium!"

Once the class participants arrived, Chef Beatrix opened the session with a few remarks. "I've been a vegetarian for 30 years," she said. "I was vegan for about 15, but I'm not so rigid anymore. I'm not here to convert anybody or make anyone feel guilty for eating meat. I just want to introduce you to a different lifestyle of gourmet, healthy food."

Aside from the Friday morning class, five other sessions were held ending with a dinner party on Saturday night.

For the first lesson, Chef Beatrix focused on appetizers and healthy snacks, beginning with Wonton Cups. She demonstrated how the wonton wrappers, found in the produce section of the grocery store, can be formed into cups by fitting them into mini-muffin pans that have been sprayed with cooking oil spray.

As some of the students finished placing the wrappers into the muffin pans, Beatrix began putting together the black bean salsa that would fill the baked cups. As she worked, she talked about knife safety and sharpening, composting the food cuttings, and her secret for dealing with tears from chopping onions. "Onions make you cry, and there are a lot of things that are supposed to stop it," she laughed, sweeping aside a pile of diced onions, "but I don't think they work. You just cry!"

Several of the students assembled the healthy snacks at the Koestlers' distressed plank breakfast table surrounded by distressed wood chairs with nailhead trim. The antique iron chandelier of leaves and electric candles illuminated the group as they filled the wonton cups with the salsa and spread peanut butter and almond butter onto apple and celery slices.

In the kitchen, Chef Beatrix supervised the chopping for the Broccoli Bruschetta. She tossed the chopped broccoli into a pan, sauteing it with onion, red pepper, and spices. After it cooked, the mixture was spooned onto toasted baguette slices and topped with a sprinkling of asiago cheese before going into a moderate oven for two to three minutes.

While they worked, students sipped a coffee-like drink called teeccino, made from a blend of Mediterranean herbs, grains, fruits, and nuts ground to brew and taste like coffee. After two hours of instruction, the group took a break to sample their handiwork, satisfied with a job well done.

During the two days of classes, the students learned much about vegetarian cooking, and by Saturday night, they had prepared a gourmet feast they enjoyed with their husbands. The dinner party, held at the home of Marcie and Tally Noah, also included leftovers from the earlier classes so that everyone tasted all the vegetarian dishes they had created.

"It was a lot of fun," says Melissa, pleased with the way the dinner party and the entire weekend turned out. "I think Beatrix was surprised that she had such a good time!"

While she never expected to teach vegetarian cooking in Mississippi, Beatrix is quite accustomed to surprises in her life. "I never thought I'd be cooking or that I would write a book in English, or that I would paint and sell my paintings," she smiles. "But I was always open to it."

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CABBAGE NESTS WITH SPICY TOFU DIP
TOFU DIP

1/2 package of soft tofu
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast (optional)
2 tablespoons catsup
1/2 lemon juice
Salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed black pepper flakes
2 tablespoons canola oil

Process all ingredients except canola oil in a
food processor until very creamy. Taste and add
spices if needed. Add oil in a long thin stream as
motor is running. Chill, it will firm up a bit.

CABBAGE NEST

1 medium head of white cabbage
1 bag of baby spinach, washed
3-4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
3-4 medium carrots, coarsely grated
1 avocado
2 hard cooked eggs

Remove outer leaves of cabbage and discard.
With a sharp paring knife cut around the
bottom of the cabbage to take off the leaves
without ripping them. Divide the ingredients
between the four cabbage nests,

Set the leaves on a serving platter and fill with
one handful of spinach, Drizzle one tablespoon
of spicy tofu dip onto spinach then top with
celery, 1/4 of sliced avocado, and 1/2 of an egg cut
into pieces, Top with grated carrots.

Yield: 4 Cabbage Nests


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BROCCOLI! BRUSHCETTA

baguette bread, cut into 12 slices and toasted
1-2 broccoli crowns, with long thin stems
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced finely
2-3 tablespoons cream or water
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon crushed black pepper flakes
Salt, to taste
1/2 lemon
3/4 cup asiago cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake baguette
slices on baking sheets for 2 minutes. Turn and
bake until light brown. Cool on wire rack. Set
Aside.

Chop broccoli, including stems, into medium
sized pieces. Heat oil in a medium-sized frying
pan. Add onion and saute five minutes on
medium heat; add bell pepper and broccoli
and saute ten minutes on low heat. After five
minutes add cream or water and balsamic
vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon
and saute five minutes more. Remove from
heat and let cool.

Place bread on baking sheet lined with
parchment paper. Top each slice with one
tablespoon of broccoli and sprinkle with asiago
cheese. Bake for 2 minutes, or until cheese is
melted.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Yields: 4-6 servings


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WONTON CUPS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

16 wonton shins
1 can black beans, drained
1/2 large or 1 small mango, medium ripe,
 diced very small
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bunch cilantro, chopped fine
1/2 cup soft goat cheese, divided

CUPS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini
muffin tin for 12 muffins with canola oil. Press
wonton skin lightly into each muffin tin. Bake
for five minutes or until lightly browned. Cups
may be made up to three days ahead. Store in
an airtight container. Do not refrigerate.

FILLING:

Combine black beans, mango, vinegar, olive
oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and 1/4 cup goat cheese.
Mix well and taste. Add more seasonings if
desired. Fill wonton cups and top each with
remaining goat cheese.

Yield: 16 cups


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AYURVEDIC MORNING SOUP

Rholsen touts the power of this soup to hello
re-energize you from the inside out. It combines all of
the elements of taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and
pungent It will keep its healthful power for a second
day, but do not overheat it when re-warming

2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1/2 to 1 can coconut milk
3 yellow onions, diced
7 bunch celery stalks, sliced
3 carrots, diced
2 leeks, sliced into half moons
3-4 cups water
2 bunches spinach leaves
1/2 lemon or lime
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste

Heat oil. Brown mustard seeds, fenugreek,
and cumin until seeds pop. Add ginger, stir
once, and then add 1/2 can of coconut milk.
Simmer two minutes. Add all vegetables, stir
then add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and
turn down. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until
vegetables are soft. If the soup seems too thick,
add water or coconut milk.
Pour mixture into blender and blend well.
Have a second pot handy to pour the blended
soup into. Proceed until all the soup is blended.
With the last portion to blend, add the spinach.
Heat the soup again, but do not boil. Season
with salt, cayenne pepper, and juice. Stir and
serve.

Yield: 8-10 servings M


photography by christina cannon
COPYRIGHT 2009 Downhome Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Flowers, Nancy
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:1951
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