Way back at the beginning of the year, we were approached by Transition Cambridge to cater for an event they were planning -a celebration of Georgian song and feasting, for 150 guests. Raising money for two great causes, while singing, toasting and eating good food – what wasn’t to like?
Planning menus for large numbers of people while using as much surplus as possible can certainly be a challenge, as we know from Charles and Zoe’s wedding last year – but then again, we quite like a challenge. Add to the mix the fact that we’d been asked to create an all-vegan menu, we thought why not go the whole nine yards and make the food Georgian too? Like I said, we’re fond of a challenge – and there’s always Google to guide the way.
(Our dishes, from top left clockwise: aubergine and pepper satsivi, soko arazhanit (mushrooms in cream), fried potatoes with svanetian salt, roasted clementines with agave and cinnamon, zucchini with walnuts and lobio)
Georgian food is quite heavily meat based, but if you’re creative in how you adapt recipes and do your research thoroughly they also have some delicious vegetarian dishes that can easily be made vegan with some substitutions. There are several core ingredients that we often come across in our regular food pickups – aubergines, courgettes, peppers were never going to be a problem to find – while others were a little more challenging to source, especially the huge quantities of walnuts used in the majority of Georgian dishes. Not to mention the dried marigolds, which seem to be used as a version of saffron and form the basis of seasonings for lots of stews and vegetable dishes.
Enter the wonderful Arjuna and Daily Bread to the rescue!
If you’d have asked me three years ago when I started volunteering with FoodCycle whether I’d be getting messages to ask me whether I could use 13.5 kilos of brazil nuts, I’d have looked at you like you’d been spending a bit too much time in the sun. But with several extremely generous donations, we managed to amass a stockpile of nuts, dried marigolds, agave, pomegranate molasses, cardamom and fenugreek (we did pretty much empty Mill Road of fenugreek one rainy morning the week of the feast). The menu wasn’t 100% authentic – for example, dessert proved to be a big challenge – but we were certainly going to do our best to make it as much of a taste of Georgia as we possibly could. The local food bank also donated kidney beans for the lobio, to go with the fava beans donated by Arjuna.
The other stroke of luck was that many Georgian dishes are served at room temperature, as part of what they call a supra – a sharing feast, where dishes are served on platters and handed around. It certainly made the logistics of getting the food to 150 people much less terrifying.
We spent a really fun Thursday evening doing all the prep – although Melissa and Helen, who made their way through 25kg of white cabbage donated by Sainsbury’s might beg to differ! Aubergines were roasted, potatoes diced, mushrooms sliced, chillies chopped and clementines halved ready for roasting. All the rest of the cooking was done on the day of the feast itself – huge thanks must go to Meg, James, Jacky, Sophie, Jane, Geertje, Kelvin, Rainbow and Nathalie for giving up their Saturdays with such good humour (as well as Helen, Melissa, Phoebe, Louise and Justine who helped on Thursday).
Everything was on the tables on time, everyone enjoyed the dishes (when someone tells you ‘I took one bite, and felt like I was in Georgia’ you know you’ve got something right) – and as an added benefit, we liberated over 120kg of surplus food. Definitely worth celebrating!