In the Kitchen with Anna Levien

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:17

More and more, we hear that someone is a vegan. It takes vegetarian to another level. Only plant based foods are eaten in vegan diets — no dairy at all. Protein is derived from nuts, legumes and protein-based grains. Anna Levien of Sparta is a vegan cooking instructor who practices what she preaches. Growing up in the Philippines, Levien rarely ate meat. When she moved to the United States in the New York City area, she took on more of the American diet. Living a somewhat typical lifestyle of working hard at Morgan Stanley and eating a variety of foods, Levien had not yet discovered the benefits of vegan living. “Fifteen years prior to becoming a vegan, I battled with a myriad of food sensitivities that rendered me constantly tired and susceptible to various digestive problems and respiratory ailments. The doctors who were specialists were saying that my issues were food related due to preservatives,” explained Levien. Throughout her journey to feel better, Levien was pursuing her interest for the culinary arts by taking a variety of classes at night at different cooking schools including the renowned Culinary Institute of New York, formerly Peter Kumps. “Throughout the span of those years, I ate less and less animal meat but continued to consume other animal products like dairy and cheese,” said Levien. “Surrounded by consistently organic-fed friends and colleagues, I slowly adapted to using organic key ingredients and learning more and more about food industry practices,” she said. Eventually, she discovered the Natural Kitchen Cooking School (NKCS) where she trained to obtain a professional certificate as a natural chef. By networking with vegans and fully embracing the art of vegan cooking, she realized she wanted to teach people. “Knowing that diet is key to sustaining a healthier life, I struggled with exercise routines and after reading Eat to Live, The China Study and other books pertaining to longevity, disease-free life and plant-based nutrition, I wanted to learn more about vegan cooking.” Vegan cooking relies on seasonal products preferably organic-based. Levien is a board member and belongs to the Sussex County Food Coop in Newton. “It is not hard to cook vegan. People think it’s all about salads. My goal is to educate people on what is in their food and the benefits of healthy eating,” she said. Certain foods yield specific benefits. Quinoa and kamut, commonly found in Africa and Egypt but available here, are whole grain proteins. Celery takes out toxins while onions are known to cleanse the lungs. Mushrooms are an anti-inflammatory. And Levien’s goal of pursuing the educational world is coming to fruition. This fall, she is teaching a hospitality and management food and beverage course for which she has a degree in at Sussex County Community College. On Octo. 8, Levien will be conducting a workshop Vive La Vegan at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. For more information, As for being a vegan since 2010, Levien has this to say: “The changes are phenomenal. I believe that plant-based nutrition heals our bodies. I feel so much better. People comment and notice things like my skin-they say I look younger.” At 51 years-old, she enjoys the praise. To learn more about Anna Levien’s services, email her at Coconut Quinoa Pudding 2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa 2 cups coconut milk 1/2 cup agave syrup or brown rice syrup (may substitute maple syrup) 1/4 cup currants or raisins 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/4 tsp cardamom 1 tsp vanilla extract Toppings: Raw cacao nibs Toasted pumpkin seeds Toasted coconut shreds Toasted sliced almonds Ground cinnamon In a saucepan, combine ingredients (except vanilla and toppings). B ring to a boil over medium heat. Stir gently. Lower heat to a simmer and cover up to 15 min. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Cool and transfer to glass dessert dishes and top with any of the above toppings. May be served chilled or at room temperature