Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and Fremont resident Lalitha Visveswaran has always found that “the kitchen is the center of [her] life.”
As a child, she foraged for herbs with her grandmother in South India. While in college, she enjoyed homemade meals transported in tiffin carriers (a popular style of lunchbox used in India). She graduated frm college with a degree in economics and accounting, but always felt drawn to exploring the culinary arts.
Determined, she enrolled in cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu in London. Reflecting on this life-altering decision, she declares that, “You have to do what you love and make no apologies.”
As part of her culinary training, Visveswaran practiced the French and English cooking traditions in fine-dining restaurants around London. This required the lifelong vegetarian to work with meat — a challenge that she took in stride.
The instructor advised her that any chef worth her salt must taste every dish before served.
“I felt like Lady Macbeth, walking around with bloody hands all the time!” she said.
Resolute in her beliefs as a vegetarian, she indeed tasted every dish, but never consumed any meat. Of her culinary education, she said, “I’ll never forget any of the lessons I learned in those restaurants.”
Her cooking philosophy revolves around preserving both community and personal health, focusing on local ingredients used in her proprietary vegetarian dishes.
“It’s not an elitist or ‘hippie’ thing,” she said. “Anyone can do it!”
These days Visveswaran is a private consultant and offers cooking classes for small groups. When not in the kitchen, she is busy cultivating her edible garden in Fremont. Here are a few recipes that she has created to show off the potential of fresh, vegetarian ingredients. Bon appetit!
Beet and Goat Cheese Risotto
- Serves 4
- In this risotto dish, the sweetness of beets marries the unmistakable tanginess of goat cheese. I like to serve this with a peppery arugula salad drizzled with a lemon-olive oil dressing. Risotto is traditionally made with Arborio rice, and a great local producer in California is Lundberg Farms (www.lundberg.com). For this recipe, I recommend using sweet blood-red beets. Finally, the secret to a good risotto is to continue adding liquid until the rice can no longer absorb any more.
- 5 cups Vegetable Stock
- 1.5 cups Beets, cooked and diced, cooking juices reserved
- 4 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Red Onion, finely chopped
- 2 Garlic Cloves
- 2 tsp Fresh Thyme, finely chopped
- 1.5 cups Arborio Rice
- 0.5 cup Red Wine
- 4 oz Soft Goat Cheese, diced
- 6 tbsp Pine Nuts, toasted
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
1. In a large stock pot, add the vegetable stock and reserved beet cooking juices. Bring to a gentle simmer.
2. In a separate pot, gently heat the olive oil. Once warm, add the red onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft.
3. To the onion and herb mixture, add the Arborio rice. Stir constantly for one minute. Make sure that all rice grains are coated with oil (it will appear glossy).
4. Next, add the red wine to deglaze the pan. Bring to a steady boil for 1-2 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice.
5. Stir in the diced beets.
6. To the rice, add 2/3 cup vegetable stock. Maintain medium heat and stir constantly until all liquid is absorbed.
7. Continue the process of adding 2/3 cup of liquid, stirring constantly until absorbed, until all of the stock has been added to the rice. (Do not add the vegetable stock all at once).
8. Once all vegetable stock has been absorbed by the rice, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the goat cheese.
9. To serve, sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts.
Ricotta with Summer Berries
As the sunshine of summer winds down, enjoy the last of the harvest with this healthy dessert of summer berries.
- Serves 4
- 1 cup Fresh Raspberries
- 2 tbsp Rosewater (available in specialty stores)
- 1 cup Ricotta Cheese
- 2 cups Fresh Mixed Berries, such as Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries (Note: Slice strawberries into eight nibble-sized wedges)
- 2 tbsp Honey with Honeycomb
- 1 tbsp Lemon Zest
- 2 tbsp Pistachios, shelled, toasted and crushed
1. In a blender, puree the raspberries and rosewater together. While mixture is blending, prepare a bowl, sieve and rubber spatula.
2. Place the sieve over the bowl, using the rubber spatula to gently press the puree through to remove the raspberry seeds. Reserve.
3. Prepare four small bowls. Place ¼ cup of ricotta cheese into each bowl. 4. Strew ½ cup mixed berries over the ricotta.
5. Drizzle the honey and the raspberry-rosewater puree on top.
6. To garnish, place a small piece of honey comb in each bowl, and sprinkle with lemon zest and crushed nuts.