Meatless Monday: Welcome, Class -- Online Plant-Based Culinary Education Begins Today

"It's absolutely massive -- it's everything I know about the foundational cooking principles of plant-based cuisine," says Chad Sarno. "It has over 200 videos and recipes, 130 hours of course work -- it's my child, basically." It's Rouxbe's online plant-based culinary course and it launches today.

The creator of the crazy, sexy plant-based recipes in Kris Carr's bestselling "Crazy Sexy Kitchen" and the face of Whole Foods' Healthy Eating Program, Sarno knows a thing or two about preparing vegan cuisine. Now as Rouxbe's culinary wellness vice president, he shows you how, too. And more importantly, he shows you "the why -- why am I golding the onions, why do I do that? Why do I add the spices when I add the onions? What does toasting them do? It's helped me break down my food to the why," says Sarno. It's like cooking with Socrates.

"We get so stimulated looking at cookbooks and the Food Network, but do you know how to cook beans? How to fine dice, large dice, brunoise, batonnet? If you don't have a solid foundation, how can you create these extravagant dishes?" Working with the Rouxbe team, who created their comprehensive-as-hell online culinary school in 2005, Sarno designed the class to take you from pantry basics to modernist techniques and "food prescribed as medicine."

His passion for a vegan diet started when it helped cure his childhood asthma. His interest in cooking started with his exuberant Italian Nana. The thing is, we don't all have Nanas, but most of us have internet.

What does an online course do that a cookbook can't? "A lot of people are visual learners," Sarno says."This shows you trial and error -- this is what happens if you cut it wrong, or cook it too long or not enough, all those little critical points cookbooks don't cover." The members-only site is education-driven, not ego-driven. "In the videos, you'll never see a celebrity chef." Or any chef, really. "You'll see hands, you'll see a cutting board and stove."

Sarno's been doing vegan cooking classes for years, but "creating the plant-based course really changed the way I teach," he says. "I wouldn't say I was doing it wrong, but I was teaching all about the destination and not the journey. That's what Rouxbe does so, so well -- teaching you about the journey in order to enjoy the destination." There's a nice reward for reaching the destination, though -- completing the course earns you Rouxbe certification.

And the time is right. "Forbes named vegan food the #1 food trend," says Sarno. "Kaiser put out a white paper urging their physicians to prescribe a plant-based diet." It's the right time for Sarno, too. "It's everything I've wanted to do, putting the message of plant-based cuisine out to reach a much wider audience."

Rouxbe's January plant-based program's already sold out, but cheer up, there's virtual space left for February.

Penne Carbonara

Recipe © Rouxbe Online Cooking School, used with permission.

This smoky, creamy pasta dish uses smoked tofu and fresh peas for a satisfying combination of flavors.

Step 1: Preparing Your Ingredients

1/2 cup leeks (white parts only), thoroughly washed and minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup Cashew Béchamel (Basic White Sauce), recipe below
Approximately 1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup smoked tofu, 1/4-inch dice, (substitute tempeh bacon, or home-smoked tofu)
1/2 cup fresh shelled peas, raw or lightly blanched
1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Since this dish is cooked very quickly, prepare the ingredients above and have your equipment organized before you start.

Step 2: Preparing the Penne Carbonara

4 quarts water
1 tablespoon sea salt (optional)
1/2 pound gluten-free penne (or whole wheat if you prefer)

To prepare the Carbonara, bring a pot of water to a boil and add the sea salt. Next, add the penne and cook al denté according to package directions, stirring frequently to prevent the pasta from sticking.

While the penne is cooking, bring a fry pan to medium-high heat. When hot add the leeks and stir until the leeks begin to stick. Deglaze with the white wine and continue stirring for 1 to 2 minutes.

Next, add the white sauce to the sautéed leeks, stirring well. Dilute the mixture slightly with a bit of vegetable stock. Depending on the thickness of the white sauce, you may need to add a little more stock.

Add the smoked tofu and peas to the pan and mix thoroughly. Continue to cook until the sauce begins to simmer.

At this point, the pasta should be al denté. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss well, making sure to fully coat the pasta.

Remove from the heat, add the parsley and freshly-ground black pepper and serve immediately.

Cashew Béchamel | Basic White Sauce

Recipe © Rouxbe Online Cooking School:
This foundational plant-based white sauce is incredibly versatile with multiple applications. In additional to Penne Carbonara, use it as you would a traditional cream-based white sauce or Béchamel in recipes from sauces to soups.

Recipe © Rouxbe Online Cooking School:

Makes: 4 cups Active Time: 1 hr Total Time: 4 hrs

Step 1: Preparing the Cashews

2 cups raw cashews
4 to 6 cups warm water

In a medium bowl, soak the cashews in water for 3 to 4 hours to soften. Strain, reserving the cashews and discarding the liquid.

Step 2: Preparing the Sauce

1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2- 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon onion granules
Pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg
Pinch of white pepper

First, prepare your ingredients.

In a fry pan on medium-high heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 1/4 cup of the vegetable stock, reserving the rest, and steam-fry until the onions are translucent. Transfer the steam-fried onions and garlic into a blender.

To finish the sauce, add the cashews, the remaining vegetable stock, white wine, nutritional yeast, garlic, onion granules, nutmeg and white pepper. Blend on high speed until smooth.

This sauce will reduce and will continue to thicken on its own when used in recipes.

Serves 2.