Two weekends ago, my friend J invited me to attend her fundraiser that was hosted at Magnolia, a vegetarian well-being restaurant in Madinat Jumeirah. Via Gulf for Good, she had participated in a summit of Ras Dashen, Ethiopia’s highest peak, to raise money for an Ethiopian charity called RAEY.
J shared with us her experience of the grueling trek through the Simien mountains, summiting Ras Dashen, and the amazing and touching moment of finally meeting the children in RAEY’s Child and Family Development project. I had the pleasure of also meeting two other trip participants: Dr. Carolyn Roesler, who is RAEY’s project coordinator and who also works for Emirates Airline in Aviataion Medicine; as well as Sam Dobson, who was my friend’s tent mate during the trip and who penned her Ethiopian experience in Diary of a charity trek in Ethiopia.
At this fundraiser, we were introduced to Chef Gabriele Kurz, the Chef de Cuisine of Magnolia, who led us through a cooking demonstration of all the courses we were to eat that afternoon.
Chef Gabi was the first female chef I had ever met and I took a liking to her immediately. She was extremely friendly and engaging, and her passion for healthy, tasty food really showed through her personality and cooking tips. She tries her best to source organic and local produce for the restaurant, but as she can only order through certain certified suppliers due to HAACP requirements, sometimes it’s not always possible.
Chef Gabi’s mom had health issues when Gabi was very young and subsequently had to severely limit her diet (no meat being one of the limitations) until she could slowly identify which ingredients she could tolerate. As a result, Chef Gabi, although being Austrian, grew up eating a wholesome vegetarian diet. She now heads up Dubai’s first vegetarian fine-dining restaurant.
Our cooking demo was held outdoors by the restaurant’s herb garden, overlooking the fabulous setting of the Al Qasr guest villas and canals with the occasional abra motoring by. Even though it was late April, the full-force of the Dubai heat hadn’t quite kicked in yet – lucky for me as I was wearing dark jeans that day. Plus there was a nice breeze and we were kept further refreshed by tall glasses of Magnolia’s special juices. One in particular was especially cooling – the “Green Morning Detox Drink” – it tasted a bit like a non-alcoholic mojito but made with fresh pineapple, ginger, and mint all blended together. I wondered if I could make a Ginger and Scotch version 😉
Chef demo’d four dishes and invited us to help in the prep work whenever the urge struck. I was engrossed in taking photos but some of the other attendees did a bit of slicing, chopping, and skewering.
The four dishes were:
1. Dill Cucumber Soup
As Chef Gabi was preparing the stock for this soup, she provided a bunch of pointers on how to make a vegetable stock at home instead of using stock cubes. As a die-hard carnivore, I don’t know if I would ever be inclined to make a vegetable stock – perhaps if I were to have a vegetarian friend over for dinner.
I loved the presentation of this soup in a cappuccino cup served with the crispy wontons. The soup was served warm with a finish of whipping cream but was still light in texture and very delicious. I had ran 4 miles (6.5 km) that morning and hadn’t had a single thing to eat so by the time lunch was served at 1pm I probably could have had a whole pot full of soup and 10 wonton crsips!
2. Crispy Pumpkin Caper Wonton Sheets
I often use wonton sheets for making wontons and other dumplings but have never thought about baking them to a crisp. What a great idea! And so simple and versatile too when paired with different toppings.
The “pumpkin” in this recipe was sauteed butternut squash. I think these would make good hors d’oeuvres for dinner parties. Please see the recipe posted below.
3. Vegetable Tofu Skewer with Parsley Pesto
I loved loved loved the parsley pesto. I normally cringe when I see pesto on a menu and stay far away from it (most people probably feel the same way about tofu). I do like the individual pesto ingredients – basil, EVOO, pine nuts, Parmesan – but combined, I’m not a fan. However, I really liked the way that Chef Gabi prepared this pesto – using a mortar and pestle instead of a food processor – this pesto was more like a chunky paste than a pureed mush and when given a taste – I wanted to just eat all the pesto and forgo the skewers.
In case anyone was bothered by the thought of tofu on a skewer (I wasn’t, I’m a tofu fan), it was marinated in lemon juice to give it some flavor. I was also impressed with the wrapping of basil leaves inside a rolled up slice of zucchini. I will definitely have to make these skewers one day and post the recipe. My only disappointment was that I was served only one skewer, instead of, oh, say 10?
4. Rustic Portobello Burger
The “rustic” in this dish came in the form of rustic rye bread between which the portobello mushroom was served. Now this wasn’t your basic portobello preparation of EVOO, sea salt and cracked black pepper. These were grilled with a delicious compound butter made with lemon zest, tarragon dijon mustard, red chilli, garlic, parsley, and dill. The compound butter was also prepared with a mortar and pestle.
We were given tasting spoons to sample the finished butter combo and the creamy butter with the herbs and lemony zest were so good I had to control the urge to double-dip my spoon for another taste!
I’ve always intended to make compound butter and this one from Chef Gabi may actually propel me to make one. Although I think I would throw in a hamburger between the portobello and the bread.
On my way out, I took a peek at Chef’s herb garden – there were a few papaya trees with one of them bearing fruit. I also spotted rosemary, mint, and aloe vera.
We were given a booklet with all the recipes from the day, as well as a Magnolia apron to take home. Sadly, I left my apron at the restaurant which was a shame because I really wanted to post a photo of Wee Scotch wearing it. But what I did take home was even more valuable – the knowledge that I was able to make a contribution to RAEY’s cause and a seed of thought that perhaps one day, when Wee Scotch is a bit older, I can also train and participate in a Gulf For Good challenge.
Magnolia is located next to Talise Spa in Madinat Jumeirah. It is available for private bookings and special functions. Please see their website for more details.
Gulf for Good is a Dubai-based charity that organizes exciting adventure challenges around the world. Participants raise funds, which are then donated to handpicked charities in the region where the challenge is held.
RAEY is an NGO in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that helps children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS by providing education, health and nutritional support in a protective and nurturing environment.
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Recipe for Crispy Pumpkin Caper Wonton Sheets
4 sheets wonton wrapper
200 grams butternut squash
1 clove garlic
1 chilli (optional)
2 teaspoons capers
1 teaspoon acacia honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
4 springs fresh coriander, as garnish
4 caper berries, as garnish
Makes 2 portions.
Preheat oven to 200 C (390 F). Place the wonton sheets on a baking tray. Mix honey and olive oil and brush some on the wonton sheets. Bake for 2 minutes until they are light golden and crispy. Set aside.
Peel the butternut squash and slice it. Crush the garlic and deseed the chilli. Saute pumkin, chilli, capers and garlic with the remaining honey and oil mix in a pan for 2 minutes and season with salt.
Arrange the pumpkin on the wonton sheets, garnish with coriander, caper berries, and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Gabi at Magnolia.