I look back on my college days at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign quite fondly. I lived in Allen Hall, a cool living-learning dorm with classes right in the building, and plenty of weird and interesting people. A great number of these interesting people remain good friends, and I married one of the weird ones. Maybe someday our interesting kid will live in Allen Hall, too.
What I don’t remember fondly was Allen Hall food. But there was better food across campus, like Field of Greens, the weekday all-vegetarian “specialty restaurant” in neighboring Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall. I frequently trekked back from the Quad to eat lunch there, where I experienced new foods like falafel, hummus, and soy milk. (I grew up in a small midwestern town!)
I remember a lot of junk food. Pizza, breadsticks, french fries, waffles, and Edy’s ice cream. Hello freshman (on in my case, junior) fifteen.
Fast forward to modern dorm times, and we have a brand-new state-of-the-art cafeteria right down the street from where I now work on campus. The dining hall at Ikenberry Commons is amazing. The selections for students are so much better than the tiny hot food line and salad bar from my student days. Ikenberry has multiple food lines with themes, like Prairie Fire (hearth-baked pizza), Gregory Street Diner (burgers, fries, and shakes), Hortensia’s (international cuisine, usually featuring at least one vegan dish), and Soy-Tainly which features all vegan food, for every meal. There is always a fresh salad bar with plenty of veggies, some of them grown locally on the Student Sustainable Farm at the U of I. Some soups are vegan. There’s cereal of all types, dried fruits and nuts, and an impressive non-dairy milk selection. You can usually make a hearty vegan meal from these selections. Their non-dairy milk selections are also impressive for those times when you just want cereal for dinner.
University Housing has taken steps to make ingredient and nutrition information available to students by putting it on their web site. It’s not the easiest-to-use interface I’ve seen, but you can drill down to individual dishes served each day and see all the ingredients, and usually the nutrition information per serving. There is also a “vegan” filter that can be applied to view all available vegan food selections on any day. Handy!
When Ikenberry Commons opened (before I was vegan) University Housing held an open house and served several dishes for the public to sample. One of my favorites was called Illini Salad. The original salad also contained goat cheese. I’ve substituted avocado, which offering a similar creamy contrast to the crunchy apples and soynuts.
Make about 4 servings.
1/2 lb baby spinach leaves
1/2 lb mixed greens (or butter lettuce, torn)
1 green apple, chopped
1/2 cup edamame, shelled
1/2 cup corn kernels; fresh, or thawed from frozen
1 medium avocado, diced
1/4 cup roasted soynuts
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp agave syrup
1 garlic clove, pressed or grated
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Combine all salad ingredients except avocado and soynuts in a large bowl. Set aside.
Dressing note: I like to make my dressing in a pint-sized glass canning jar (great for storage!), but you can use a small bowl and a whisk.
Combine vinegar, lime juice, agave syrup, and garlic. Shake or whisk to combine. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper. Whisk or shake vigorously to combine.
Pour dressing over salad, and toss to combine. Top with roasted diced avocado and soynuts before serving.