Did you know there is an organization in Athens where you can attend free classes covering just about anything? Athens Free School is an education network aiming to be "by and for the community." Just this past semester, one of their organizers, Ariel Ackerly, hosted a class on three ways to make vegan BBQ. With cookout season upon us, and more people looking for alternatives to animal-products, the timing for this class was perfect.

Samantha Ward

On a Sunday afternoon, while everyone was finishing up midterms, there was an intimate gathering at Ackerly’s home in the Normaltown region of Athens as she showed us how to prepare tofu, tempeh, and jackfruit for our next backyard BBQ. All the recipes were adapted from ones found in the cookbook Veganomicon, which Ackerly said is what she used in her young adult years to learn how to cook.

Here are some culinary highlights of my free vegan cooking class. Read through the bottom to learn how you can get more involved with Athens Free School.

BBQ Tofu 

bacon, sandwich
Samantha Ward

Probably the most notorious food associated with the vegan and vegetarian community, tofu makes for a no-brainer meat replacement. Coated in vegetable oil and Bragg Liquid Aminos, we baked the already pressed tofu in the oven for fifteen minutes, added a tomato-based BBQ sauce, and baked it again for another fifteen minutes before adding another helping of sauce and serving on locally made bread. 

Baked BBQ Tempeh

chicken, chicken wings, pork, sauce
Samantha Ward

For those not so familiar with this food, tempeh is a soy-product, like tofu, but is made with fermented soybeans. After boiling it for ten minutes to soften and remove any bitterness, we baked it for five minutes, poured on mustard BBQ sauce, and baked for five extra minutes before serving it up with an extra helping of BBQ sauce. 

Jackfruit Pulled "Pork"

pork, sandwich, toast
Nicole Landry

While ripe jackfruit tastes similar to Juicy Fruit chewing gum, young jackfruit is much blander and the ideal texture for mimicking pulled pork BBQ. The canned form is sold in most Asian grocery stores and some health food stores as well. 

With this dish, we chopped the jackfruit, mashed it to the desired consistency, added a dry rub inspired by The Minimalist Baker and cooked it in a skillet before adding the habanero pineapple BBQ sauce. 

Future Athens Free School Classes

bread, sweet
Samantha Ward

Catching up with Ackerly after the class, she noted that Athens Free School is always looking for people to teach classes of all sorts and especially eager to offer various international cooking classes on a monthly basis. Great interest has been shown by various community members.

They take class idea submissions at the start of each month, and encourage Athens residents from all walks of life to give it a shot. For those who don't have a facility accommodable to teaching a class, Ackerly assures that they have a large network of people who can provide one for teachers.

If you live in the Athens area and are interested in teaching and/or hosting a class, you can email them at athensfreeschool@gmail.com.