Monday, August 15, 2016

When Vegans and Omnivores Collide

I became a vegetarian around age 17 and a vegan around age 26 and never looked back. I didn't find the two dietary/lifestyle transitions at all challenging, and have no regrets. I was floating along in my happy little vegan bubble until BAM.

I fooled around and fell in love. With a chef. Who was NOT a vegan. And cooked soul food.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it actually wasn't. I'm sharing our story to give some tips, and maybe hope, to other mixed-cuisine couples out there.

(An important aside: I'm writing this from the perspective of a person who for a long time felt ethically compelled to exclude anything animal-product related from her home and life, and evolved into the viewpoint that it was reducing my potential for meaningful relationships to be so militaristic about what other people ate. I am still absolutely militaristic about what *I* eat, but have come to the conclusion that it is not my business to try to control or influence the behavior of others. If you are a vegan and your commitment includes daily activism within your personal relationships, I absolutely respect and commend you, but I chose to stop doing that, and I found sometimes you catch more flies with agave than vinegar.)

Bearing the above in mind, here are some great ways that we both adjusted into the happy foodie greedy couple that we now are:

1. Keep separate kitchen items.

Since Bae is a chef, it was relatively easy for us to do this. She is very meticulous in the kitchen, so I never had to worry she would accidentally cook meat in a pot or pan that was reserved for vegan fare, thus assaulting my tastebuds with animal flesh flavor. We keep something similar to a Kosher kitchen, with certain pots, pans and utensils that are reserved for different types of foods and never cross-contaminated.

2. Cook from scratch.
This is a good rule of thumb anyway to cut costs and keep chemicals and excessive salt out of your food, but it's also an easy way to be sure that animal products don't accidentally wind up in foods that aren't supposed to have them. At first, I found myself constantly lamenting "read the label!!!" when Bae would accidentally bring home something that looked like I could eat it but wasn't vegan, but now we mostly make everything from fresh ingredients like the good foodies that we are and it's a non-issue. Because we both love food and cooking, it keeps our kitchen that much more vibrant and yummy.

3. Plan meals around the "sides."
Sides are where we find our common ground, and we've established a great repertoire of foods that both of us love that are vegan or can easily be made vegan. If Bae wants to eat meat with a meal, she cooks herself a separate portion and keeps the sides vegan so we can be eating the same food. If I'm the one who cooks, I make all of the "sides" and she either adds meat on the side or doesn't. It keeps mealtime feeling like a family time, and it also helps her to eat less meat, as usually the sides are the highlight of the meal!!

4. Work your substitutes.
We have found that we can "veganize" almost anything using the following:
*Earth Balance butter substitute, which the chef has informs me "reduces" just as well as real butter and can be used in anything from biscuits to mushroom risotto
*Liquid Smoke, which can be added to anything which usually calls for meat for flavor (Bae almost keeled over the first time she tasted my vegan collard greens)
*Nutritional yeast, if something is supposed to taste like cheese
*Better Than Bouillon, which is a very rich vegetable stock base that can be used to flavor just about anything

5. Sometimes French fries in the deep fryer (the meat-free one, of course and yes we have two) makes the best dinner.

My life has gotten yummier since Chef Bae has come into it, and we have shared a lot of great cooking tips. She eats wayyy less meat now, I eat way fewer meals that consist of a stale cracker with peanut butter, and "what's for dinner?" is the question which has become the linchpin of our relationship. It wasn't easy at first, but it's doable, and for us, it's totally worth it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Vegan Red Beans and Rice

This vegan version of a Louisiana Creole classic uses liquid smoke (available in most grocery stores near the barbecue sauces) and smoked paprika to give replace the meaty flavor of ham.

Caveat: I notoriously do not measure my oil or my spices, ergo no measurements are given here. When sauteing, I put in enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, and in rice, I put in a splash. In terms of seasoning, the seasoning for this dish is somewhat individual based on how salty and how spicy you prefer your food to be. Being a dancer, I usually count to 8 while sprinkling seasoning! In my version I used only a tiny dash of cayenne pepper, as I am not partial to spicy foods. Use your eyes, nose, and tastebuds to figure out the best amounts for you!

Vegan Red Beans and Rice

2 cups red beans, soaked overnight and boiled/pressure cooked til soft
Half a red onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil
1 c vegetable broth (recommend Better Than Boullion)
1 capful liquid smoke
Sea salt
Black pepper
Red pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Smoked paprika
Cayenne pepper

1 c brown basmati rice, soaked
Olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder
2 c water

For the beans:
Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot. Saute onions and garlic about 2 min, add all seasoning, stir and mix well, saute another 5 min, add peppers and celery, saute another 2-3 min.
Add beans, stir until coated. Add veg broth and liquid smoke, stir, simmer on low uncovered about 30-40 min til liquid thickens, stirring occasionally.

For the rice:
Combine all ingredients in a pot, stir, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cook on lowest heat setting until water is absorbed and rice is fluffy (about 40 min.)

Let sit for ten min to settle, then ladle the beans and sauce over the rice and enjoy! My non-veg partner enjoyed it very much with a small piece of chicken on the side and did not miss the ham in the beans.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Two Delicious Pancake Toppers

Hey yall... after a very long hiatus I am back, with my healthy vegan food blog for the lazy!!

Some of you already know about my Best Vegan Pancakes but today, short on syrup and Earth Balance, I made the following to go with the pancakes:

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Put the following in a saucepan:

1 pint strawberries, halved and topped
6 stalks rhubarb, diced into 1/4-inch strips
1/4 c raw sugar (can substitute 1/4 c agave)
1/4 c water

Bring to a boil, lower heat, simmer til all is mushy and juicy-- about 10 min

Caramelized Bananas

Chop 2 medium-ripe bananas into bite-sized pieces
Heat 2 tbsps coconut oil in a heavy pan
Add bananas to oil once hot
Saute, turning frequently, until bananas are browned/caramelized-- about 10 min

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Homemade Pickles!

I absolutely LOVE pickles. I have to confess that my inspiration to start making them myself started with a small obsession with an adult beverage called picklebacks, which involves pickle brine. I wanted to make this beverage at home, but couldn't find pickles in the store which weren't laden with chemicals. The organic pickles I found were unbelievably expensive. I then discovered something amazing: it is about the easiest thing on earth to make your own pickles. It is probably the simplest thing I will ever post on this blog. The one caveat is that these easy pickles cannot be stored in the cupboard. You have to put them in the fridge.

Here is how to make pickles:

Boil 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1tbsp salt.
Pour this mixture over a bunch of cucumbers, cut up or not as per your preference, in a jar.
Leave the jar in the fridge for 3 weeks.

If you want to get a little fancy, chop up a couple cloves of garlic and about 2 tbsps of fresh dill and throw that in too. I did so and the result was the closest thing I have ever had to a Kosher Dill from the Jewish deli on Kings Highway in the 80s, which probably no longer exists.

Once you have piggishly eaten then entire jar in 2 days, you can reuse the brine at least once, just add more cucumber.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Vegan/Vegetarian Thanksgiving Survival

The holidays are often stressful, but being a vegan/vegetarian at Thanksgiving, traditionally an orgy of animal foods, can be miserable if you don't have a supportive family. Here are a few suggestions on how to make it more enjoyable:

Discuss your diet with the person or people cooking in advance. Explain that you can't eat stuffing that was inside the turkey or vegetables cooked with meat. Something as simple as leaving the marshmallows off the sweet potatoes or the ham out of the collard greens might open up several more options for your meal, and your host may be happy to oblige. For vegans, see if it's too much to ask for mashed potatoes or squash to be made with non-dairy milk and butter.

If your host won't oblige these requests or you still feel your options will be too limited, bring your own food to the party. Offer to be in charge of the vegetable dishes to take some of the pressure off the cook. Suggestions include butternut or acorn squash baked at 350 with Earth Balance, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of sugar; potatoes mashed with Earth Balance, almond milk, and fresh dill; collard greens or kale sauteed in olive oil and garlic; baked yams; barbecue blackeyed peas; homemade bread; lentil walnut pate... The possibilities are endless and chances are, your guests will not miss the dairy or meat traditionally in these dishes after gorging themselves on turkey and gravy. You'll actually be performing a public service. Too lazy to cook? Check out Whole Foods and Trader Joe's for a host of premade vegan foods, or go super gourmet with The Cinnamon Snail's Thanksgiving menu. Most health food stores also carry vegan pies and pastries.

Finally, have a discussion with someone you're close to who will be at the gathering and explain that being singled out as The Vegan or having your diet critiqued or analyzed makes you uncomfortable and unable to enjoy the celebration. Announcing to the whole room "These green beans are for Suzie because she's A VEGAN" is not nice, nor is saying "come on, just eat the pie, it's Thanksgiving, it won't kill you," nor is getting all huffy because Suzie won't eat the nice souffle Grandma spent all day making, nor is asking where you get your protein, etc etc etc. You are going to politely refrain from talking about the miserable life and death of the poor turkey and how high everybody else's cholesterol probably is, so everyone else can refrain from making you a pariah or a conversation piece. Enlist supportive family and friends to intervene on your behalf if these remarks come up. Or you can just send people this article.

Finally, if you aren't obligated to go to someone else's house, consider hosting your own plant-based Thanksgiving and inviting others to join in the feast!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vegan Pate

Pate is one of those fancy foods it seems one will never eat again after going vegan. When I discovered something called Faux Gras, a vegan version made from lentils and walnuts, in the health food store, I was hooked, but deterred from buying it frequently as a tiny container is about 6 bucks. One day after making too many lentils, I invented this extremely simple recipe and discovered I could make an equally delicious version for pennies at home! This scrumptious pate is great with crackers, bread, raw veggies, or apple slices. Bon appetit!

4 cups cooked lentils w bay leaf + garlic
2 cups walnuts
Juice of 2 lemons
1 package of dry miso
Splash vinegar (apple cider or balsamic)
Splash tamari or soy sauce

Blend on high for about 5 min. Pate!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Vegan Food Truck With A Big Heart

I recently had the pleasure of eating at The Cinnamon Snail, a gourmet-ish vegan food truck which serves in a different neighborhood every day! Part of the fun is finding the truck. The best way to stay in the loop as to its whereabouts is to subscribe to its facebook page where daily updates are provided. The truck serves in Midtown, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. The day I went, I got there about 30 minutes before it closed and was disappointed to see many of its treats were sold out. I had been very much looking forward to sampling a bourbon creme brulee vegan donut and a lavendar pear turnover, but alas, they were all gone. I ordered a maple pumpkin glazed seitan with spiced roasted pecans, marinated kale & dark beer whole grain mustard on grilled baguette and a ginger cookie and was THRILLED. I vowed I would begin making weekly visits to this delectable truck.

And then the hurricane hit. The truck was out of commission for a few days, and then its owners decided they would get back on the road-- only they would be going to some of New York's hardest hit areas and serve people for free. They are now doing this indefinitely. Obviously, this makes me like them even more. They are requesting donations to support this effort to their paypal:

After seeing many instances where people were subsiding for days on hastily made PBJs, cold food out of cans, or nothing, I think it is amazing that this truck is enabling people to get hot, fresh, gourmet vegan food for free. I'm sure it's lifting a lot of spirits as well as filling a lot of bellies. And I will certainly be patronizing this truck whenever it returns to normal service!

Finally, if you are interested in sampling their food for Thanksgiving, they have a special menu here where you can pre-order their delicacies and then pick it up Thanksgiving day.