Saturday, March 26, 2011

Have a Party. Make Vegan Food. People Will Love It.

I haven't been posting as much lately, but that is because my sister is visiting all the way from Germany and staying with us for a few weeks. It's her first trip to NY, and so in addition to running around and seeing the sights, we've also been eating out quite a lot, which has kept me out of the kitchen. Oh, I've cooked for her too, but it's been sort of a medley of VGT's greatest hits, like some standby Thai curries and noodles dishes, my spaghetti with mushroom bolognese, the "Two Moons Special" pizza, some quickie enchiladas, and things like that. The oldies but the goodies. I haven't really had any time to experiment and test out new recipes, but that's also partly because my omnivore sister arrived very open to sampling our vegan food, so I kind of wanted to make sure that everything I cooked for her would be a sure hit. I was too worried about testing something new, it turning out to be awful, and forever ruining her opinion of what vegans eat. I'm happy to say that she has mostly liked all the vegan food she's eaten here, that I've cooked and that we've eaten in restaurants around the city. There were a few misses - she wasn't crazy about the "meatballs" that came with her spaghetti at a certain vegan cafe, and she didn't want to eat the tempeh bacon I made for breakfast. I don't know how anyone can turn down tempeh bacon, but she has been enjoying our vegan cheese and said that she will look for some when she returns to Germany. She also loved a particularly sublime slice of chocolate cake we had at Cocoa V, but who wouldn't?

We invited a few friends over for a welcome party when she arrived, and the vegans were definitely outnumbered. I'm happy to say though that all the food was a hit, eaten with relish by my sister and our omni friends. I made a large batch of these spicy Sesame-Soy Meatballs, which were completely devoured and raved about, even by a certain omni friend who often balks at having to go to vegan events with his vegan girlfriend.

I also made a few platters of crostini with caponata, for which I'll print the recipe below. I found a pretty easy recipe for caponata online that was already vegan, so I didn't have to change a thing. I also love making things like this for parties, to remind people that many of the things they eat are already vegan. It takes the foreignness out of what people often think of as "strange" vegan food.

And of course, it's always good to have some assorted olives around for people to nibble on. I also served Faux Gras with crackers, fresh baguette, and cornichons on the side, and I also made a bunch of the Tempeh (crab-like) Cakes with Spicy Remoulade from Vegan Celebrations, which were also a huge hit, but I forgot to take a picture of those.

Caponata (recipe originally published in Gourmet September 2006 issue)
makes 3 - 4 cups

2 lb. small Italian eggplants (about 4)
2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
4 medium celery ribs, cut crosswise into very thin
1/3 cup large green Sicilian olives (1 3/4 oz.), pitted and coarsely chopped
1 3/4 oz. Italian capers
2 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
1 (14- to 15-oz.) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained and chopped (1 cup)

1. Peel eggplants, leaving some strips of peel, then cut into 1-inch cubes and spread on half of a kitchen towel. Sprinkle eggplant with salt, then cover with other half of towel and weight with a baking sheet topped with 2 or 3 large cans for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring, until pale golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add celery and cook, stirring, until onion and celery are deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add olives, capers, and 2 tablespoons sugar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir in vinegar and tomatoes.

3. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. If sauce is very acidic, add 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (to taste). Transfer to a bowl and keep warm, covered.

4. Rinse eggplant in a colander under running water, then squeeze dry in small handfuls.

5. Heat remaining cup oil in cleaned skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then fry eggplant in 2 batches, turning occasionally with tongs, until tender and browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Transfer as cooked to paper towels to drain, then transfer to a large shallow serving dish in an even layer. Spoon sauce on top, spreading evenly, and let stand, covered with a kitchen towel, at room temperature, at least 8 hours (for flavors to develop). Stir before serving.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Few Words on Faux Meats...

I have very purposely and consciously tried to keep this blog free from too many "op ed" type posts on veganism. I never want to be preachy. My intention has always been, from my very first post, to simply share food with you that would be enjoyable for vegans and non-vegans alike. I wanted the food to speak for itself, to look tantalizing enough for you to want to try it, no matter your level of commitment to veganism, if you have any at all.

I've never been a bean sprouts and salad kind of vegan. I mean, I like bean sprouts and I like salads, but I love to veganize non-vegan recipes and show the world that anything you can make, I can make vegan. And better. Besides, this is a food blog, and posts about bean sprouts and salads would be pretty boring. As would posts about my dinners of steamed vegetables. That's why I don't post those.

I wasn't born vegan. On the contrary, I was raised with a very typical middle-class American meat and potatoes (and don't forget the dairy) diet. So I know that meat can taste good. I've never argued the opposite. But for me, personally, the few moments of pleasure I might derive from eating an animal product will never be worth the pain and suffering that I would directly cause that animal, simply for the sake of my own selfish appetite. Faux meats solve this ethical issue. They taste good, they satisfy the nostalgic urges for the familiar dishes we grew up with, and most importantly, they don't require any animals to DIE.

That said, I woke up this morning to a charming comment on one of my posts from someone who is so brave in their conviction that they chose to remain anonymous. Here is anonymous' comment in its entirety:

I really fail to understand all of your obsession with fake meat and gluten (seitan etc)!!!! You pride yourselves on being vegan but eat crap that not only looks like meat but tastes like it!!! It's disgusting and not necessary at all, you might as well all eat meat!!!GROSS!!!

Well, anonymous, you certainly beat me in excessive exclamation point usage. Much as I would like to respond with my best Samuel L. impression, instead of breaking apart his or her comment line by line, I will simply reply with the words of someone far more eloquent than I will ever be. I credit my husband, a vegan of more than 20 years, for sharing these beautiful words with me.

Song of Peace by George Bernard Shaw

Slaughtered to satisfy our appetites,
We never pause to wonder at our feasts,
If animals, like men, can possibly have rights.
We pray on Sundays that we may have light,
To guide our footsteps on the paths we tread.
We're sick of war, we do not want to fight,
The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
Like carrion crows, we live and feed on meat,
Regardless of the suffering and pain
We cause by doing so. If thus we treat
Defenceless animals for sport and gain,
How can we hope in this world to attain
The PEACE we say we are so anxious for?
We pray for it, o'er hetacombs of slain,
To God, while outraging the moral law,
Thus cruelty begets its offspring - War.

My final words to anonymous are that if you think we "might as well all eat meat," then you are very sadly missing the point. You don't get it, and sadly, you probably never will.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Don't Kiss Me. I'm Not Irish.

St. Patrick's Day is coming up this week. On this day, Irish-Americans across the nation honor their heritage by consuming the very traditional beverage of beer with green food coloring. I think the green represents the green fields where they grow potatoes, and the beer represents the waters that irrigate the lands so that they never suffer from a potato famine again. Or I might have just made that up.

You'll need some filling, hearty food to soak up all that green beer, so here are a few suggestions from my archives to go with your Irish-themed day:

Vegan Corned "Beef" and Cabbage
Beefless Stew
Vegan Spicy-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Just remember while merry-making that Guinness beer, though traditional and Irish, is not vegan due to the fact that it contains isinglass, a product that comes from the dried swim bladders of fish, used in the clarification process to remove excess yeast. So if you don't want any fishy swim bladders in your beer, don't drink Guinness. No need to fret though, just check Barnivore for a huge database of vegan-safe beers. Or if beer's not your thing, there's even a recipe for a vegan Bailey's Irish Cream. Sláinte!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bakesale Betty's VEGANIZED Fried Chicken Sandwich

A few weeks ago, The Huffington Post crowned "America's Top 10 New Sandwiches," with a slideshow of meaty, artery-clogging, death-on-a-bun creations. This sandwich bonanza caught the eye of fellow blogger Namely Marly, who had the brilliant idea of inviting several people to veganize each of the 10 sandwiches in order to offer up even more delicious, healthier versions of the originals. I was honored to be asked to participate in this challenge, and the sandwich I had the luck to veganize was Bakesale Betty's Fried Chicken Sandwich from Oakland, CA.

I did some research and this fried chicken sandwich from Bakesale Betty's is indeed a phenomenon. It's been featured on Serious Eats and the BA Foodist blog, both of which claim that people line up down the street for these things just like they do at Magnolia for cupcakes. (Those silly fools should go to Babycakes instead! There's no line there and their cupcakes are much more delicious, and all vegan to boot!)

But back to these fried chicken sandwiches. As you might remember, I recently tried out the most amazing recipe from Chef Art Smith for Gardein's Vegan Fried Chick'n. Of course I used this as the base for my sandwich, and lucky for me, the recipe for the actual Bakesale Betty's Fried Chicken Sandwich is widely available online, so I used that for the coleslaw and vinaigrette that make the sandwich complete. Fried chick'n with a nice, light, acidic coleslaw is actually a great idea, whether you're having a picnic or a sandwich at home, and I was delighted at how delicious and indulgent my vegan version turned out to be. The coleslaw is a combination of cabbage, red onion, jalapenos, and fresh parsley, tossed with dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. It is a wonderful alternative to the usual mayonnaise-based coleslaws, and has just the right amount of heat and zinginess to counter the heaviness of the fried chick'n, and just enough moisture to keep the sandwich from being dry. All together, a most delicious combination. 

For the entire recipe, make sure to check out the full post on Namely Marly. Spring is finally smiling upon us, so make some of these sandwiches and take them to your nearest park to enjoy!