Image courtesy of Ari Leveaux
I’m baffled by veggie burgers, vegan cheese, margarine, and all the animal product alternatives that seek to mimic the very thing eaters want to avoid. This time of year Tofurky triggered me, but it’s a year-round phenomenon.
Have you ever seen a big eater try to recreate a T-shaped steak to look like a pile of beans? I do not think so. So why should vegans turn beans into a burger? It reinforces the idea that eating meat is somehow normal, and that vegans should try to hide their true selves and pretend to fit in.
The food culture of the Indian subcontinent is the opposite. There, it’s common to see restaurants proudly displaying their credentials with outside signs announcing “Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian” in large type. This conveys the message that veg is natural and non veg is the alternative. Given that India will soon overtake China as the most populous country in the world, this food preference is fortunate for the land, and essential to India’s food security. Vegetables are much easier to climate than meat, and a vegetable-based diet will feed more people from a given area of land than a meaty one.
Fortunately, Indian chefs have many tricks to make their food very satisfying. They do it with spices, sauces, and lots of chopping. Imitation animal products are not on the menu, however, as a body lover as anyone else, Anthony Bourdain once said that India was the only place he could be vegan.
Vegetables are beautiful, tasty, and more exciting than meat and most animal products. I love veggies, despite being a ungulate-hunting carnivore, and I love vegetarians—except for some of those who feel sad about the hunt. The meat-free lifestyle is a beautiful thing, so don’t apologize, vegans! Don’t try to play someone else’s game with your dry sausage. Be proud of your choices and flaunt your lifestyle. Beautiful plant, and so are you.
A vegetarian friend based in New Jersey named Matthew has been sending me some of his favorite veggie bowls that proudly celebrate the true identities of their ingredients.
He’s lucky enough to live near the West Windsor Community Farmers Market, one of the best in the country for the pound, which gives him access to a wide variety of produce and fungi year-round.
Mushrooms, with their earthy variety, offer meaty satisfaction without trying to be meaty. Matthew masters what each variety brings to the table, and each week he brings home a mix of maitake, oysters, shiitake, black pearl, trumpet, enoki, lion’s mane, jungle fowl, and more. They pack a decent amount of protein content along with their dark, rich flavors, and he adds fungi to his meals the way I add bacon bits to my meals.
Here are two of his favourites. First, a simple plate of Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Mushrooms. Next, an Indian-inspired meal of chickpeas with turmeric and lemon.
With so many benefits of veggie life, and an endless supply of flavors, why pretend to eat meat? Embrace your vegan lifestyle and squeeze it.
Brussels sprouts with mushrooms
The recipe calls for maitake mushrooms, which look like a thick head of curly hair, but any mushroom will do. Since fancy mushrooms come at a hefty price tag, one frugal trick is to use regular mushrooms like button, cremini, or portobello to spruce up a smaller amount of the exotic. The cheaper ones will absorb the flavors of their pricey cousins, adding to their impact. Either way, it will be cheaper than meat.
1 pound mushrooms (fancy, saute, or a mixture), sliced
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of salt
Half a teaspoon of black pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
Combine all ingredients in an oven-safe skillet and roast for 15 minutes, stirring often, until the outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts are crispy.
The crunchy aroma of turmeric, the piercing bite of lemon, the herbal aroma of cilantro, and the earthy, dare I say meaty, flavor of spinach combine in a simple yet complex dish.
While practicing with this recipe, I realized it was just a stone’s throw away from the popular Indian dish chana masala, so I made a subset of the cumin, tomato, and garam masala spice mix, just to see how it compared. To my surprise, the family preferred Matthew’s simpler version.
If you are wondering why I added baking soda, it is to soften the chickpeas. This trick works on all types of grains, and can save you hours of simmering if you don’t like them crunchy.
1 medium sized onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of turmeric
2 minced garlic cloves
1 inch grated ginger
Half a teaspoon of salt
4 teaspoons of lemon juice
Half a teaspoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon red pepper powder or flakes, as hot as you like, for color and heat
1 16-ounce can of chickpeas
½ teaspoon baking soda (optional)
2 cups of chopped spinach
1 bunch of chopped coriander
Chopped onions as a garnish
In a heavy-bottomed skillet, sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger in the oil. When the onions are translucent, add the salt, lemon juice, garlic powder, and red pepper and stir to combine. After five minutes, add the chickpeas, including the water in the can. Add baking soda if you want softer cereal. Adjust seasonings to taste while simmering. When you’re satisfied and the liquid is gone, add the spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted into the beans. Turn off the fire.
Fill serving dishes with large mounds of chopped cilantro. Pour the chickpea mixture on top and garnish with the chopped onion.
Ari LeVaux blogs about food and cooking at Flash in the Pan.
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