A Vegan Year

Day 8: Three-Bean Burritos

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Last night I felt like I needed a tube of food, so I made the Three-Bean Burritos* recipe from The Purple Carrot. If you’ve not heard of The Purple Carrot, they provide a meal-kit service much like Blue Apron, but for vegans (nope, I’m not sponsored). Each week they offer a “menu” of four dinner options; you choose two and they send you the necessary pre-measured ingredients, plus instructions. I’ve ordered from them a few times and I’d recommend it, especially if you’re new to veganism and/or an inexperienced cook (I’m both). It’s a good way to try unfamiliar ingredients and add a few recipes to your, ahem, repertoire, and, most importantly, every meal I’ve made has been really good. However, it’s also bloody expensive, so yesterday I just picked a recipe from their online Archive (now sadly deleted; see note below) and then went to the store all old-school style and bought the ingredients myself.

I followed the recipe exactly, and the end result was really good and quite spicy. I don’t think the fake cheese added anything to it, though. I’ve never been wild about Daiya (it doesn’t melt! why do people keep saying it melts?!), so I tried a different brand last night—Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheddar Shreds (what a name!)—and the stuff was just as flavorless and non-melty. I think I’m resigned to a life without cheese substitutes. That’s the title of my memoir: A Life Without Cheese Substitutes.

Rob made a tomato-corn salad to go with the burritos (also based on a Purple Carrot recipe*). We forgot to add olive oil, and we used parsley instead of cilantro, but it still tasted fine, and it made me feel a lot more virtuous than if I’d just eaten a giant roll of beans.

* These links take you to cached versions of the recipes; The Purple Carrot is redoing their website and they seem to have hidden or deleted the old recipe archive.

A Vegan Year

Day 7: Falafel Sandwich (Takeout)

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When I was a kid, Friday night was always takeout night (except I grew up in New Zealand, so we called it takeaway), and we usually got fish and chips (except I grew up in New Zealand, so… yep, fush and chups). Fish/fush is off the menu now, but this grown-up Kiwi still enjoys a Friday night takeaway, and on this particular Friday we got falafel sandwiches from Damas. (If you’re a falafel fan in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, please do check out Damas; they don’t get as much love as nearby Black Iris or Zaytoons—and their self-proclaimed “no-nonsense dining area” hints at a certain, ahem, lack of ambience—but I reckon their falafel is miles tastier.)

Falafel—a patty made from ground chickpeas seasoned with parsley and spices—is a good option for vegans, as it’s high in protein and fiber. However, it’s typically deep-fried, so I wouldn’t eat it every single day (although even the frying isn’t so bad if they use a plant oil and are careful not to overheat it). It also makes for a pretty cheap meal—this falafel sandwich was super filling and cost all of $4.50. Damas adds a bunch of salad fixings and a dollop of tahini (which looks a lot like cream, but don’t worry; it’s a dairy-free sauce made from puréed sesame seeds), and they drown it in hot sauce if you ask nicely.

As for the photo—the beardy bloke is my husband Rob, who kindly agreed to play sandwich model, and the lurking beast is The Colonel, a gluttonous tuxedo cat who will probably appear, all desperate and vulture-like, in the background of many of these food pics.

A Vegan Year

Day 6: Simple Tofu Stir-fry

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Last night we made a rice and tofu stir-fry based very loosely on the Mee Goreng recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook. I’m sure most of you know how to throw together a stir-fry, but in case you’re entirely new to this cooking business, here’s a simple stir-fry primer:

  • Put your rice on to cook. We cooked 1.5 cups of white rice in a rice cooker and it made enough for 3-4 meals. A saucepan on the stovetop also works fine. If you prefer quinoa or noodles, they’d go well with this dish too (Mee Goreng is traditionally made with egg noodles, but you could use rice noodles instead).
  • While the rice is cooking, prepare the tofu and veggies. Drain the water from a pack of firm tofu and cut the tofu block into 4-6 strips, depending on how big you want your eventual cubes to be. And now for something… pressing. It might sound like a chore, but pressing the tofu really isn’t tricky, and it makes a big difference to the taste—if the tofu is too full of water, your flavors can’t get in. To press, lay your strips of tofu on something flat (e.g. a large dinner plate lined with a paper towel) and cover with a couple of paper towels. Now balance another plate or a cookie sheet on the tofu and place something fairly heavy on top of that to help press all that excess water out. You can use whatever you have on hand—a cookbook, a well-behaved cat, a bowl of bananas. We used a tea kettle filled with water. Leave it to press while you prepare everything else. The longer you can leave it, the better, but aim for at least 20 minutes.
  • Chop up whatever vegetables you want to add. We used an onion, a yellow pepper, bok choy, and some shiitake mushrooms.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a wok or large pan. (We used peanut oil; this handy chart suggests other options that are also suitable for stir-frying). Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook for a minute. Drain off the water from your pressed tofu and cut the strips into cubes. Add the tofu cubes to the onion and cook for a few minutes more (make sure to give the tofu a stir while it cooks, but don’t stir too violently or you’ll break it up). Add the rest of the vegetables, cook for 2-3 minutes or until they seem pretty done, and then add whatever spices you like and give a quick stir to combine. We used coriander and cumin (start with a teaspoon of each and add more as desired), plus a dollop of Sriracha and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce. Adjust the amounts to suit your tastebuds, and add a little water if the dish seems too dry.
  • Once the rice is cooked, chuck it in the wok with everything else, stir to combine, and then serve. And don’t forget: you can always boost the flavor by adding more soy sauce and Sriracha, or a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and/or red chili flakes.
A Vegan Year

Day 5: Aglio E Olio (Pasta With Garlic & Oil)

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Yesterday’s dinner was kindly assembled by Rob while I did some gallivanting. He made a simple Italian pasta dish called Aglio E Olio (“aglio e olio” is Italian for “garlic and oil”). The recipe is pretty much vegan, so long as you leave out the parmesan cheese (you can always sprinkle a little nutritional yeast on top instead). We usually add a side salad to appease our guilt re. the lack of vegetables, but we were out of salady stuff tonight so Rob just bunged some halved cherry tomatoes in with the garlic mix and cooked them for a minute or so. Yum! It’s pretty easy to prepare, too, though you wouldn’t know it from the parsley carnage on our kitchen floor (Rob is a… dramatic cook).

The picture on the left (below) was taken during the gallivanting. I’ve finally been getting back into running after a summer of immense laziness (as soon as the temperature goes above 80, I put on my lounging pants and hit the couch). Last night I managed four slow miles in Prospect Park and—critter bonus!—spotted a raccoon. The picture on the right depicts a regular occurrence: whenever Rob tries to talk on the phone, Lucy (aka The Anxious Cat) starts meowing incessantly and will only stop fussing when Rob picks her up and carries her around the house. She likes to look at the high things.

Day 05 Pic 2

A Vegan Year

Days 3 & 4: Karol Lu’s Chili

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After a sweltering summer that was hotter than a wombat in a grain elevator, autumn has finally arrived here in Brooklyn—and that means russety leaves, sidewalks covered in squished ginkgo (ah, that cheesy bile smell), and CHILI. When I was vegetarian my favorite chili was Karol Lu’s I Love You But I’ve Chosen Chili and happily it turns out to be easy to veganize. In fact, the only ingredient that isn’t vegan is the packet of MorningStar Crumbles (a useful lesson for us new vegans: something made by a hippie-dippie vegetarian company can still be stuffed full of milk and egg whites). I swapped the MorningStar for Beyond Meat’s Feisty Crumbles, and they worked fine (they make a less spicy version, too).

I made a couple of additional substitutions: I switched the habanero pepper for a poblano, as that’s what I had on hand—and, because poblanos are less spicy, I added a second jalapeño. And I didn’t have any chipotle chili powder, so I added a little extra of the ancho. This recipe is pretty forgiving, and you can chuck in as much or as little of the spicy stuff as you like; following the recipe to the letter will give you a fairly hot chili, so dial it back if that makes you nervous. When I have vegemite on hand, I like to be a patriotic New Zealander and add a couple of tablespoons to the mix for extra yeasty goodness.

This recipe works well in a slow cooker, although it’s a good idea to sauté some of the vegetables first, as it will give your chili a more balanced, slightly sweeter flavor than if you simply dumped everything in the slow cooker. I sautéed the garlic, jalapeños, poblano, onion, red and yellow peppers, and sweet potato, then mixed the chili powders with water, added this to the pan, and cooked everything for a few minutes more until the sweet potatoes were just starting to get soft. Then I added this to the slow cooker along with all the other ingredients (tomatoes, beans, crumbles, beer, and corn meal), and let everything simmer away on low for about 4 hours. End result: a healthy, delicious, flavorful chili—and heaps of it. Rob and I ate this for dinner two nights in a row, and still had enough left over for lunch.

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A Vegan Year

Day 2: Roasted Butternut Alfredo

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I’m not sure why soaking something in water for a few hours seems like such an insurmountable obstacle—I’m totally capable of the extremely minor planning such a step entails—but whenever I see the word soak in a recipe, my brain goes NO. NOT DOING. TOO HARD. I’m glad I ignored myself in this instance and managed to bung some cashews in a bowl for two hours, because this Roasted Butternut Alfredo from Isa’s Post Punk Kitchen is SO GOOD and definitely worth the soaking faff.

I served this over whole grain penne and made a few minor changes to the recipe: since I had “chicken” broth left over from yesterday’s dinner, I used that instead of plain vegetable broth, and it tasted just fine. And I’m not sure I used the right kind of miso; I couldn’t find anything at the store called “mellow white miso” (is there a Relaxed Foods section I missed?), so I grabbed Shiro Miso soybean paste instead, and it didn’t seem to cause any repulsive problems (Google just informed me that shiro is Japanese for white, so perhaps it’s the same thing). Finally, I only added one tablespoon of nutritional yeast, as I like my “nooch” in small doses, and you can always sprinkle more on top. Vegan sacrilege, I know, but I’d rather suck on a fruity vitamin lozenge than endeavor to get my B12 fix by dousing all my meals with stuff that looks and smells like goldfish food.

The finished dish was decadent and cozy and delicious; if you ever have to cook dinner for one of those obnoxious carnivores who insists all vegan food is bland and tastes “too healthy,” this meal should hush them right up. Worth noting: I reckon the sage is a big part of why this tastes so good, so if you don’t have any on hand, it would be… sage (sorry!) to save this recipe for another day. Bonus #1: it made enough for an extra meal or two. Bonus #2: the recipe calls for white wine, which means you get to enjoy this meal with a glass or two of leftover booze.

Unrelated: aren’t these photos of a crumbling Parisian housing complex incredibly surreal and a little sinister? You can read more about these grands ensembles here.