Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We've Gone Vegan, Thanks, Tal Ronnen

Every few weeks Curt threatens to go vegan. And then there's a meat sale at the commissary and he makes ribs three days in a row. Not only is it annoying, but it is unhealthy. As much as Curt loves preparing and eating meat, it is just not realistic for us to go vegan. Plus, it makes things difficult when you are eating out or eating with others. While we may go vegan or vegetarian one day, we are not ready today, but we've decided to start incorporating vegan/vegetarian meals into our life. To get started with our experiment, I bought The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen. Hey, if it is good enough for Oprah (who loves cheese), it's a good place to start.

We have made several recipes from this book and they are all delicious. Some are so good I exclaimed,"Damn!" The food is just so damn good. The Mediterranean Chickpea Wrap has to be my favorite. It is a sandwich so good that it DOESN'T NEED CHEESE. And that, my friends, is the highest compliment you can pay a sandwich. (Seriously. In fact, I will go even further and say that cheese would take away from the taste. I don't think I have ever said that).

But, back to the book in general. This is not a book that you give to a college kid going through a vegan phase or even a long-term vegetarian who does not cook. These recipes take a lot of time and every pan and gadget in the kitchen. The Conscious Cook is a great book for someone like Curt who owns all the required equipment and knows how to use it, but just doesn't know how to cook vegan.

Anytime you want to make a new recipe, you should read the ENTIRE recipe all the way through, but with this book, it is critical because many of the recipes involve using cashew cream (a fat/cream substitute), which you have to make ahead of time. The preferred method involves soaking the cashews overnight, but even the shortcut takes over an hour. Many of the recipes require marinating or pressing the water out of the tofu or letting things set up and chill, all of which adds to your prep time. The times he lists for the recipes are how long it takes HIM to do it. If you are not experienced, or have to make the cashew cream, you need to add more time.

The book is filled with interviews with vegan chefs and manufacturers of meat/dairy substitutes and even the first importer of quinoa. Meat substitution has come a long way from the white ham loaf that the vegans at at my friend Tom Mattzie's Easter celebration years ago in DC. Tom and I and the other meat eaters were devouring lamb while looking at the vegas with a combination of pity and disgust for their unappetizing entree. Ronnen shows you that you can use meat substitutes to create elegant, satisfying meals. It just takes more work. Meat is delicious on its own. A little salt and pepper and fire and meat can be incredibly good without any additions or side dishes. Meat substitutes, especially tofu, do not really stand alone. But, combined with marinades, sauces, starches, and veggies, they provide the substance that makes the tasty bite satisfying.

Our goal is to make all the recipes in the book this year. We will probably have trouble getting all of the ingredients here, but it will serve as a mini-course on vegan food preparation so we can begin improvising with more success.

Update: 3/4/2010 I had VegetarianinKorea over for Vietnamese-Style Tofu Hero with Vegan Slaw. It is another truly delicious sandwich. It doesn't take too long to make, but there are a lot of ingredients and steps. Fresh french bread is key, so you need to plan ahead, but definitely worth making again.


MommyCha said...

Sounds amazing, but I am not sure I could live without cheese! Tom is a meat maniac, for him a sandwich is all about meat, meat and more meat!
I love spices, curries and flavourable meals with lentils and legumes. I know you can buy a lot of ingredients at the Foreign Market in Itaewon. It is beside What the Book,n ear the Mosque in Itaewon if you know where that is. You may be able to find more of what you need!

MommyCha said...

Ps- I just woke up from a nap when I wrote that post and I do not believe "flavorable" is a word.. >.< I meant "flavorful"!