Vegan MoFo

Vegan MoFo Day 3: ‘C’ is for Cookie

I love cookies. I have baked a LOT of cookies. Complicated ones, weird one, simple ones, soft ones, crispy ones–all kinds of cookies. But I was hoping to try something different this Vegan MoFo–at least, try a recipe I haven’t used before. And I was in the mood for peanut butter cookies.

Above: NuttZo, a nut/seed butter blend gifted to us by my partner’s mom to try. So many nuts and seeds!

Of the zillions of PBC (sure, let’s abbreviate) recipes out there, there was at least one I hadn’t made before: the one in Vegan for Everybody, the America’s Test Kitchen vegan cookbook that is upsettingly good. But being me, I had to fuck with it. It calls for creamy peanut butter; I used this NuttZo stuff I had yet to try. (I was a little worried about the chia and flax seeds messing with the texture, but it was OK.) It calls for corn syrup; mine leaked out all over a cupboard like six months ago and I wasn’t keen to replace it, so I just used agave. Also I used whole wheat pastry flour. That usually works fine as a sub for my purposes. I’m sure a purist could tell the difference.

Above: Cookie dough scooped and pressed with a fork, waiting for the oven.

Oh. It also says to press with a glass and sprinkle with crushed peanuts. I like that, but since (a) no peanuts in this nut butter and (b) I just LIKE the forking cross-hatch thing, I went my own way.

Above: Baked and cooling.

Verdict: Yes.

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#VeganMoFo Day 22: Wheat Berries, It Turns Out, Are A Little Tricky

For today’s “unconventional” grains prompt, I wanted to make a freekeh salad from Vegan for Everybody, but freekeh was no longer available in my local Whole Foods’ bulk section. So I picked up some wheat berries instead.

The last time I attempted to experiment with this grain, they turned out very dry and firm and just generally not tasty. But America’s Test Kitchen has a good track record of explaining how to make this kind of thing right, so I followed their advice and made the wheat berry salad with spinach and oranges (+ red onion, chickpeas, mint, and a zesty sherry vinaigrette). It turns out the secret has something to do with precisely how well-salted the cooking water is: they say it’s 1½ teaspoons of salt, no more, no less, to a full 4-quart kettle of water.

Though the resulting grain is not soft enough to substitute the usual rice and quinoa, it was tender and chewy enough to make up the base of a tasty entree-type salad. And while the recipe didn’t suggest doing so, I opted to combine the dressing, spinach, and wheat berries (which I’d made ahead and refrigerated) in a warm metal bowl over boiling water to heat these components and–most importantly–gently wilt the spinach.

It’s a simple recipe and, once you’ve cooked the grains, it comes together in a snap. Chalk it up to another win for that cookbook.

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#VeganMoFo Day 17: A Little Goes A Long Way (In This Case, 2 TB of Mirin Goes Halfway to Japan)

I generally don’t drink. I don’t care for beer, hate wine, and am disinclined to mix my own drinks or frequent bars. It’s just not my thing. I do keep a couple bottles of inexpensive wine, sherry, and – aha – mirin just for cooking, though. So today let’s talk about mirin!

It’s a sweet rice wine. I don’t believe it’s commonly used as a beverage, certainly not in the form sold in most US supermarkets, but it is a pretty common ingredient in sauces and marinades that take some cues from Japanese cooking.

Today I used it to make a teriyaki sauce, where it lends its characteristic sharp sweetness to the saltiness of soy sauce and bright, punchy fresh ginger and garlic. Well, OK, and there’s actual sugar in there, too, but whatever. Plain sugar in teriyaki sauce would not be the same!

The teriyaki sauce became the base for some baked tofu, of course, but that’s not all! I spooned a little into a pan with a little water, rice vinegar, and 1” pieces of kabocha squash and let it simmer. I mixed a few more spoonfuls with some ground-up black sesame seeds to make a thick, tangy paste to stir into steamed chopped kale. This trio of mirin-tinged delights found themselves in a bowl with short-grain brown rice, avocado, scallion, and more black sesame seeds for a delightful teriyaki bowl dinner. Mmmm, mmmm.

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#VeganMoFo Day 7: No Fake Anything

For my money, no international cuisine embodies today’s theme of “original vegan” like Indian food. Sure, they’re more likely to cook with dairy, but vegetable oils are common and inexpensive and lentils, beans, rice, and other grains are critical components to dishes throughout the region.

At the farmers’ market this week, I picked up a few veggies that really lend themselves to Indian-inspired preparations: cauliflower and mustard greens. I’ve also had my eye on a recipe for fancy-looking roasted cauliflower and spiced rice dish with pomegranate seeds (also seasonal!) from Vegan for Everybody – and it was easy enough to find a simple palak recipe (pureed greens sauce) that would pair well with chickpeas, thanks to Vegan Richa’s website.

I have GOT to improve my plating skills, ‘cause this is a unicorn rainbow of deliciousness and I made it look a little meh. OH WELL.

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#VeganMoFo Day 5: I Don’t Believe in an Interventionist Veganism

But I know, darling, that you do.

Seriously, though – making a lifestyle change based on one meal is a bit much to ask. So maybe let’s focus on that thin pie slice of maybe-could-be-vegan-but… sorts. You know, the ones who say things like “But I love cheese too much.” Yes, I realize that’s tomorrow’s prompt. So let’s refocus on the pie metaphor and make a goddamn delicious vegan pizza.

I’ve made a lot of vegan pizzas over the years, trying to find what works, because I cannot with the options available at pizza restaurants. (How sad! I really did eat a lot of omni pizza in my youth…) The key thing is getting used to pizza without the chewy, melty layer of cheese–DAIYA DOES NOT COUNT, ICK–and somehow giving it that rich, salty, yummy thing that omni pizza has in spades. The key, I’ve found, is that things must be pre-cooked–spinach sauteed, especially–and olive oil generously applied. Seasoning is critical. Best toppings include mushrooms, spinach, well-spiced crumbled tempeh, artichoke hearts, and cherry tomatoes. But, if I’m honest, my version of a deep-dish pie piled with vegan staples isn’t going to calm the culinary nerves of a soy-phobic non-vegan.

This might.

America’s Test Kitchen, bastion of omnivorous home cooking, came out with a brilliant vegan cookbook this year, Vegan for Everybody. They applied their nigh-scientific methodology to a full slate of vegan cooking techniques, including ricotta subs (cashew, tofu, cauliflower, etc.). And one of its applications is this gorgeous mushroom pizza: sauteed cremini AND shiitake mushrooms, garlic, a really good homemade whole wheat crust, cashew ricotta, and parsley. Simple, but delicious and substantial. It feels fancy. And it might help change a mind or two: Hey, maybe this could be OK.

Served with salad. Because vegans gotta vegan.