I am occasionally possessed by an urge to have a sip of milk so strong I see stars.
I am vegan. Mostly vegan.
There are certain things I’m never tempted to cheat with:
Lamb. (Eating babies? Need I say more?)
Veal. (Same thing.)
Foie gras. (Or any organ meat.)
But I’ve always been a sucker for a good piece of artisanal cheese or an egg still warm from a particular hen (who lives in a hen house so nice it could be rented out as an apartment if it was in New York).
So rarely, very rarely, I allow myself some slight discrepancies. My feeling is that if I didn’t, that would make me radical, and radicals frighten me. They make me think of Scientology and the Taliban and Michelle Bachman.
I don’t know if all vegans struggle with moments of weakness or temptation, but I’m willing to bet most do. Human beings have been omnivores since the dawn of time and it’s no small task to rewrite a script which lies so deeply in our primitive brains. But it’s a worthy effort, that rewrite, because it facilitates the further evolution of our species from survivalists to spiritual beings who are motivated by compassion rather than mere hunger.
As a vegan, the taste I crave the most is “umami”. Umami as a flavor was only officially added in 1985 to the other four primary players: sweet, salty, sour and bitter, and is characterized by being “meaty” and “brothy”.
It also happens to be the flavor that is hardest to achieve in vegan cooking. Hard, but not impossible. There is the easy way out of course, the vegan sausages, the meatless ground beef and so on, and those things do have a place in a modern vegan’s life. But they’re not all that healthy, being processed to within an inch of their vegetable life.
I offer you here, three recipes that will kick your meat craving’s butt.
Recipes which will leave you so satisfied you’ll feel like an ancient cave dweller picking your teeth after an epic hunt. Food that not only maximizes umami awesomeness for me, an herbivore, but also for the many crabby carnivores I cook for—my house is full of them. I admit, the meatloaf does have a bit of the aforementioned processed meat substitute, but I had to include it. It’s just that good.
Oh, and these are all so easy, my ten year old son could make them if I let him get near the knives.
Roasted Portobello Mushrooms With Almond Au Jus
(Elegant enough for fancy company or just lunch with the girls. Goes nicely with a chilled asparagus salad and some quinoa with walnuts and olive oil tossed in.)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup almonds, ground
6 large portobello mushrooms without rips or tears, stems removed
1 onion, sliced
Place mushrooms in a sprayed baking dish, gills side up. Pour half of the marinade evenly over all mushrooms. Layer onions on top. Pour remaining marinade evenly over the onions and mushrooms. Bake 30 to 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Serve with fresh Italian parsley or basil sprinkled on top if desired. Watch the faces of your meat eating friends and family transform with wonder at this umami masterpiece.
(Great for family dinners and leftovers you can turn into sandwiches and pack in picnic baskets to take to the beach. Bonus, while it’s cooking, it smells exactly like the meatloaf of your childhood and will flood your brain with fond memories, kind of like when the ice cream truck rolls by.)
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 heaping cup of walnuts, ground
12 oz vegetarian meat crumbles (I like to use 2 packages of Trader Joe’s meatless ground beef. Morningstar is okay in a pinch)
1 & 1/4 cups quick cooking oats
1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and mashed
3 Tbl soy sauce or tamari
2 Tbl ketchup (additional for topping)
1 Tbl dijon mustard
2 tsp poultry seasoning
rough sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Sauté all veggies until soft and then strain, removing as much moisture as possible. Add veggies and all other ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix well. Press firmly into a sprayed meatloaf pan. Top with a glaze of ketchup and additional sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Cook 1 hour at 375 or until the edges are slightly burned and caramelized. Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving.
Four bean Chili For a Crowd
(This recipe makes a big satisfying batch you can feed to a crowd or just to yourself over and over again when you’re too busy to cook anything else. It lasts up to a week and gets better every day. It’s also great to bring to a sick friend, a pot luck dinner, a super bowl party or any party where there’s going to be a lot of drinking and general debauchery.)
4 cans any kind of beans rinsed and drained. (I like a combo of pinto, white northern, red kidney and black beans, but chick peas are great too and really anything at all works. Use whatever you have available.)
2 large cans diced tomatoes
6 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 jalapeños, minced. (Leave seeds in for extra spice, or take them out if you want things mild.)
2 onions, chopped
1/2 white wine
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbl oregano
1 Tbl chili powder
1 Tbl ancho chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 Tbl vegetable bouillon
salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
(optional, for extra meaty taste, add 12 oz vegetarian meat crumbles)
Saute onions, garlic and jalapeños until soft. Add all other ingredients, simmer 45 minutes. Top with fresh cilantro, fresh chopped onions and/or soy cheddar cheese if desired.
Pour yourself a beer and get busy!
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Ed: Cat Beekmans