August 19, 2013

Vegan To Go-Go: Making Vegan Cooking Fast.

There’s no doubt about it; fast food is fast! But if you’re vegan, it’s unlikely you’re indulging in it.

And while it’s also true that there is nothing faster than grabbing an apple out of a fruit bowl or a handful of walnuts on your way out  the door, vegans do face the challenge of their food, in general, requiring more time to prepare than the food of omnivores.

We vegans don’t just chuck a piece of chicken on the grill and open a can of baked beans (as does my otherwise perfectly delightful husband). We shop carefully at farmer’s markets, often traveling further and to more diverse locations than the average bear. We clean and prep the numerous veggies we will be eating for the day, or the week. We soak beans and nuts, we steam rice and boil quinoa and buckwheat, we create sauces and marinades, we chop and dice and mince, sauté, roast and sear, we make chia seed puddings—which take 24 hours to reach the right consistency—and we’re not afraid of a 23 ingredient salad.

In short, we cook, in a way that non-vegans normally don’t and don’t have to, relying as they do on things like cheese, bacon and butter to create taste.

When vegans prepare meals, there is a lot of thought and a lot of love that go into them. We have to be creative and knowledgable to get those creamy textures and umami flavors, and that takes time. And that’s okay. But it’s not always realistic. We’re busy. We work. We’re not professional chefs or farmers (even though we want to be… or maybe that’s just me). You’ve got stuff to do, important stuff, and if you want to maintain this beautiful and ethical way of eating, you’re going to need a few shortcuts.

First: Invest in a high-powered blender. I love my Vitamix. They are expensive, but so worth it. They can literally grind a rock into liquid in 10 seconds or less, allowing you to put in barely prepped, tough and fibrous foods and turn them into awesome smoothies, lickety-split. I tried putting kale into my mom’s classic blender once, and it wasn’t pretty. Vomitous, one might say. Check Ebay or Costco for deals on Vitamix blenders, or consider buying a re-furbished one. You’ll use it every day.

Second: Buy a rice cooker. I have a little four cup Cuisinart model which cost less than $50 and has lasted years and years. Why not just cook the rice on the stove, you say? How is this a time saver? Because you can set it and forget it. No stirring, no watching over it, worrying if it’s having some sort of rice temper tantrum (which I find rice often does on the stove). Put in the rice (or any grain, and it can also steam veggies wonderfully well) and the liquid and whatever seasonings, plug it in and you’re done. Perfect results every time. Bonus: I don’t know why, but a rice cooker makes the rice smell so good as it’s cooking; your house will be filled with a tonic of delightful fragrance every time you use it.

Third: Make big batches of stuff. Soups or stews which will last up to a week are ideal. Use ingredients like beans, lentils, edamame, tomatoes and other things that won’t lose their texture or flavor with time. You might have to experiment a little to see what works and you might make mistakes. Don’t worry. Just try again next time. Often, I find whatever I made tastes better and better as the days go by. Simply re-heat, toss yourself a little salad, and dinner is served. This is especially helpful if you, like me, are a vegan living in an omnivorous household. I used to make two meals every night, one for me and another for everyone else. Now I make myself enough food for the week, and am free to put together the mac and cheese, the spaghetti and meatballs, or the chicken noodle soup the rest of my family will eat.

Following are three recipes to help get you started with each of these time saving strategies. Good luck, and remember, every time you eat a vegan meal, a cauliflower gets it’s wings.

Quickie Smoothie: I eat a version of this basic smoothie every single morning. Feel free to substitute mint for the basil, any dark leafy green instead of the kale, raw flax seeds for the chia seeds, and any two fruits you like. Just make sure to keep the banana, which adds bulk and creaminess, and don’t add more than two other fruits or the flavors will become muddy.

  • 1 cup water or almond milk, plain or vanilla
  • 1 packet stevia sweetener, 2 pitted dates, or agave nectar to taste
  • 3 ice cubes (you want the smoothie fairly close to room tempurature to aid digestion)
  • 1 tbl raw chia seeds
  • 1 banana
  • 2 cups loosely packed kale, stems and all
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1 ripe peach, pitted
  • 1/4 cup blueberries

Blend until smooth. If trying to keep calories in check, stick with water rather than almond milk and stevia rather than dates or agave nectar. This smoothie gets the day started on the right note every time!

Coconut Rice with Peanuts and Cilantro: This is colorful, as simple as it gets and remarkably tasty. Serve as a main dish with sautéed or raw veggies on the side, or add some tofu to “beef” it up a little.

  • 1 1/2 cups brown jasmine rice
  • 1 cup whole coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/3 cup peanuts, plus more for topping. Cashews work fine as well.
  • 2 tbl soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • sea salt to taste

Put rice, water, coconut milk, raisins, peanuts, red peppers, onions, soy sauce, and sugar in rice cooker, stir thoroughly and turn cooker on. When rice is done cooking, stir in cilantro. Serve topped with more nuts if desired.

Lentils and Kale with Creamy Peanut Sauce: This is one of those big batch wonders that just sits around and gets better the longer it sits in the fridge. Hearty and satisfying.

  • 2 cups lentils (not French or red)
  • 10 cups vegetable broth or water + 2 t/l veggie bouillon (I like Better Than Bouillon)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 3 tbl soy sauce
  • 1 thumb ginger, minced
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups loosely packed kale, tough stems remove
  • 1 tbl neutral vegetable oil
  • fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Saute onions, garlic, celery, ginger, carrots in oil with a dash of salt until soft, about five minutes. Add lentils, water +bouillon or broth, tomatoes, peanut butter, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to boil, then lower to simmer and cook until lentils are soft, 45 minutes to an hour. Add more liquid if needed and stir occasionally. When lentils are just softening, stir in kale and cook for ten more minutes. Serve alone or over rice in big bowls topped with fresh basil if desired.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via DTMc}



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