I haven't concentrated that much on the actual food aspect of my being vegan yet, so I'm going to dedicate this post to just that: food!
Right now for breakfast I'm eating an Amy's microwavable pocket sandwich with scrambled tofu, shitake mushrooms, and peppers. It's delicious! I love Amy's. They are a wonderful company who make all sorts of amazing frozen organic, vegetarian and vegan food. They make what used to be one of my favorite frozen pizzas, with pesto, cheese, tomato and broccoli. Now if I want frozen pizza I am relegated to their two vegan varieties, one with no cheese and veggies, or one with just soy cheeze. I haven't tried them yet, because I am trying not to rely on convenience foods, but I know they'll be good.
I just said I'm trying not to rely on convenience foods, but that is definitely easier said than done. This morning, yes, I am having a microwavable sandwich and a large coffee from Starbucks. Not ideal, but still much better than a Burger King breakfast, which is what I probably would be eating if I weren't vegan. I have a bad habit of eating way too much fast food. I had cut down before I started my vegan diet (or at least was going to Subway more than McDonald's and Burger King), but it's hard for me not to go to those places at all. It seems like I have to cut it out completely in order to get any sort of handle on my consumption of it. So veganism is perfect for me when it comes to that.
At the beginning of becoming vegan, I wrote a lot in my notebook about how much I liked the paradoxical freedom of having less choices. Here is a direct quote from my notes: "When I have all the choices of food at my disposal, I feel ironically like I am locked in a cage: There are certain things I don't necessarily want to eat in my heart of hearts, because they aren't good for me, but I am compelled to eat them anyway, because I cannot resist the temptation. Then, not only do I feel sick from eating it, I feel guilty and ashamed that I once again fed this junk to my body, instead of respecting, honoring, and taking care of myself. All this anxiety is lifted by my limited choices as a new vegan." I went on to describe my midnight snack the night before. I had a case of the munchies, and we had vanilla bean ice cream in the freezer, leftover from when I bought it for dessert when I had some people over for dinner earlier in the week. Any other night, I would have gone straight for that. But since I was vegan, I popped some popcorn instead and seasoned it with salt, cayenne pepper, and a little turmeric and cinnamon. Totally satisfied my need to put something flavorful and/or crunchy in my mouth. This popcorn has since become one of my vegan treat staples. Sometimes I melt some Earth Balance buttery spread and pour that on top as well. After I started doing this, I read in The Kind Diet that this is also one of Alicia Silverstone's favorite snacks, so I guess I'm on the right track.
Being vegan does not stop me from eating ice cream if I want to, however. I didn't have any in the house the night I made the popcorn, but they sell many delicious varieties of Soy Dream and Rice Dream non-dairy ice cream at the store. So far, I've indulged in the Rice Dream Cocoa Marble Fudge and the Soy Dream Chocolate Fudge Brownie, made with real brownie bits. The Soy Dream was much better and more chocolate-y than the Rice Dream, but both were yummy and decadent and satisfied my desire to have ice cream.
Being vegan has not really stopped me from being able to engage in social situations involving food, either. My friend Steve, who works at Papa Murphy's, made a pizza for us--me, him, my boyfriend Sean, and our friend Brad--to eat one night while we all hung out. He graciously checked to make sure that Papa Murphy's crust and sauce were vegan, then made a pizza loaded with cheese and meat for himself and the guys, with the exception of two pieces made with no cheese and vegetables for me. It was very sweet of him to do as well as completely tasty. I was grateful that being vegan didn't stop me from being able to have a fun night in eating pizza with my friends.
I have also discovered the magic of Newman-O's since becoming vegan, and pardon my language here but HOLY CHRIST ARE THEY GOOD! In my opinion, they are much better than Oreo's, their non-vegan counterpart. The filling in the middle of the Newman-O sandwich cookies is so much smoother and creamier than the gritty, sugary blast of Oreo frosting. I've learned that I can't keep them in the house all the time though, because my boyfriend and I ate a whole package in one night when we first got them, unable to believe they were that tasty.
Here, I am going to list some of the vegan recipes I've made so far and my reviews of them. (P.S., I don't know how to upload photos or embed links or anything like that, so if anyone can help me out with that, it would be much appreciated. I think the recipe sections of my blog would be improved with the addition of both links and pictures.)
-Vegan Pot Pie: http://dairyfreecooking.about.com/od/vegetarianentreessides/r/vegpotpie.htm
This was one of the first vegan recipes I tried out. Let me start by saying that I love pot pie. It's been one of my favorite foods ever since I was a child. Chicken pot pie is of course the old stand-by, the ultimate in comfort food. I used to love whenever my mother would make the chicken pot pie recipe that came on the side of the Bisquick box. When it came out of the oven in all its golden, flaky, crusty glory, with its insides bubbling, it was like a big comfy Christmas present in food form.
But when I was a teenager, I started to come to terms with the fact that I was allergic to chicken. It's kind of a weird, uncommon allergy, one that I never believed actually existed, until I had to admit that I got sick every time I had chicken, and that this had been happening to me for as long as I could remember. I finally looked it up online and found out that yes, chicken allergy is in fact a legitimate problem, and I have it. That was the end of chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, chicken soup, and saddest of all, chicken pot pie for me.
So, at the beginning of this project, when I randomly came across a recipe for vegan pot pie online, I knew I had to try it. If it was good, it meant that I would no longer have to live without the culinary miracle that is pot pie. And honestly, that vegan pot pie was one of the most fantastic things I have ever put in my mouth. It is loaded with vegetables, and the flavor come from the addition of cornstarch, soy sauce, and full-fat coconut milk to the broth and veggies that make up the innards of the pie. It's a great example of vegan comfort food. I know Alicia Silverstone would frown upon the white flour and granulated sugar that went into the crust, but I could easily substitute whole wheat flour and either maple sugar or some other kind of natural sweetener to health it up a bit. My boyfriend and my sister, who are both non-vegans, loved this pot pie as much as I did and couldn't get enough of it. It was a complete success and will definitely be in my vegan recipe repertoire from now on!
-Black Bean Chili: http://www.thecrockpotblog.com/black-bean-chili/
I am a huge fan of the Crock Pot. There's something miraculous about simply dumping a bunch of ingredients in a pot in the morning, plugging it in, and then having a delicious, warm, home-cooked meal at the end of the day. It's great for busy and even non-so-busy days, and it provides you with hearty leftovers for days to come. I try to use my Crock Pot at least once a week.
I am a fan of a site called The Crock Pot Blog on Facebook, and when this recipe for Black Bean Chili popped up in my news feed, I checked it out, saw that it was vegan, and decided to try it. It was fairly simple to make; the most work was having to saute the onions, garlic and spices before putting them in the pot in the morning. The chili itself was very flavorful and hearty, with a really good blend of spices. I also love this recipe for introducing me to the magic that is the pinto bean. I know I've had them before, but I've never bought them or cooked with them before this chili, and I was pleasantly surprised by their addition. I kept noticing this specific, different taste as I was eating the chili, and I couldn't place it at first, though I knew it didn't come from any of the spices I put in. Then I realized it was the pinto beans and got happy. I will not overlook what a pinto bean can add to a dish any longer.
-Sweet Potato-Lentil Stew: (I can't find a link, so I will just post the recipe below.)
1/2 cup safflower oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 small tomatoes, diced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne
Fine sea salt
2-3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4" cubes
7 cups vegetable broth
1 cup brown lentils
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, deep pot. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes or until the onion starts to soften. Stir in the tomatoes and ginger and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne, and a small pinch of salt. Cook and stir for 2 minutes, then taste for seasonings; try to use only enough salt to heighten the flavors.
Add the sweet potatoes, broth, and lentils. Stir well, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes or until the lentils and sweet potatoes are soft.
YUM. This stew was amazing. It tasted like restaurant food. I got this recipe from my book The Kind Diet, which suggests serving it with steamed collard greens and a corn muffin. I did serve it with the Sicilian Collard Greens with Pine Nuts and Raisins whose recipe appears in the book a few pages later. (I'm not going to bother writing it out because it pretty much just is what it says it is, though it has garlic and balsamic vinegar in it too.) I really wanted to make the corn muffins as well, but I didn't have the right ingredients or any way to get to the store, so I just made Bisquick biscuits with soy milk instead. (Yes, Bisquick is vegan if you don't use any eggs or milk with it! I looked it up.)
I think this was one of the best meals I've ever made. I loved it, and my non-vegan boyfriend, sister, and friends loved it as well. I can't wait to try the stew with corn muffins next time, because after having it, I can see how perfectly cornbread would compliment this dish.
Sweet potatoes are an amazing and often overlooked source of vitamins and nutrients. The Wikipedia article says that they are "rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene (a vitamin A equivalent nutrient), vitamin C, and vitamin B6." Not to mention they are completely delicious, with a wonderful, almost creamy texture when they're cooked and a taste all their own. Also, despite their name, they are only distantly related to the regular potato, which I think is interesting.
Those are the main recipes I've tried out so far. Last night for dinner, though, I had frozen vegan BBQ chicken wings and potato chips. Ugh. Can you say LAZY VEGAN? I'm getting back on track tonight. I think I'm going to make Alicia's recipe for Lentil Stew, since I already have all the ingredients on hand.
As much as I get frustrated by not being able to rely on convenience foods, I also really like cooking for myself and knowing I am responsible for my own nourishment. I like having to hone my cooking skills and try new foods out of necessity, because otherwise, I might never do it. For example, I had never even considered buying a rutabaga before I made the Winter Vegetable Bean Soup recipe on the back of the Swanson's Vegetable Broth container. And it was damn good. (Actually, the recipe called for a turnip and I messed up and bought a rutabaga instead. But since they are both root vegetables and pretty close cousins, it turned out fine.) I also made my own pesto with fresh basil leaves to top this soup. The pesto was kind of weak, but hey, it was my first try. I can only improve from here.