Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Vegan Yum

At the beginning of the month, I had an inner sense of panic about going vegan.  I knew I only had to stick it out for 29 days, but, as the reality of it started to sink in, I began to realize all these little things I would be unable to do and to have.  And at first, it was really hard.  I discovered that I go to the fridge to "check" on my cheese many, many times a day.  I've been addicted, it's true.  I say that I snack on healthy things, but the truth is that I often choose cheese.  I'll have cheese and crackers or cream cheese on toast, pub cheese smeared on something and a little more Havarti on my sandwich.  I wrote about my cheese addiction and wanting to free myself from this a while ago.  But I never stuck it out for very long.  I just didn't have the motivation.

And for a week or two, I found this to be the most difficult part.  I thought about cheese.  I craved cheese.  If I saw it, I was distracted.  I am not lying or exaggerating.  Cheese was a real problem.

But...after about three weeks, my cravings started to lessen.  I don't consider putting cheese on anything.  Without the dairy I feel leaner, less gummed up inside.  

The meat was less of a problem.  We've been eating at least half of our dinners vegetarian for months.  I've gradually weaned us off of meat, so it wasn't such a big deal to give up for the month.  However, just when I thought I was this awesome "vegan for life," I made meatloaf for my family.  When I pulled that sucker out of the oven, I took one whiff and was dizzy.  Seriously.  And what is weird...I didn't crave the taste of it, I craved how I knew it would make me feel.  I'd never noticed that meat made me feel anything before, but as I smelled that meatloaf, I knew - I wanted that heady meat high.  Meat high?  What?  Yeah, I know, that sounds crazy, but there must be something in the meat I was craving.  But the craving was so strong that it was the last thing I wanted to actually do.  I began to wonder about what other effects this clean, animal-free living would have on my body and my mind.

So, right about three weeks in, I got really into it.  And I discovered all these amazing things.  Vegan food is delicious.  And you don't have to sacrifice flavor, at all.  You can make comfort food that is warm and belly-filling.  You can make some of the most delicious things in the world, all without animal friends.

Here is a little compilation of foods I learned to love and foods I already loved that made life so fun as a vegan:

1.  Nutritional Yeast.  This stuff is strong in flavor and takes some getting used to, but it has a salty, Parmesan-like quality that can be used to make yummy sauces and spreads.  Plus, it is packed with protein and fiber and B vitamins.  A little scoop added to sauces gives them a cheesy, salty yumminess.  You can also add it to green smoothies in the morning for a little boost.  I can't say I've replaced my coffee, but I do love these, and my kids beg for them!

2.  Coconut Oil.  This is not particularly healthy, but it can be used in recipes instead of butter.  I made these cupcakes with this frosting (using earth balance) that were some of the best I'd ever made.  I mean, seriously, they were light yet structured, not too sweet.  

3.  Animal Products are everywhere - make your own!  If you are serious about removing animal products, it is a tough gig.  They sneak them into everything, especially dairy and eggs.  So, I usually try to make things from scratch.  These croutons I made using dried out bread.  I cut them up, drizzled a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt, garlic powder and thyme.  I baked them on 300 or so for 20 minutes.  They are so good.

4.  Vegan Recipes.  I discovered Peas and Thank You and tried several of her recipes.  They were delicious and ingenious.  I learned about roasting chick peas to give them a crunchy, "meaty" texture.  I made enchiladas with her roasted chick pea recipe and a cashew "cheese" that was also really good.  And I learned about Mmmm Sauce.  This is a little unusual, but it is so, so good spread on wraps and sandwiches.  It's strong in flavor, so go easy at first.  But, mmmmmm.  I keep this in the fridge at the ready.

5.  Tofu.  I had cooked with tofu before, but I really got into it.  I discovered different methods of cooking it.  Basically, if you dry it out by draining or fry-drying and then marinate it, it soaks up flavor.  Then you can cook it in different ways to get great texture.  Roasting gives it a charred/grilled flavor and crunch that is irresistible.  Below is a picture of when I made lettuce wraps.  I marinated in this tangy/soy/ginger sauce and then roasted it.  I made a peanut sauce and a sweet chili sauce.  Everyone gobbled them up!

6.  Accessories.  These are things I already make and try to keep on hand at all times.  They are good on EVERYTHING.  

First is Pink Onions.  I make a quick brine with vinegar, salt and sugar and boil it until everything is dissolved.  Then I pour it on the sliced red onions.  Let it sit until it comes to room temperature.  Keep in the fridge and eat all the time.  My kids named them Pink Onions, and they LOVE them!

Hummus.  I throw chick peas in the slow cooker and let them cook without thinking about them.  Then I freeze them in zip bags to have ready all the time for curries or stews or HUMMUS!  We eat a lot of hummus.  I vary the recipes and add horse radish or roasted red peppers or fresh peppers or olives or cilantro and use different oils and vinegars.  My kids eat hummus with baby carrots like candy.  Me too.

Finally, a staple in our house is Mojo de Ajo.  I use this Rick Bayless recipe and use this all the time.  It can be used like butter - on popcorn, bread, rice, sauteed shrimp (not vegan, obviously) or anything really!!  I skim the oil off the top and use it for cooking.  Serious yum.

So, even if you're not giving up animal products entirely. these are really yummy

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