Vegan….say whhhaaattt?!

tofu?

tofu?

In her most recent post, LG alluded to something I’ve been ruminating about for a while. And that is veganism.

“Hold the phone, Miss Em!,” you say.

Don’t get overworked. I love meat, dairy and eggs way to much to give them up. Life is about living and enjoying, so I don’t plan on depriving myself of the food that makes me happy. But I did want to give myself a cooking and dietary challenge for a limited time. My goals: try new cooking techniques and ingredients, challenge myself when dining out to choose the healthier option, improve meal planning and lessen food that goes to waste. As for some potential benefits: a taste for a variety of new recipes, restored energy (maybe?) and a lasting consciousness about eating choices.

My first observation: this kind of dietary restriction requires a lot of planning. I spend more time in the evenings packing my lunch. And breakfast. And snack. While I usually do these things, I often grab what’s convenient or what’s fastest. Or I’ll plan on eating out since that’s even easier. Consciously planning ahead for the next 10 days will be the only way I reach my goal. I’m 4 days in.

So at the end of this 14-day experiment, yeah, I’m gonna have a steak. On my birthday. How’s that for meal planning?

My first four days have been successful in following vegan guidelines. So far I’ve cooked a couple of vegetable soups, grilled tofu. And I made a salad with an Asian twist.

Here’s the Asian (Minus Chicken) Salad from Ellie Krieger. I adapted it.

crunchy!

crunchy!

I love this salad—reminds me of a salad at Harper’s that comes with Ahi Tuna. The combination of vegetables creates lots of interesting texture and crunch, and then the dressing adds tinges of sweet, salty and sour. I had picked out the Napa cabbage, having seen someone cook with it on PBS’s EveryDay Food. I thought I’d make a slaw or add it to soup, but instead I found this super salad recipe.

1/2 head Napa cabbage, thinly shredded (about 6 cups)
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded (about 2 cups)—omitted
1 large carrot, shredded (about 2 cups)
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, greens included (about 1/2 cup)
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts—omitted
1 (11-ounce) can Mandarin oranges in water, drained—just used navel oranges, peeled and sectioned
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted—I chopped up some dry-roasted almonds

This makes about 4 servings. Rather than eat an only-cabbage salad, I topped a bed of romaine with this salad, just to add a different texture. Then I dressed my portion with Soy Vay Toasted Sesame Dressing, my new favorite bottled salad dressing. Soy Vay was earth-shatteringly good the first time I tasted it. There’s a mega sesame flavor going on, like toasted sesame oil, plus the dressing is pleasantly laden with toasted sesame seeds. A note on the name: the Soy Vay line was born from a business partnership of a Chinese gal (native of Hong Kong) and a Jewish guy. Voilà—Soy Vay.

soy vay!

soy vay!

Next up: I grilled some marinated tofu, inspired by this Grilled Veggie and Tofu Stack recipe from epicurious.

Here’s what you need for my version:

12-oz. container of extra-firm tofu, cut into 8 cubes, drained
1/2 c. Piquillo Pepper Bruschetta sauce (Here’s where you may have to substitute. You could go straight for a jarred pasta sauce, pesto or salsa. But I like this bruschetta sauce because it’s spicy and has a concentrated flavor, which makes a nice marinade base. This saved me some time in the kitchen, too.)
a few glugs of balsamic vinegar

optional, but awesome: roasted peppers jarred in balsamic vinegar (I think you could possibly find this among the olives/capers and other jarred antipasto kinds of non-perishables at a grocery store.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

1 zucchini, sliced
olive oil

Start by mixing up the marinade—bruschetta sauce through salt and pepper. Once the tofu has drained, place them in the marinade dish, and spoon the marinade all over the tofu cubes. Then work on grilling up the zucchini. Just give the slices a quick toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and put it on the grill. I used an indoor grill pan.

pre-grilling

pre-grilling

Once the zucchini is done, put it aside and replace it with the tofu on the grill. Turn the tofu once you start to see nice grill marks—probably every couple of minutes. This adds nice texture and flavor. I love the idea of treating tofu like meat. Obviously it’s a kind of meat substitute, but by actually marinating and grilling the tofu, the plain spongy base takes on much more flavor.

Serve it up with some of the marinade that was left in the dish as a sauce. Top with slices of roasted red peppers marinate marinated in balsamic vinegar.

The results? I flat out loved the zucchini. A little bit of char on there made it extra tasty. And for the tofu—texture is still an issue for me here. It’s scrambled-eggish. Which is fine, but it reminds me of how hard it is to turn my back on my meat-eating ways! The marinade/relish/sauce is what makes this dish. Because the flavors—garlic, spicy pepper, balsamic are intense, you don’t need a lot. The sweetness of the balsamic-marinated pepper really knocks this dish out of the park. The tofu also made for a great lunch leftover or a quick snack.

oooh aahhh

oooh aahhh

I’ve also made a couple of veggie soups. Soup is a great option because it’s filling and easy adapt to any sort of dietary need, like or dislike. The first was a basic navy bean and veggie soup. I checked out Ina Garten’s Italian Wedding Soup to get an general understanding of ratios in a vegetable stock soup. But I kind of went off on my own: sweat some onions, carrots and celery in olive oil in the bottom of a stock pot. Season with salt and pepper. Add about 2 boxes of vegetable stock and a can of navy beans. Season again. Add some fresh thyme sprigs. You can retrieve these from the broth at the end. Let it come to a boil, then redue to a simmer for a bit. Done. Sorry no pic.

The other soup I made was Martha Stewart’s Hearty Spinach and Chickpea Soup with a few of my own tweaks. Here’s what you’ll need for my version.

1 cups uncooked white rice

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, sliced
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4 oz. can of water chestnuts, drained
4 cups vegetable broth, I used a carton
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
10 oz baby spinach leaves (these are those family-sized bags)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
optional: juice of a lemon or lime

Get started on the rice first, preparing it as directed. Meanwhile in a stock pot, over medium heat cook the onion in the olive oil for about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and garlic for another 5 minutes.

shroomin'

shroomin'

Add the vegetable broth, water chestnuts, chickpeas and red pepper flakes. Let that come to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Once the rice is done, add that in and bring to a boil again.

some add-ins

some add-ins

Allow to simmer for a few minutes, then add the spinch for the last minute of cooking. Serve with sliced green onions on top for an added crunch, and a squeeze of lemon or lime if handy.

hearty spinach and chickpea soup

hearty spinach and chickpea soup

What a delicious soup. And hearty is the appropriate word. The flavors are there, plus these are filling ingredients: spinach, chickpeas, rice. I would gladly eat both of these soups on a non-vegan day.

So to reflect on the vegan experiment so far, I’d say it’s been challenging but not impossible. I’m a big veggie eater as it is, though I’ve found myself eating a lot more fruit, oatmeal, Italian ice, veggies and hummus, plain almonds. All of the meals have been filling and satisfying without that feeling of over-fullness. And I’ve definitely planned my meals to a T. I’m not exhausted by it just yet.

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