As I mentioned in my last blog post regarding development and consumerism, I find myself feeling quite uncomfortable during the holiday season—a time of family, love, generosity, and unity that our modern Western culture has overshadowed with greed, overconsumption, material accumulation, and Black Friday casualties. These disconcerting cultural tendencies, magnified during the holidays, bolster my urge to live simply, with minimal possessions and producing minimal waste. My view of living simply, though, does not necessarily mean living without gifts—indeed, they can provide a heartwarming medium through which to foster community and relationships—but rather prompts a rethinking of gifts and gift-giving.
My discomfort with our current mainstream notion of gifts stems from the attitude surrounding them. As a child, I judged the quality of my Christmas by the number of presents I received, even having the nerve to cheekily ask my mother, “That’s it?” if I felt dissatisfied. But would I ever feel satisfied if the importance of gift-giving lied in accumulating as much as possible? Could I ever escape the power that possessions wielded over me if the absence of the latest Apple product in my Christmas haul inspired in me resentment toward my mother?
Gifts with which I can feel comfortable stem not from the desire to own the latest technological gadgets, nor from a false need to surround oneself with “stuff,” but from a genuine feeling of love and gratitude between both of the gift-givers, and between them and the earth. In the dire state of our world, we must imbue all of our actions with a consciousness of alleviating our impact on the planet, and gift-giving proves no different. In my view, loving and earth-friendly gifts include those that the recipient can put to good use, and those that generate little to no waste. For example, the bulk of my Christmas list comprised of donations to various organizations such as Our Hen House, and Kindle cookbooks, which require minimal resources to produce as opposed to print books, and which I use every day.
But literally…every day. Not an exaggeration in the least. Because I view the act of providing non-vegans with flavorful, hearty, and unique food as integral to animal activism, I constantly look to my collection of virtual cookbooks for inspiration in such endeavors. I also view my cookbooks as helpful in honing the skills necessary for my ideal career path—one that creates a livelihood out of the aforementioned activism. Thanks to my dear mother, the latest additions to this Kindle cookbook collection include Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby; Vegan Secret Supper by Merida Anderson; Dirt Candy: A Cookbook by Amanda Cohen; Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry; Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon; and The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook by Jere and Emilee Gettle.
So that the section of my brain devoted to culinary creativity would not explode from all of the tantalizing recipes within the pages of these six cookbooks, I decided to limit my kitchen experimentation first to recipes from Vedge, since it comes from the masterminds behind my favorite restaurant. Featuring 100 recipes from the Vedge menu tweaked minimally to suit the home kitchen, Vedge perfectly reflects the sophistication, beauty, and locally sourced/seasonal philosophy of the highly acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant. Organized in a manner similar to that of the restaurant menu, Vedge starts off with “Small Bites and Small Plates” such as olives, salads, and light vegetable dishes; moves on to “Soups and Stews” that span from brothy pho to creamy parsnip-chestnut bisque; includes a “Dirt List” with preparations that maximally highlight seasonal and specialty varieties of vegetables; offers heartier “Plates” that hire beans, lentils, and grains as backup singers to the superstar veggies; appeals to the baker in all of us with creative fruit-based desserts (can you say Strawberry Sorrel Bread Pudding?) and unpretentious breads; and finishes with unique cocktails.
Since Christmas, I’ve had the pleasure of making and eating four of the book’s recipes, two of which my mother and I first enjoyed at the Vedge restaurant itself. The Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce constituted the appetizer of my family’s two-course Christmas dinner, though I used a homemade silken tofu mayonnaise instead of the Vegenaise recommended for use in the recipe (many of the recipes in Vedge call for vegan mayo, and Rich and Kate recommend Vegenaise. However, I found that homemade mayo provides a quality substitute in the recipes for those of us who like to avoid prepackaged products). A dish just as tasty as that we remembered from our visit to the restaurant, the smoky, just-charred sprouts with the tangy mustard sauce created a winning combination. My mother also noted that the texture of the shaved sprouts harbored so much substance that she almost mistook them for pasta. I have a feeling that we will be making this dish often.
The night after Christmas, Vedge once again graced our plates with Celery Root Fritters and Remoulade (a pseudo-play on crab cakes and tartar sauce). Fostering an intense love of the knobbly, underused root, I found myself immediately taken by its double use in the recipe: once, roasted with onions, mashed, formed into patties, coated with chickpea flour and Old Bay seasoning, and pan-fried; twice, grated, blanched, and combined with vegan mayo, capers, dill, mustard, shallots and tarragon to create a tartar sauce-like spread, the taste of which you’ll never want to leave your tongue. I only wish that the recipe had specified to squeeze the excess moisture out of the grated celery root after blanching it, for the remoulade turned out a bit waterier than I would have preferred. All in all, though, a fabulous dish (the veggies you see in front of the fritters comprise a simple sauté of brussels sprouts and sunchokes, not featured in the cookbook).
To please the ethnic food-loving palate of my best friend Maddie, whom I invited over for dinner one night, I played with Vedge’s Squash Empanadas with Green Romesco—homemade dough encasing a mash of squash roasted with coriander and cumin, accompanied by a bright yet deeply flavored sauce of roasted green peppers, garlic, cilantro, and toasted almonds. I substituted spelt flour and coconut oil for the all-purpose flour and vegan butter/shortening called for in the recipe, yielding flaky, toothsome results. However, the saltiness of the dough proved a bit much for my saltily sensitive palate, and I would probably omit the salt altogether as I usually do if I decide to recreate the dish. The other qualm I have with the recipe comes from the amount of roasting time specified. The recipe calls for roasting the squash at 400°F for 8-12 minutes and the peppers for 6-8 minutes, yet with small-diced veggies and an oven that errs on the side of too hot, the veggies required about double the time specified to adequately cook (I experienced the same problem with the celery root in the fritter recipe above). If you find yourself with the Vedge cookbook, I would recommend planning on roasting the veggies in any recipe for longer than specified, and to plan the cooking of your meals accordingly. Recipe technicalities aside, the dish proved crowd-pleasing and flavorfully stunning. I served it alongside a recipe of my own creation for Spanish Roasted Brassicas (recipe below).
Finally, I tried my hand at another recipe with which my mother and I fell in love while dining at Vedge: Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade. Between bites of the soup, my mother and I could not help but exclaim, “This tastes exactly like bouillabaisse. But there can’t be fish in it…dear goodness, I hope there’s not fish in it…”. Rest assured, the folks at Vedge had not decided to renounce their morals in a single dish, but they sure created a memorable gastronomic experience for my mother and I. The soup features simmered cauliflower crushed to a rice-like consistency surrounded by a tomatoey broth spiked with white wine and Old Bay seasoning, complimented by a gremolata-like topping of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. My version of the recipe increased the amount of rice called for and added chickpeas for substance, substituted brown jasmine rice for white, and (sadly) omitted the veryveryveryveryvvery pricey saffron. While I quite enjoyed the texture of the soup, I found its flavor a bit lacking, and I doubt that this unfortunate occurrence owes itself completely to the omission of the saffron. Unfortunately, this particular dish might be best left in the hands of the Vedge team (or in the hands of someone with some damn saffron…).
Tomorrow, I plan to experiment with Vedge’s Soba Bowl with Shiitake Dashi and Market Greens (a dish that authors Rich and Kate purport to enjoy every morning for breakfast with their son, Rio), adding a bit of pan-fried tempeh for some good old-fashioned protein. Beyond this surely warming and grounding soup, recipes I’d still like to try from the Vedge cookbook include a dish of peeled-open, marinated, and grilled portobello stems known as anticuchos; the Napa Cabbage Funky Kimchi Stew; the Warm Ramp Hummus; and the Whole Roasted Carrots with Black Lentils and Green Harissa.
If you enjoying playing around in the kitchen with involved recipes that feature the best produce the earth has to offer, then I would highly recommend picking up a (digital!) copy of the Vedge cookbook. With that, I shall leave you, dear readers, with the simple, Spanish-inspired dish I created to accompany the empanadas featured above. Enjoy.
Spanish Roasted Brassicas—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat.
1 small/medium head cauliflower, chopped into smallish florets
2 small/1 medium head broccoli, chopped into smallish florets
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and broccoli florets with the oil, paprika, and sherry vinegar to coat.
Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the brassicas are tender and golden-brown. Serve.
Until next time, Ali.