Is vegan in vogue?

Cooks find plenty of ways to make tasty desserts without eggs or dairy foods.

Vegan food 521 (photo credit: Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Vegan food 521
(photo credit: Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
‘Vegan food is so hot,’ said my friend who knows all about the latest cooking trends. But what exactly does eating the vegan way mean? When people ask Robin Robertson, author of 1,000 Vegan Recipes, what she eats, her answer is, “Anything and everything, as long as it is plant-based.”
This way of eating is not new. “Vegans have been around for thousands of years,” wrote Robertson, “and plant-based eating has been known by various names... As the word ‘vegetarian’ drifted to include eggs and dairy... a new term was needed for the purists. ‘Vegan’ was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, founder of The Vegan Society in the UK.”
Those who choose the vegan lifestyle, which also excludes wearing leather or fur, do so for three reasons: ethics, environment and health. Vegans believe it is wrong to kill or exploit animals for food or for other products. In addition, wrote Robertson, “meat production is the most inefficient and wasteful use of land and water one could devise.” These days nutritionists advise eating more plant-based meals because plant foods are high in fiber, and plant protein is low in fat and free of cholesterol.
In theory, vegan meals might sound boring, but in practice, they can be delicious.
Think of Israeli favorites – falafel, humous, eggplant salad, chickpea sambusak, spinach and potato burekas – all are actually vegan.
Vegan foods were popular at the latest Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, where I sampled vegan cheeses, meats and sour cream. During the last decade these foods have improved. Instead of trying to imitate the taste and texture of hamburgers as they did in the past, many vegan burgers are now made to be enjoyed for what they are – patties of vegetables, nuts and grains.
Favorites of mine are Sol Cuisine’s almond grain burger, made with organic spelt, almonds, almond butter, soybeans and lentils, and their mushroom rice burger made with portobello mushrooms, brown rice and black olives.
For someone used to keeping kosher, preparing vegan meals is easy. Just think of parve foods without eggs or fish. Many parve products are perfect for vegans.
ONE OF the best appetizers I had this year was my friend Nancy Rose Eisman’s twonut salad, made of chopped hazelnuts, almonds, chickpeas, celery and carrots, dressed with vegan (eggless) mayonnaise and flavored with garlic and dill. The name is a play on tuna salad, as it is a vegan imitation of this American favorite.
I have found that preparing vegan dishes expanded my culinary repertoire and made me use ingredients in new ways. In my kitchen I had used cashew nuts mainly to sprinkle over salads. From Robertson I learned how to use them in a cold soup; raw cashews provide a creamy richness to her cucumber cashew soup seasoned with garlic, green onions, fresh dill and lemon juice.
Her cashew whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup is much more tempting to me than the commercial parve whipped cream toppings I have tasted.
Because of my Israeli background, I have been using chickpeas often, but I learned additional ways to enjoy them from Indian vegetarians, who usually avoid eggs. They make fritters, dumplings and pancakes from chickpea flour, which acts as an egg substitute and also imparts flavor. No wonder the first time I tried pakoras, the tasty Indian vegetable fritters, they reminded me of falafel! During this season it’s especially easy to be vegan, when refreshing vegetable salads and luscious summer fruits are so appealing. I often make main-course salads like the Mediterranean salad of white beans, lightly cooked green vegetables, black olives and fresh tomatoes (see sidebar), which gains good flavor from a generous dose of fresh basil.
Devra Gartenstein, author of The Accidental Vegan, “veganizes” certain Ashkenazi specialties. Her veggie walnut pate, which recalls chopped liver, is made of mushrooms, garlic, zucchini and broccoli lightly sauteed in olive oil. She makes the kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats with bow-tie pasta) of her childhood with mushrooms and a touch of olive oil.
To keep her recipes low in fat, Gartenstein often browns vegetables using very little liquid rather than oil. Such dishes gain richness from nuts, like her entree of Indonesian nuts, noodles and bean sprouts in a sauce of onion, ginger, garlic and sesame oil; it’s enhanced with coarsely chopped roasted cashews, peanuts and hazelnuts.
As with any style of eating, vegan food is not automatically healthful; basic nutrition is still important. “The key for a plant-based diet is eating a variety of fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits each day, in order to acquire the nutrients necessary for good health,” wrote Robertson. Any margarine used should be nonhydrogenated. “The only elements of the vegan diet requiring supplements are omega-3 (obtained from ground flaxseed) and vitamin B-12, which can be found in fortified cereals, fortified soy milk and special foods like miso, tempeh and nutritional yeast.”
Cooks find plenty of ways to make tasty desserts without eggs or dairy foods. I substitute almond milk to make a chocolate frosting for a parve cake, and I like it as much as dairy chocolate frosting. Robertson makes her chocolate almond truffles with almond butter and soy milk, and rolls them in chopped toasted almonds.
Her chocolate walnut fudge has a secret ingredient – avocado; thanks to its creamy, buttery texture, no one guesses the fudge is dairy-free.
The writer is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Ripe tomatoes, black olives and fresh herbs make this parve/vegan maincourse salad appealing. Be sure to use crisp green vegetables and to cook them briefly so they keep their vivid color. To vary the salad, you can make it with chickpeas, lima beans or green soy beans (edamame) instead of white beans.
To make the recipe even easier, you can skip the step of sauteing the onion. Instead, use uncooked red onion: Cut 1⁄2 red onion in very thin half-slices and separate them in slivers; make the dressing with 2 or 3 Tbsp. olive oil. To further save time, you can substitute frozen green vegetables for the fresh ones; cook them just until crisp-tender.
225 gr. (8 oz.) broccoli or green beans 110 gr. (4 oz.) white squash (kishuim) or zucchini, cut in sticks salt and freshly ground pepper 2 to 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 large onion, halved and sliced thin 2 cups cooked white beans or a 400-gr. (15-oz.) can white beans, drained 375 gr. (3⁄4 lb.) ripe tomatoes, diced 1⁄3 cup black olives, preferably oil-cured or Kalamata, halved and pitted 3 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh basil or 2 Tbsp. chopped oregano 1 to 2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice
If using broccoli, peel stalk and slice it; cut broccoli head into small florets. If using green beans, cut them in half.
Add broccoli or green beans to a saucepan of boiling salted water to cover and boil uncovered over high heat 3 minutes. Add squash and boil for 1 or 2 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender; they will soften further after you remove them from the heat. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain well.
Heat 1 or 2 Tbsp. oil in a medium skillet. Add onion and saute over medium- low heat, stirring often, about 7 minutes or until tender but not brown; if onion browns quickly before it is tender enough for your taste, add 1 Tbsp.
water and continue cooking it in a covered pan.
Combine white beans, cooked vegetable mixture, onion with its oil, tomatoes, olives and basil in glass bowl and toss lightly.
Whisk lemon juice with 1 Tbsp. oil and salt and pepper to taste; salt lightly because olives are salty. Add to salad and toss until ingredients are coated.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Add remaining tablespoon oil if desired and toss again. Serve cool or at room temperature.
Makes 4 servings
Three forms of sesame flavor this fastcooking dish from 1,000 Vegan Recipes – tehina, sesame oil and sesame seeds.
Robin Robertson writes: “Soba noodles are a good choice for this dish, but rice noodles or even linguine work great as well. You can also add extra veggies to this versatile stir-fry, instead of or in addition to the green beans.”
To season the quick, no-cook sauce, she recommends using unrefined sugar and high-quality, reduced-sodium soy sauce or naturally fermented tamari.
2 Tbsp. pure tehina 1 Tbsp. sugar 3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar 1⁄4 tsp. crushed red pepper 1⁄4 cup soy sauce 2 Tbsp. water 225 gr. (8 oz.) green beans, trimmed and cut into 2.5-cm. (1-in.) pieces 350 gr. (12 oz.) noodles of choice (see introduction to recipe, above) 2 Tbsp. sesame oil 1 Tbsp. canola or grapeseed oil 1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced 2 garlic cloves, minced 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds, for garnish
In a small bowl, combine the tehina, sugar, rice wine vinegar and crushed red pepper until well blended. Stir in the soy sauce and water until blended. Set aside.
Steam the green beans until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold water. Drain well and set aside. Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain well, rinse, toss with the sesame oil, and set aside.
In a large skillet or wok, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the pepper slices, garlic and ginger and stir-fry until softened, about 1 minute. Add the steamed green beans, cooked noodles and sauce and toss to combine; heat through.
Transfer to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings