Friday, August 3, 2007

Food Friday—Cooking Vegan

I am not a vegan. I am not even a vegetarian. A large part of that is selfish—I simply enjoy the possibilities meat, fish, dairy, and eggs give my cooking and eating. But I also think a focus on limiting factory farming and on buying local, small-organic food is an important first priority before we can understand where animals fit into human diets. It's kind of like the logic that gets applied to women in the workplace. Sure, a greater percentage of women may prefer to stay at home than men, but we won't know until they get equal access to the workplace. Similarly, it may be unsustainable and cruel to use animals for food, but it's hard to know until we arrive back at a system that isn't completely broken.

One of my best friends just turned vegan. He read a bunch of Peter Singer, and found himself agreeing with too much of it to ignore its implications. That gave me the opportunity, last time he came over for dinner, to cook an entirely vegan meal. And it's actually a fun constraint. I immediately established that I would take veganism on it's own terms, not try to make vegan "versions" of non-vegan food. I have had too many floppy, boring soyburgers and dry, floury baked goods to take that road. Instead, I looked for vegan dishes that existed in meat-eating traditions, and built everything else from the ground up, as if non-vegan food had never existed.

Chips and Guacamole were an easy decision to start. Readers who know me know that I am a huge lime whore. The avocado is a great vehicle for a tight balance of onions, lime, tomatillos, and chiles. Thinking back, I would have done well to throw some thin slices of jicama on the plate for dipping as well.

I'm proud of the next dish, a little amuse-bouche that went around before we sat down. I fried green plantains with plenty of garlic until they were crisp on the outside and oozing on the inside, then topped them with a raspberry-cayenne coulis. If I had known how easy coulis is to make, I would have made it before—you just toss fruit in a blender, transfer to a sauté pan, add sugar over heat, and then strain in a sieve. The cayenne was to-taste, to offset the sweetness of the raspberries.

Harire, a thick Moroccan soup with tomatoes and chickpeas, was the main plate of the night. Depending on the recipe, it can have pasta. We left it out, because of the veganism constraint and because it's really not necessary once you have chickpeas doing their starchy thing.

Dessert was "turtles" of pecans, dark chocolate, and caramel. I am terrified of sugar. Honest to god, terrified. It changes so quickly, and is so easy to ruin, that, short of a dark roux (that'll be another post), it has to be the most stressful thing I know to cook. But the caramel turned out alright, if a little hard (no milk). I should have oiled my waxed paper before laying down the caramel and pecans. Chocolate wants butter and caramel wants cream, but both work fine without.

I will continue to make Friday a food-themed entry. Other day-themed entries are coming. I considered giving each day a theme, but decided that would be cheesy beyond words. But I think the weekends may be themed, with weekdays left for news and other posts.


Daisy said...

Nice post. Repent and go all the way, my friend! Free the chickens, etc.

I'd be vegan except that I cannot live without cheese.

Saw your snark over at Feministe and decided to drop by. :)

Will said...

Nice post.

I'm all for freeing the factory farmed chickens. That's a shitty life. But, as I explained above, I'm not willing to let go of the possibility that eating chickens can fit in to a sustainable, humane way of life for humans. We just need to arrive back at a place where we can evaluate that.