Ever since we started eating vegan and low-fat (when I can stop sabotaging myself) we have utilized spices and condiments in more creative and exciting ways than we ever did before. It isn’t about covering up the taste of anything, on the contrary, it’s about enhancing the tastes we’ve covered up all these years with our layers of fat, salt and sugar. I’ve noticed that those who do not share our eating habits seem to require almost an overdose of “flavor” on their food to the extent that the flavors of the real food are buried and no longer recognizable. I think of it as the “Ranch Dressing Syndrome”, when you can recognize the texture of the vegetables in your salad but can no longer see them or taste them owing to the ocean of dressing you just buried them in. It’s a syndrome I am intimately familiar with having had a rather unnaturally close relationship with Ranch dressing for years. One might say Hidden valley was my adopted home town even.
But now what? Let’s face it, vegan ranch dressing is, well… vegan ranch dressing. You can make it vegan but it just doesn’t taste the same no matter what you do. I’ve discovered that there are some things you can substitute with vegan versions and others that you just can’t. Pot roast for instance. Others you can barely tell the difference or they taste so good on their own that it doesn’t matter. So I’ve decided to show some of the products/recipes we use in the event that it might help someone else avoid the vegan ranch dressing trap.
1. Malt Salt/Bacon Salt. These are exactly what they say they are. And oh so very tasty as well. The malt salt is essentially a vinegar powder like you find sprinkled on salt and vinegar chips but with a stronger and yet more delicate vinegar flavor and less salt. I love it sprinkled on salads and especially thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes. The bacon salt is still vegan and comes in a variety of bacon flavors. It tastes more like bacon bits than real slices of bacon but I find that’s ok in a vegan universe. I sprinkle it on my tofu scrambles for a tasty bacon ‘n’ eggs kind of thing as well as on lettuce, tomato and veganaise sandwiches. *I should mention we had a late night snack of Cheddar Bacon microwave popcorn made by the same company last night. Not low fat or low salt but it is vegan.
2. Parma: Vegan Parmesan cheese. Does this taste like the aged parmesan cheese they so freely sprinkle on your salad at the Olive Garden? No, not really. But it does taste good on things like spaghetti and sauce and in pesto. It adds that salty, gritty texture that is really what makes parmesan work so well on Italian food. It’s main ingredient is nutritional yeast. Not a flavor I’m enamored with but as I said, sprinkled on other foods as a counterpoint it is excellent. I have even discovered that it works not just well, but exceptionally well, on my hot cereal in the morning. I can hear the confused “eh?” now. Who puts cheese on their hot cereal? Well, I do. I don’t do sweet things very well anymore. Too much sugar, especially processed sugar, makes me sick though you would never know it some days the way I sneak cookies. So instead of putting brown sugar, honey or maple syrup and butter on my hot cereal in the morning I make it savory. I add diced tomatoes and scallions, a bit of vegan parmesan and a touch of Hawaiian chile water for tang. It’s hot, creamy, savory and usually lasts me for hours without the need to snack.
3. Bragg Liquid Aminos and nori furikake. For liquid aminos think soy sauce with a high protein content. It’s a non-GMO liquid protein concentrate that replaces tamari and soy sauce. Although I have heard it has less salt than soy sauce I can’t seem to verify that from what I find in terms of sodium content but the protein content information seems to be right on. Nori furikake is basically shredded, dried seaweed seasoning that is sometimes mixed with sugar, salt, fish flakes or sesame seeds. I usually pick mine up at Uwajimaya in the International District. I go for the one with just plain nori and sesame seeds and nothing else added. It’s great sprinkled on tomato slices, steamed rice, stir fry, congee and anything else that goes well with a light Asian flavoring. *If you click on the Bragg Liquid Aminos link I’ve provided you can sign up to be sent some free samples of their products. they also have a seaweed based seasoning mix but I do not recommend it.
4. Lastly, because I saved the best for last, Nacho Mom’s Vegan Queso. We have decided to return to our whole foods ways, in other words,no more oil-riffic fake cheeses and meats. If I can’t make it myself or reasonably reproduce it in my own kitchen then it’s too processed, and likely to full of fat, for us. So to find this vegan queso sauce was a real treat. To begin with it tastes FABULOUS. If you miss nacho cheese sauce then you MUST run out and buy this stuff. And if you miss nacho cheese sauce but haven’t been able to even enjoy the store bought stuff or make your own with vegan “cheeze” then you will be ecstatic to note that this queso sauce in NO fat. Yes, that’s right Virginia, Santa came early this year and he left a big heaping jar of vegan no fat cheese sauce that tastes really really good! As mom never said, well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!