Vegan substitutions, condiments and spices. Oh my. (the draft I was working on when MSP had her heart attack)
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!
When we first got word from our former landlord that he was losing the condo to foreclosure and we would need to move I spent a considerable amount of time in a state of high anxiety convinced that we were looking down the barrel of living in either a freezer box on the street or perhaps one of those weekly hotels with rental sheets and a generous sprinkling of prostitutes and crack addicts. Now is probably the time to admit that in my mental world everyone online is thinner and better looking than me, everyone I went to high school with more successful, every prospective tenant more appealing and with better credit and every other job applicant more qualified. It’s exciting to be me, no? Thankfully, we are NOT living with cardboard walls or fending off the tempting money-making offers of street pimps but after this move the life of a wandering mendicant is looking more and more like a practical lifestyle choice. Whoever recommended moving a freezer with the food still in it so that nothing defrosts needs to be slapped really hard with a frozen mackerel. And what’s with all the boxes? I dump them in the garage and then every time I go back in there… more boxes. It is clear to me that they are breeding in there. And the old condo is like Mary Poppins bag, every time we reach in and take something out something else appears. At this rate we won’t be done moving until… maybe… Christmas??? Okay, I vented enough now. And truly I am thankful for the beautiful home and wonderful landlord we have found.
This last week has been an exciting and challenging one in so far as cooking has been more difficult in terms of both prep ( I can’t find all my kitchen stuff) and finding the time and energy to cook. But we have actually made some really tasty and relatively easy to prepare meals given the circumstances. One night we made a quick vegan curry “stew” served over red Thai Hom Mali rice using S&B Golden Curry mix with potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, home canned butter beans and chunks of delicata squash. The great thing about using
delicata is that even though it is a “winter squash” the skin is thin and edible making it a breeze to use in stews and soups. Another night I chunked up a half-dozen tomatoes, some onions, red peppers, garlic and zucchini and simmered it all, no water, with some Italian herbs. When it had cooked down we added sautéed meatless Italian sausage chunks from Trader Joe’s and sliced green olives. I think of it as my Puttanesca Stew… which I was thrilled to find out means “Whore’s” stew. I think that has a certain ring to it. Last night I made a Mexican cornbread casserole by mixing Trader Joe’s soy chorizo with roasted corn, diced onions and peppers a little enchilada sauce and topping it all with cornbread batter and baking it. On the side I made a green salad of romaine hearts, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, black olives and red onion slivers. The dressing I made by tossing some tofu, half an avocado, the juice of one lemon, jarred guacamole mix and some water in the blender. It made a wonderfully creamy Mexican style avocado dressing. Topped with cracked pepper the salad was a real winner.
We have taken real advantage of Freecycle the week (see the link on the right), using it to re-home many of our moving boxes as well some items we didn’t need or no longer have any use for. It’s been a real godsend not having to either throw these things out or haul them away and that doesn’t even take into account that these items are going to someone who needs them. It’s another step in our effort to consume and waste less. I was also able to find a second-hand shower chair that retails new at Home Depot for $90 in perfect condition for $10 as well as a gorgeous, nice condition overstuffed reading chair for $40 at our local Goodwill.
Hopefully tomorrow I can start posting normally again, including real recipes and ideas and such. We have done well sticking to our vegan plan this week but we have modified it to include occasional fish which I realize makes it a non vegan diet but thankfully the world is still a place where we can make our own rules and labels for ourselves. Perhaps we should consider calling ourselves “vegish”? Yeah, we’re vegish, I like that! Of course that means we’d have to change the blog title to Two Chubby Vegishes. What exactly IS the plural of a vegish? Vegi? Ah well… more mysteries to ponder!