I am not vegan. I am not even vegetarian.
I was vegan for a long time, and vegetarian for a long long long time.
Yet, I never felt good eating that way, and after a number of health issues arose culminating in a very difficult pregnancy, birth and recovery with Bess I made the decision to re-introduce meat to my diet.
There are other issues at play, too. I have become more committed to eating local and unprocessed food as much as possible. I avoid tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other heavily processed soy and vegan substitute foods. While the animal rights issues are undeniable, I find the environmental benefits of this diet compelling.
I eat locally-raised grassfed animals. As part of my choice to eat food with a face, I made a pact with myself to visit my food while still on the hoof (or wing, whatever). The least I can do is look these animals in the eye and say thanks.
For what it’s worth, I have come to believe that different bodies have different nutritional requirements because they evolved in different ecological niches. People who live at high altitudes or latitudes where plants don’t grow have traditionally subsisted on animal protein. People who live in tropical climates where a wide variety of plants grow have traditionally been vegetarian. My body is healthier when it is given animal protein, and I don’t think that makes me a bad person.
That said, our weekly menu includes plant-based meals, and I am always on the lookout for recipes that will satisfy my family. (My baking is always vegan because Bess has egg anaphylaxis and does not tolerate diary well, in addition to being gluten-free because she has Celiac disease.)
While browsing the cookbook section of the library, I picked out two cookbooks that looked promising. The first one, The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen, is a beautiful book. The photography and graphics really caught my eye and I decided to take it home for a closer look. Unfortunately, the usefulness of the recipes did not match the book’s aesthetic appeal, at least for my family. The recipes were much too fancy for our palates and way too labor-intensive (Sweet Onion Beggar’s Purses, anyone?), and they included a lot of wheat and processed foods like Veganaise and Gardein. However, if I was hosting a dinner party with a guest list that included vegans, this book would definitely be a useful resource – and I wouldn’t mind having it on display in my kitchen as a piece of art.
On the other hand, Supermarket Vegan: 225 Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Recipes for Real People in the Real World by Donna Klein is an understated, text-only volume (with a cover price of $18.99 as opposed to $29.99 for The Conscious Cook). But the recipes are perfect for a new vegan who is wary of unfamiliar substitute foods, or for a time-pressed whole-food family like mine. The recipes are straightforward and simple, the ingredients are readily available, and Celiac-friendly substitutions are easy to make where required. I think I’ll be buying a copy of this one.
Portobello Mushrooms with Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes (from Supermarket Vegan)
- 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 medium), peeled and cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup light coconut milk
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely chopped or pureed canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce (these are HOT so go easy if you’re cooking for kids!)
- 1 clove chopped garlic
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 6 large portobello mushroom caps
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet with sides or a shallow casserole and set aside.
In a large saucepan, place the sweet potatoes in enough salted water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well and return to the saucepan; add the coconut milk, 3 teaspoons of the oil, chili, garlic, and pepper. Mash until smooth but still slightly chunky. Add the scallions, stirring well to combine. Set aside to cool slightly.
Mound equal amounts of sweet potato mixture on the gill side of each mushroom cap. Transfer the mushrooms to the prepared baking sheet and brush the tops evenly with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Bake in the lower third of the oven 10 to fifteen minutes, until mushrooms begin to soften and release their liquids. Place on the center oven rack and bake 5 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are lightly browned and mushrooms are tender when pierced with a knife. Serve immediately.