Creativity need not be confined to fields like history. It's just as satisfying when it takes place in the kitchen. I rank my vegetarian cookbook, Meatless Meat, published in 2001, as one of my most creative projects. And I'm still experimenting in this field.
Since publishing that book I've been gratified at the response from readers who prefer to eat vegetarian or who must avoid meat, especially since the book became available electronically. It's fun to receive emails from people who love preparing the recipes I've devised, all of which utilize soy products to create delicious high-protein entrees that taste uncannily like meat-based dishes.
And the other day I met a woman who told me that her son loves using the copy of Meatless Meat she bought him years ago. "The other day," she said, "he made for us the calzones in your book, and we just loved them!"
But since 2001, I've been challenged further by changes in my abilities to digest certain foods. Besides avoiding meat, I've had to give up dairy foods entirely (so no more dairy cheese), and I also found it necessary to begin eating gluten-free. Now I stick to the various kinds of soy cheeses available (I love the spicy ones, like pepper jack), and to avoid gluten I no longer eat wheat, barley, rye, and oats. In addition, I have found it difficult to digest corn meal, so I omit that grain from my weekly muffin-baking.
To those who react by exclaiming, "What's left to eat?" I reply VERY GOOD STUFF, food that is not only valuable nutritionally, but food that also tastes absolutely delicious.
Let's take cheese. The internet has been featuring vegan cheeses made largely from nuts. I decided that I would expand my menu of cheeses from just soy cheeses to nut cheeses, so I began by reading the recipes online based on cashews. I wrote my version of these recipes and tried it on the weekend. Very good! I'll describe my recipe later in this article.
Finding healthful recipes that taste very good is truly important. It's amazing to me how many people hold back from becoming vegetarians and vegans in the belief that they must accept the idea of eating tasteless foods. Why in the world should that be? Nobody wants to put tasteless foods in their mouths.
Some people think of vegan food as a few sticks of celery and carrots. Those people have never visited the elegant vegan restaurant in Philadelphia called Vedge, which is very expensive and serves an elaborate series of wonderful entrees that take a long time to prepare. Or they haven't yet discovered The Loving Hut, an international chain that serves mouthwatering vegan food at very affordable prices.
There's no reason vegetarian and vegan food should be tasteless. We still have the same spices and herbs and other seasonings available to us that we did before eliminating meat from out diets, along with ones we might not have known about, like sriracha sauce, which I discovered only lately. On top of that, we know more about the nutritional value of spices and herbs than we did in the past. I hope you are putting cinnamon on your cereal and your toast every day!
We all need ideas for eating well, since the public restaurants are not responding as eagerly as they should to the new knowledge and prefer to major in old ideas like chicken wings and beef-and-cheese burgers. No thanks. A few have introduced one or two modern entrees and added them to their menus, but often their idea of catering to vegetarians and vegans is to serve an entree based on veggies and grains, and stop there, thus omitting the protein entirely. We need that protein! But they can't seem to think of creative ways to presenting protein to us in plant-based form. So we end up preparing a lot of our own meals.
That's why we need each other — to share delicious entrees that we manage to create for ourselves and others, food based on the principles that vegetarians and vegans need to follow and that people alert to discoveries about dairy and gluten want to eat.
Recently I prepared a delicious luncheon for myself. Checking the fridge, I found a bowl of leftover cooked wild rice (that black grain that's not really rice), which I cooked yesterday. I also found half a package of garlic hummus. I knew that would be the basis for high-protein and delicious burgers, if I was ready to add something dry to pick up some of the dampness, so in my blender I ground about five cups of gluten-free cereal. Combining high-protein veggies with whole grains gave me the three basics: veggies, protein, and whole grains. Adding seasonings, I made some delicious "burgers" (okay, call them bean patties or grain patties). Here's how:
To a bowl with a cup of cooked wild rice I added the leftover hummus and stirred it up. Then I added about a cupful of the cereal crumbs. combining these three ingredients resulted in a very thick batter that I knew would broil nicely. I decided what spices and herbs to add (garlic and parsley), then with wet hands I shaped the batter into five patties. I added some good olive oil to a broiling pan and put the five patties in, turning them once so that both sides were oiled. I broiled these patties in my toaster oven while defrosting some cooked, seasoned veggies (mushrooms, peppers, and baby carrots) in the microwave, adding some veggie broth to the bowl. Then I served half the veggies with one of the patties. This combination tasted so good that I went back for a second serving.
This is a meal I will cook again, it was that yummy. It contained what I needed for a complete meal. And it was a vegan meal.
Another way I enjoy being creative in the kitchen is to find methods of preparing tofu that result in something luscious to eat. My favorite way of cooking tofu is to slice it up and marinate it in a spicy sauce overnight, then remove it from the sauce and bake it at a high temperature for about a half hour, turning once, till it's crisp on the outside. Then I go back to the marinade and make it into a sauce or gravy by heating it and thickening it with cornstarch stirred into a little veggie broth.
My latest venture into tofu preparation resulted in a surprise. I thought I was preparing something that would go with a rice pilaf and a salad. Instead, I prepared something else entirely.
My plan was to create a marinade made of a small jar of Major Grey's chutney combined with a small can of apricot juice. This mixture made a thick sauce that penetrated the tofu well. I let the tofu stand in the marinade overnight. The next day I removed the tofu from the marinade, placing the pieces on a well-oiled pizza pan and baking them at a high temperature, 450 degrees. I checked them after 20 minutes and found that they had not crisped the way I thought they would, so I gave them another 20 minutes, by which time they were becoming golden brown, so I turned the pieces over and baked for another 15. This side turned golden brown, too, so I removed the pan from the oven, and as soon as they were cool enough, I tasted one. Sweet! Very sweet. I had forgotten how much sugar Major Grey's Chutney contained, and of course, so does apricot juice.
I liked the result, so I ate some more, and in a moment I realized that I had made . . . tofu candy! Great for a mid-afternoon snack to give me some of the energy I need to complete a full day's work. I like it better than an energy bar.
When I tried my own version of cashew cheese, I simplified the recipes I had read online, then added something of my own. I bought a package of lightly salted cashews, put them in a bowl, and covered them with good drinking water. After two hours I drained the cashews and put them in my blender with l teaspoon lemon juice, 2 teaspoons white wine, some garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper. I added 1/4 cup of Bragg's Nutritional Yeast, which I keep on hand for making casseroles with a high vitamin B content. The Nutritional Yeast contributes a vaguely cheese taste. When the mixture became too thick to blend, I added a little more lemon juice and wine to make the blades work.
Turning this spread out into a bowl, I refrigerated it, and it thickened further. I liked the taste of it, but it looked very bland, so I chopped up some pimento-stuffed green olives (the same ones I use for martinis!) and added them. Beautiful! And they add extra flavor. This is a vegan spread that guests at your next party will love putting on their gluten-free crackers.