Some people become vegetarians because they love animals. Some, as comedian A. Whitney Brown put it, because they hate plants.
But vegans are committed. Not only do they not eat food that harms or kills animals, some don’t even want food that inconveniences animals.
Like honey. Hardcore vegans will not eat honey because, as Noah Lewis of vegetus.org puts it, “the simple fact is that the bees are enslaved.” Similarly, some vegans will not eat sugar because, while it comes entirely from a plant, some sugar is whitened by using bone char, which comes from animals.
Although the vegan diet lacks in meat, dairy and egg products – or because of it – the diet can be better for you than most Americans’ standard diet. In 2009, the American Dietetic Association took the position that vegetarian and vegan diets reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and lead to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
It can be healthy, but there are some things to watch out for when on a vegan diet: You have to make sure to get enough protein and vitamin B-12 – and calcium, iodine, vitamin D, iron, zinc and n-3 fatty acids.
Fortunately, a well-balanced vegan diet provides all of these essential nutrients, though you might want to take vitamin B-12 supplements, just in case.
Still, cooking a well-balanced vegan diet can be difficult, at least if you want to stick to what most Americans think of as normal ingredients. Many vegan recipes attempt to re-create meatless versions of familiar meat-based dishes, and to do so they rely on such potentially off-putting ingredients as vegan chicken, egg replacers and nondairy cheese.
Other recipes use soy products such as tofu and tempeh for their protein, and it is one of these that I tried first in cooking a vegan diet for a day.
Mee Goreng, which is a type of stir-fried noodles, is popular street fare in the Philippines. When I have had it before, it always had meat in it, usually chicken or shrimp or both. But then I came upon a vegan recipe for it using tofu, and tofu fans are sure to be instantly hooked.
If they like spicy food, that is. As with a lot of street food, Mee Goreng usually packs a kick. If you want it milder, simply trim down or eliminate the amount you use of sambal oelek, the all-purpose Indonesian and Malaysian ground chili paste.
Also as is the case with much street food, Mee Goreng tends to be a little oily. The recipe calls for 5 tablespoons of oil for 4 to 6 servings; I got by with four tablespoons, but that is still a quarter cup of oil.
Do you need it? Yes. The oil brings the dish together, from the spicy sambal to the faintly bitter bok choy to the sweet sauce made from equal parts of soy sauce, brown sugar and molasses.
The tofu, which has the amazing ability to soak up all the flavors in which it is cooked, serves as a protein-rich punctuation to the meal.
For my next dish, I dispensed with the tofu and received my protein in the form of garbanzo beans, which are also known as chickpeas.
Indian-Style Vegetable Curry With Potatoes and Cauliflower (that name seems a little over-descriptive to me) is another spicy dish. I like spices; sue me. If less fiery food is more your style, you can use a mild curry powder (but I wouldn’t use much less) and leave out the serrano chile.
This dish benefits greatly from the mutually complementary flavors of potato, cauliflower, garbanzo beans and curry. A bit of tomato paste and a cup of coconut milk make it deeply satisfying, yet it is so healthful that you’ll practically pat yourself on the back for eating it.
It is the kind of dish that calls out for basmati rice; if you have it, use it.
Finally, I made a vegan version of one of the least vegan dishes I could think of, pancakes.
Pancakes pretty much need eggs, milk and butter. If you try to make them from just flour, water, sugar, salt, baking powder and a little oil, you’ll wind up with paste.
Or so I thought. But then a colleague passed me a recipe for Vegan Pancakes that she swore was excellent. And she was right.
I don’t know how this works. I don’t understand how they hold together without becoming slightly sweetened hardtack. I’m guessing the oil has something to do with it, but we are only talking about a single tablespoon for 10 smallish pancakes.
These vegan pancakes are fine the way they are, but I incorporated a couple of additions suggested by my colleague: I added two tablespoons of soy milk (almond milk would also do) and a teaspoon of vanilla, just to make the pancakes even better.
They are a perfect foil for maple syrup. And maple syrup doesn’t inconvenience any animal.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 pound fresh Chinese noodles — yellow wheat or “stir fried” — or 12 ounces dried spaghetti or linguine
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 large shallots; 2 minced and 2 sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (Note: Sambal oelek can be found in the international aisle of grocery stores.)
14 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 pound bok choy, stalks and greens separated and sliced 1/2-inch thick
4 scallions, sliced thin on bias
1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot. Add noodles and cook, stirring often, until tender. Drain noodles and set aside.
2. Whisk sugar, molasses and soy sauce together in bowl. In a separate bowl, combine minced shallots, garlic and sambal oelek.
3. Spread tofu on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and let drain for 20 minutes. Gently pat tofu dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper, then toss with cornstarch in bowl. Transfer coated tofu to a strainer and shake gently over bowl to remove excess cornstarch. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add tofu and cook, turning as needed, until crisp and browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes; transfer to bowl.
4. Add 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet and heat until shimmering. Add sliced shallots and cook until golden, about 5 minutes; transfer to paper towel-lined plate.
5. If necessary, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet and heat until shimmering. Add bok choy stalks and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Clear center of skillet, add garlic mixture and cook, mashing mixture into skillet until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir into vegetables.
6. Stir in noodles, tofu, bok choy leaves and scallions. Whisk sauce to recombine, add to skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle fried shallots on top. Serve with lime wedges.
Per serving (based on 6): 665 calories; 26 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 18 g protein; 91 g carbohydrate; 29 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 1,624 mg sodium; 264 mg calcium
– From “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” by America’s Test Kitchen
INDIAN-STYLE VEGETABLE CURRY WITH POTATOES AND CAULIFLOWER
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala (Note: Garam masala can be found at international food stores and the spice aisles of well-stocked grocery stores.)
2 onions, chopped fine
12 ounces red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 head cauliflower (1 pound), cored and cut into 1-inch florets
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1 1/2 cup water
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1. Pulse diced tomatoes with their juice in a food processor until nearly smooth, with some 1/4-inch pieces visible, about 3 pulses.
2. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add curry powder and garam masala and cook until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Stir in onions, potatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned and potatoes are golden brown at edges, about 10 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in garlic, chile, ginger and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add cauliflower florets and cook, stirring constantly, until florets are coated with spices, about 2 minutes.
4. Gradually stir in water, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in chickpeas and processed tomatoes and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce to gentle simmer and cook until vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
5. Uncover, stir in peas and coconut milk, and continue to cook until peas are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in cilantro, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve over rice.
Per serving (based on 4): 429 calories; 21 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 15 g protein; 53 g carbohydrate; 17g sugar; 17 g fiber; 367 mg sodium; 161 mg calcium
– From “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen
Yield: About 8 to 10 (6-inch) pancakes
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons soy or almond milk, optional
1. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vanilla and optional soy or almond milk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir until just blended.
2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Pour batter onto the griddle or skillet until it forms a 6-inch puddle. Cook until bubbles form and the edges are dry; check underneath to see if the bottom is lightly browned. Flip and cook until browned on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Per pancake (based on 8): 102 calories; 2 g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 19 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 125 mg sodium; 78 mg calcium Canola oil and almond milk were used in calculation.
– Adapted from allrecipes.com