Photographs and Styling by MICHELLE GIORLA
Veganism has become a cash cow for the industrial food oligarchy that determines what’s in our stores, in our restaurants, and in our bodies. As with most movements and trends, the confluence of technology, desire, and innovation tends to produce excesses that consume, devour, and destroy the progress that was intended. The trend towards over-engineered and processed faux meats, cheese, and simulated foods to create the feeling that we are eating healthier may appease our minds while destroying our bodies.
I have never understood the appeal of mock foods: surimi crab, turkey bacon, the Impossible Burger. For me, it accentuates the fact that you aren’t enjoying the real thing. I understand for health, dietary, or religious reasons some people can’t partake in certain foods, but this trend of faux foods seems like self-deception at best and culinary masochism at its worst. Wishing something to be something else doesn’t change what it really is; I can sleep in a garage, but it doesn’t make me a sports car. Embrace food for what it is—even vegetables deserve this treatment.
Vegetarian and vegan cooking has evolved tremendously from my early days in the kitchen, when a vegetarian plate consisted of over-steamed vegetables or plain pasta or, when the kitchen was extra motivated, both combined. The primary job of a chef is to elevate ingredients to be greater than the sum of its parts, not to be alchemists trying to turn lead into gold.
A portobello mushroom is never going to be a hamburger; what it can be is an excellent building block for a tasty sandwich. What the portobello offers is texture, and that earthy flavor known as Umami that satiates the appetite and the palate. The key to creating great tasting healthy meals is the same as creating any meal: develop flavor. The difference is you need to dig deeper into the culinary bag of tricks rather than relying on butter, cream, cheese, and other fats. Proper cooking techniques make a difference as well. If you want that smoky, charred, fresh-grilled taste, cook the portobello on the grill.
Nature provides other ways to create flavor and depth. Instead of relying on cream, use coconut milk. Coconut milk adds a different dimension of flavor to soups, sauces, marinades, and even risotto. Cream of cauliflower soup might just be the most boring soup ever. Subbing out coconut milk for the cream actually adds more nuance and dimension to the soup—a touch of madras curry powder or red or green curry paste, and you are creating layered flavors that explode on the palate. Coconut milk can also be turned into whipped cream. Pour off the clear liquid and whip the thick “cream” with sugar and you have a whipped cream replacement that will shock you with the flavor. All fats should be consumed in moderation, but the type in coconut milk has been linked to decreasing appetite and increasing energy.
No, I haven’t been kidnapped by aliens or indoctrinated into a vegan cult. Times and tastes of diners evolve. That’s why the industrial food monopolies are churning out these laboratory food substitutes—because people are looking for a change, and they are trying to be a little healthier. Remember: The Impossible Burger and other faux foods are brought to you by the same entities that gave us margarine and high fructose corn syrup as better for you than butter and sugar. They weren’t. Healthy ingredients are already lurking in your neighborhood grocery store. It takes a little trial and some error, but you can easily create meals that will even surprise the most hardened carnivore with their flavors. I once served cauliflower “grits” to my brother whose blood type is A1-medium rare. He wasn’t fooled, which wasn’t my intent, but he did eat them, and he did like them.
This season, start to incorporate some more vegetables and healthier ingredients into your culinary repertoire. Coconut Curry Cauliflower Bisque, Portobello and Caramelized Onion Sandwich, Key Lime Pie with Coconut Milk Whipped “Cream” (this is a hybrid dish with real dairy—don’t want your family rebelling on you—baby steps), White Bean Pate, and Chayote Squash with Quinoa Pilaf are on the menu.
Key Lime Panna Cotta
- 3 Tbsp water
- 2 Tbsp unflavored gelatin
- 1 qt full-fat coconut milk
- ½ cup sugar in the raw
- ¼ cup Key Lime juice
- Zest of 1 Key Lime
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup graham cracker crumbs
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
Bloom gelatin in water. Combine coconut milk and sugar. Heat to a simmer. Let cool slightly. Add lime juice and zest. Add gelatin, whisk well. Pour into eight 6-oz molds, ¾ full. Let set for a minimum of two hours.
In sauté pan, heat coconut oil; add sugar and graham cracker crumbs. Let cool on a cookie sheet, then crumble. Garnish panna cotta with graham crumble.
Coconut Curry Cauliflower Bisque
- 3 Tbsp diced onion
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp madras curry powder
- 1 Tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 lb. riced cauliflower
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 4 cups veg stock
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp ground coriander
Heat oil in a soup pot. Add onions and garlic, sweat until softened. Add curry and coriander; stir well. Add cauliflower. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock and coconut milk, add salt, simmer for 20 minutes. Purée; adjust seasoning to taste. If too thin, reduce. If too thick, thin with vegetable stock.
Portobello & Caramelized Onion Sandwich
- 4 portobellos, stemmed and gills scraped
- 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp garlic
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp minced ginger
- 1 Tbsp lemongrass paste
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
Mix all ingredients and marinate the mushrooms in it.
Grill 8 minutes per side
- 1 baguette cut into 4” sections
- ½ cup tofu or vegan mayo
- 1 Tbsp sriracha
- 1 bunch each cilantro mint and Thai basil, picked
- 1 head Napa, shredded
Toss Napa with extra mushroom marinade. Mix sriracha and mayo; spread on bread. Build the sandwich with Napa, sliced mushrooms, and herbs.
White Bean Pate
- 1 lb cooked beans with liquid reserved
- Juice and zest 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp chopped thyme
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup roasted garlic
In a blender mix beans, garlic, and herbs. Process with bean water until smooth. Drizzle in oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Let cool, then serve with flatbreads.
Chayote Squash with Quinoa Salad
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 4 chayote squash, split, center scooped out
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375. Oil and season chayote halves. Bake cut side down for 25 minutes.
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 4 Tbsp red pepper, diced
- 3 scallions, diced
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 2 tsp garlic, minced
- Grape tomatoes for garnish
Add all ingredients to cooked quinoa. Add remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Can be served hot or cold in the center of the chayote. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan until smoking. Add the tomatoes and char them. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Use as garnish. ■