Wow, I told Linda in December that I was up to do a one-month challenge of eating Vegan, she said let’s go January 1st. And that was it, the beginning of a new adventure that delivered several un-expected learnings. So we went full on – no meat, dairy or even eggs, I had to learn how to cook again what used to be a 20 minute dinner prep turned into having to think, plan and cook for about an hour. This might have been the best refresher for my culinary skills as it relates to developing not only flavor but textural differences in a dish. This was a refocusing on key elements in any dish that has continued to influence all my cooking at home and in my business.
Here are some things I learned -
What I found is that using cashew cream in cream soups allows the flavors of say broccoli to really shine through while heavy cream has a tendency to mask the flavors. So using a cashew based cream in soup, sauces and even as a base for nacho cheese allows you to create more levels of flavors from spices and herbs. So big win for replacing liquid dairy, not so easy for replacing cheese.
We did find several vegan cheeses we like when used in sandwiches, with crackers for snacking or as part of a baked dish but nothing works to deliver a pizza experience. So as long as the vegan cheese is not on pizza it is easy to substitute it for real cheese with out missing it. Also note some brands are better than others you just have to taste them to discover your favorite.
Seasonality & comfort:
So going Vegan in the winter I think is much easier than other seasons, I believe since the cooler weather makes you want to eat, soups, stews and other hearty dishes. So how will this work as it gets warmer out, how many salads can you eat? The other quick learning was we really wanted a sandwich, how do you find a way to make a good vegan sandwich to replace, tuna salad? It is possible, we tried “Toona” a vegan alternative, it was okay but we ended up preferring a garbanzo bean version of “tuna salad”. You just drain and mash some garbanzos, add chopped pickle, onion, seasoning and some vegan mayonnaise (store bought or home-made). Chicken salad another favorite was harder to replace – we did find a Vegan prepared version at Whole Foods, but it ends up to be high in sodium. I want to find the “chicken” soy product they use in this and make it at home with out all the sodium. The product shreds just like chicken and has the same bite, Delights Soy Nuggets. And of course for a burger, we use Beyond Meat which when grilled is simply an awesome replacement for beef, hands down.
After a couple of months, we shifted to add eggs back in on a limited basis, except when baking. We still find that chia seed or flax seed egg replacer for up to 2 eggs to be a great alternative. Just add 1 tablespoon of seeds to 3 tablespoons of water, stir and let sit for about 10 minutes, use just like regular egg. Additionally we started to add fish and seafood back to the line up to give us more variety.
Now that spring is in full swing here in Houston we are able to eat out of the garden which is always the best. So if you are curious, you can give up meat, it is not that hard, you can give up cheese too it just requires that you look at cooking from a different perspective. Give it a try, the other benefit, I think your taste buds really wake up to even more subtle flavors. More to come as I continue to learn, I do believe we will see the need for more plant-based foods and eating that are driven by flavor, taste and texture and not just being a “healthier item”. Next up – we are trying intermittent fasting – fasting 16 hours a day only eat during the other eight (we are in week three). Stay tuned for more ways to be healthy, eat delicious and enjoy life.
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