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When I eat at home, I like to cook vegan. However, I have seen a couple of tempting non-vegan recipes on the Internet recently: chicken-cauliflower salad and wheat berry pudding. After a bit of brainstorming, I realized that I could easily modify both recipes to be meat- and dairy-free by substituting tofu for chicken and coconut milk for dairy milk. I then found two vegan recipes, crusty white bread and avocado-corn salsa, that looked like they would pair well with my hybrid vegan dishes. Of course, if I was going to properly execute the veganization feat, I needed testers:
Hernán, a Peruvian who lives up to his culture’s love of meat — no beef heart or guinea pig is safe with him around — and says “vegan” like it’s a curse word. Marina, a spicy Brazilian who also embraces her native culture’s carnivorous cuisine. Colter, an Arizona alum who so missed a particular Tucson hamburger that he had a friend ship it to him … and ate it upon its room-temperature arrival two days later (don’t try this at home). Jennifer, a fellow Mother Earth News staffer, gardener and healthy foods enthusiast. Baker, my sixteen-year-old, fast-food-addicted brother who is visiting for the week and, he reports, living in a vegan nightmare.
I started on the bread the day before the dinner. I was curious to make it because, according to the recipe’s author, kneading is completely superfluous. I just had to use a simple bread-folding technique to develop the gluten in the flour. Some obstacles stood in my path, the most menacing of which being the temperature of my apartment. We have had very cold weather in Kansas lately, which apparently is not conducive to proper bread rising. Despite the fact that I stored my big bowl of dough in the tiny furnace closet — the warmest nook in my apartment — it took a while to rise. (Note: I know now that you can put the bowl of dough on an upper rack in the oven and place a bowl of hot water below it; shut the door and voilà, a perfect environment for rising.) I left it alone overnight and when I woke up in the morning, I folded it again and tucked the dough safely back into its bowl. At around 4:00, I retrieved the dough from the closet and stuck it in the 400-degree oven on a baking stone despite the recipe’s 500 degree suggestion; 500 degrees seemed, well, too hot. At any rate, the bread developed a nice, thick crust and a chewy inside.
The bread was popular at dinner with the chicken-cauliflower salad, which I modified to be tofu-cauliflower salad. Instead of adding a pound of chicken, I cubed a pound of locally-made tofu and baked it on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. It browned up well and paired perfectly with the cashews and cauliflower. As for the mayonnaise, which is traditionally made with eggs, I substituted a half cup of Vegenaise for the oil, egg and vinegar. I added the spices, scallions and onions to make a piquant sauce that perfectly coated the cauliflower, tofu and cashews.
The wheat berry pudding was somewhat less complicated to modify; I only needed a substitute for the milk. I opted for vanilla coconut milk because of its viscosity and sweetness, but I think any relatively thick nut or soy milk could do the job. I boiled my wheat berries, pulsed them in the food processor and threw them in a pot with the coconut milk, orange rind and a cinnamon stick. Though the recipe recommends a 25 to 30 minute simmer, I let it sit on the hot burner for around 45 minutes until I had a thick pudding. I added the maple syrup and vanilla, snuck a taste and subsequently had to restrain myself from devouring the entire six-odd cups. That good.
After reluctantly tearing myself from the pudding, I tossed together the avocado-corn salsa. What a healthy and simple treat! Though I had doubled the recipe, my guests demolished it within ten minutes. The only thing that could possibly make it better is fresh ingredients: tomatoes from the garden, corn cut directly from the ear … but I digress. The salsa tasted delicious just the way it was, grocery-store vegetables and all. We ate it with chips, but celery sticks or sliced cucumbers would be just as good.
Overall, I was rather smug about my delicious tofu-cauliflower salad and dairy-free wheat berry pudding; not to mention the bread and avocado-corn salsa. Reactions at the dinner table, however, were mixed. My little brother could not quite warm up to the fresh salsa, considering it foreign in comparison with his beloved Taco John's salsa packets. He especially had trouble accepting the curry sauce on the cauliflower and tofu. Despite his grumbling, I watched as he surreptitiously refilled his plate no less than three times. Hernán, too, balked at the tofu but somehow ended up complaining that he had stuffed himself by the end of the meal. Jennifer, Marina and Colter, having long ago reconciled themselves to the responsibility of sampling my food experiments for better or for worse, were content; though when Marina commented that the wheat berry pudding looked like oatmeal, I narrowed my eyes and launched into a defense. She hastily explained that in Brazil pudding looks more like flan, so I was somewhat soothed.
Though all my guests are omnivores and I am admittedly not a true vegan (occasionally I indulge in cheese), I think we all enjoyed the vegan meal — some of us more vocally than others, of course. I encourage you to modify recipes as I did and realize that you can still experience a world of gustatory pleasure without meat and dairy. Why always follow recipes by the book when you can suit them to individual tastes and principles?
Photo by Barron Fujimoto