MEAT­LESS MAS­TER­PIECES

If you like spicy food, these recipes will sat­isfy your hunger for some­thing dif­fer­ent

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - DANIEL NEMAN

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 what the stan­dard North Amer­i­can eats. 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 may 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 North 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 po­ten­tially off-putting in­gre­di­ents such as ve­gan chicken, egg re­plac­ers and non-dairy 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 four to six 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 flavours 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 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 chili.

This dish ben­e­fits greatly from the mu­tu­ally com­ple­men­tary flavours 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.

Note: Sam­bal oelek can be found in the in­ter­na­tional aisle of gro­cery stores.

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 tow­ellined 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 of oil in 12inch non-stick skil­let over medi­umhigh 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 nowempty skil­let and heat un­til shim­mer­ing. Add sliced shal­lots and cook un­til golden, about five min­utes; trans­fer to pa­per towel-lined plate.

5. If nec­es­sary, add re­main­ing 1 ta­ble­spoon of oil to now-empty skil­let and heat un­til shim­mer­ing. Add bok choy stalks and cook un­til crisp-ten­der, about three min­utes. Clear cen­tre 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, one or two min­utes. Sprin­kle fried shal­lots on top. Serve with lime wedges.

Per serv­ing (based on 6): 665 calo­ries; 26 grams fat; 11 g sat­u­rated fat; no choles­terol; 18 g pro­tein; 91 g car­bo­hy­drate; 29 g sugar; 6 g fi­bre; 1,624 mil­ligrams sodium; 264 mg cal­cium

From “The Com­plete Veg­e­tar­ian Cook­book,” by Amer­ica’s Test Kitchen.

Note: Garam masala can be found at in­ter­na­tional food stores and the spice aisles of well-stocked gro­cery stores.

1. Pulse diced toma­toes with their juice in a food pro­ces­sor un­til nearly smooth, with some ¼-inch pieces vis­i­ble, about three 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 ¼ 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, chili, 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 two 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, one or two 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 grams fat; 8 g sat­u­rated fat; no choles­terol; 15 g pro­tein; 53 g car­bo­hy­drate; 17g sugar; 17 g fi­bre; 367 mil­ligrams sodium; 161 mg cal­cium

From “The Com­plete Veg­e­tar­ian Cook­book” by Amer­ica’s Test Kitchen.

PHOTOS BY CHRIS­TIAN GOODEN, TNS

Mee Goreng is a type of stir-fried noo­dle dish that is pop­u­lar street fare in the Philip­pines.

This dish ben­e­fits greatly from the mu­tu­ally com­ple­men­tary flavours of potato, cau­li­flower, gar­banzo beans and curry.

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