Creole Feast Vegan Style

The choice to be vegan rather than vegetarian is one that significantly impacts lifestyle, which is why David and I are testing the waters of vegetarianism rather than veganism.  At this stage it’s hard to imagine a diet without eggs, butter or cheese, or a social life that doesn’t include different types of restaurants.  That being said, we know that commercial farms that produce dairy and eggs are no better at treating animals humanely than other kinds of commercial farms.  Plus the waste from these animals is having an equally negative environmental impact.  So we find ourselves in a bit of a quandary.

At this point, we’ve decided to do two things.  The first is to find local sources of eggs and cheese where humane treatment of animals is (hopefully) not as much of an issue.  Well today we hit the Rillito Park Farmer’s Market here in town and were successful on both fronts.  We came home with blocks of raw cheese from a family farm in California and a dozen eggs from a local farmer (“nest-laid eggs”!).  It was quite an experience with lots of impulse buys from amazing dates and heirloom tomatoes to a loaf of gluten-free bread (grilled cheese!) and a fermented iced tea called “Kombucha”.  It was also fun to be around so many like-minded people.

The second thing we decided to do is try out some vegan recipes each week.  As I’ve said before, if you can cook well, you can eat well, and I believe this is true with any dietary approach.  Enter this:

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This book has been on my shelf for three years.  I didn’t buy it.  It came along with a set of pots and pans that we bought, and while I initially gave it a cursory look I wasn’t ready to engage with the vegan message or recipes.  I am now. It is a compilation of gorgeous recipes provided by several accomplished vegan chefs.  In addition, there are lengthy discussions about alternative ingredients with recommended products and brands. If you are vegan or thinking of going that route this would be a great resource.

For last night’s dinner we chose to make the Creole Tempeh over brown rice, which is loaded with New Orleans-inspired cajun spices.  A vegan étouffée.  Well, this exceeded ALL expectations.  Here’s a look at the finished dish (without the garnish of sliced scallions and chopped parsley which I forgot to add):

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This was my first experience with tempeh, a fermented soy-based protein.  I forgot to take a picture of the raw tempeh, but it comes in a hardish white log where you can see the pressed soybeans.  The first step to this recipe is to braise the sliced tempeh in liquid- water, cajun spices, fresh ginger, garlic and soy sauce- for 45 minutes.  This is an important step because it both changes the texture of the tempeh and infuses it with lots of flavor:

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After this step you reserve the cooking liquid, dredge the tempeh in flour and more cajun spices and sauté it up.  It browns beautifully and looks like this:

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We tasted it at this point and it really has a “meaty” texture and great flavor with all the spices.  This could go well on a sandwich.

Next we sautéed a bunch of mixed vegetables in the same pan:

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We added back the braising liquid, the tempeh, some bay leaves, red wine and more dry spices:

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This simmered for thirty minutes filling the house with an incredible aroma.  It cooked down and thickened quite a bit.  Over brown rice it was absolutely divine.  We’re still talking about how delicious it was.  Jeff was here for dinner, so there are no leftovers!

This dish and our trip to the farmers’ market were both very encouraging.  Finding a way to eat well while being true to our beliefs about the environment and the humane treatment of animals is what this is all about.  It feels good.

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