Swept away by 21 Spices

As I sit here eating my leftover biryani from an amazing dinner-date night, I can’t help but be reminded of how infrequently we get to enjoy beautifully made food in a gorgeous setting.  This is made exceptionally rare for my husband and me by two factors: we’re parents and vegan.

It’s not that there aren’t options here in Naples – it’s just that to find a dining facility with all the elements of a romantic and satisfying experience with a selection of interesting and thoughtful plant-based food is like finding a unicorn in this area.

I found one though.

Dining at the new 21 Spices by Chef Asif in East Naples, just a few miles from 5th Street downtown, was as magical as saddling up a rainbow-haired unicorn and riding off into sunset.  Plus, another rarity here – they’re open until 10 pm.

The restaurant was dim and twinkly.  Since the restaurant was not very full when we arrived, we had our choice of seating and we chose to sit along the wall.  It was quiet with no neighbors, but I can only imagine a place this great will be swarmed by midseason.  Now is the time to go!

Their fare is Indian cuisine and Chef Asif is extremely talented with his spices, all 21 of them.  Many options on the menu are vegetarian as it would be in India, but they do have some vegan options too! For starters we ordered the samosas and a side of yellow lentils with some lentil crisps as recommended by our server who was informative and charming.  The naan, unfortunately, is NOT vegan – a bummer because the spicy naan sounded awesome.  The samosas were nicely plated and delicious and the yellow lentils were so flavorful and filling.

Because we so rarely get to have this experience we kind of forget how to order like normal people, so we clearly ordered too much food.

We were pretty much full by the time our main courses arrived, but I just had to keep going.  I really wanted to order the Aloo Gobi, but since my husband ordered that and I refuse to order the same dish, I decided to try the vegetable biryani.  I’m not a crazy person when it comes to my vegan food sharing the same space as nonvegan food, so when the biryani arrived tucked in bread like a parcel, the server carefully opened it to release the effervescent steam and I simply peeled it off because the bread crust contained milk ingredients.  My husband didn’t complain about my bread donation to him.  The basmati rice and vegetables were superb.  I also tried the aloo gobi and next time I eat there that will be my selection.

Also, let me tell you about the heat Chef Asif infuses into his dishes.  When the server asks you to choose from mild, spicy, very spicy and Indian spicy, choose wisely!  I ordered Indian spicy because I don’t mess around.  The spice level doesn’t disappoint, so if you’re not looking to burn your face off order on the lower rungs.

We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Asif.  Smiling from ear to ear, he was nice enough to stop by a few tables to introduce himself and welcome us to his restaurant which I thought was a nice gesture.  I told him that his signature Chef Asif craft cocktail was amazing and he informed me the plan on vamping up their craft cocktails soon, so that’s something to revisit.  They also have a full bar and a vast wine collection.

I’m always excited to find restaurants like this in Naples that can accommodate my diet and deliver on flavor.  Though I’m always on the hunt for new options, I definitely plan a second visit to 21 Spices in the near future.

Fruits and Vegetables with nutritional supplements. Picture by Mizianitka / Pixabay.

The Curious Case of Vegan Nutrition

It would be superfluous to state here that a vegan diet is healthier than a cholesterol-laden carnivorous diet.  However, many are still on the fence about whether or not a vegan diet can provide all the necessary nutrients to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle without additional supplementation.  I want to take an in-depth look at what nutritionists have to say on the subject and hopefully eliminate some of the looming uncertainty.

I’ll be honest, I started veganism with limited knowledge, but was 100% convinced plants had everything I needed.  In fact, this was one of my rebuttal points when pressed about becoming a vegan.  During that time many around me felt it was an unhealthy diet devoid of certain amino acid building blocks – it was only a matter of time before I withered away.  I firmly backed my vegan community and touted that I was receiving the same nutrients as my carnivore counterparts.  A stance I have begun to question as of late.

I became ill a few months back, and by ill I mean in the hospital emergency room.  I had sharp pains in my abdomen and could not keep any fluids in my body.  The triage nurse took my vitals while she watched me incoherently writhe in pain.  As the blood pressure cuff inflated around my arm I looked down to notice my fingers doing something strange yet uncontrollable.  My fingers were distorting, some clenching down into a fist and some sticking out sideways.  I was terrified and commented to the nurse what was happening, but unfazed she stated, “…that sometimes happens when your calcium levels are low.”  She also proceeded to take blood samples to see if there were any clues to my ailment there.

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After I was stabilized somewhat the attending physician mentioned a few of my blood levels were a bit “off” and I was immediately questioning my diet.  Did I do this to myself?  Am I torturing my body?  Can I continue being a vegan?  My daughter is also eating a mostly vegan diet….am I endangering her?

Everyone requires certain vitamins and minerals to keep “Team Body” working in unison.  These nutrients either directly or indirectly aid in bodily functions.  Some of these elements are abundant in vegan diets and some require conscientious efforts to ensure we’re meeting our requirements.

After I fully recovered with what was supposedly a simple stomach bug, embarrassing, questions lingered in my mind?  I started to do some research and these are what I found to be most scarce in a vegan diet:

Protein

Protein is one of 6 essential nutrients and one of the most abundantly used in our bodies.  Needless to say, it is extremely important to maintain adequate protein levels.

The amount of protein we consume is often the most concerning to vegans (and non-vegans) and is why there is such a huge market for protein powders and supplements.  Besides the issue of  how much you consume, we also need to consider the types of protein we consume.  If you’ve heard the term “complete protein” it basically includes all the essential amino acids or the building blocks of protein we are unable to produce on our own.  In some cases vegans have to eat a variety of food combinations to achieve the the complete protein profile, but we do absolutely need these complete proteins.   Since vegans rely solely on fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains to supply this nutrient the question becomes: Do I need to supplement my protein?  Well, that all depends on your diet.

For adults it is recommended that we consume 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight (Harvard.edu).  There are plenty of protein-heavy alternatives to meat, some of which may even outdo their meat and egg counterparts by weight.  Some of the biggest protein heavy hitters are mycoprotein (quorn), quinoa, seitan, soy.  However, you will also want to combine some foods to achieve that complete protein profile like grains and legumes or nuts and seeds plus legumes.  Do some research to find other combinations, I’m a major fan of rice and beans because I love hispanic foods!

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The Omegas (3,6,9) + DHA, EPA and ALA

Okay, this is one many may not even consider.  DHA is a super huge deal in the newborn diet debate as DHA in breast milk and baby formulas attributed to healthy mental and physical development.  Rarely do we as adults consider how much DHA we have in our diet.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are two converted types of omega-3 essential fats primarily found in fish.  Fish eat the plants containing the omega-6 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and convert it to DHA and EPA which people then consume, easy-peasy…for non-vegans.  ALA is a long chain omega-3, and is typical in plants, but to convert into the short chain EPA and DHA they should be consumed together at a relatively equal ratio to omega-6 acids.  That’s where this gets a bit confusing and, understandably, under-practiced.  Here is a chart to visualize ALA sources and their omega ratios:

Chart from veganhealth.org

Chart from veganhealth.org

The traditional way that vegans and vegetarians were encouraged to raise EPA and DHA levels was to increase ALA and decrease linoleic acid (LA), a short chain omega-6 fatty acid. (veganhealth.org)  Flax seeds, flax oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, hemp oil, avocado, walnuts, and walnut oil are other popular food sources of ALA. One side note, however, is flaxseed need to be ground or they will not be digested properly.  You can grind them up in a coffee grinder, store in your freezer and sprinkle it over your foods or add them to your baked goods.

Iodine

Maintaining adequate levels of iodine is essential for vegans whose diet consists of a lot of soy. Research has shown soy, flax seeds, and raw cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage) may counteract iodine. An iodine deficiency could lead to overactive or underactive thyroid gland and a whole basket of related issues.  Luckily, there is a relatively easy fix for this.  Make sure you buy iodized salt, but not eat too much of it.  You can get the recommended intake of 75 micrograms of iodine from 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt.

Calcium

It is not only your bones benefiting from a health calcium level, but our hearts, muscles and nerves all rely of a steady intake of calcium.  A calcium deficiency can lead to some serious and long-lasting effects such as Osteoporosis and prohibit children’s growth.

The double-edged sword though, is excessive calcium intake can also have negative effects such as Hypercalcemia, so finding a balance is important.

Daily requirements vary between gender and age, but the general guidelines are:

Mayo Clinic's Calcium Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults

Mayo Clinic’s Calcium Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults

For children:

NIH recommended calcium levels for children.

NIH recommended calcium levels for children.

Some great natural sources of calcium are kale, okra, blackstrap molasses, bok choy, tahini and almond butter.  It should also be noted that we also require sufficient Vitamin D to absorb the calcium from our foods. Bringing us to the next section.

Foods fortified with vitamin B12.

Foods fortified with vitamin B12.

Vitamins (B 12 and D)

Two vitamins vegans need to be mindful of are Vitamins D and B12. Besides aiding in calcium absorption, Vit D is also attributed to healthy cell growth and immunity.  This vitamin can be produced in our bodies through our’s skin’s exposure to sun rays, but it rarely exists in the food we eat. So if you’re pale like me and avoid the sun as much as possible, the next best option will be to eat mushrooms and other vegan foods fortified with Vitamin D.  Recommendations for consumption:

NIH Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin D

NIH Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin D

Much less Vitamin B12 is required than other vitamins, but it’s an even more difficult essential vitamin to obtain naturally.  Don’t think you can just skip out on this one though; deficiencies can lead to can cause anemia and nervous system damage.

B12 only occurs in animal products like eggs, meat, shellfish and dairy.  There are a few, very few, theorists who believe with a raw diet regularly cleansing the intestinal tract B12 can be continuously reabsorbed and levels maintained, but this has yet to be proven.  So, unfortunately, the only way vegans are able to maintain Vitamin B12 daily requirements is with fortified foods like nutritional yeast, non-dairy milks, meat substitutes and soy products. OR, with bacteria-derived B12 supplements.  It is recommended that vegans:

  1. Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day
  2. OR  Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms
  3. OR  Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.

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After reading all of this, the bottom line is if you are unsure about your nutrition and you have been feeling a bit “off” and sluggish, you may want to consider having your blood levels and amino acids checked…and maybe start supplementing.  You can also try a daily tracker and log your food intake and search for the foods values you’ve eaten, check it after a week and if it looks like you are missing some important pieces to your diet, make an effort to adjust.

It’s better to be healthy than to stubbornly torture your body.  You won’t be any less of a vegan.  If it comes down to having to use supplements in order to continue a plant-based, cruelty-free diet, so be it.  Remember it’s not about being perfect it’s about being our best possible selves that we can feel good about.

Close up of a jackfruit. Vying for Veganism

The Butchering of a Jackfruit

Finally!  After months of false leads I got my hands on a fresh jackfruit.  And not just any jackfruit, this one was a behemoth.  Weighing in at 20 lbs, it’s a wonder how this huge fruit dangled precariously from its tiny stem without succumbing to the effects of gravity.  Then again, when is nature not amazing?

A friend and fellow fruit fanatic, Charles King, helps to pluck this massive jackfruit from its tree in Naples, FL. Vying for Veganism.

A friend and fellow fruit fanatic, Charles King, helps to pluck this massive jackfruit from its tree in Naples, FL. Vying for Veganism.

The jackfruit, a native fruit to Thailand and some other Southeast Asian countries, is the largest known treeborne fruit with some weighing in at 100lbs!  It has been hailed as a “miracle crop” and an option to possibly end world hunger.  It’s no wonder this fruit is garnering some attention lately.

Another fantastic benefit of this fruit is its versatility.  Some say young, green jackfruit almost has a similar taste or mouthfeel to pork when cooked down, while others use the sweet, ripe version for desserts or nutritious smoothies.  Little tidbit – the jackfruit is the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum.

Giant jackfruit high in the canopy... the last one. Grown in Naples, FL by Charles King. Vying for Veganism

Giant jackfruit high in the canopy… the last one. Grown in Naples, FL by Charles King. Vying for Veganism

I was pretty lucky to have scored one of these babies, let alone such a massive specimen.  I caught the tail end of the season even though the season is a bit loose according to the tree owner I received mine from.  We plucked it from the tree at the beginning of August here in Naples, FL.  Mine was already sweet so I was unable to use it in a savory dish as I had planned, but it was really easy to butcher because the fruit was so soft.

Don the apron, let’s crack this thing open!

The first and most important step is to prep your work area.  Jackfruit is STICKY – like, no joke.  You will want to have all of your tools ready and surface protected.  I used some packing paper that I hoard away for such endeavors.  I took the advice of others and wrapped my knife handle with cling wrap and wore latex gloves.  I kept some oil on hand also to grease up the blade before diving in.

Setting up for the task. Jackfruit, wrapped knives, oil, gloves and surface paper. Vying for Veganism

Setting up for the task. Jackfruit, wrapped knives, oil, gloves and surface paper. Vying for Veganism

I found the serrated knife worked best for slicing through that spiny rind.  To start, make a cut straight through horizontally, the jackfruit’s axial plane, to make even halves.  As soon as you open it you will notices some of the white juices oozing from the flesh, that’s more of the super sticky sap.  If you have a rag handy give each half a wipe to keep from spreading that everywhere.  Then divide into quarters by slicing through the median of each half.  Finally, cut the with core out from each quarter making sure to leave the fleshy pods in tact.

Steps to opening a jackfruit. Vying for Veganism.

Steps to opening a jackfruit. Vying for Veganism.

Now you’re ready for the fun stuff!  The endgame here is to extract all of the fruit pods.  Start by running your knife carefully under the pod releasing it from the rind. Once it is free you will want to make sure all of the stringy bits are pulled away so you’re left with a smooth pod.  Last step is to get the seed out of the pod along with the pink skin which may still be attached to the pod.

Separating the pods from a jackfruit rind. Vying for Veganism.

Separating the pods from a jackfruit rind. Vying for Veganism.

Repeat the steps to removing the fruit pods until you’re all done or for as long as you can stand it!  This one in particular took me about an hour, not including set up and prep.

What you can do now with the fruit you reaped is limitless!  I froze mine by laying them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment then later transferring to tupperware.  However, you can certainly use it right away, jar it or share with your neighbors…I’ll bet they’ve never tried one before 🙂

Please send any comments you have on this post or any great jackfruit recipes you may have.

‘Till next time….

Vegan BBQ Jack Tacos

If you miss that smoky, sumptuous satisfaction of barbecued meat you won’t want to miss out on trying your hand at BBQ jackfruit.  Today I prepared the jackfruit to be the star in my BBQ Jack tacos with pineapple salsa singing backup.

The aroma spilling from your kitchen will make everybody want to see what’s cooking with this recipe. I love the Tex-Mex style of these tacos.  Pairing a bright pineapple salsa and a crisp, tart red cabbage slaw with the smoky and savory jackfruit meat, it’s just freakin’ crazy good.

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Many people now are discovering this intense looking fruit for it’s ability to mimic pulled pork or chicken.  My sister drove my desire to create these tacos when she made me an amazing version of vegan pulled pork sandwiches.  They were intensely satisfying, so I wanted to take that flavor profile and run with it.  A decent amount of time is needed to inject the right amount of BBQ flavor, so make sure you have at least 2 hours to work with.

My biggest difficulty with this recipe was the hunt for jackfruit.  I know for a fact these fruits grow here in SWFL, yet tracking one down proved to be out of my scope.  Thankfully it was brought to my attention that jackfruit is sold canned too!  I then found them at the new location of the Asia Market on Pine Ridge Rd. right here in Naples.  They sell canned jackfruit a few different ways and they all taste drastically different.  In fact, the jackfruit is the official source of Juicy Fruit gum!  You might imagine that flavor profile would not work in a dish such as these tacos, so when hunting down the canned version for savory meals you will want young, green jackfruit in water or brine.  When it’s young the sugars haven’t fully developed yet.  I finally did manage to track one of these elusive behemoths in the flesh, but just a bit too late.  So instead when I get my hands on it I will have a whole jackfruit post about them.

To start the “meat”, you will need to drain and rinse the jackfruit segments. You’ll see little round pits like Swiss cheese almost and you might even see a few of the pinkish seeds still tucked into the fruit.  Since it’s been marinating in the can’s liquid for so long they will be a bit mushier than the fresh fruit version.  It won’t be terrible if a few are left in there, but for texture’s sake I like to remove as many of them as possible.  If you were handling a fresh jackfruit for this recipe do your best to remove them all.

The appearance of the jackfruit meat is important to me especially when I’m trying to impress carnivores, so before I start to cook them I slice them through the core (lengthwise) for that stringy look.  Don’t go overboard because the more you cut and stir, the mushier your jackfruit will become.  With the fresh fruit you will want all of the stringy meat around the fruit pods as your “pulled pork” texture.

I made my own collection of BBQ spices, but if you have a favorite vegan BBQ seasoning you can use 1/4 c of that in lieu of my spices.  After the fruit is cooked down with the spices and broth you can go in and start to pull it apart.  I use two forks to gingerly pull each each away from the other.  After you will want to bake the fruit at a high temp to crisp up some of the edges and drive home the texture of BBQ meat.  I originally used aluminum foil on my baking sheets, but fount that a quick spray of non-stick oil right onto the baking sheet works much better. Foil – great for easy clean up, not good for getting nice charred bits. You will also want to wait until the very end before adding the extra BBQ sauce to make sure the fruit dries out a smidge while baking and so the BBQ doesn’t burn.

I made the BBQ sauce because it’s nice to know for sure that all of the ingredients are vegan. BBQ flavors can get a little sneaky at times especially when they’re throwing around the “natural flavors” curveball.  If you have a favorite BBQ sauce that you know is vegan feel free to swap that for the one I made in the recipe to save some time.

I have paired some accruements that go well with these Tex-Mex style tacos – pickled red cabbage slaw and pineapple salsa.

Vegan BBQ Jack Tacos. Vying For Veganism

Vegan BBQ Jack Tacos. Vying For Veganism

 

You’ll want to shred the red cabbage pretty thin for the slaw, I used a knife but if you have an accommodating mandolin it might get the job done a bit quicker.  In the recipe I used granny smith apple balsamic vinegar, but you can certainly just use apple cider vinegar.  You will want the cabbage slaw to soak up the sweet pickling juice so make this at the very beginning, set in the fridge and give it a little toss every once and a while.

While you are waiting for the jackfruit to cook down you can start chopping up all of your salsa ingredients.  I like my things super spicy so I added a whole jalapeño in mine.  If you don’t like heat you can sub for a green bell pepper.  If you cannot locate a fresh, ripe pineapple you can certainly turn to canned or frozen versions for this recipe.  After I’ve diced my veggies I like to add them to a colander over a catch bowl to drain some of the juices – I don’t like watery salsa unless it’s restaurante style with some freshly made tortilla chips.

The corn tortillas called for in this recipes just felt right, sort of a nod to cornbread and BBQ. I really love a touch of char on my tortillas, but the frail nature of corn tortillas can make achieving that difficult.  More often than not I just double up the tortillas so it’s more sturdy.  I have read numerous sources that instruct to quickly dip the tortilla in water and place on a nonstick or cast iron pan at about med-hi heat.  My success rate was about 60%, so if you don’t want to bother just go for the flour tortillas, they’re much more forgiving.

 

Let’s make it!

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Vegan BBQ Jack Tacos

 

Ingredients:

BBQ Jack

  • 2 cans young green jackfruit in brine or water (not syrup)
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 3/4 c vegetable broth
  • 1/4 c agave syrup
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke

Red cabbage slaw

  • 1/2 of 1 red cabbage, thinly sliced (about 2 c)
  • 1/2 c grated carrots (optional)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp apple balsamic vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Pineapple salsa

  • 2 c pineapple, diced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

BBQ Sauce

  • 1 c ketchup
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder

For serving:

  • toasted corn tortillas
  • lime wedges

 

Recipe:

  1. Drain and rinse the jackfruit, removing as many seed as possible.  Slice longwise through the segments (through the core).  Add jackfruit, onion, garlic and spices to an oiled pot and cook at med heat for about 5 minutes.  Add vegetable broth, agave, vinegar, tamari and liquid smoke to pot, bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook liquid down for about 50-60 minutes, stirring about every 20 min.
  2. Add cabbage, carrots together in a mixing bowl.  In a microwave safe dish add oil, vinegar, coconut sugar and salt.  Microwave for about 1.5 minutes stirring every 30 seconds until sugar melts into brine.  Coat cabbage mixture with brine. Toss. Refrigerate until needed tossing at least 2 more times while it rests.
  3. Mix together pineapple, tomatoes, onion and jalapeño in a colander. Place a bowl under and let drain for about 30 min.  Add lime juice and salt.
  4. Preheat over to 400° F. Add all BBQ sauce ingredients into sauce pan and cook down on med-lo heat for about 20 min.  Once all of the jackfruit moisture is cooked down, gently pull segments apart and mash slightly.  Spread pulled jackfruit out on baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Place in the preheated oven for 20-30 min.  Try to achieve some char and crisp up the edges a bit. Remove from oven and gently mix in BBQ sauce.
  5. Serve with warm tortillas, lime wedges and extra BBQ sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan banh mi. Photo by Vyingforveganism.com.

Vegan Banh Mi

With more people taking stock of their health and coming to terms with environmental challenges, the number of vegans is increasing.  And that includes the culinary-forward Naples.  The problem, however, is not many restaurants in Southwest Florida are embracing or celebrating the culture…yet.  Whether you’re a full fledged vegan or dipping your toes into the Meatless Monday movement or just looking to inject some more nutrient rich substitutions into your diet, I have a few fuss-free recipes that take our long-loved comfort foods and recreate them with low-fat and cruelty free alternatives.  Let’s get into it!

 

Today I will be showing you how I transcend the worldly flavors of the banh mi sandwich into a vegan version sure to hit the mark on all of the traditional flavors … and offer a few gluten free alternatives as well.

Cilantro. Vying For Veganism.

Cilantro. Vying For Veganism.

So the classic Vietnamese banh mi basically just means sandwich, but usually contains some form of pork or other meat.  We’ll be making some nice grilled tofu as our main protein and layer in all those great Asian flavors we love so much.  Even if you’ve never tasted a banh mi, this is a great sandwich to kick your palate into gear.  We will need some nice crunchy baguettes or rolls.  If you are vegan don’t forget to check your rolls for eggs, milk or whey which is a milk derivative.  Arnold brand is typically vegan. It can be tricky decoding a product ingredient list, so if you want to be 100 percent sure look for a Jewish or Kosher deli for your breads, and of course if you are gluten sensitive you’ll want to find an alternative gluten-free roll for this recipe.

 

First things first, tofu needs help.  I don’t think there is anyone out there who enjoys tofu right out of the package.  You will need some time for the tofu to marinade, you can even start the marinating the day before.  Tofu does best when given ample time to soak up the flavor, but you will want to marinade for at least 30 minutes.  Firm tofu will stand up to the heat best, I use extra-firm.  Slice your tofu and dry well by lining a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Place tofu slices on top in a single layer. Cover with another layer of paper towels and press gently to remove excess moisture.

Grilling marinated tofu steaks. Vying For Veganism.

Grilling marinated tofu steaks. Vying For Veganism.

The marinade includes garlic, cilantro, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil. Throw all of these into your processor or blender until a paste is formed.  Thoroughly coat each piece of tofu with the marinade and let sit for at least 30 minutes.  Make sure to keep the remaining marinade to brush on after grilling the tofu.

 

While your tofu is marinating you’ll want to prep your carrot-daikon pickled slaw.  Daikon is a Japanese white radish you can find at almost any Asian market… by the way, many times Asian markets have amazing fresh produce for a great price, so if you’re not lucky enough to have a bustling farmers market near you, definitely look into the Asian markets for your produce and spices.  Toss the shredded carrot and daikon in with the vinegar, sugar and salt. Give them a little toss occasionally so every little bit can absorb the flavors.

Grilled tofu for a banh mi. Vying For Veganism

Grilled tofu for a banh mi. Vying For Veganism

If you want those nice grill marks on your tofu slices you will need a piping hot grill.  I use an indoor cast iron griddle as I find it easier to control than a charcoal or gas grill outside.  I can also keep an eye on the tofu while I prep the rest of the ingredients.  You’ll want that griddle to be about Med-Hi heat.

 

While that’s heating, you can prep those fresh veggies to accompany our tofu in the roll.  You can obviously tweak these to your own preference, but I like to add crisp cool cucumbers, spicy jalapenos, I also add some green onions and a ton of cilantro because it is the quintessential flavor component of the sandwich.

Vegan banh mi assembly. Vying For Veganism

Clean and oil the griddle surface.  The cleaner your surface the less smoke will billow from it and you will avoid setting off the fire alarms… mine was not cleaned entirely. 🙂  Place the marinated tofu pieces at a diagonal to the grates and DON’T touch them for about 4-5 minutes carefully rotate the slabs about 90 degrees and continue for about 4 more minutes.  Flip tofu and repeat until both sides have nice grill marks and are nice and crispy.  Remove from heat, let cool slightly and brush with remaining marinade.

 

Slice open the baguettes or rolls and place them right on the hot griddle until nice and toasty and remove.

 

Finally, it’s time to assemble our banh mi! First slice, the cooked tofu into slices just smaller than your roll.  Spread your desired amount of vegan mayo on either side of the roll and add your chili sauce.  Layer the sliced tofu, pickled carrot/daikon slaw, cucumber spears, jalapeño slices, and cilantro. Slice in half and have at it!

 

Enjoy your meal!!

 

 

 

Ingredients:

 

2 Baguettes or Rolls (vegan or GF)

Vegan mayo

Sriracha (or other chili sauce)

 

Fillings:

  • 1 lb extra firm tofu block
  • 1 cucumber, speared and seeded
  • 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 2 c grated carrots
  • 2 c grated daikon
  • ¼ c sliced green onions
  • ¼ c rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. sugar (lt. brown, coconut  or palm)
  • 1 tsp salt

Marinade:

  • 3 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 large bunch of cilantro
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce (or GF tamari)
  • 2 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 3 tbsp. sesame oil (or vegetable oil)

 

Recipe

Slice tofu into about 1/3 inch slabs and dry well.  Heat grill to med-high heat.

Add all marinade ingredients into processor and blend into a liquid. Thoroughly coat each piece of tofu with marinade and let sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight.  Reserve remaining marinade.

Toss shredded carrot and daikon with the vinegar, sugar and salt. Occasionally toss.

Clean and oil the grill surface.  Place marinated tofu pieces at a diagonal to the grates for about 4-5 minutes, carefully rotate the slabs about 90 degrees and continue for about 4 more minutes.  Flip tofu and repeat until both sides have nice grill marks and are nice and crispy about 7 min total.  Remove from heat, let cool slightly and brush with remaining marinade.

Slice open rolls and toast on hot grill. Remove.

Slice, the cooked tofu into pieces just smaller than your roll.  Spread mayo on either side of the roll and add chili sauce.  Layer sliced tofu, pickled carrot/daikon slaw, cucumber spears, jalapeño slices, and cilantro between rolls. Slice in half.

 

My Vegan Journey

Becoming vegan is a process.

When I first announced the decision to cut meat from my diet people assumed it was a phase.  And I was inclined to think that was true.

In high school I practiced vegetarianism for a brief period of time, but I knew almost nothing about the real reasons why I was doing it.  I mean, I was an animal lover, always have been, but that was not enough to cement the cause for me. My family members were big meat-eaters, my stepfather a self-proclaimed BBQ master, was not about to roll over and let me cut out the star of meal time.  I held strong during meals, more just to prove I could.  However, the temptation of leftover meat in the refrigerator at night was overwhelming and I fell off the wagon.  Eventually, I resumed my normal carnivorism.

Fast forward about 10 years later, it was 2011 and I was living in DC. The city was an exciting and beautiful tourist attraction to show off to visitors, but I grew scared of the crime in the neighborhood and stayed inside most of the time.  I started exploring with my food more, I even threw around the idea of culinary school.  I was on the track to being a foodie in my own right and saw limitless potential in culinary creations. I was now home with a baby and found myself on the internet a lot looking up new recipes, cooking techniques or the latest must-see restaurants in the city.  In my searches I would occasionally stumble across videos about animal abuse or animal equality — graphic images of factory farming shedding light on the horrible pain inflicted on these sensitive, intelligent creatures.  I was too timid to watch at first, those videos had always made me want to cry.  Overtime, I found the courage to click and watch. What I saw disturbed me to the core and I would see these images when I closed my eyes.  I started to see meat completely differently, I saw the pain and suffering in their eyes and their screams for help in a language most humans claim to not understand.

Despite my love for the obvious, well-known proteins and the countless hours I had spent perfecting my kitchen skills, I was revisiting the idea of a meatless diet. However, news of my vegetarianism brought criticism, yet again.  I felt myself having to constantly defend my newly blossomed convictions from all angles.  People wanted to shut it down, they felt I was “going against nature” and would shrivel up from a lack of protein that “can only come from animals”.

I proceeded with caveats in place.

I justified eating eggs and dairy, I mean I wasn’t going to be one of those wacks who write off perfectly viable options.  I laughed when people asked, and quickly interrupted to quell their concerns, “No, no, I would die without cheese!” It was okay because, well, eggs don’t suffer at all, and dairy is fine because cows provide milk without having to kill the cow, and even fish because, c’mon, it’s fish, they don’t really feel anything… right?   I had committed to Pescatarianism and that seemed to suppress the wave of concern from the masses to some degree.

Well, luckily, once something is in motion most often it keeps going.  I kept investigating.  I found if I had a response to everyone’s questions or assumptions I would feel more comfortable having open conversations about it.  The truth bug got ahold of me and it just escalated from there solidifying the fears of those around me. I began to question why people were so vehemently opposed to me changing my diet.  The mere mention of becoming a vegetarian sent people’s eyes rolling and forced them into defensive action to protect the image of the diet they all know and love.  I sought out information about the effects of factory farming on our planet, the dangers of overfishing our oceans.  I gained a much more comprehensive view of what it meant to support the egg, dairy and fishing industries.  I witnessed the horrible conditions of egg factories, I learned fish do, in fact, have feelings and memories and I empathized with the agony of ever-pregnant cows mourning for their babies who are stolen and sent to become meat.  Even when I switched to all “free range” or “cage free” eggs I found out it wasn’t what I was lead to believe.

I questioned myself though, could I practically maintain this vegan lifestyle?  I didn’t think this could be done, I mean I crumbled like a leaf in high school and that was only for meat.  Now I wanted to cut out everything I know and was raised on…. and cheese, what was I thinking?!?  Could I really do this?  But the more I knew the more confident I grew.  I found my moral ground and began to embrace my new enlightened way of life with a guilt-free and sturdy focus.

Goodbye eggs, milk, butter, and cheese…….as I knew them!

I bought some vegan books and dropped clues to my husband that I was about to commit.  Then I made the official announcement: I was becoming vegan. I imagine the real reason for the stalling was the realization of an evident paradigm shift in my life.  I was the main shopper and meal-maker in the house, so this also meant my family’s diet would circumstantially be affected – my veganism would now be theirs.  Though I know my husband still eats meat occasionally, he has drastically cut down on his meat, egg and dairy consumption, and that’s a huge win in my book!  He’s also said he’s trying to open his mind to it and actually loves 98% of the vegan meals I make!  Other people contrarily, went nuts over the idea, like I had been corrupted or gone radical or too far.  The worst though, was when a loved one said to me in a caring and concerned manner for my well being,

“You know… you doing this won’t make any difference in this world.”

And that’s true.  I can’t change the world by myself, but the more people to question their idea of food and stand up to the cruelty that is hidden from the masses, the closer we come to righting the wrong.  My passion was refueled – I can make a difference in this world.  I can show others how to stand up for what you believe in because hey, turns out you don’t need to compromise flavor for morals.  I was asked once, “Oh my God, so what do you even eat anymore?” Well, I can honestly now say: much more than I ever have, and I feel good about it!  Join me on my uphill battle as I explore the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a cruelty-free, food savvy life meant for real people.

I love to hear about other people’s journeys too!  Send me your stories so I know what everyone wants to read more about. Or, if you have any feedback or suggestions please let me know.  Enjoy the ride!

Dining al fresco with the gals. Flickr Photo

This week’s obstacle: Eating Out Vegan Hacks

As a vegan, I want to avoid animal food products, but I don’t want to be a hermit.

Integrating a vegan code into everyday life might seem overwhelming if not impossible.  I found myself refusing invites to restaurants and friends’ BBQs because I thought I would have to satisfy my hunger with chips. Or sometimes I just don’t want to open Pandora’s box of why-are-you-vegan questions — stop the presses if someone has self-imposed dietary restrictions.

I want to have fun, not grumble under my breath, “If everyone would just go vegan this wouldn’t even be an issue…”  Many of the glaring vegan options are fried foods or plain salads, but the trick to joining in mealtime with the other side is to look past what menus say and have a general understanding of what your food is made of.  I’m not saying you should enroll in culinary school, but often times all you have to do is ask for all meats and cheeses to be withheld and voila!

So here’s a scene you might be very familiar with: your friends call and tell you to get dressed – you’re going out for a group dinner!  Super fun, until you realize, “What will I eat?  …I don’t want to seem fussy or picky, but I don’t want to be hungry all night either.”

You sit down at the restaurant and open the menu.  Scouring the appetizers, salads and entrees you realize you’ll be eating a side of fries – again.  This repetitive letdown overtime can affect your willingness to participate in group activities.

Just the other day I was at Bokampers, a sports bar, for the first time with a group.  They all were ordering burgers and they looked good!  I optimistically checked for a veggie burger option, only to remember not all patties are created equal – some contain non-vegan ingredients such as eggs or whey.  At least they had some great sides I could mix-and-match for a complete meal, and it was tasty, fulfilling and 100% cruelty-free.

So, lucky us!  This day in age vegan options are better than ever, we just have to know a few tips and tricks:

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Check the menu online before heading out. If you know the restaurant you’ll be eating at, look to see if they have an online menu, so you can scour endlessly at home and actually have time to chat with company at the table.

Knowing the top 3 choices before even heading out will give you the advantage to come prepared with questions or alternate requests. You could even call ahead of time to avoid the 3rd degree at the table.

Be upfront with your server. Make sure you let your server know you’re a vegan – and that they understand what that means dietarily.  There’s a joke that goes: “An athiest, a vegan and a crossfitter walk into a bar….. I only know because they told everyone within two minutes.”  Funny at first, but this is another example of how people will undermine your cause and enforce a stigma on what they do not understand.  Telling your server or your friends about your dietary restrictions wouldn’t be frowned upon if it were an allergy or a religion-based, so feel free to make sure they don’t garnish your olive oil linguine with Parmesan or slather your veggie burger with mayo.

More often than not, the servers know their restaurant’s menu inside and out and can offer a few suggestions.  Speak up and make sure what’s placed in front of you doesn’t infringe upon your own moral code.  Bringing us to the next tip.

Explore the à la carte options. Don’t overlook the “sides” selection that’s normally tucked into menus.  Many times they will have single elements such as steamed veggies, rice or beans you can piece together to make a great little entrée.  Be sure to ask the wait staff about the cooking process for said items, however, as they may be cooked with butter or have some grated parmesan cheese sprinkled throughout.  They may or may not be able to prepare it alternatively, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask!

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Know about the hidden non-vegan items. Some foods that seem vegan friendly have ingredients laced throughout the meal such as milk, eggs and even fish.  Did you know that many breads contain milk or whey products?  Also, some noodles and “veggie” patties are made with eggs or the delicious sauce may have mayonnaise.

This might seem obvious, but make sure that vegetable soup of yours doesn’t have any chicken or beef broth added to the base.  Want a Bloody Mary? Sure!  Well, hold the Worcestershire sauce as it contains anchovies.  Many asian sauces contain undetectable fish sauce too, so keep this in mind when the next time you’re ordering Pad Thai.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a custom meal. Many times the head chef in the kitchen would be happy to make something vegan just for you.  If the “vegetarian” section is riddled with cheese items, but they would seem otherwise blah without said cheese, ask if the chef would be willing to create something.  What’s the worst that could happen, they say no and you order a salad instead?

Don’t beat yourself up.  The whole point of becoming vegan is to be more aware of what goes into your body.  That doesn’t mean you should guilt trip yourself when you find out you’ve accidentally eaten something non-vegan. Occasionally we may consume something we didn’t intend, we’re humans – very flawed creatures.  Keep your head high and carry on, there’s more work to do!

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