Kat Barry: Vegan food a hot topic

Published 3:42 pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

At American social interactions, one of the first things you ask a new person is what they do for a living. Explaining my work as a lifestyle writer, vegan chef and business development expert for a well-known vegan enterprise, almost always leads to an interesting, sometimes intense, but always eye-opening conversation about veganism in general. I find that almost everyone’s first reaction is to explain to me why they themselves couldn’t be vegan. That vegan recipes are too complicated and expensive. That they couldn’t live without cheese. There’s very often a discussion of the politics surrounding food. In some instances, such as the one I experienced last Saturday night, the people I’m conversing with ask me why people eat meat and cheese substitutes. It can be confusing to meat eaters why you would want to eat something that’s designed to taste like something you just vowed to give up eating.
The “fake meat” debate is an interesting one. Of course, my first counterpoint is that we should not refer to these substitutes as “fake” when they are made from natural, plant-based ingredients. Unlike meat, they are free of cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics, fecal matter, salmonella and a range of other nastiness found in “real” meat. But, to be honest, in a lot of ways, I agree and commiserate with the omnivores’ confusion. Shortly after becoming vegan, I bought a stuffed “chickun”- style entree from Trader Joes. I couldn’t even eat it because the texture of it was way too similar to actual chicken, and it grossed me out. I couldn’t understand why any vegetarian would want to eat something that tasted so similar to a food you were likely disgusted by.
As time has gone on and I’ve met more and more people who are struggling to break free of their traditional American dietary habits, I have come to appreciate the need for these meat substitutes more and more.
Mind you, I don’t really eat them. I love beans, nuts, tempeh and tofu. I try to eat extremely clean, unprocessed foods — pure plants.
But I have never loved meat, and I’ve been a vegetarian for so long that I would never crave it. This is not the case for the average person. Food is comforting to people and eating something that’s familiar in flavor, texture and presentation to the foods you grew up with makes it a lot easier for most people to stop eating the “comfort” foods that are killing them. So, if eating a setain beer brat covered in vegan cheeze is going to help you stick to your heart disease-fighting guns then by all means, go for it.
Just be sure you take a hearty portion of broccoli or kale salad on the side. I’ve tried pretty much every faux dog out there so I’d like to save you some taste-testing trouble.
The bad ones are really bad, but the good ones are also pretty darn good.
Seitan — Seitan is wheat protein and is seasoned with herbs and spices to convey different meat flavors. It has a texture very similar to meat, which is why it’s served at so many vegetarian restaurants that try to appeal to both meat eaters and veggies. Try Upton’s brand or West Soy plain is great for battering and pan frying.

Sausages, dogs and brats — Tofurkey brand beer brats and cold cuts are excellent if you have a hankering for a classic American sandwich. The beer brats are my favorite on the grill in summer. Field Roast also makes some really nice sausages, which you can add to pasta or grill as well.

Pepperoni — Just because you’re trying to give up meat doesn’t mean you don’t want a good slice of pizza. Try Yves brand vegan pepperoni.

Burgers — Amy’s Organic California Burger is by far my favorite store-bought veggie burger, though Whole Foods also carries some pretty good small batch ones in the freezer section. Be careful of Morningstar burgers as they often contain egg or cheese. Bocca is also a nice vegan line.

Meatless sausage and grounds — I have not had very much luck with vegan breakfast sausage links.
The Morningstar line is tasty, but they are not vegan. Bocca makes great crumbles, which are available in the freezer section. I highly suggest making your own sausage crumbles out of tempeh. The recipe is available at katshotcakes.com.
Bacun — With the bacon craze reaching epic proportions, it’s no wonder even the vegan food scientists have jumped on this bandwagon. Litelife brand Smart Bacon is delicious and cooks easily.

Chicken patties and tenders — Even I want a breaded chicken-style sandwich once in a blue moon. What can I say? It reminds me of high school lunch. Most of the brands use egg to create that whipped chicken texture. Gardein, however, has mastered the texture without egg. A great brand if you have a hankering.

Vegan cheeses — Again, making your own is easy and cleaner, but if you want some good commercial suggestions, Diaya is by far the best option.
A close second is Teese, especially if you want a melty, liquid nacho-style cheese.

Timeless tradition: sharing recipes

A few weekends ago, I visited one of my best friends in Ann Arbor. Whenever Khaylen and I get together, we talk about natural remedies, holistic health and, of course, food. While Khaylen is by no means vegan, she is by far one of my biggest foodie friends. I’ve learned a lot about cooking from her over the years, and our time together is often spent dining out or preparing meals.
Sunday morning, I made us wild blueberry and spinach smoothies, while she made the boys huevos rancheros. I made myself some toast and topped it with the most incredible jam I’d ever had: An apricot habanero variety she’d made last summer when her habaneros were coming in.
Since I’m working on a cookbook, I asked her for the jam recipe. She gladly agreed to share it with me and busted out the recipe binder all skilled cooks have in their kitchen. While going through the binder, we also came across an incredible meal she made for me a couple years ago. It was a cauliflower filet paired with a to-die-for porcini pate. Next, we found a great recipe for bok choy salad, this went on and on, and, before I knew it, I had a giant stack of recipes to photocopy.
Sharing recipes with girlfriends is a timeless tradition among women. When I was going through all my grandma’s old recipes, it was often scribbled above each recipe which friend had passed it along. The same can be found in my mom’s circle. There’s so and so’s famous pecan rolls, or Mrs. Blank’s well-known salad. These are the dishes served at luncheons, showers, coffees and bridge club gatherings throughout the generations.
In our age of modern technology, we’re more likely to make a Facebook post about a recipe to share than to take the time to send a friend a recipe card with an old favorite scribbled down in our own hand. Nonetheless, we still turn to our closest friends first when seeking inspiration in the kitchen. So, in the honor and tradition of a woman-to-woman recipe swap, here are a couple favorites I’ve acquired from Khaylen’s kitchen.

Porcini and pecan pate
Serves: 4-6

1 cup pecans
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1/2 lb. portobello mushrooms, stemmed
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs.extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. nutritional yeast
1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. rosemary
1 tsp. light miso
2 dry-packed sundried tomato halves
Sea salt to taste
1 loaf French bread, sliced and toasted for serving
Fresh parsley for garnish

Pit pecans in a bowl and cover with water. Let stand 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with boiling water and let stand about 15 minutes or until softened. Rub to remove grit, then transfer to a small bowl. Save the soaking water.
Cut the porto caps in half and trim off the gills. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick pieces.
Whisk together the soy sauce, olive oil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, rosemary and miso. Add the portos and toss to coat thoroughly. Let marinate about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Next, combine the soaked porcini and sundried tomatoes in a small saucepan. Slowly add in the porcini-soaking liquid. Be sure to stop pouring once you get to the grit at the bottom. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for for about four minutes or until tender.
Now, drain the pecans and place in a food processor. Using a slotted spoon, transfer all remaining ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy. You will probably need about a 1/4 cup of the porcini/tomato liquid. Add more liquid until desired pate consistency is reached. Season lightly with salt.
Top with chopped fresh parsley and serve with toasted bread or crostini.
Simple bok choy salad
I had an excellent saute made with this Asian cabbage when I was on vacation last month. The dish was so great it inspired me to do some experimenting and I promptly bought some upon my return home. Khaylen told me she prefers it eaten raw and tossed in this dressing.
Serves: 4
5 cups baby bok coy, sliced
4 Tbs. rice vinegar
1 Tbs. tamari
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
3/4 tsp. raw cane sugar
2 Tbs. raw cashews, chopped

First, whisk together sugar and sesame oil. Then add rice vinegar and tamari.
In a large salad bowl, toss bok coy with dressing and top with chopped cashews.
For a variation, add a dash of dried ginger or a 1/4 tsp. fresh ginger or garlic. You can also top with 1/4 cup scallions.