Many home cooks that love what they do like I do, approach vegan cooking with some level of apprehension. I believe the main reason for this is due to the fact that they perceive taking out all animal based products from the list of cooking ingredients as an imposition limiting their choices. My knee-jerk reaction to the prospect of cooking vegan food was: 'but.. but.. If you take away ALL my animal based products I can't make… and I can't make… then, what will I do?'
1st Approach: When in doubt, fall back on what you know
It's then that you go in the kitchen and as a first aid measure try to recreate dishes you used to cook, under the new 'recession laws' that were imposed on you, of course. Trying to find suitable substitutes and modifying cooking methods requires its fair share of creativity. When done right, usually after several iterations of trial an error, this can definitely result in tasty dishes, even ones that faithfully recreate the over whole eating experience of the non-vegan original.
My first try was with Moussaka. A layered pie of fried eggplant, cooked potatoes, grilled tomatoes, seasoned ground beef and a topping of grated hard matured cheese, preferably from the Balkans, yeah right! Some online searching and preliminary trials produced the lentil - ground-nuts - fried-mushrooms mix, that when seasoned just the right way, with the exact amount of cumin, creates a very tasty Moussaka. I'll share the full recipe soon.
As for the crusted cheese topping, for that you'll have to stay tuned for my vegan cheese expose.
2nd approach: Using ingredients labeld as 'Vegan'
Food serving establishments exhibit yet another common reaction to the need to satisfy the rise in patrons that have selected the vegan lifestyle. They identify what they think of as 'vegan ingredients' and limit themselves to working with these ingredients only.
Some of them make excellent dishes that taste great, but many alas, leave the vegan diner with an aftertaste of a lackluster and un-imaginative effort. You can only go so far with bland quinoa patties, dry chickpea omelet or fried tofu.
Whenever we are served with a "this is what we made to have a vegan choice on our menu" dish, I can't help but wonder how it happens that chefs allow themselves to be associated with dishes which would never make the cut if not for their 'vegan' label. It would almost seem as if the standards that apply to non-vegan dishes as to taste, creativity-originality, and execution does not extend to the vegan dishes that come out of the exact same kitchen.
3rd approach: The fun of making up your own food
For me it was only after graduating from both the 'recreation phase' and the pursuit of ingredients labeled as 'vegan', that it dawned on me that in order to be able to fill an ongoing vegan meal planI'll have to get creative and make original vegan dishes.
I embraced the challenge of getting to know my newly-defined pallet of ingredients. This basically meant elevating some ingredients in status from Sides to Main Course, learning new ways to prepare old ingredients, experimenting, improvising, getting it wrong, and trying again.
As a home cook there's little I love more than being asked at the end of the meal: 'did you write down how you made that?'
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