The SE Overlord looks back on his monthlong vegan experiment, and the surprising lessons he learned.
'The Vegan Experience' on Serious Eats
This year during The Vegan Experience, I focussed almost exclusively on recipes. I'm proud of them, but it did mean that I had very few opportunities to go out and eat. I tried to make the best of it when I did, and with that in mind, here are my ten favorite vegan bites and restaurants in Manhattan.
The third annual Vegan Experience has come to a close, leaving us with another 25 recipes to bulk out our collection. From warming soups and light salads to greasy snacks and hearty mains, we've got a whopping total of 85 standout vegan dishes to add to your arsenal.
As I write this I only have a day and a half left in my vegan month. I could say who's counting, but I have to admit that I am. As we near the home stretch of my vegan adventure, I have a few thoughts on how things have been going.
Sandwiches are one of my weekend lunch staples when I'm on a vegan diet, and I'm always looking for new delicious fillings. This time around? Crispy, herb-packed chickpea patties, topped with a bright slaw flavored with tahini and lemon juice. Think of it as falafel in a completely different (but equally delicious) format.
It's tough to convince my mom that vegan food is not all just a series of side dishes, or that salad on its own does not have to be a side dish. What I can do is try to stuff her with vegetables and salads that are so darn delicious that she'll stop thinking of them as sides and start thinking of them as what they are: meals unto themselves. This Roasted Chickpea and Kale Salad is a good place to start.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: the goal here is not to try and recreate bacon out of vegetables. Rather, the aim is to create something that can sate any bacon craving, hitting the right texture and flavor notes: crispy, a little greasy, a nice balance of sweet and salty, intensely savory, and smoky.
I used to hate all things eggplant. Until I had my first taste of really great baba ganoush. It was made by a good friend of mine, an Israeli line cook who'd take time out of her afternoon to hover over the eggplants slowly charring over the open flames of the kitchen's burners, waiting until they were meltingly tender, before recruiting me to carefully peel them before she'd mix them up with lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and olive oil. The resulting dip was simultaneously smoky, savory, bright, and creamy...and I was addicted.
Building up a strong vegan pasta dish isn't all that different from building a non-vegan pasta dish. Here, the pasta is, of course, the star. The rest is just made up of a few supermarket staples—plum tomatoes, lots of garlic, olives, and bread crumbs—that, with just a bit of care and attention paid to concentrating and layering their flavors, can be transformed into something remarkably complex and intense.
Things I love: Tofu, spicy food, peanuts, stir-frying, celery, my wife, crispy things, chilies, and a strongly-flavored but subtly balanced sauce that combine funky fermented elements, heat, rich umami-packedingredients, bright vinegar, and a hint of sweetness. I've recently discovered a way to get eight out of nine of these things together in one place: crispy kung pao tofu.
As Ed nears the home stretch of his vegan month, a death in the family tests his resolve.
I've been recently accused of being on a junk food kick here on The Vegan Experience. Nachos, mac and cheese, and fried plantains with guacamole are all super-tasty fare, but not exactly the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Hopefully this hearty meal-sized salad will satisfy your whole grain and vegetable cravings.
Last week we came up with a recipe for a 100% vegan nacho sauce that is as rich, creamy, and tasty as the real thing. This week, we're adapting that recipe to work for a creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese.
I've said it in the past: there is no dish that is better designed for sharing than a pile of nachos, but here's the thing: most of my friends are not vegan. So where does this leave me? I could take the hard-core route and decide that I need new friends, but that's a) crazy, b) stupid, c) classless, d) mean, e) snooty, and other adjectives as well. No. A much better solution is this one: Make vegan nachos so damn good that everybody will want to get in on the action, vegan or not.
This week, our intrepid founder and overlord gets into a vegan groove with tofu, meets his new favorite chocolate bar, and more!
I'm not all that fond of baked potatoes on their own, but baked potatoes with cheesy sauce and tiny broccoli florets is another story entirely. I love smooshing the sauce into the fluffy potato below, turning what was once dry and bland into something creamy and exciting. During my vegan month, it's not quite so easy a goal to accomplish. At least it wasn't, until I developed my Vegan Nacho Cheese recipe. Now, it's a piece of cake.
There's a reason my wife married me, and surprisingly, it's got nothing to do with my debonair charm, my rugged good looks, or my dashing sense of adventure. No. She married me on the promise of cheese sauce. My month of hard-core veganism makes living up to this promise difficult, so I decided to tackle the problem head-on. The goal? To develop a recipe for a nacho sauce that is every bit as creamy, gooey, and smother-worthy as the real deal.
You know that episode of Friends where Ross sticks a piece of gravy-soaked bread in the middle of his sandwich and calls it the moist maker? It sounds goofy, but it does hit on a key element of good sandwiches: they must be moist to be delicious. This time, rather than using a single moist maker, I'm going with a selection of three moderately moist ingredients—sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and sun-dried tomato mayo—that together combine to make a synergistic Captain Planet-like explosion of moistness, all neatly contained in a crisp griddled crust.
I've always been terrible at planning, which works out, since my wife plans enough for the both of us. Sometimes this can be relaxing. But other times, it can be a bit more of a challenge. Case in point: inviting our neighbors over for dinner. Normally, a semi-impromptu dinner party is no problem for me, but entertaining guests while maintaining a strict vegan diet is a little different, particularly when it's on the kind of freezing cold night that requires the heartiest of meals. Could I come up with something that would keep a dinner party of mixed omni- and vegan company satisfied?
Ever since tasting the salad of baby carrots with cress, radishes, and mole poblano at Alex Stupak's Empellon, I've been obsessed with the idea of warm (temperature) carrots and warm (flavored) spices. It's one of those combos that just works, with the sweet-savory-spicy-nutty flavor of the mole bolstering the sweet-savory flavor of the carrots. Here's my take on that dish.