Going vegan, family style: New vegan fare makes an animal-free diet tastier than ever
Before the television appearances and the best-selling cookbook, Roberto Martin was a typical “Top Chef” kind of guy: meat, meat and more meat.
But then Ellen DeGeneres and her partner, Portia de Rossi, both vegans, hired him to be their personal chef.
Now, he rarely puts anything in his body that comes from animals.
For Martin, ethics and health concerns spurred the switch. But it probably wouldn’t have happened, he said, if the food tasted like dreck.
“When it’s a choice, you want something good,” said the author of “Vegan Cooking for Carnivores.” “My idea is don’t get rid of your old cookbooks if you turn vegan; pull them out and do substitutions.”
Martin, for example, uses the “Joy of Cooking” recipe for the French chicken dish coq au vin (which he memorized long ago) for his vegan take on the classic, using tofu for the slab of protein.
It wasn’t long ago that vegan meant brown rice, lentils, salads and noodles. Vegan was like vegetarian without the dollops of fun — the cheese, the cream, the butter.
It’s different now. The supermarket aisle for vegan products is growing, and offerings taste better than ever. Publishers release new vegan cookbooks every week, containing thousands of recipes for things that require quotation marks: macaroni and “cheese,” pulled “pork” sandwiches, “chicken” pot pie.
And restaurants increasingly offer vegan options. Some places, like Watercourse Foods and City O’ City in Denver, cater explicitly to both vegans and vegetarians, so eggs and dairy products find their way on the menu, but nothing involving meat.
This month Native Foods, a vegan chain, opens one of its first outposts beyond California, in Boulder. At Native Foods, vegans don’t need to worry about finding egg in a tofu scramble, or biting into a chunk of feta in a bean burger.
The trend hasn’t escaped the food-truck world, with Denver’s Vegan Van slinging “meatball” subs and more through its small window. Track its wheareabouts at veganvan.com.
A vegan market, too, is set to open soon in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. Nooch Vegan Market will be one of a handful of similar markets opening up around the country, said Joshua LaBure, 26, who is opening the market and helped start Plants and Animals, a 2-year-old nonprofit that holds vegan feasts and pop-up markets. Its monthly Chomp dinners at Green Spaces, 1368 26th St., attract between 100 and 150 people.
“There’s even a vegan market in Denton, Texas,” said LaBure. “I figured if they can stay open, then we can make it work.”
Like many vegans, LaBure’s conversion from smoked brisket to barbecue tempeh grew not from a love of seitan and hemp milk. Instead, vegan buzz — centering on claims the meat industry treats animals with cruelty, on worries about the world’s fisheries vanishing, on health — persuaded him to begin exploring. Eventually, “it clicked.”
For Beth Ann Senderak, a Castle Rock nurse, all it took was a chance encounter with a book three years ago at Denver International Airport to turn her from eager carnivore to proud vegan.
“Ten pages into that book (“Harvest for Hope,” by Jane Goodall), I was like, I can no longer eat meat,” she said. “My husband was like, OK, you have gone crazy.”
But weeks later, he too began shunning meat. Then it became a family affair — the kids, now 4 and 6, and even the dogs, Tinka, Merlin and Pali, joined in.
With the kids, it was tough at first because they didn’t understand why chicken fingers and McDonald’s (where Senderak said they probably ate once a week) went away.
But now, she says, the kids willingly turn up their noses at anything made from animals.
Revulsion over animal cruelty explains why many turn vegan. Movies like “Food, Inc.” and “Earthlings” push things along on the animal-welfare front, along with celebrities like DeGeneres. Health figures into the movement, too — that’s why Bill Clinton switched from a bacon-cheeseburger to a veggie-chili diet.
But as it nudges into the mainstream, controversy sometimes bubbles up. On a recent episode of the “Today” show, guests trashed a children’s book advocating veganism called “Vegan Is Love.”
“I think it just goes to show that we know on some level that what we do to animals is violent and wrong, too scary to even talk about with our children,” said author Ruby Roth.
But when parents do eliminate animal products from a kid’s diet, is that healthy?
The milk industry thinks kids need that white mustache.
“Vegans tend to fall short on calcium, vitamin D, high-quality protein, B12, zinc and iron. Dairy is an important source for some of those,” said Jenna Allen, a registered dietitian and nutrition affairs manager for the Western Dairy Association, based in Thornton.
Denver dietitian Angela Moore said vegans, including kids, can get most of what they need without meat. But it can be at least slightly tricky. A diet of chips and salsa is not a good one.
For kids under the age of 2, she recommends talking with a pediatrician.
“I wouldn’t take it lightly; I’d put all of your ducks in a row before you put the whole family on a vegan diet,” she said.
The key to eating, regardless of diet, is a set of “four pillars” that should support everything else, said Sarah Morgan, a healthy-eating specialist at Whole Foods Market in Boulder.
“Plant-strong, whole-food, nutrient-dense, healthy fats,” she said. “That’s the most important approach.”
But it’s easy to even be vegan and shrug off the advice.
The growth in the vegan packaged-foods section — the land of vegan junk food — has been “tremendous,” said Jody Mason with New Hope Natural Media in Boulder. Among other things, the health-media publisher also runs natural-foods conferences. At this year’s big one in March, Mason saw a lot more vegan products than in the past: vegan shrimp, vegan ice creams, vegan TV dinners and more.
“Five years ago, no way,” she said. “It was Rice Dream (a vegan ice cream) in the frozen section. It was like, nice try.”
• Plants & Animals, Denver advocacy group, plantsanimals.org
• Vegan Coloradical, dining and travel guide, vegancoloradical.com
• Watercourse Foods and City O’ City restaurants, watercoursefoods.com
• Native Foods Cafe, nativefoods.com
• Boulder vegan Meet-Up group, meetup.com/coloradovegans/
• Denver Meetup group, meetup.com/DenverAndBeyondVeganMeetup/
• Vegetarian Society, vegetariansocietyofcolorado.org
“If you want to, you can add some Tofurkey crumbles to the marinara sauce. Your omnivore friends will have no idea that it is vegan!” says Beth Ann Senderak. This recipe from Diana Glaizer of Denver makes about 12 servings.
1½ 12-ounce blocks firm organic tofu, drained
1 10-ounce package organic frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 tablespoon garlic powder or 1-2 cloves fresh organic garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 tablespoons organic olive oil
1½ 24-ounce jars organic marinara sauce1 package organic whole wheat no-boil lasagna noodles
1 package Daiya shredded vegan mozzarella
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Put tofu into food processor or bowl. Add spinach, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, yeast flakes and olive oil. Pulse or mix by hand in bowl until well mixed and smooth, scraping sides of bowl. Add seasonings to taste.
Spray a 13-by-9-inch glass pan with olive oil and cover it with a thin layer of marinara. Spread tofu “ricotta” mixture on the noodles and lay them on top of marinara. Sprinkle a third of the Daiya mozzarella on top of that. Repeat all of these layers again twice to make 3 layers.
Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, uncover and bake an additional 15-20 minutes.
Red Beans and Rice
From “Vegan Cooking for Carnivores,” by Roberto Martin. Makes 6 servings.
2 cups brown or white basmati rice
3 cups water
Two 15-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained, or 1 cup dried kidney beans soaked and cooked.
4 cups broth made from Better than Bouillon vegetable base
2 Field Roast Apple Sage Sausages, or other- quality vegan sausage
2 Field Roast Italian Sausages, or other high- quality vegan sausage
1 tablespoon high-heat oil such as grapeseed or safflower oil
1 large white onion, diced medium
6 6-inch celery stalks, diced small
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup thinly sliced scallions
Rinse the basmati rice thoroughly. In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, bring the rice and 3 cups of water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and maintain a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and cook the rice until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and keep the rice covered until needed.
In a blender, purée three-quarters of the rinsed beans in the 4 cups of broth until smooth. Add the remaining beans to the puréed mixture but do not blend.
Cut the sausages into quarters lengthwise, then cut them crosswise into -inch pieces and set aside.
Heat a 4- to 5-quart stew pot over high heat, add the oil, and wait until it shimmers. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add the sausage, chile powder, thyme, bean purée and bell peppers, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve the red beans over basmati rice, garnished with the sliced scallions.
Tofu Crab Cakes With Simple Slaw
From “Vegan Cooking for Carnivores,” by Roberto Martin. Makes 24 crab cakes.
¼ head green cabbage, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 fat carrot, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ bunch scallions, green parts only, cut on the bias
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
QUICK CRAB CAKE SAUCE
¼ cup whole-grain mustard
½ cup vegan mayonnaise
Juice of ½ small lemon
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
TOFU CRAB CAKES
One 14- to 16-ounce block firm organic tofu
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons high-heat oil, like safflower or grapeseed
6 medium celery stalks, minced
½ bunch scallions, white and green parts
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons toasted nori1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
½ cup panko bread crumbs, plus 2 cups for crusting cup vegan mayonnaise
For slaw: Mix the first five ingredients in a medium bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.
For sauce: Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate.
For tofu crab cakes: Cut the tofu into slices and press through a potato ricer or roughtly chop it and pulse it in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until minced but not puréed. Set aside.
Heat a medium sauté pan over high heat. Add the 2 teaspoons of oil and wait until it shimmers. Add the celery and scallions and cook until the celery has softened. Allow the vegetables to cool slightly. Mix the tofu and celery mixture in a medium bowl and fold in the garlic powder, nori, Old Bay seasoning, ½ cup bread crumbs, and vegan mayonnaise.
Place the remaining 2 cups of bread crumbs in a pie pan or shallow bowl and set aside. Shape a heaping tablespoon of the mixture into a small disk and gently press both sides into the bread crumbs. Using the palm of your hand, gently press the bread crumbs into the cake. Place the uncooked tofu crab cakes on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet or on a large plate.
Heat a large nonstick sauté pan over high heat, add 2 tablespoons of high-heat oil, and wait until the oil shimmers. Place the tofu crab cakes in the pan and cook until brown, hot, and crispy. Transfer to paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Place each crab cake over a mound of slaw and dollop each cake with the sauce.
From “Vegan Cooking for Carnivores,” by Roberto Martin. Makes 8 servings.
1 cup dried French green lentils, rinsed, or one 12-ounce package of Smart Ground Original or Boca Meatless Ground Crumbles
2 pounds russet potatoes
4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
½ cup warm almond or soy milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons high-heat oil such as safflower or grapeseed oil
1 white or brown onion, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, minced
1 large carrot, cut into small dice
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups broth made from Better Than Bouillon No Beef Base or Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base
½ cup frozen peas
Preheat oven to 420 degrees. If you are using lentils instead of meat substitutes, place lentils in a medium pot and cover with 1 inch of cold water.
Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. The lentils will most likely be undercooked but that is OK as they will be further cooked later. Drain the lentils and reserve.
If you are using meat alternative, follow the directions and set aside.
While the lentils are cooking, make the mashed potatoes. Peel and rinse the potatoes and place them in a large pot. Fill the pot with water to at least 3 inches above the potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are soft.
Drain the potatoes and place them in an ovenproof baking dish or pan. Bake them for 5 minutes, to remove excess moisture, and leave the oven on.
Working quickly, being careful not to burn yourself, push the potatoes through a potato ricer or mash them with a potato masher. Add the melted butter, warm milk, and chopped chives, if using, and stir until well-incorporated. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil, and wait until it shimmers. Add the diced onions and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the onions begin to show color. Add the garlic, celery, carrot, and thyme and cook for 3 minutes more.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir in.
Carefully pour broth into the pan and stir until well incorporated.
Stir the lentils, or meat alternative, into the pan and stew for 5 minutes.
Add the peas to the lentil mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture evenly into an 11-by-7-inch ovenproof baking dish.
Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake the pie for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to brown. Allow the pie to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.