April 19, 2012

HIPSTER KITCHEN: Vegan Adventures

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Since I ended my last post with a disclaimer, I feel it’s only right to begin this post with another one: if you’re a vegan with no sense of humor about yourself, you should probably skip right to the recipe, because I’m definitely going to make fun of you starting right now.

It’s not that I don’t admire veganism. I do. I really do. I was vegetarian for a little while, and it takes a lot of self-control to abstain from delicious things like bacon, hamburgers and sushi. I don’t have that kind of willpower, and so I’m always at least a little bit impressed with people who adhere to strict dietary regimens for reasons other than “If I eat this, it will send me into anaphylactic shock.” But there’s something about veganism that makes it slightly more annoying than any other alternative food doctrine. Is it the self-righteousness? Is it the fact that being able to spend four times the money on half the food reeks of privilege? Is it the branding of vegan foods as more spiritually pure, rich in the nutrients of tranquility and wholeness in addition to plain old calories?

My biggest issue with it, I think, lies in substitution. The vegan diet seems to involve a whole lot of food substitutes — highly processed products that are supposed to resemble conventional foods that use animal products. My experience, however, is that these products often fall short of the real thing.  I’ve encountered some really bad soy bacon in my day. I have a friend who, just the other day, recounted a horrifying experience he had with vegan cheese. It involved the word “goop”. If I remember correctly, about half of the cheese was actually some sort of pudding-like substance. This seems pretty representative. It seems to me that when you choose to abstain from stuff like cheese and meat, eating fake cheese and meat is disingenuous.

Also, relying so heavily on processed foods seems to undermine the movement’s philosophical selling points of being more “natural” and “environmentally sound”. How much fossil fuel went into the production of that date-and-cashew protein bar on which you are noshing so righteously? And how many pesticides went on the soybeans in your soy milk? Hm? Ever consider that, vegans?

But I digress. I think vegetables are great, and I appreciate what the vegan diet is trying to do, both for healthier bodies and a healthier world. I’d like to propose a truce —- a recipe for a vegan dish that’s made only with ingredients that are completely identifiable, inexpensive and minimally processed. It’s fairly quick, and it makes the best leftovers ever. Cook it up, serve it to your friends and be as smug and preachy about it as you please.

Vegan Rice and Beans

(a Clare Dougan original)

1 cup rice (brown or white)½ onion, diced½ green pepper or red pepper, diced (this is optional, but I find it makes the finished product prettier. Plus, vegetables!)1 can black beans, drained1 can diced tomatoescumincayenne peppersaltpepper

Start the rice cooking in just under 2 cups of liquid — broth or water are both delicious.

While the rice is cooking, heat up a bit of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and chop up the onions and peppers. Sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium heat, or until the onion becomes translucent and the peppers are tender. Add black beans and stir to incorporate. Add canned tomatoes, liquid and all, to the skillet. Add cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper to taste — I usually like a lot of cumin and very little salt, since the tomatoes are usually pretty salty. Let simmer 5 minutes or so.

When the rice is nearly done, add it to the vegetable mixture and stir to incorporate. Let simmer another 5-10 minutes until the rice is tender. You can serve it immediately, but I’ve found that it often gets even better with a day in the fridge, and it makes the best leftovers. It goes great in burritos, scooped up with chips, or topped with cheese and eaten with a spoon — pretty much any way you can think to eat this is great.

And, of course, it’s vegan. Enjoy!

Original Author: Clare Dougan