Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Vegan Meal Challenge

Anyone who knows me will attest that I have a deep distrust of most things labeled "vegan." Why? Well, without going into too much detail about my personal (and biased) opinions on other people's dietary regimes, I suppose that the least complicated answer is that I think that the majority of vegan foods don't taste nearly as good as the foods they're attempting to mimic. And because I don't subscribe to a vegan/vegetarian set of beliefs, I have the option to eat whatever version of a food that I think tastes the best - and frankly, the best is usually the omnivore one.

That said, I love plenty of foods that fall into the vegan category. Especially the foods that aren't trying to be vegan. Like guacamole, or hummus, or tofu. Well, I suppose you could argue that tofu (well, soy) is often used as a meat or cheese or milk substitute, but in my opinion, these food fake-outs are really soy at it's worst. Sure, Edamame is a tasty snack, but in no way is it similar to the ground, powdered soybeans that are mixed with cane syrup and stabilizers to make that modern day junk food called soymilk - which, in my opinion, usually tastes like a mix of beans and sawdust.

Still I'm always afraid that there's some tasty delight out in Veganville that I'm missing out on, because I've prematurely dismissed it as "not good" based solely on it's vegan-ness. For example, once I actually tasted a Vegan Supreme marshmallow, I realized how much better they were than regular marshmallows (until I discovered that Vegan Supreme actually contained fish gelatin. But that's another story.) I think that tempeh reubens are great, and a well-made tofu scramble will kick an egg's ass any day of the week. But had you told me beforehand that I would be impressed by any of these foods, I wouldn't have believed it.

This fear of missing out on potential deliciousness is what drove me to the Vegan Meal Challenge. Well, I've never actually called it that, but it has a nice ring to it - despite the fact that there is no actual "challenge." The basic idea is that I make a meal that is 100% vegan, trying new recipes and/or foods that I haven't tried before. Then I ponder the results and determine whether or not I would make the meal again.

Tuesday night, I decided that I would try making mac & cheeze. And since I was already going to the effort, I declared it a challenge and made the whole meal animal-free. The mac & cheeze recipe was basically the same as the regular version – you make a roux, stir in the liquid and then add cheese (in the vegan version, the dairy is substituted with nutritional yeast and Earth Balance margarine.) Then you mix the sauce in with cooked noodles, top the whole thing with seasoned breadcrumbs and bake until browned and bubbly.

I rounded off my dinner with some saut̩ed chard, and some bbq "ribz" Рand it really did make a very attractive meal. But what about the taste? Well, my taste buds told my brain that the taste was merely ok. The pasta had a taste reminiscent of cheese powder, but really it was more like a weird super thick gravy. To be fair, I may have liked it better had I not been comparing it to the cheesy version. So the official result of this challenge was: I wouldn't make it again, but I would eat it again if it was offered to me. When Kevin got back from band practice, he ate the leftover "ribz" on top of a bowl of the mac, then told me: "it's good - for vegan food."

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