A Vegan Holiday

The holidays are upon us, and truthfully, it can be the scariest time to try something different at the dinner table. With so many people trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, lots of folks are going the vegan route just ask Venus Williams, India Arie, and Forest Whitaker.

What if I told you that a vegan meal could be just as tasty around the holidays? I know what you’re saying, ‘It has no taste.’ With an open mind and some great ingredients you can create some of the tastiest dishes you’ve ever experienced. The best thing is balance. Even though the idea of a healthy meal for Thanksgiving is almost an oxymoron believe me I know, but it is possible! I have three rules when it comes to vegan eating:

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  • Just because something is vegan does not make it healthy.
  • Just because you’re “supposed to be eating better” doesn’t mean you like it.
  • Just because you made it- doesn’t mean they’re going to like it.

So what are you going to do?  You don’t want the overly processed tofu that looks like a turkey right? I mean that’s just silly. I suggest when transitioning your daily intake to a more plant-based diet, the “fake” food is a good bridge. But it should be viewed as such — a path to get you from point A to B.

Start with the basics:

1. Seitan -Wheat
This wheat based protein is easily made at home or available in many stores. Wheat meats are super high in protein. Seitan recipes were cultivated by fasting Buddhist monks who could not eat meat. It’s also available as mock duck.

2. Tempeh -Soy (gluten free)
Lots of folks don’t know about tempeh. The fermentation process makes it easy to digest. Coupled with high protein, it’s a great alternative. But how do I cook it you ask? Like chicken. Marinade it, bread it fry it. D and D.

3. Quinoa -Grain
I like quinoa because it has a great texture and it’s easy to season. You cook it like rice. It’s also a complex carbohydrate. Why is that good? Because the ancient seed becomes a meal in and of itself.

4. Butter
There are a surprising amount of dairy-free buttery spreads available and they always do the trick for me in sauces, baking, frosting and so on.

5. Milk
Of course there is soymilk and almond milk but the trick is to get the unflavored unsweetened milks so they do not interfere with your overall flavor profile. These basic alternatives will get you over the shopping curve. Now, if you’re ready to try it I have the perfect recipe for you.

I have one rule about cooking: If it’s not good, what are you doing?  Recipes are road maps. You get there once on the map and by the time you do it a couple times you get it. So practice. The key is to cook like you would anything else. Season it, cook it, when it’s brown, it’s done.

Here is my basic marinade for any plant-based protein as well as a dredging option for baking or frying.

Basic Marinade
3 Cloves garlic pressed
2 Tablespoons dry basil
3 Tablespoons dry rosemary
2 Teaspoons fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons chili powder
½ Cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ Cup balsamic vinegar
¼ Cup water
Salt to taste

1 8oz package. Cut to 4×2 then fillet in half marinade for 45 minutes.

Cut into desired size. Marinade for 1 hour.

For dredging & frying
½ Cup all-purpose flour
1 Cup soy milk
½ Cup frying oil

Step 1: To make marinade combine herbs and liquids in a mixing bowl. Marinade tempeh for 30-45 minutes. For more flavor, marinade longer.
Step 2: Remove tempeh or seitan from marinade, dredge (or dip) in milk. Coat with flour and shake off excess. Set aside.
Step 3: In a large skillet on high, heat frying oil until hot and shimmering. Add tempeh or seitan. Using tongs, flip and cook on either side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Repeat until cooked.

Ayinde Howell is a Brooklyn-based chef and founder of ieatgrass.com.