Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Guest Post: The Friendly Omni

Huzzah and greetings to Marla’s loyal readers. I’m Matt, and I am a not-proud-of-myself omni. Seriously, my ethics are just a total mess, and yet my dearest friend Marla allows me at her table and mails me amazing vegan treats on my birthday and at Christmas. She and C are wonderful, patient best friends. I repay them the best I can by scouring New York City for new delights and making sure we hit the trusty standbys (Foodswings, Champs, Pine Box). [Note from the blog owner: It's true, folks, Matt is the best non-vegan tour guide a hungry vegan in NYC could possible ask for. He diligently seeks out the awesome vegan foodiness and shleps us around the city doing what we do best: eating.]

I’m writing this because I’m undeservedly proud of myself for hosting a vegan potluck. Another dear friend, Jenny, flew into Brooklyn from the blustery coastal town of Portland, ME, to catch (reported vegan) Jeff Mangum play at BAM (Stephen Colbert was front-row, center, but it was seriously NBFD). She had 36 hours to basically see all of her Brooklyn friends, so it made the most sense to bring everyone over to my house and have a nice potluck.

It was never a question to me that it would be a vegan potluck. Most of these friends are some level of vegetarian/vegan/Thetan Level VI Vegan (see profiles below) and everyone seems to really step their shit up when it’s time to make something vegan. Check out my awesome vegan kung-fu, as it were.

It was such a good spread, and the vibes were so happy and goofy (quoth one guest: “Let’s just watch one episode of Twin Peaks and see how everyone feels.”), that I felt I had to share. So here’s the feast, and few short words from each dish’s preparer. Sorry for the shit quality of the photos. I only have a Kodak flipcam-style video camera. Small wonder the company’s bankrupt.

This is Andy. He started things off with an appetizer of killer Buffalo wings. A western New York native, he made his own seitan and deep-fried that shit, and supplied the cooling dip of his own bleu cheese dressing. It was outstanding. He blogs at Vegan Village, and you can read more about his wings there. [Note from the blog owner: Matt has done his best to foster an outright enmity between us and this handsome, charming guy by referring to him as "Super Vegan." This, of course, piques C and I's competitive edge and makes us imagine ourselves pitted against Andy in a brutal, bloody vegan-off to end all vegan-offs. Watch out, Andy.]

“Vegan for 10 years. i made buffalo chicken wings with blu cheese dip”

Next up is Liz, who came with a wonderful and healthy rice pilaf dish.

“On & off vege/pescatarian for 10 years, though i just started working at a burger place and am def off that wagon for a bit! I made italian black rice pilaf with roasted shallots & fennel, golden raisins, & pinenuts.”

This is Chris, who delivered the main entrée.

Vegetarian for a couple years. Sometimes I ignore things that have whey in them, but I'm generally dairy free. I made Moqueca de Camarão that replaced shrimp with tofu.. The tofu marinated the way you would prepare shrimp for the carnie version of the stew, but with some wakame to make it fishy ( I don't know if that attempt was successful.)

I just finished off the leftovers, and the dish was sufficiently, tastily fishy. Well-done, Chris.

Chris and Lily brought the dessert:

“Graduated from weekday-vegetarian/freegan omnivore to a full time veggie last week. Anyway I brought vegan Granny Smith apple fritters with powdered sugar (which I think I left at your apartment).”
I first became a vegetarian when I was 13 or 14. I stopped for a couple years when I was 16 because I wanted to experiment and what not. I became a vegetarian again when I was 19, vegan when I was 20, back to regular ol' vegetarian when I was 26. I'm 29 now and still a vegetarian, so that's a lot of vegetables.”
“After discussing the term with a coworker, I think I need to clarify that by calling myself a former ‘freegan-omnivore’ I didn't mean to imply I used to dine on garbage. I merely meant that if meat was offered to me for free I didn't turn it down. Now I turn it down.”
“Garbage cans are one of the most popular sources of free meat, though. Also, i'm a Thetan-level V. i forgot to say that before. i usually don't tell people, but since you brought it up...

So, there you go. A wealth of veggie-diversity, all united to make fantastic vegan dishes. I should also note that Jenny and I made a refreshing cold cucumber/carrot salad marinated in apple cider vinegar and olive oil, but we forgot to get it out of the fridge, like a couple of dummies. In any case, it served as a nice palate-cleanser as everyone was heading out the door.

Thanks, Matt! 

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Marla for indulging me. Never has being an ally been so tasty.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bulgarianish Feast

I had been teasing C for months with promises of a feast inspired by, if not actually replicating, some of the yummiest food I had in Bulgaria. Being vegan in Eastern Europe turned out not to be that difficult after all, and all the language preparation I did in advance helped enormously. If I reach deep down into the core of my being, I may find that I can still ask for a non-smoking table at a restaurant in Bulgarian. I think. But, you know how it is, dear reader. If you don't use it, you lose it. At least, should I run into an errant Bulgarian, wandering through the malls and buildings of Silicon Valley, I am still armed with the words for "please" and "thank you." Aren't those the most important, anyway?

Getting back to the matter of food, though, one of the best dishes I had while traveling in Bulgaria was a stewed vegetable dish in the ski town of Bansko. It was rich and tomatoey and brilliantly simple. I ate it with a round flatbread that had been brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika. Lovely. To this, I wanted to add the ubiquitous shopska salad, which made its appearance on every menu I saw. Sitting in a Bulgarian restaurant, I was a constant witness to servers making their way from the kitchen with plates that looked like nothing so much as snowy mounds of grated cheese. This, as it turns out, is shopska salad. Basically, it's a cucumber and tomato salad, sometimes with olives, topped with a white cheese of some variety. Because Daiya was in short supply (if you will grant me the understatement), I never actually got to try this dish. My curiosity, though, compelled me to take a crack at what I think it would be like.

I tossed together some diced tomatoes and cucumbers (quite a splurge in January!) and dressed the salad lightly with salt, pepper, and a bit of apple cider vinegar. Then I sprinkled the individual servings with mozzarella style Daiya. The result? It was the least impressive of the three items I made for our Bulgarian feast. It may be that I missed some key element, and I may need to appeal to people who have eaten shopska salad to advise me on this point. Or maybe the Daiya, which really is best when its warm and stretchy, just couldn't fill this particular bill.

Totally successful, however, were the vegetable stew and the armenian style flatbread. I'll include the recipe for the stew below. Stewing vegetables, as it turns out, is much more freestyle than exact. Even the recipes I found online were remarkably inexact. I decided to just gather my vegetables and go for it. For the flatbread, I specifically did not want the harder, layery pita bread. The flatbread I had and enjoyed in Bulgaria was round and soft, so I combed the internets looking for something like this. I took a gamble on a recipe for Lebanese-style flatbread and it was perfect. Also very forgiving. I threw this recipe together with hardly any kneading and let it rise twice while I ran around with C to get groceries and check out a reception site for our wedding (ieeeeeeeeee!). I also used a combination of white and whole spelt flour for health reasons and to accommodate our beloved roomie's allergy issues. Rather than grilling them, which might have been lovely had I the time or inclination, I baked them in a 450 oven for about 7 minutes per side. The resulting breads were toothsome and tender, just what I wanted. We at them with a bit of earth balance and a generous sprinkling of some of the paprika I brought back from Bulgaria.

Monastery Stew (Vegetable Hotch Potch. Whatever)

3 medium russet potatoes, diced
2 heads broccoli, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 pound white mushrooms, quartered
1/2 pound green beans, cut
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cubes vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 450. In a large dutch oven, saute the onion in a bit of olive oil. When it starts to become translucent, add the carrots. I just kept cutting the vegetables and adding them to the pot as I finished them. Do the mushrooms last. Then pour the tomatoes over the whole thing. Add about an additional cup of water, and the two broth cubes. Cover the pot and slide it into the oven. Bake 30-34 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Check the stew every 10 minutes or so, stirring to let the flavors mingle.
C and D both said that this tasted very rich. And it's so so simple.