Thanksgiving Yummies

Let’s face it, Thanksgiving can be a challenging time for vegans. So many of the dishes traditionally include loads of animal products, and if you’re less than lucky the meal will include some kind of awkward interrogation about your choice of diet by someone who is smacking on a hunk of turkey. We lucked out this year. My sister in-law, Marcy made a huge feast for about twenty family members, and she managed to put together a pretty hearty vegan spread for us…including a fabulous green bean dish with almonds. We brought some Field Roast Celebration Roast, gingerbread apple pie (from Vegan with a Vengeance), and a double layer pumpkin cheesecake, and we were quite satisfied. Better yet, we loved being around so many fun folks and having a great time together.

I have learned from past experience that anything can go wrong on Thanksgiving, and sometimes you can’t get to the big feast. A couple of years ago I came down with a horrendous cold and we canceled our visit with friends. Wayne improvised and came up with a nice meal of homemade seitan sausages and cranberry chutney, but we had few options in the house and we missed many of our old favorites. Because of that, I like to have a second, all-vegan meal planned for later in the weekend, so even if we’re planning to travel we make sure to have all the ingredients we need a few days beforehand.

Tonight’s meal was amazing. We had fluffy mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry jelly, candied sweet potatoes, wild rice, and Field Roast.

Good mashed potatoes are easy and don’t require any kind of measuring. Here is what I do:

Wash and peel some Russet potatoes (one potato per person should be enough if you’re serving a lot of other sides), cut into 3/4 inch cubes, and boil in salted water until tender. Drain well and return to the pot they were boiled in. Use a good quality potato masher, such as this one. Mash the potatoes well, but don’t stress if there are a few little lumps. Once the potatoes are mashed to your liking, add a few tablespoons of Earth Balance and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s good to do this with the pot on the stove just in case you decide you need a little bit of heat. Once the Earth Balance and oil are well incorporated, add a touch of salt, and dash or two of freshly ground pepper, and some nondairy milk (I like the unsweetened whole grain drink from Trader Joe’s, but soy milk will also work). You can also add a little bit of crushed garlic. Lightly stir in the milk, adding just a touch more than you think you will need. The potatoes tend to soak up the liquid pretty quickly and you don’t want them to be too dry. If they’re too wet, just leave the heat on for a minute or so. If you mash first and then add the wet stuff, I have found that the final result will be light and fluffy, not gluey at all.

The green bean casserole takes a bit of time, but it’s simple to make. I’m so glad I came across Isa’s version last year. It has an amazing flavor and texture. I find that her version is a bit on the soupy side, so I like to add close to double the amount of green beans than the recipe calls for. If you’ve missed this traditional dish since going vegan, if you want to impress a vegan in your life, or if you just want to get away from that mushroom glop in a can, I hope that you’ll try this recipe.

The sweet potato dish was actually quite easy. I usually prefer to cook my sweet potatoes with savory herbs and sea salt , but Wayne grew up with the intensely sweet version with marshmallows on top. I thought he would enjoy this, and I was right. I didn’t want a ton of leftovers since this isn’t exactly health food, so I kept it small.

Sweetie’s Sweet Potatoes (serves four)

1 pound sweet potatoes (about 4 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
scant 1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar (less would also be okay)
2-3 tablespoons Earth Balance
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (use Vietnamese cinnamon if you have some)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1 pinch of ground ginger
1/2 cup Dandies marshmallows, cut approximately into fourths

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Put the sweet potato pieces into an 8×8 inch casserole dish. Put Earth Balance, brown sugar, salt, nutmeg, and ginger into a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Put over the sweet potatoes and toss well. Add a splash of water. Bake, uncovered for 45-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the marshmallow pieces on top. Put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until the marshmallows turn a light golden color.

We hope that you had a delightful Thanksgiving, and that no matter what you ate or who you celebrated with that you were able to take some time to remember what you are thankful for. Whether it’s a cat who likes you, a pair of hiking boots, or your special ability to tell a good joke, find joy in what you have.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!


The Coburns

A Richmond Favorite

Sometimes it takes a lunch date gone awry to remind me to be grateful for the times when folks have sense of etiquette. My friend arrived late, answered the phone twice during our meal, and didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch. Oy vey!

Was my meal a total failure? No way! We were having lunch at Hoang Tra, a little neighborhood restaurant in Richmond. And this place has an abundance of terrific food and vegan options galore. One of their secrets is this mock chicken that is far meatier than anything I’ve had before. Pretty much all of the chicken dishes on the menu can be substituted with the veggie chicken. I’ve asked dozens of times how they make it, and the usual response is that it’s pressed tofu. I knew there had to be more to it than that, and my server this time told me that they buy it from Layonna, which is this really fun store in Oakland that sells all different kinds of mock meats. Some of their products are better than others, but we’ve found some that are quite good. Some old friends of ours make pulled pork sandwiches out of their mock pork, and it’s delicious. I can’t wait to buy some of this mock chicken to experiment with myself.

This lunch was made with a mock duck, which was flavorful but didn’t have the same meatiness as the mock chicken. It didn’t matter, because the whole dish was so full of flavor and texture, and I was so thrilled with myself for trying something new. It was full of bamboo shoots, baby corn, onions, cilantro…all sorts of goodies. It was nice and brothy, had a touch of chili, and came with lime wedges to squeeze on top. Blissful!

When I moved from Santa Cruz to the east bay, I couldn’t wait to find places that were unique that I could get excited about, and this is one of many that I have found in the past few years. I hope you will try this restaurant someday. Just please…for goodness sake…hang up and eat!

Sunday Supper: Autumn Root Soup

Mother nature was a bit temperamental this weekend, and Corinne experienced her first big storm with thunder and lightening. She and I are both fighting a cruddy cough and generally not feeling so well. With an abundance of vegetables from the farmer’s market, I attempted to add a bit of comfort to our weekend with a huge pot of soup served alongside some Field Roast Celebration Roast and a bit of Acme sourdough.

I have a bag of conchigliette no. 46 pasta (very tiny shells), that I was saving to put in soup au pistou. But let’s face it, a good soup au pistou can take all day to make and I probably won’t get around to that anytime soon. Since this seemed like the perfect size pasta for this soup, in it went. I have no idea where to find this pasta anymore, so feel free to substitute with any small pasta you like. Little star shapes would be adorable.

The lemon-mint combination adds a touch of brightness to the soup. It’s a flavor combination my Middle Eastern/ Greek grandmother uses in many of her recipes, and I find myself relying on it when the flavor of a dish needs a little balancing out. Go lightly! Done right, no one will guess these two ingredients are in the soup, but their presence can make a world of difference.

Autumn Root Soup

2 T olive oil
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme (or more to taste)
1 tsp. dried basil (or more to taste)
1 tsp. turmeric
1 pinch chipotle chili powder (optional)

All the remaining vegetables can be cut into equal sized (approximately 1/2 inch) pieces:
1/2 cup celery root
2 large carrots
2 red potatoes
1 small turnip
1 parsnip
1 medium zucchini
1 medium bell pepper
2 stalks celery

3-4 tsp Better than Bouillon “no chicken” base
1 cup small pasta
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
salt to taste
juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp. dried mint

1-2 cups Swiss chard leaves, cut into a chiffonade (optional)

In a large, heavy pot (5 quart is perfect) over medium heat, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions, shallots, thyme, and basil until the onions begin to soften. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add turmeric and chipotle, the remaining vegetables, and a few splashes of water and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the “no chicken” base and enough water to cover the vegetables. Add pasta, garbanzos and a bit of the salt. When the broth begins to bubble, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Stirring occasionally, cook until the pasta is tender and the vegetables are soft. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Crush the mint a little in your hands and add that as well. It’s best to leave the pot on low heat for a short while to let the flavors meld a bit more, or, cool the soup, refrigerate, and rewarm the next day.

Variation: add the Swiss chard during the last ten minutes of cooking.