Monday, September 29, 2014

Mushroom Sauce

Here's another from our dear Mrs Peel, complete with her usual lunatic quantities and cooking times, bless her. While I can't say for certain what would happen if I were to follow her recipe as written and cook 1/2 lb. of mushrooms with 2 tbsp. fat, 1 tbsp. of flour, and 1/2 cup of milk (that's a gill, in case you were wondering) for an entire hour, I'm guessing that "sauce" might not be the most applicable description for the results.

That said, an (admittedly rather freely) adapted treatment of the same ingredients yielded a deliciously mushroomy sauce that went beautifully with the walnut cutlets from my most recent post. It's very nice on its own as a gravy, and I think it would also make a fine addition to pot pies, casseroles, and/or wintry stews, especially as the cool weather sets in.

Mushroom Sauce
~ 1-2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1/2lb mushrooms, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, white pepper, sage
~ Dash mace
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 bay leaf

~ In a saucepan or beaker, combine the soy milk and then bay leaf and bring nearly to a boil on the stove or in the. microwave. Cover and set aside to seethe.
~ In a large skillet, melt the margarine and cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to be sure they don't stick (add a splash of water if they do).
~ Add the flour, salt, white pepper, sage, thyme, and mace, and stir for a few seconds.
~ Gradually begin pouring in the warm milk, stirring constantly.
When all the milk has been added, continue cooking over medium-high heat for another 10 minutes or so, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened a bit.
~ Remove the bay leaf and pour on things.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Walnut Cutlets

The Win the War Cookbook, published in 1918 by the St  Louis County Unit of the Woman's Committee Council of National Defense (not to be confused with its British anologue, The Win-the-War Cookery Book, which appeared the same year) offers the following calendar to help the thrifty, patriotic housewife keep track of what her family should and should not be eating on particular days.

SUNDAY: One wheatless meal, one meatless meal.
MONDAY: Wheatless day, one meatless meal.
TUESDAY: Meatless day, porkless day, one wheatless meal.
WEDNESDAY: Wheatless day, one meatless meal.
THURSDAY: One meatless meal, one wheatless meal.
FRIDAY: One meatless meal, one wheatless meal.
SATURDAY: Porkless day, one wheatless meal, one meatless meal.
EVERY DAY: Save wheat, meat, fats, sugar to create provision for our armies and the allies. Temporarily to save wheat, Food Administration asks you to observe beefless and porkless Tuesday, but not meatless meals and porkless Saturday.

The authors also have this to add, on the value of nuts as meat substitutes: "The protein of nuts as far as known at present has not the value of animal protein. When used with some cheese, milk or meat they make an excellent meat substitute. When used without these they make good meat savers. With the constant tendency toward higher cost of meat and the necessity of shipping meat to our allies and our own soldiers (for they in their exposed life need the blood producing elements of meat) and with the growing knowledge of nut culture we may look for a much larger use of nuts as 'meat substitutes.'"


All I'll say about this is that between "porkless Saturday," "observe beefless and porkless Tuesday," and "nut culture," I've got some new favorite euphemisms. I've also a got some pretty decent walnut cutlets, inspired by the recipe pictured above in our friend Mrs CS Peel's Eat-Less-Meat Book; after some rationalization (you might be interested to know that a gill is equal to about 1/2 cup, and I'm bound to say that using a pound of breadcrumbs for anything in 1918 seems not only excessive and improbable, but borderline treasonous), these came together quickly and turned out quite well. I also made a version of the recommended mushroom sauce to accompany them, which I'll share in another post.

Vive le nut culture!

Walnut Cutlets
~ 1 tbsp. oil
~ 1 small onion, chopped
~ 1 cup chopped, shelled walnuts
~ 3 slices lightly toasted, crumbled bread (I used Ezekiel)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, sage, thyme
~ Dash mace
~ A grind or two of pepper
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed

~ In a skillet, saute the onion in the oil for 5-7 minutes, until quite soft. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
~ In a small bowl, beat the flaxseed with the soy milk for about a minute, until slightly thickened.
~ Combine the walnuts, the toasted bread, and the spices in a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs.
~ Add the cooked onions and flaxseed/soy milk mixture and blend for another minute.
~ Transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow to rest for about 10 minutes, and then form into cutlets (I got 4 large-ish ones from this recipe).~ Fry over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes each side. Bear in mind that the walnuts have a fair amount of fat in them, so you can cook these in a non-stick skillet, or in a cast iron pan with a very thin coating of oil or cooking spray.
~ Serve immediately; we had ours with baked potatoes, braised carrots, and mushroom sauce.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cauliflower Pasanda (in which I brazenly ignore my MoFo theme)

Okay, I am totally cheating on my WWI theme with this recipe (well, maybe not totally, since India was still a British colony at the time, and thus contributed its fair share of blood, sweat, and tears to the war effort), but let's face it: my partner's thoughtful, articulate guest post about substitution, reinterpretation, and the evolving senses of ersatz is a pretty tough act to follow.

And besides, this dish is just too good not to share; the minute I saw it in The Guardian I knew it had to be veganized ASAP, because what's not to like about roasted caulifower in a creamy sauce with nuts and raisins?  (Note: the name "pasanda" comes from the Urdu word for "like" or "favorite." It also makes me think of pandas, which everyone likes, and are in fact many people's favorite animal. Coincidence? I don't think so.)

My main substitution was coconut milk in place of the dairy in the original; I also added chickpeas for protein, increased the number and quantity of spices, and used cashews instead of almonds because A. that's what we had, and B. we like them better anyway. The end product was every bit as good as I'd hoped: absolutely delicious on the first night, and even better as leftovers, which disappeared very quickly. All in all an unqualified win, and definitely one to put into regular rotation. Enjoy it while you can, kids, because tomorrow we're back on rations!

Cauliflower Pasanda
~ 1 large head cauliflower
~ 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cumin seeds, mustard seeds
~ 1 large yellow onion
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
~ 1 small red bell pepper, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, garam masala, fenugreek powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: turmeric, cayenne (more or less to taste)
~ Generous dash mace
~ 1 14. oz. can chickpeas, drained
~ 3/4 cup raisins
~ 2 14 oz. cans coconut milk
~ 3/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
~ 3/4 cup chopped, toasted cashews

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Separate the cauliflower into small florets and chop the stalks into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the cauliflower on a baking sheet, coat with a little oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium heat and toast the cumin and mustard seeds for about a minute, until they begin to sizzle and pop. Add the onion and cook about 5-7 minutes, until softened but not browned.
~ Add the garlic, ginger, red bell pepper, and seasonings. Cook a few minutes more, until fragrant.
~ Stir in the chickpeas, raisins, and coconut milk, cover the pan, and bring nearly to boiling.
~ Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the raisins plump up and all the flavors blend together.
~ Add the cauliflower and fresh cilantro, mix well, and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Stir in the toasted cashews, taste for seasoning, and serve hot over basmati rice; as ever, some spicy pickle wouldn't come amiss.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ersetzen wir's!

Greetings to the Elizavegan community! Desdemona’s domestic partner here, with another in my series of biennial guest posts. I’m pretty excited (well, quite excited) by her 2014 MoFo theme of World War I austerity. As a Canadian expat living in the US, the WWI centenary has brought me a lot of feelings about nationalism, sacrifice, and ways of remembering

As a school kiddie in a grade too distant to remember, I wore the poppy, memorized and recited the poem (John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” of course), learned the main narrative and the battles as the books told them, and attended very solemn Remembrance Day assemblies which, remarkably for ceremonies with small children involved, actually did make me think very seriously about the important issues at hand without generating too much boredom or mockery. (Really, the only thing you could call mockery was the traditional taking of the red plastic poppies, turning them inside out, and putting them into our mouths to simulate a lady wearing lipstick, which was well off the WWI topic but frankly hilarious to this day. I have definitely done this in the last five years.)

Later this year, Desdemona and I will visit the “Tower of London Remembers” installation, which has distributed 888, 246 poppies in, on, through, and around the Tower of London, spilling out of windows and into the grassy moat. That’s one for every British and Colonial military fatality during the war. (If you have £25 to spare and care to buy a poppy, the proceeds go to charity.)

As a previous post noted, the promotion of wartime austerity involved a certain amount of semantic freedom in bandying about terms such as “pie,” “loaf,” “roast,” and “pudding.” If you were a propagandist of the newly-created Ministry of Food or the author of The Win-The-War Cookery Book, you would have had a strong interest in convincing your audience that they could cut out the meat, most of the fat, and the entire crust, and still call it a pie. 

This idea started me thinking about the concept of food substitutions and replacements in times of both war and peace, and the linguistic gestures involved with selling them. The German noun Ersatz, from the root verbs setzen “set, put, place” and ersetzen “replace,” conveys no more disapproval than its English counterparts “substitute” and “replacement,” and indeed the word made its way into English in the late 19th century with a mostly neutral connotation. 

But the word spread during World War I and spiked even more during WWII, and as many countries introduced austerity and food rationing, “ersatz” increasingly connoted an inferior replacement, specifically one foisted on consumers in a deliberate attempt to deceive. Ersatz coffee was ersatz coffee; one might have chosen or been forced to drink it for the sake of the war effort, but coffee it was not. Ersatz’s semantic range quickly expanded beyond the food kingdom: a 1918 review of an art exhibition at the Imperial War Museum complained that the artist had “an ersatz rhythm, too mechanical and academic any longer to suggest true movement.”

This line of thinking led to the increasing availability these days of products intended to imitate, simulate, approximate, or replace foodstuffs that some eaters avoid for ethical, health, or environmental reasons: examples include a huge variety of “faux-meat” products, usually made from soy or wheat protein, that simulate, or claim to simulate, or try to simulate hamburgers, hot dogs, beef, pork, chicken, fish, shrimp, ham, and any number of other animal products; cheeses made from soy, arrowroot, or fermented cashews; egg replacers with various stuff and things in them. 

Less deliberate and more ambiguous are products like tofu, seitan, and nut and rice milks that may seem like substitutes to those who consume meat and dairy but probably just come across as normal food to most vegetarians and vegans. [Parenthetically, the English word “meat” meant simply “food” for more than four centuries before it was restricted to animal flesh, and “milk,” although it first referred to the traditional mammalian secretion, was used for liquid made from nuts, flowers, and plants from around 1400.]

In manufacture as in etymology, the Germans preceded the English in the matter of food replacements. During World War I, the city of Cologne, like the rest of the country, was hit hard by the British blockade. In the face of the wheat shortages especially, mayor Konrad Adenauer (later the first postwar chancellor), devised a wheat-free bread made from rice, barley, and Romanian corn flour; when Romania's entry into the war dried up the supply of corn flour, the inventive Adenauer came up with a soy-based vegetarian sausage dubbed Friedenswurst, or "peace sausage." 

Adenauer applied for a patent with the Imperial Patent Office in Germany but was turned down on the grounds that if it didn't contain meat, it wasn't actually a sausage. Strangely, he had better luck in Britain, where he obtained a patent for the sausage in June 1918. I haven't tracked down the ultimate source of this information or the ins and outs of a German getting a British patent in 1918, but I suspect that the Brits saw the possibilities for vegetable-based sausages as a relatively appealing wartime austerity foodstuff.

[Another parenthesis: Field Roast, which makes excellent vegan sausages, has recently had its products pulled from grocery store shelves in Canada on the grounds that they are selling a “simulated meat product,” which, if it is be sold legally, requires a Protein Efficiency Study ratio study conducted using live animals. The difference here, it seems to me, is that whereas the German sausage-makers astutely perceived a nascent threat to their livelihood in 1918, the Canadian sausage-makers astutely perceive a substantial and growing threat to their livelihood in 2014.]

Personally, I prefer to think of these new foods as analogues rather than replacements; pretty early in my life, I got the idea that dining maturity involved moving away from the idea that a meal was like a Broadway show with a big star (meat), a co-star (potatoes), and a supporting cast (vegetables). In my house these days, the analogues are occasional and interesting treats and variations rather than the centerpieces of an average meal. 

Furthermore, seven years on from the end of my meat and dairy era, I’ve sufficiently forgotten the exact tastes and textures to the point where I’m now just looking for new and satisfying gastronomic experiences rather than trying to recreate anything that my brain or taste buds could conjure up. I have noticed that some of my omnivore friends and acquaintances take exception and even umbrage when confronted with the idea of fake/replacement/substitute meat and cheese; a recent online comment described veggie-meat as “ignorant vegan slurry,” a phrase on which I have put a trademark in case I ever want to found or promote a band with that name.

Pondering the rationale, technology, and psychological justification for these kinds of foods makes me think that it might be time to rejuvenate the concept of Ersatz as a form of active engagement with one’s refrigerator, counter, stove, and table. Germans, Brits, and many other countries involved in the nasty business of war found it necessary to restrict some foods and make shift with others. Many people undoubtedly understood Ersatz not only as an inferior substitute, but as one foisted on them by a regime with a suspect wartime ideology. Nonetheless, a war was in fact on, and a lot of honest people, deceived or not, did their bit, with varying degrees of understanding, cheerfulness, and cynicism. The more neutral German meaning “substitute” or “replacement” simply conveys the basic idea that something is unavailable and something else needs to be there to fill its place.

If you are a person who chooses not to consume meat or dairy products, you are probably starting from familiar domestic and familial places inhabited by signifying foodstuffs that have meant nutrition, comfort, and loving goodness. Jonathan Safran Foer’s wonderful hybrid memoir/research project/jeremiad Eating Animals is largely concerned with the relationship between the food we eat and our continuing existence as individuals, families, and cultures. “The stories that are served with food matter,” writes Foer. “These stories bind our family together, and bind our family to others. Stories about food are stories about us – our history and our values.” In his Jewish family’s own terms, “eating and storytelling are inseparable – the saltwater is also tears; the honey not only tastes sweet, but makes us think of sweetness; the matzo is the bread of our affliction."

In this context of rich metaphor and deep signification, meaning is what matters. In a world guided by a profoundly moral match between belief and practice, Foer’s grandmother, as a starving Jewish child on the run from the Nazis, refused to eat pork when it was offered because, as she later put it, “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.” Logically, if not inevitably, the same woman in much later decades, heavily damaged by her wartime trauma, hoarding food in her basement, and stuffing her children and grandchildren to the point of bursting, happily vegetarianized her signature dish (chicken and carrots) to accommodate Foer’s on-again-off-again vegetarianism, still very much in flux when he wrote the book.

So what exactly is the point of Desdemona replicating economically and politically enforced WWI austerity in a privileged, postmodern vegan context? I’m sure more than one parent, whether or not they have known wartime or Depression deprivation, has despaired over a child’s willful refusal of nutritious, delicious, and hard-earned food. And indeed it may be a small number of people who make the analogy between their own sacrifice to a war effort or a country’s immediate needs and the next generation’s commitment to reducing suffering or saving the planet. The reason for restricting your diet might be imposed by the circumstances of war, the scarceness of resources, and the directives of those in power, with which you may or may not agree. It might, on the other hand, be an enactment of your personal beliefs or your wishes for a better world. And if some new combination of stuff that makes its way onto your plate, tastes good, helps you to do that, then by all means place it there. 
Ersetzen wir's!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Leftover "Meat" Pie

When I made The Eat Less Meat Book's Lentil Roast a few nights ago, I was impressed by its "sausageyness," a quality that was even more pronounced the next day, after the leftovers had been refrigerated. In fact, it was so spookily like the filling of those cold pork pies my mother used to love that I immediately decided to put the leftovers into a pie crust and see what happened.

Since I was working with half a "roast" that had already been baked, I had to bash it up a bit and add a splash of broth, but if you make the mixture (I suggest halving it, unless you want two pies) and add it to the skillet after cooking the other ingredients listed below, you can simply proceed from there. This is a very filling pie, so a slice is plenty, which means it could easily serve for a couple of dinners.

While this isn't technically a World War One recipe, I'm including it here because 1. meat pies were a popular dish in England, then as now, and 2. using up and repurposing leftovers was standard operating procedure at a time when supplies were limited and wasting food was presented as both a sin and a crime. So eat up: I want to see those plates clean!

Leftover "Meat" Pie
~ 1 tbsp. oil (I used canola)
~ 1 large carrot, diced
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 1 cup chopped mushrooms
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. Marmite
~ 1/2 recipe Lentil Roast
~ Pastry for a single crust pie

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large skillet, saute the carrots and celery over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and continue cooking about 7-10 minutes more, until the vegetables are soft.
~ Mix in the Worcestershire Sauce, Marmite, and lentil roast mixture and combine thoroughly.
~ Spoon the filling into the pie crust and smooth with a spatula, making sure to press down and get it right to the edges.
~ Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking about 15 minutes more, until browned on top.
~ Allow the pie to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving, ideally with gravy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lentil Roast

Today's offering is from The Eat Less Meat Book (by the very same Mrs CS Peel from my last post), written in 1917, and tagged with the publisher's helpful note: "Recipes for those who wish to substitute other dishes for meat." This recipe is from the section on "Pulse Dishes," which begins with the caveat that "all dried pulses must be soaked for quite twelve hours and cooked long and slowly," and goes on to caution the reader that because they are "rich in protein," they are often "found indigestible when eaten with meat, the combination of two foods containing such a high proportion of protein throwing too great a strain on the digestive organs."

On the latter score, the reader need not fear, since no legume of mine is getting within a country mile of any dead animals. On the former point, however, I must beg to differ with the estimable Mrs Peel, since I find an hour or so of soaking perfectly adequate for pulses like lentils, which are the primary ingredient in this dish. The finished product was a very tasty "meatloaf," which would also make a good filling for sausage rolls and "meat" pies, or as the basis for cutlets or sausages.

Lentil Roast (my version)
~ 2 tbsp. oil
~ 1 large onion or 2 leeks, finely chopped (or a combination)
~ 1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme
~ Dash ground mace
~ Several generous grinds pepper
~ 1.5 cups brown lentils, rinsed and soaked
~ 3 cups vegetable stock
~ 2 cups mashed potatoes
~ 1 cup bread crumbs (or ground walnuts to make it GF and save bread!)
~ 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine

~ Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large saucepan, cook the onion in the oil over medium heat for five minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms, salt, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme, mace, and pepper; cook for about five minutes, until the shrooms are fragrant and have released their liquid.
~ Add the lentils, stir to coat, and cook another minute or two before pouring in the stock.
~ Cover the pan, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until all the stock has been absorbed and the lentils are quite mushy. Give the mixture a stir occasionally to make sure it isn't sticking (in which case you can add a splash of water), but bear in mind that "it must be fairly dry when the lentils are cooked."
~ Remove from heat and transfer the cooked lentils to a mixing bowl. Mash them thoroughly and stir in the mashed potato, bread crumbs or walnuts, and chopped parsley.
~ Mix well, and when it's cool enough to handle, shape the mixture into two loaves and place them on your prepared baking sheet. (Mrs Peel wants us to form them into "a shape as much like roast duck [?!] as possible," but I thought the meatloaf approach would be more manageable. That said, if you want to try the duck thing, please go right ahead, but I do ask that you let me know how it turns out!)
~ Dot the top of the loaves with the margarine (the prototype's "small scraps of fat'), and bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until they are "a nice brown."
~ Allow the loaves to sit for about 10 minutes before slicing. I served this dish with a mushroom gravy made by adding a teaspoon of Marmite and 1/2 lb. chopped, sauteed mushrooms to The Win-the-War Cookery Book's "Good White Sauce," which was a nice accompaniment to the roasted potatoes and braised green beans we had along with it.

Mrs CS Peel's Version

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mulligatawny Soup

Today's recipe comes from The Victory Cookbook, published in 1918 and co-authored by contemporary domestic goddess Mrs CS Peel, "until recently Director of Women's Service, Ministry of Food; Editor of Le Manage; Director of the Daily Mail Food Bureau," and Iwan Kriens, "culinary expert and food specialist; Member of the Gordon Rouge (golden) Order Merit of Food and Cookery Association; many diplomas of honour and several medals; Membre du Jury, Paris Salon Culinaire."

Sacre bleu! With credentials like those on the cover, these recipes have to be good, right? Well, I won't cast aspersions on people appointed to illustrious posts like Director of the Ministry of Food's Women's Service, or who were awarded "many diplomas of honour and several medals," but let's just say that being penned by such accomplished gastronomical insiders didn't exempt The Victory Cookbook from the usual problems that bedevil recipes from this period: maddeningly vague quantities, imprecise directions, and occasionally crazy cooking times (see: rice boiled for two hours).

But the self-sacrifice of those on the home front helped ensure that "civilisation" would prevail - albeit at the cost of 888, 246 British and Colonial soulsso who am I to quibble with their cooking methods? And you know what? After I'd rationalized the amounts and made a few educated guesses (how much is "a bunch of fresh herbs," and which herbs are they?), this ration-friendly take on the classic Anglo-Indian Mulligatawny soup turned out to be quite lovely. It put me in mind of a lighter, more delicate curried squash soup without the squash, and while I'm not quite sure how that works, it made a nicely autumnal dinner with some (sssh!) grilled onion naan on the side.

Mulligatawny Soup (as adapted by me)
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 large yellow onion, diced
~ 1 large granny smith apple, diced
~ 1 tbsp. decent curry powder
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp, ground cardamom
~ A few grinds black pepper
~ 2 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. chutney (I used 1 tbsp. each spicy mango and sweet lime pickle; please yourself)
~ 1 cup basmati rice
~ 8 cups water or vegetable stock
~ 1 tbsp. cornstarch
~ Juice of 1 lemon
~ ½ cup fresh, chopped cilantro
~ 1 cup cooked basmati rice (optional)

~ In a large pot, melt the margarine and cook the diced onion and apple over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the curry powder, salt, cardamom, pepper, and tomatoes. Stir to combine and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until things are quite soft.
~ Add the chutney and the rice, stir well, and pour in the water or vegetable broth. Cover the pot, bring just to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for 30-35 minutes.
~ Add the cornstarch, fresh cilantro, and lemon juice, and puree with an immersion blender.
~ Taste for seasoning and serve hot, with a little cooked rice in each bowl for garnish if desired.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vegetable Pie

Something I've noticed about recipes from both world wars is their tendency to play a bit fast and loose with culinary vernacular. Terms like "sausage," "roast," and "pudding" are interpreted rather freely, as is the word "pie" in today's post. This type of semantic fluidity has particular resonance for vegans (and is in fact earmarked for closer analysis in another post), and of course savory pies come in many shapes and forms: pot pies, vegetable pies, cheesy pies, pizza piesquiches, French Canadian "meat" pies, Cornish pasties, and all manner of pastry-encased foodstuffs. Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I love them all passionately, and that I am always happy to welcome a new variation into my repertoire (and my stomach).

But the thing that sets today's interpretation apart from all of the afore-mentioned iterations of pieness is the lack of any crust or topping, and of course the reason for this omission is - you guessed it - that it doesn't use any wheat flour! As we know, dishes like shepherd's pie have a mashed potato rather than a pastry topping (also suggested for flour-saving WWII-era recipes like Lord Woolton Pie and Lancashire Hotpot), but 1917's Win-the-War Cookery Book doesn't even gesture towards a traditional, pie-like structure. In fact, I'd categorize this recipe as something between a casserole and a stew, except that I'm afraid the Women of Britain would come back to haunt me, send me to Belgium, and/or take away my bread.

So "vegetable pie" it is.

Now that we've addressed this dish's semiotic complexities, I must admit that the original recipe was uninspiring, if not downright depressing: basically toss some randomly chosen raw vegetables into a greased pie dish, pour a pint of milk over them, and then bake the bejesus out of the whole business before serving. Hey, war is hell on the home front, too (and no, your dinner will not be accompanied by bread, so don't even think about asking, or you'll get nothing and like it. Are you rooting for the Hun, then, greedyguts? I didn't think so).

Since the cookbook's author helpfully notes that "You can use any vegetables you like for this pie, and in any proportions," I opted to keep the potatoes but eschew the prototype's celery, artichokes, and tomatoes in favor of the equally British leeks, carrots, brussels sprouts, and mushrooms, cooked in a bit of margarine, and I substituted a pint of the same cookbook's "good white sauce" for plain milk boiled with cornstarch. The end result was actually quite tasty, and some mushy peas and leftover mashed potatoes on the side made good use of its sauciness (PHWOAR!). If I were to make it again - and I very well may - I'd probably tempt fate and add some sort of biscuity topping, but it did get a lot of veggies into us on September's first properly chilly evening without wasting any bread or flour, so I declare this another unqualified win!

Vegetable Pie
~ 2 potatoes, cooked and diced (I did them in the microwave)
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine, divided
~ 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
~ 2 carrots, diced
~ 1 cup brussels sprouts, quartered
~ 1/2lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, marjoram, sage
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1 batch "good white sauce," with 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley added at the end

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 12" baking dish or large deep-dish pie pan with cooking spray.
~ In a large skillet, melt 1 tbsp. of the margarine over medium heat and cook the leeks, carrots, and brussels sprouts until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and seasonings and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Stir in the cooked potatoes, combine thoroughly, and transfer to your greased baking dish.
~ Pour the white sauce over the top and allow the dish to rest a few minutes so the sauce can settle into the filling.
~ Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
~ Remove the foil, dot the remaining tablespoonful of margarine over the top, and continue baking, uncovered, for another 10-15 minutes or until slightly browned.
~ Remove from oven and allow to rest about 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"A Good White Sauce"

She doesn't look very happy about it, though, does she?

Today's recipe is taken from the Win-the-War Cookery Book's "Leeks in Sauce," which calls for an unspecified quantity of leeks to be boiled in salted water for an hour "or until tender" (see the image below for the ocular proof) before being transferred to a greased pie dish, covered with "a good white sauce," and baked. When I was looking for something to accompany the other night's "fish" sausages I decided to give this very simple sauce a go, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. I generally start such things with a roux of fat and all-purpose flour, but because wheat flour was both scarce and dear in 1917, many period recipes call for cornflour (that's cornstarch here in the USA) instead, and I must say it gives a lovely, light smoothness to the finished product.

I basically followed the directions as written, substituting margarine and soy milk for their cow-sourced analogues; I added bouillon for extra oomph, but you could easily stick to the salt, pepper, and nutmeg called for in the prototype. This sauce would also work beautifully with herbs like sage, rosemary, tarragon, dill, etc. I made a batch with fresh parsley for use in a savory pie - which included leeks, albeit not ones that had been boiled for an hour - and it made a perfect complement to the root vegetable filling. Another win for the women of Britain, and a new basic white sauce for me: victory all round!

A Good White Sauce
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. cornstarch
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 2 tsp. no chicken bouillon or 1 tsp. salt
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ Dash nutmeg

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat and stir in the cornstarch and a little of the soy milk, whisking until smooth.
~ Gradually add the remaining milk, bouillon or salt, pepper, and nutmeg, whisking constantly.
~ Allow the mixture to boil and continue whisking for 5-7 minutes, until you have a similar consistency to a milk gravy. Adjust seasonings and serve hot over anything you like.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Fish" Sausages

"Women of Britain...Our soldiers are beating the Germans on land. Our sailors are beating them on the sea. You can beat them in the larder and the kitchen."

So reads the preface to the Win-the-War Cookery Book, published in 1917 and featuring a personal message from King George V, exhorting his "loving subjects" to "practise the greatest economy and frugality," particularly in "the use of every species of GRAIN." Before what my great-grandfather's medals call "the Great War for Civilisation, 1914-1918" up to 70% of the wheat used for British bread was imported, much of it from Canada. Once hostilities began, supply and expense became an increasingly serious issue: since an army marches on its stomach, and bread is proverbially the staff of life, people on the home front had to cut back on baked goods, and cut back sharply.

Unlike its sequel twenty-five years later, however, the First World War did not begin with government-mandated food rationing. Instead, the prevailing rhetoric urged Britons to tighten their belts and reduce waste voluntarily, because it was the right thing to do; enforced rationing wasn't instituted until 1918, when it was added to the continually-evolving Defence of the Realm Act. Even the most cursory glance at recipes from the era reveals a deep anxiety about the need for self-policing: posters, pamphlets, newspaper columns, and cookbooks all stress that the best way for women, children, and other civilians to help defeat the enemy was to waste (and eat) less food, particularly bread.

But home front frugality also extended to meat, fats, fuel, and imported goods, and (as in WWII) a good deal of emphasis was placed on the importance of home-grown vegetables, whether fresh or canned, and on replacing meat with other sources of protein such as fish and beans. There were also new products being introduced to the British dinner table during this period, such as tinned tuna fish, which was touted as "something entirely new - quite different from anything that has ever been sold in this country before."

All of which brings me to today's recipe for "fish sausages," from the above-mentioned Win-the-War Cookery Book. In terms of Vegan MoFo, this strikes me as a particularly meta choice: the mashed fish in the prototype (see the image below) is meant to replace ground meat, but since we don't eat meat or fish, my herbivorous adaption takes "ersatz" to a whole new level. I opted to make the "fish" from tofu, and added a dash of Liquid Smoke for a kippery je ne sais quoi. Since the quantities in these recipes are maddeningly vague - exactly how much is a "teacupful," and who cooks two tablespoonfuls of rice? - I adjusted for my family, and have reproduced my approach accordingly. I confess to having some doubts at the "sausage-forming" stage, but in the end this dish turned out to be a big success - sort of a cross between a fish stick and a croquette. (NB I opted for baking as opposed to frying in "boiling fat," since I fear the little darlings would not have survived intact.) I served the sausages with roasted brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and a simple, delicious white sauce from the same cookbook, which I'll be sharing later this week. So as of this posting, I'm cautiously optimistic about Great War MoFo: after all, the kitchen is the key to victory!

"Fish" Sausages

~ 1 14 oz. package firm tofu, frozen, thawed, and pressed
~ 1.5 cups water or broth
~ 1/2 cup short-grain rice
~ 1-2 tbsp. cornstarch
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dill
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, marjoram, sage, Liquid Smoke
~ A few generous grinds black pepper
~ Dash mace
~ 2 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh parsley
~ 3/4 cup fine bread crumbs

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large baking sheet generously with cooking spray.
~ In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil and add the rice. Cover tightly and cook over low heat until soft (about 15 minutes), but still a bit watery. Set aside to cool.
~ In a large mixing bowl, mash the tofu until no large lumps remain.
~ Add the rice (including any unabsorbed cooking liquid), cornstarch, seasonings, and chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly until you have a relatively smooth mixture and set aside for about 30 minutes.
~ Pour the breadcrumbs onto a large plate.
~ Form the tofu/rice mixture into sausages (this part is fiddly; you might want to dampen your hands with some cold water), roll them in the breadcrumbs, and set aside. I got 14 sausages from this recipe, but your mileage may vary.
~ While you're making the sausages, place your greased baking sheet in the oven to heat.
~ When all the mixture has been used up, place the sausages on your preheated baking sheet, hit them with a little cooking spray,  and cook for 30 minutes,  turning (carefully) once or twice.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Happy Vegan MoFo! (It's About More Than Food)

This is a post I've been thinking about for some time, and it seems an appropriate kick-off for my seventh Vegan MoFo. When I started this blog, way back in the primordial mists of 2008, it was to explore my own culinary interests, to record kitchen experiments, and to recreate and reconnect with food in ways that hit the visceral, atavistic pulse points of "mom's (or dad's) home cooking" without eating other animals.

I love being vegan, and have never been shy about saying so, but it's apparent to anyone who reads this page that its main focus is on recipes, with occasional
literary, anthropological, historical, cultural, and/or personal digressions. I find feeding people an enjoyable and effective form of activism, whether in person or by sharing dishes here, and it's also enormously rewarding. I'm always amazed and flattered when readers cook and eat my recipes, and gathering people I love around a table is among life's greatest pleasures.

As members of a small but growing demographic, vegans often find themselves cast as de facto ambassadors for a movement, and while this isn't necessarily a role for which anyone auditions, it's nonetheless an opportunity to bring attention to a lifestyle that privileges compassion. I take this position seriously, because it opens a space for veganism to be less mysterious and more accessible; even potentially "normal."

That last term is one that comes up a lot: I once had lunch with a friend who declared - after I'd quickly scanned the menu and modified something - "You're so normal about the whole vegan thing." I laughed and said that "normal" wasn't typically a word I'd apply to myself, but I appreciated her positive intentions, even if I wasn't entirely sure what she meant.
What I do know is that the more "normal" veganism can become, the better it will be for everyone concerned: especially the animals, who probably don't care why they aren't eaten, only that they aren't.

Of course, negotiating this "normal" thing can be challenging, and sometimes entails a certain amount of tongue-biting. I'm fortunate to have thoughtful, intelligent friends, so I've largely been spared the horror stories one sometimes hears viz. family members sneaking animal products into things, forbidding vegans from bringing food to holiday dinners but neglecting to provide them anything to eat, or even those oh-so-original-ermagerd-I-have-never-heard-that-one-before "jokes" about People Eating Tasty Animals, animals being made of "meat," etc. In fact, if I were to list all the people who've sat at our table or invited us to theirs, gone out of their way to make sure we were looked after as guests, and/or just been generally wonderful, this post would go on forever. Suffice to say if you're reading this, you know who you are, and you are awesome.

When I do hear the occasional snarky comment, I usually don't respond, because I think those things stem from a place of genuine discomfort: it's far less painful to make a joke than to consider the ramifications of what's inflicted on billions of animals in order to satisfy our gastronomic preferences. Many of us know (and used to be) omnivores who "want to" or "wish they could" or "know they should" be vegetarians but aren't, because it would be too difficult for X, Y, or Z reason.

There are also many people (including our former selves) who comprehend the meat, dairy, and egg industries' cruelty but admit to putting hands over their eyes and fingers in their ears because they "can't deal with it." And
 it is hard to deal with; maybe even impossible. Which is part of why I finally opted out of the whole system: it's just so much easier that way. I don't have to worry where "my" chicken, or milk, or eggs come from because they're not "mine," and they were never meant for me

On the one hand, I am heartbroken and angry at how we abuse and exploit other animals without regard for their suffering, their subjectivity, or their inherent value as beings completely apart from us and the anthropocentric contexts in which we enclose them. On the other hand, my real (i.e. academic) work privileges coherent, articulate arguments and effective rhetoric, so I am keenly aware of the power of words. If I'm going to talk about this subject in a public forum, I want what I say to be clear, to be heard, and to be understood. Despite the axiom about squeaky wheels getting grease, history has all too often shown that being perceived as "strident" or "combative" can get you dismissed, beaten, arrested, or worse. What's the point in shouting the truth from the rooftops if it makes the people you're trying to reach ignore (or throw rocks at) you?

On yet another hand (there are always at least three hands), I like to think that everyone is just a vegan waiting to happen, and it's been my practical experience that you catch more omnivorous flies with tasty casseroles than with graphic descriptions of factory farms or critical examinations of the intersections between animal abuse and misogyny, racism, classism, colonialism, speciesism, and any number of the other sociocultural ills that human flesh is heir to. Of course, I do have those conversations, but in particular contexts: my partner and numerous friends are engaged in the burgeoning field of critical animal studies, which provides many opportunities to explore the ways humans see, treat, use, and interact with other animals in Life, Literature, History, and Everything. I'm part of a large and diverse online community of amazing vegans that includes political activists, professional chefs, cookbook authors, animal rescue workers, business owners, parents committed to raising a generation of compassionate children, and yet more academics.

All these things are good, and they reflect veganism's increasing presence in the mainstream. Magazines and newspaper articles feature recipes and tout the ethical, environmental, and health benefits of a plant-based diet, restaurants offer more animal-free dishes, and an ever-growing number of people know what "vegan" means
; even a recent conference trip to Iceland presented us with almost no difficulties.

But in the midst of all these developments, it's important to remember that this whole endeavor is about more than convenient dining options and exciting breakthroughs in
ersatz meat: it's about compassion, about trying to reduce suffering and exploitation, and about making our world suck a little less. And for many of us who live with animals and recognize their dignity and their individuality, it's about - dare I say it? - love. 

So while I plan to keep the Elizavegan Page's primary focus on food and cooking (and I promise my next post will properly engage with this year's theme), it's worth taking a pause at the start of yet another MoFo to remember why I'm doing this, and what - and who - is really at stake. And then I can head back into the kitchen and cook you some food.