Viva La Vegan

Flatbread with a French Accent

A street-food staple from Nice is a vegan's best friend

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TM_VV_SOCCA_AP_002For many vegans, chickpeas and chickpea flour are saving graces. Full of good fats, protein, and fiber, these delicious legumes are like hitting the nutritional jackpot.

Most people, vegans or otherwise, know chickpeas for their role in Middle Eastern cuisine; the ever-popular hummus is the classic example of a chickpea-based dish. One of the last places one might expect to encounter a flatbread composed of chickpea flour is Nice, in the southeast of France.

Yet that’s where socca, a pancake-like unleavened flatbread made almost exclusively of chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil, originates. Socca is a staple street food in the city of Nice and in the surrounding region. It is generally made quickly, using large cast-iron skillets in an open oven and is served in roughly chopped pieces, dripping with olive oil, with nothing but a generous dash of black pepper as accompaniment.

Such a plain, unglamorous dish may seem unappealing to some, but socca’s modesty intrigued me. What could it be about a simple preparation of flour and water that would purportedly make people devour entire pans of the stuff within minutes? I intended to find out. MORE

Viva La Vegan

Rabbit Food Redux

Salad can be a substantial, healthy meal

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As a vegan, I try not to get preachy about my diet. But a certain common exchange makes it hard to hold my tongue.

“A vegan?” someone will ask, scrunching up his nose. “So what do you eat, then? Salad,” the S word uttered with distain.

The truth is that salad gets a pretty bum wrap. And sadly in many instances, its poor reputation is somewhat deserved. Look at any mid-range chain restaurant menu, and you’ll see that most of the dishes in the “Salad” category are just strips of chicken, beef, or fish sitting on an underwhelming pile of lettuce, shaved carrots, and flavorless cherry tomatoes.

In salad’s role as a health food, it receives even less respect. The typical mound of iceberg lettuce topped fat-free Italian dressing may be low in calories, but it fails to satisfy most people, including myself.

If only more people knew how to make a great salad, it wouldn’t have this bad reputation. These are my basic rules for pulling together a hearty, healthy, delicious salad: MORE

Viva La Vegan

Snap Crackle Pike

A father's obsession becomes a daughter's interpretation

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Sometimes, I swear, all my dad wants is for me to like fish.

The man is a fishing maniac. He subscribes to New Jersey Fisherman magazine and keeps the pages dog-eared. His station wagon always carries his rod and tackle box just in case a spare moment arrives; because of this his vehicle always emulates a strong fishy smell. He loves everything about fish: watching them, catching them, gutting them, cooking them, eating them, trying to get inside their tiny fishy brains. As an professional artist, he even loves drawing them, and fish play a central role in many of his stained-glass window designs. Each Thanksgiving, Dad goes out to cast in the morning, hoping to catch a fresh spread for our table. Even if nothing bites, he’ll pick up some fish from the store to make his annual bouillabaisse. We can always tell though, the years when the additions to the stew are his own. He doles out bowls of thick red stew with special care, encouraging us all to marvel with him at the freshness, and regaling us with the details of exactly how he reeled it in. His pride is palpable.

When I became a vegetarian, my dad was confused. I explained to him what it means, but he still had questions. “You can still eat fish, right?” he implored, and I shook my head, reminding him that I’ve never liked the stuff to begin with. To this he replied, “You never really gave it a chance. Now you can’t even try it.” I’ve been meat-free for almost three years, and a vegan now for almost a year, and still my dad asks. He always asks if I want a piece of fish. MORE

Thanksgiving, Viva La Vegan TM_VV_THKSG_AP_001

At an early age, I learned that the best way to get out of the endless cleaning and dish-washing activities that accompany the Thanksgiving holiday is to help my mom in the kitchen. Each year, from Wednesday until Thursday evening, I am her prep cook, her errand runner, and her preserver of sanity. Over potato peeling, apple chopping, turkey basting, and some perfunctory wine sipping, my mom and I simply click. The conversation flows, punctuated only by her showing me, for perhaps the tenth time, how to properly roll out a pie crust, and by me reminding her, for the hundredth time, that she needs to relax. Beyond the company and holiday cheer, cooking with my mom is what makes Thanksgiving special. MORE

Viva La Vegan

Surfing the Vegan Wave

For plant-based inspiration, look to the blogosphere

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This October, along with squashes of all colors, pumpkin-flavored everything, and beautiful crisp weather, marks my tenth month living the vegan lifestyle. In that time, I’ve gotten through six college courses, completed a six-month nine-to-five internship, started a blog, and moved into a new apartment. To put it lightly, all the time in the world is never enough for me, especially when it comes to the kitchen. Food made in a rush simply doesn’t taste as good, and flavor inspiration is hard to come by with my mind on my homework.

Luckily, I can always find a limitless bounty of ideas online. It seems that vegan food is on the rise, and one can now find a category for plant-based recipes even on sites as mainstream as Martha Stewart or Cooking.com. The real gems, however, are the vegan cooking blogs. Because the writers are generally cooking the food they share online for themselves and their families, the recipes, whether for comfort food or avant-garde apps, are, very simply, good. These bloggers’ enthusiasm for their food shows through; just have a look at some of the saliva-inciting photography. MORE

Viva La Vegan

Alfredo: A Love Affair

A vegan version of the pasta classic that's just as rich as the original.

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Vegan alfredoI fell in love with Alfredo at age 11. After dithering painfully over dozens of options at an Italian restaurant, my mother wisely commanded: “Order the Alfredo. You’ll like it.”

I obeyed, but I was skeptical. At that age, I recoiled from any new food. The fettuccini part was, of course, safe and familiar, but slathered in a cream-based white sauce instead of the usual red, it became suspect. When my plate arrived, I encrusted it with Parmesan, praying that a thick coating of cheese might make it more like the pasta dishes already part of my small repertoire. But, after a single bite of those buttery, peppery noodles, I never looked beyond the word “Alfredo” on any menu again. I didn’t care what gnocchi was or how to pronounce “pasta fagioli.” In the realm of Italian American cuisine, I had found my soul mate.

And our bond was bliss until I became a vegan eight months ago.  MORE