Thursday, November 15, 2007

VeganMoFo and the 10 things I never knew I needed until I was vegan.

Not much culinary action at my house today. I pretty much ate leftovers and coffee, so nothing exciting to report. So, I decided to post an article/list that I originally wrote for CROQ 'zine. I also reprinted it in Cozy Inside, so if you've already read it feel free to stop reading this now.

10 Things I Never Knew I Needed Until I was Vegan

Mama never taught me how to cook. But I always wanted to learn. I always wanted to WOW people with my culinary masterpieces and found myself doing lots of experimenting to the dismay of my friends and family. It wasn’t until I became a vegan that I really learned my way around a kitchen. I was determined to prove that vegan food was “real” food and could be enjoyed by vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

Over the past few years I have come up with a top ten list of things I can’t live without. I didn’t put fresh, organic produce on the list. I figured, vegan or not, these should be a staple in every kitchen. I also omitted tofu and soymilk from the top ten, because, although I use them a lot, I can live without them and still make wonderful meals. So here it is. The top ten things I never knew I needed until I was vegan.

10. Raw Cashews. They are used in so many recipes and sauces that I don’t know how I ever cooked without them. (For example: Dragonfly’s Bulk Uncheese Mix)

9. Bulk Spices. Forget about those dainty little jars. You’ll go broke. Vegan cooking requires a lot more spice than its omnivore counterpart. Find a local health food store or gourmet shop that sells spices in bulk. They are fresher, tastier and cost less than half the price of their jarred cousins.

8. A Coffee Grinder. This handy, inexpensive little gadget has proved to be an invaluable tool in grinding small amounts of nuts and spices into fine powders.

7. Vital Wheat Gluten. Huh? It’s the protein part of wheat. It can be purchased as a flour in most health food stores. It is essential in making Seitan and other fake meats. I don’t like to buy overly processed meat substitutes and prefer to make my own when possible. Seitan is a meaty like food made almost completely out of wheat gluten. (Here’s a link to an easy recipe)

6. Cookbooks. Everything I’ve learned, I learned from cookbooks. After a few months of half assed, junk food veganism, my husband brought me home the “Vegan with a Vengeance” cookbook. It changed my life. Really. Since then I have slowly but surely built up a library of vegan cookbooks. I also buy regular cookbooks and veganize the recipes. (Some of my other favorites include “The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook” “The Uncheese Cookbook” “Hot Damn and Hell Yeah” and “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World”)

5. Good, Sharp Knives. I never thought this would be so important to me. But, it is. You will make yourself crazy, and possibly cut your finger off with crappy knives. Spend the money. Get yourself a really good quality Chef’s knife. You will feel like a professional chef when using one. And, you will save a lot of time and grief in the process.

4. TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein.) These little flakes of goodness are always in my cupboard. I actually freak out if I get down to only one bag. Look it up on Wikipedia for all the science of how it’s made. I use it at least twice a week. It makes a mean taco meat, excellent in spaghetti sauce, works well as a sausage substitute in breakfast scrambles and burritos, can be flavored to suit almost any dish, it’s high in protein and low in fat, has a great texture and is relatively inexpensive.

3. A Cast Iron Skillet. A pan you never have to wash? Enough said. Seriously, a good cast-iron skillet will make your life easier. They are naturally non-stick, they heat evenly and you can fry, simmer, even bake in them. Did I mention you don’t’ have to wash it?

2. A Food Processor (and/or a Blender.) I used to think chopping, peeling and shredding ingredients by hand was romantic. Sexy, even. Now I think it’s just a waste of time and energy. My food processor has become my best friend in the kitchen. If I only used it to make hummus, it would have paid for itself 10 times over already.

1. Nutritional Yeast.
Some hate it, and some love it. I simply cannot live without it. One of the hardest things for me to give up when I became vegan was cheese. I have tried almost every “fake” cheese out there, and none have ever tasted good to me. Besides being overly processed and chemically tasting, they don’t melt, are too expensive and not readily available. Then I discovered Nutritional Yeast, or as some lovingly refer to it, “the Nooch.” There are many reasons this stuff is number one on my list. It contains vitamin B-12, which is a nutrient extremely lacking in a vegan diet. It is extremely versatile. You can sprinkle it on pasta, popcorn, salads, casseroles, or just about anything, right out of the can. Or use it to make sauces, “uncheeses,” add it to gravies, or mix it with veggies. But the number one reason this stuff is number one on my list is that it tastes so good.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! Gave me great ideas for my Christmas wish list. :) Thanks!


Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Agree agree agree! Although I'm still trying to figure out TVP for things other than veg burgers.

Jenni (aka Vegyogini) said...

I have a coffee grinder and cast iron skillet on my holiday wish list! Oh, and raw cashews kept in the freezer make EXCELLENT snacks!!! I'm with you on everything else on this list, too, but I recently discovered that I have a mild allergy or sensitivity to nutritional yeast. :*(

n/a said...

I love vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast, too. And of course a food processor!!

One thing I wanted to say was that B-12 isn't lacking in a vegan diet or ANY diet unless a person chooses to not consume products with B-12. B-12, after all, IS vegan.

mustardseed said...

Hi Joni! I'm at my aunt's place around huntington beach now...we went to trader joe's today. It's pretty amazing...everything vegan is cheaper in the US!

I got a problem though: I couldn't find soy yoghurt there. Any suggestions?

Oh and is it possible for earth balance, soy delicious ice-cream and soygurt on a 19 hour journey back to Singapore?

Joni Marie Newman said...


I hope you are having a good time in the US! Try Mother's Market on Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach for soy yogurt (and lot's of other wonderful vegan yummies as well) I don't know about the flight. Are you allowed to bring a small lunchbox style cooler on the plane? If so, is it even legal to bring those quantities on a plane these days? I know the last time I flew, I had to pack everything up very small because of all of the new restrictions. Call your airline and asked what the rules are about bringing prepared foods on the plane. If they say it's okay, then pack a small cooler and go for it!

Joni Marie Newman said...

True. B-12 in and of itself is vegan. For me, it has always been hard to get enough in my daily diet, until I found the nooch. Now I never worry about my B-12 levels, or having to take a supplement. I am sure there are other sources, so thanks for pointing that out.

mustardseed said...

Mother's Market? I'll go ask my aunt about it. We're in La Mesa lane or something like that.

Oh where can I get hickory smoke and TVP? I'm hoping to get large quatities of both to bring back too.

Joni Marie Newman said...

You should be able to get liquid smoke at any supermarket, in the spice aisle. Mother's should definitely have TVP.

mustardseed said...

Oh..does wholefoods have it? My aunt mentioned that store, but I'm very worried about the price, don't want to spend too much like in Singapore!

Joni Marie Newman said...

Oh yes, you will love Whole Foods. So much yumminess. The prices at Whole Foods are about the same as Mother's. I only mentioned Mother's since it was in Huntington Beach.
Have fun!

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All recipes written by me, Joni Marie Newman, unless otherwise noted. Please feel free to refer to or link back to any of my recipes, but please ask for permission, and remember to give credit when reprinting recipes in their entirety. I do provide links to affiliate programs (such as Amazon) in which I receive a small commission for items purchased. I do not provide paid reviews. All reviews done on products or books are of my own unsolicited opinion. On occasion I may receive a book or product to review. I will note when this is the case, but rest assured, it will not affect the authenticity of my review. Thanks!--Joni