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How to Serve Vegans

October 20, 2009

My relationship to the vegan ideal is complex.  On one hand, I couldn’t possibly be more against the very fiber of its being.  On the other hand, I share more of an ethical framework with vegans than I care to admit (more on that some other day).

Luckily, I am very comfortable with guilt.  Growing up Jewish helps.

Sometimes by accident I’ll make a vegan meal at home.  Cuban black beans and rice with fried plantains is a good example.  Once I made a sandwich designed by Michael Milken’s personal chef, that claimed to fool meat eaters into thinking they were eating a bona fide Reuben.  I suppose that was vegan too.

But I had never cooked for an actual vegan before.  And by “cooked” I mean, made a meal that was super tasty, that I was proud to serve, and more importantly that I could enjoy eating.  In other words, something a bit more gussied up than rice and beans.

Recently I found myself in a position to do just this.  Luckily for me, I had the internets.

I scoured recipes online until I found the one that looked most promising.
1) It was one of the Top 10 Recipes of 2008 on
2) It was submitted by a chef and published cookbook author.
3) The recipe claims it is good “For wowing people (even vegan skeptics).”
4) The author’s Italian husband claimed it tasted like his great-grandmother’s recipe.
5) It sounded umami-licious.
6) It is hard to go wrong with baked ziti.

So it was off to the Honest Weight Food Co-op for me.  I get my tofu with non-GMO soybeans at the Asian market.  But the Co-op is the only place I knew of to get the nutritional yeast.  While I was there I picked up agave syrup.  Later I would find that Walmart carries agave syrup these days.  What is the world coming to?

Don’t start saying “gross” yet just because this recipe has nutritional yeast and tofu.

The tofu in this dish actually does something amazing.  I had cooked with tofu before, but primarily in stir-fry.  By making this recipe, I learned that if you crumble firm tofu, it produces a neutral tasting protein that replicates the texture of scrambled egg curds.

And it is that crumbled tofu that is the binding agent for the ziti in this dish.  Its neutral flavor takes on the earthy yeast and is balanced with the sweet agave and the lemon juice.  Onion and garlic create a classic flavor base.

Granted, I took some liberties with the dish.  Not least of which involved almost quadrupling the recipe.  Recently I decided that if something is worth making, it’s worth making in volume.  Let me run you through the build, which I have optimized and adjusted to account for standard package sizes.  Pretty nifty if you ask me.

I made a large batch of tomato sauce the day before, so I had plenty on hand.  I needed about six cups.

Crumble two fifteen-ounce tofu bricks into a large bowl.
Add 11 T plus 1 t of nutritional yeast.
Add ¼ cup plus 1T of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Add 2 ½ T agave syrup.
Add 1 scant T dried basil.
Add 1 scant T dried oregano.
Add ½ t freshly ground black pepper.
And mash everything together with a fork.

Dice two onions, and cook in a skillet coated with XV olive oil and salt.  After the onions are tender, add 12 finely chopped cloves of garlic, a little bit of salt, and sauté for a minute longer.  Then add the onion and garlic mixture to the tofu.

For the pasta I actually used 100% whole grain penne.  It comes in 13.25 oz. boxes, and I cooked two of them in salted water until al dente.  Then I folded the pasta into the tofu mixture to fully incorporate.  Did I mention I was using a big big bowl?  Because you still need to put in 4 cups of chopped raw spinach and ½ cup of chopped fresh parsley into the tofu-pasta mixture.

Once this is done, it’s just assembly.  Finding baking dishes that are large enough for your substrate could be tricky.  But you oil them up, put down a layer of pasta goo, then a layer of tomato sauce, followed by a layer of vegan soy mozzarella shreds.  Repeat, and top the whole thing with a dusting of more nutritional yeast.

Bake it off at 375 until heated through and you are done.

You know what?  It’s pretty tasty.  Which is good, because you now have a shit-ton of it.  And it’s filling as hell too.  Nothing sticks to your ribs like whole grain coated in pure protein.

But you can eat it all without having to worry about cholesterol or saturated fat.  Dietary fiber on the other hand…well, nothing is without its drawbacks.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    October 20, 2009 8:43 am

    Did you mean the title to read the way it does? Or perhaps it’s just my warped sense of humor. Either way, I don’t think vegans should be served at all. I think their austere diet would render them tasteless and maybe a bit stringy.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 20, 2009 8:49 am

    I don’t like vegans or vegan food simply because of the extremism involved. Dating vegans in the past was a nightmare. Cooking for them is hell: veganism takes all the fun out of cooking. Plus humans are designed for at least a little animal-eating so veganism is completely unnatural.

  3. October 20, 2009 9:14 am

    try going out to eat w/ a vegan. oy ve! what a nightmare

  4. Jennifer permalink
    October 20, 2009 1:00 pm

    Well, if that’s true Deli Man, I never would have got it. The Twilight Zone used to scare the beejeezus out of me as a kid. I couldn’t even sit through the opening.

    I still assert that vegans should not be eaten.

  5. joni permalink
    October 20, 2009 1:45 pm

    that baked ziti with crumbled tofu was so amazing, my husband said he would marry the chef, but the joke was on him!!

  6. October 20, 2009 2:02 pm

    Did you know that Fritos are vegan? 3 ingredients too, corn, corn oil, and salt.

  7. October 21, 2009 6:28 am

    I’ve heard tell Doritos are also vegan. Being anti-dorito, I wouldn’t really know off hand and am too lazy to google.

    I make a surprising amount of vegan/vegetarian food. I suppose you just get used to cooking a certain way. I’ve tried the tofu ‘cream’/’cheese’ thing like for baked ziti, and I am glad you like it. It’s just not for me. I think it’s the raw-ish tofu. I’d like to give nut-based gravies a try since I think they’d have a completely different flavor profile.

  8. Kerosena permalink
    October 21, 2009 1:40 pm

    In answer to the question posed in the title of this post, I’d like to submit the following: Basted liberally with bacon drippings. Perhaps with a garnish of curly parsley and a baked potato with sour cream.

  9. Elizabeth permalink
    October 22, 2009 8:52 pm

    I thought he was gonna eat the vegan too. Such a disappointment.

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