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In & Out of the Kitchen: A tasty vegan holiday

By Brian McElhiney
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When my younger sister, Aubrey, first went vegan about three years ago, I was honestly a little concerned.

This worry stemmed partially from my own ignorance and partially from my friends’ ignorance. In college, my social circle of musicians, anarchy-obsessed punk rockers and Amnesty International activists included quite a few vegans, and these people always looked emaciated to me and seemed to be sick all the time.

Granted, we were in college and poor, and proper nutrition isn’t really the first thing that comes to mind when talking about punk rockers of any age. But still, this was my only real-life experience with any vegans up to that point in my life, and naturally I didn’t want to see my sister become those people.

I really should have known better. Aubrey had been vegetarian since April 2004, when she was still in high school — she’s always loved animals, and had plans to become a veterinarian, so it was a natural step. She actually went vegan to improve her health, and it worked, making me realize what a gross overgeneralization I had made about the lifestyle.

Breaking the news later

I’ve since spent two Thanksgivings and one Christmas with Aubrey and her vegetarian boyfriend, and have seen first hand that the meat-centric meals these holidays are often based around can be made vegan-friendly with a little extra research.

More importantly, at least for me, I’ve found that her vegan dishes taste just as good as their nonvegan counterparts. This Thanksgiving, with the exception of the turkey and gravy that my mom, her husband and I partook of, every dish on the table was vegan. If I hadn’t seen them being prepared, I wouldn’t have known they were vegan. This is actually part of her holiday strategy.

“Don’t tell people it’s vegan until after they eat it and like it, because people usually do like it,” she said. “But if you say, ‘Oh, it’s vegan,’ everyone goes into it with trepidation. So I always tell them all afterwards.”

Vegan dishes pose a bigger challenge than vegetarian ones, because of the added restriction of not being able to use animal by-products, such as such as milk, butter or eggs. My sister constantly checks labels on ingredients for any traces of milk protein. “Milk protein is in everything; it’s crazy,” she said. “It’s even in pills and stuff.”

Looking for substitutes

For butter, she substitutes with vegan margarine — but again, a lot of margarines contain milk protein. For a milk substitute, she prefers rice milk because of its texture.

“Almond milk has the least calories, so that probably means it’s the healthiest, but I think rice milk is the most similar in texture and consistency to nonfat milk, so I use that.”

These substitutions also apply to baking, which Aubrey does a lot of over the holiday season. (Her adapted recipes for acorn squash coconut bread and cranberry scones appear below.)

She also tends to avoid recipes that use applesauce or other unusual substitutes for milk: “It really changes the texture from what people are used to, so I like to use recipes that require nondairy milk,” she said. “Also, look for recipes that have a baking soda and vinegar reaction. ... The chemical reaction makes the same sort of cake-y texture in regular baking.” The soda-vinegar often replaces egg in vegan baking.

Perhaps the biggest thing is not being afraid to try new things — whether it be substitutions in recipes or completely new food items. Aubrey recently moved from San Francisco to Boston and has been checking farmers’ markets for new ingredients.

“You can make it more fun by trying new recipes that you never would have as a meat-eater,” she said. “Also, try new vegetables. I’m in the process of trying all the new local seasonal vegetables; it’s really fun. I feel like I’m learning how people used to eat way back when, before grocery stores.”

Acorn Squash Coconut Bread
3 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups dark brown sugar (packed)
2⁄3 cup white sugar
2 cups puréed acorn squash
1 cup vegetable oil
2⁄3 cup non-dairy milk of your choice (soy, rice, almond or coconut)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2⁄3 cup flaked coconut (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Bake acorn squash (a medium squash usually yields 2 cups worth of purée) at 400 degrees for about an hour (until a fork easily pierces the squash), then purée in a blender. Set aside. (You can also substitute 1 16-ounce can of pumpkin purée).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans. I recommend lining the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper, but this is optional.

Combine flour, sugars, squash, oil, non-dairy milk, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix until well-blended. Fold in coconut and nuts if using. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Cranberry Almond Scones
(Adapted from www.roxanashomebaking.com. Recipe makes 8 scones.)
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1⁄3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cold vegan margarine
1⁄2 cup roughly chopped cranberries
1⁄2 cup nondairy milk of your choice (soy, rice, almond, or coconut)
2 teaspoons almond extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (parchment paper optional, but makes life easier).

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Add in the cold margarine and combine with a fork until the mixture appears to form crumbs.

Mix in the chopped cranberries and then add the nondairy milk and almond extract slowly.

Form triangular shaped mounds on your baking sheet for traditional-sized scones. The dough can make up to 8 scones, but you can make fewer large scones if that is your preference.

Bake until very slightly brown (10-15 minutes). Let cool on a wire rack.

“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at features@dailygazette.net.

 
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