Steamed Kale, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Quinoa, Mango Chunks, Sweet Chili and BAO’s Tangy Raw Slaw on the side. Everything I love mixed on a plate.
I’d like to introduce two vegan-friendly food brands that I’ve recently discovered. I’m heartened to find that more companies with such philosophies are springing up and making it easier for people to adopt this lifestyle. Preparing vegan foods doesn’t have to involve extensive prep work.
BAO uses the process of fermentation to create all-natural products that are free of preservatives and boost digestion (http://www.baofoodanddrink.com/). The only one I’ve tried so far is the Tangy Raw Slaw, a tasty, mildly sweet combination of cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, green onions, apples, pears, garlic, ginger and sea salt (all organic). If you like kimchi or sauerkraut, the raw slaws will really hit that spot. It was really yummy and addictive simply paired with steamed greens. I’m sure it’d taste great in a salad, wrap, sandwich, as a hot dog or burger relish or over rice or quinoa.
I’m excited to try their kombuchas (sweetened fermented teas, often with fruit added) and their condiments and hot sauces. I love adding a kick of hot sauce to anything.
Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines because of its strong, aromatic blend of spices. While for religious reasons there’s a plethora of vegetarian Indian food options, vegan ones are harder to find. Curries or chutneys often contain ghee (clarified butter), paneer (cheese) or yoghurt. Maya Kaimal (http://www.mayakaimal.com) offers a number of vegan pre made curries and sauces that take the hassle out of cooking. Specifically, the Coconut Curry, Vindaloo and Tamarind Curry are vegan. For the sauces, the vegan options are the Madras Curry, Kashmiri Curry and Spicy Ketchup. Everything else is vegetarian.
I simmered the Vindaloo sauce with diced vegetables (carrots, celery, spinach and tomatoes) for a quick, easy, delicious curry. Other possible ingredients are any type of beans eg. chickpeas, mushrooms, eggplant, tofu, squash, potatoes, string beans, peas etc. I served it with Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Brown Rice Tortillas, which remind me of prata or naan bread. Perfect for mopping up the delicious sauce. Needless to say, the curry would also taste great over freshly-steamed, fluffy rice.
Veggie burger patties are one of my favourite vegan products because of the convenience they offer. Premade and easily reheated in the microwave, they can be used not only for burgers but also in sandwiches and salads. They are not a replacement for real, fresh vegetables and should be eaten sparingly as a processed food, but I find them handy for supplementing meals, packing to the office or as a quick fix. Besides, why pay a hefty price for a veggie burger at a restaurant when you can recreate one at home? These are the brands that I’ve tried and liked (all vegan).
Hilary’s Eat Well
Hilary’s is a great option for vegans sensitive to nuts, soy, corn or gluten. The flavors I’ve tried are the Adzuki Bean and the Root Veggie Burger. Both were yummy, perfectly-seasoned and had great texture. They don’t fall apart easily, making them suitable for packing lunches. The flavors are versatile and easy to air with salads.
The California Veggie Burger is the flavor I tried. It’s a nice go-to veggie patty and is purportedly a healthier choice with lower sodium (though I won’t trust labels too easily- read the ingredient list). It is important to note that, as with all processed foods, veggie patties can contain quite some salt.
I really like the well-balanced taste of Trader Joe’s Veggie Burger but the texture is slightly crumbly and tends to fall apart after heating. I don’t particularly mind but this could be a problem when making sandwiches/ burgers. The Vegetable Masala Burger is a special treat, especially if you like Indian food or are craving something a little spicy.
As you may have gleaned from the food photos on this blog, I’m mostly vegan. Occasionally I do eat eggs, seafood and dairy products, but I’m trying to eliminate those completely as well. I’ve not touched other kinds of meat including chicken, beef and pork for quite some time. Frankly, I can’t stomach the taste of them anymore and even the sight of raw meat repulses me. I guess it’s a rejection mechanism that my body has adopted.
Why Vegan? I view veganism not only as a diet but a holistic lifestyle and attitude. A combination of many factors in my life drew me to this movement. One of them was the videos on factory farming my sis shared with me. The cruelty towards animals I witnessed disgusted and shamed me. The fact that we could be so blasé about where our food comes from when we hold the lives of countless creatures in our hands, that somehow our eating habits justify such treatment, is extremely disturbing to me. It’s true that our Neanderthal ancestors were hunters and meat-eaters, but do I have to be one? Am I biologically ‘wired’ as such? Do I need meat for sustenance and health?
The difference between us and our Neanderthal ancestors is that they didn’t cause prolonged suffering to animals by confining them in small spaces, separating them from their babies, etc. I reached the conclusion that with the resources available in the modern world, it’s not necessary for me to eat meat anymore. In fact, this brings me to another reason for becoming vegan- I’m convinced that meat is not essential for health, and is even a detriment to health.
Around the same time that I was grappling with the ethical issues of my diet, I was dealing with the problem of acne. I’ve had acne in varying stages of severity since puberty, but it worsened when I graduated from high school/ junior college. I’ve tried all kinds of supposed cures, from cleansers and pimple creams to antioxidant pills and antibiotics. I stopped short of doing something drastic like Accutane, because instinctively I was scared about how my body would handle it. I’d applied steroids and chemicals to other parts of my body for prolonged periods to treat my eczema. I did not want to absorb any more of that stuff.
I researched endlessly on possible causes of acne, from hormones to underlying health disorders like leaky gut syndrome. I came to realize that my skin is a reflection of how I am on the inside. It is a result of the accumulation of toxins, chemicals and stress. If I want to heal my acne, I have to heal my body. I started reading books on diet and health, including The Okinawa Diet Plan and Healthy at 100. I learnt that the cultures that thrived in terms of health and lived the longest were those that ate mostly natural, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. I knew then that I was a victim of the modern diet, of processed carbs, refined sugars, meats with saturated fats, salt etc. Cutting down on those improved my skin tremendously, along with exercise. I also removed the harsh cleansers and opted for more natural products, including Dr Bronner’s Soap and olive oil as moisturizer.
I don’t have completely clear skin yet, as I’m still recovering from the abuse I put my body through. The drugs, stress, insomnia, crying jags, unhealthy eating habits and harsh cleansers have all took their toll. Who knows what damage all those steroids have done? I look back on the way I treated myself and can’t help cringing. I remember being upset at comments that I was too skinny as a teenager, and forcing myself to eat meat to put on weight. Then later on I got obsessed about staying thin.
The funny thing is, I’m probably considered completely normal and healthy in this modern world. That’s what aggravates me. Doctors think it’s ok to just prescribe drugs that actually mask the problem, not get to the root of it. Once, I started a new antibiotic for my acne and immediately felt so sick that I knew something was wrong. I respect people like Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who dedicate their lives to researching and educating people on nutrition. People just don’t stop to question their diet or where their food comes from. And the fact that a teenage girl is made to feel uncomfortable about her own body? That’s just wrong.
Increasingly, I find myself thinking about what kind of world I want to create for my children. I think that’s a responsibility we all share. Given the prevalence of venereal diseases in developed countries and the problem of global warming, the future seems bleak. Because of rising meat consumption, the livestock industry is straining our natural resources and polluting the environment. Being vegan is a choice I make for ethical, health and environmental reasons.
I call it a diet of love and abundance, because it’s about loving the Earth, the animals, and yourself. In no way do I feel deprived. Sure, I get cravings especially in the early stages, but my taste buds have adapted. I crave the freshness of fruits and vegetables more these days. The sensation of biting into a ripe, juicy peach, its sweet juices filling my mouth, is indescribable. I think the main reasons people eat meat, including me, are for taste, pleasure, convenience, cultural customs, habit and social acceptance. None of these are compelling enough for me to want to hurt another living being.
So what’s the next step? I’ve been gravitating towards raw foods after watching videos (check out Megan Elizabeth, Rawfully Kristina and Ka Sundance). I believe that the less processed the food, the higher in nutritional content. Raw fruits and vegetables are pure unadulterated goodness. Ultimately I wish to have a diet that’s completely sustainable- something that comes from my own garden and goes right back into the earth, generating zero waste. I envision myself living to a ripe old age and remaining hearty and strong, like the Okinawan centenarians. I want to defy the notion that illnesses are inevitable in old age. Why not, if we free ourselves from what society dictates?
What I had for dinner one night- a homemade pasta salad and a raw salad in a medley of colors, plus a couple of fruits (not shown). The raw salad consisted of crunchy strips of lettuce, purple cabbage, snap peas, carrots and red peppers with chunks of mango, a sprinkling of spring onions and a dash of tabasco sauce. It was a perfect mixture of tart, spicy and sweet. I’m loving purple cabbage lately for the slight peppery flavour it lends to salads.
CAJUN SEITAN SANDWICH Cajun crusted seitan, steamed greens, caramelized onions and avocado. Served on toasted focaccia with ancho chili aioli and coleslaw 16.00
I enjoyed the combination of the seitan with its crispy, slightly spicy ‘skin’ and the creamy richness of the avocado. The coleslaw had a light crunch and refreshing taste.
SMOKED TEMPEH & GRILLED VEGETABLE SANDWICH Grilled tempeh, zucchini, roasted red peppers, arugula and sundried tomato pesto on toasted multi-grain bread. Served with a side of basil aioli and potato salad 15.00
I’m not sure if this is the dish because what we got was slightly different. The smoky, salty, nutty flavor of the tempeh went well with the sweet potato.
My sis introduced me to this sandwich which consists of pickled vegetables on a baguette, a hybrid dish stemming from French colonialism in Vietnam.
BANH MI DO CHAY Mixed Vegetable Sandwich 3.25
Not shown: BANH MI CHAY Vegetarian Sandwich (baby corn, mushroom and tofu) 5.00
I liked the tart crispness of the pickled vegetables and the toasted, crusty hot baguette. A tasty and super affordable lunch (hard to come by in NYC!)
I was pleasantly surprised by the decor of this nondescript-looking restaurant situated near the Broadway subway stop in Queens. The outdoor dining patio looks like a nice spot for cooler summer nights.
The slightly sweet, creamy peanut dressing added oomph to the fresh vegetables for a winning salad. I also tried the Pad Thai (not vegan- contains shrimp and egg) which struck the right balance of sweetness from the sauce and tartness from the freshly-squeezed lime.
Usually I scout for the cheapest deals when grocery shopping, which means that Asian supermarkets in places like Flushing are the best bet. If I want a classy shopping experience, here’s where I’d head to.
The in-house range of products (Trader Joe’s brand) is always fun to check out. There’s tons of frozen gourmet food that actually tastes good, for times you don’t feel like cooking.
Try: Brown Rice Gluten-free Bread (non-wheat), Frozen Veggie Patties (there’s a few kinds, including an Indian spiced one), Trader Joe’s Almond Butter (pure crushed almond goodness), Trader Joe’s Olive Tapenade (use as a spread, dip or salad dressing)
Try: Non-dairy ice-cream (choose between soy milk, rice milk or coconut milk as a base), vegan baked goods (chocolate chip cookie!), vegan desserts to go (chocolate fudge!), the best salad bar ever (a little pricy, but vegan options are clearly labelled and there’s Indian dishes too)