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Soul food and other vegan delights. August 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been a vegetarian almost half my life, but have never been able to take the plunge and become a vegan. It’s not that I don’t approve; in fact, I’m convinced that it’s the right thing to do. And it’s not even that I love cheese, butter, yogurt, and other dairy products (though I certainly do).

It’s more that I don’t trust pseudofoods. I not only don’t trust them to taste like what they’re supposed to be imitating—surely no one in their right mind would actually claim that soy and dairy products are interchangeable, that carob tastes anything like chocolate, that anything at all tastes like butter, or that the unending pseudomeats taste like meat. You might as well say that roasted chicory root tastes like coffee. In the case of something like carob or tempeh, I’d rather see it treated as a food on its own than considered a “substitute for.” But beyond simple tastebud outrage, I’m concerned that by the time you transform these pseudofoods into a form, texture and flavor that nature never intended, you’ve added so many chemicals and steps to the process that you might as well just grab a bag of chemical fertilizer and eat that instead.

When I think about it, many of the foods I already enjoy would qualify as vegan: rice, pasta, whole-grain bread (oops, maybe vegans refuse to use yeast), tortillas and tortilla chips; fruits and veggies; herbs and spices; olive oil; tofu and miso; an almost endless array of condiments. (I can’t even imagine stepping into the raw-food world, but all of us eat “raw foods” daily when we enjoy salads, fresh fruit, crudites, or, say, lettuce and tomato on our sandwich.) But that final frontier, the absence of dairy, still looms like the Great Wall of China between me and veganism.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m offended by the holier-than-thou attitude vegan treatises often take? Yes, I’m a vegetarian for moral rather than health reasons. No, I don’t think that puts me above people who eat meat. Maybe those people volunteer to help the sick and elderly, work in a soup kitchen or animal shelter, visit prisoners and the mentally ill, foster orphans. Who the hell am I to set myself above these? We’re all doing what we can, and vegetarianism just happens to be something I can do.

However, I’ve discovered a way to narrow the gap, and that’s through ethnic cooking. Exotic dishes that are vegan might be easier to make (and take) than trying to veganize standard menu items like macaroni and cheese. I was reminded of this when I saw that chef Bryant Terry had written a cookbook of soul food called Vegan Soul Kitchen. Like his earlier collaborative effort with Frances Moore Lappe’s daughter Anna, Grub, Bryant’s soul food book feeds the soul with much more than food, offering songs, art, and reading recommendations to accompany each recipe. It’s pretty amazing. I’ll give you a recipe to try from Vegan Soul Kitchen in a mo, but first let me mention some other ethnic-inspired vegan and vegetarian cookbooks you might want to check out. (I’m not going into Indian, Mexican, Turkish, Greek, Moroccan, etc. cookbooks here, since I’ve covered them in earlier posts.)

I know I’ve recommended it before, but whenever I think of soul food I’m reminded of a favorite cookbook, The Ethnic Vegetarian by Angela Shelf Medearis (Rodale, 2004). Subtitled Traditional and Modern Recipes from Africa, America, and the Caribbean, this is a must-have book for any adventurous cook, or for that matter, for any Southern cook. Check out Angela’s Texas Caviar with Corn Cakes (black-eyed peas are the “caviar” base) as an introduction to her irresistible recipes!

Where else do vegan recipes lend themselves to a tropical holiday? There’s The Tropical Vegan Kitchen, with its Pineapple Five-Spice Dipping Sauce, Chilled Australian Curried Mango Soup, and Jamaican Cook-Up Rice. (No music recommendations with this book, but can’t you just hear Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley?) And there’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, with recipes running the gamut from Baked Black Olives with Herbes de Provence and Anise, Tunisian Chickpea Soup, Moroccan Orange and Black Olive Salad, Braised Broccoli Rabe with Prunes, Golden Raisins, and Pine Nuts, and Polenta Pie with Wild Mushroom Filling. Both books are by Donna Klein and are published by Home/Penguin.

Finally, there’s Vegan Fire & Spice: 200 Sultry and Savory Global Recipes, by Robin Robertson, one of my favorite vegetarian cookbook authors (Vegan Heritage Press, 2008). From Jumpin’ Jambalaya to Avocado and Jicama Salad with Lime Dressing to Nigerian Peanut Soup to Kimchi and Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Jade Vegetables, Robin takes you on a globe-trotting investigation of hot and spicy recipes that happen to be vegan.     

Okay, about that recipe from Vegan Soul Kitchen. This one inspired Bryant Terry to write his wonderful cookbook, and it might inspire you to try more vegetarian or vegan or Southern or soul food in your own home. 

                      Citrus Collards with Raisins Redux

coarse sea salt    

2 large bunches collard greens, ribs removed, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Chiffonade the collards: Stack several collard leaves, stems cut out, roll them widthwise into a tight, cigarlike cylinder, then slice crosswise with a sharp knife, cutting the leaves into thin strips.

In a large pot over high heat, bring 3 quarts water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the collards and cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, until softened. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water to cool the collards.

Remove the collards from the heat, drain, and plunge them into the ice water to stop cooking and set the color of the greens. Drain by gently pressing the greens against a colander.

In a medium-size saute pan, combine the olive oil and the garlic and raise the heat to medium. Saute for 1 minute. Add the collards, raisins, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add orange juice and cook for an additional 15 seconds. Do not overcook! Collards should be bright green. Season with additional salt to taste and serve immediately. (This also makes a tasty filling for quesadillas.) Serves 4.

My copy of Vegan Soul Kitchen just arrived yesterday afternoon, so I haven’t yet had a chance to make this dish. But there’s a photo of it in the book and it looks out of this world!  I can’t wait to try it and the other recipes in this and the other vegan cookbooks. I doubt I’ll ever give up dairy altogether, but it can’t hurt to come a little closer.

              ‘Til next time,




1. Lzyjo - August 30, 2009

MMM!! Soul food! This sounds really yummy. It’s like Americans don’t think they’re getting a full meal without meat and 3. I’m going to have to add the Vegan Soul Kitchen to my Amazon wish list.

It definitely looks like a winner, Lzyjo!

2. becca - August 30, 2009

Ah, I have that Ethnic Vegetarian Cookbook! I skimmed through it once and learned how to make onion rings. 🙂 Seriously, though, I saw several delicious sounding recipes in there. I have since loaned it to a friend. Thanks for reminding me of it!

Aaack, get it back!

3. Daphne Gould - August 31, 2009

I love ethnic food. One of my favorite foods of all time is rice and beans. They can be done in so many way. I would love to find a cookbook that does dried beans from all the different countries. That would be fun.

Hi Daphne! I have three bean-specific cookbooks. They’re The Bean Harvest Cookbook (Ashley Miller, Taunton Press, 1997), Lean Bean Cuisine (Jay Solomon, Prima, 1995), and Growing and Cooking Beans (John Withee, Yankee Inc., 1980). Of the three, The Bean Harvest Cookbook covers world cuisine, contains gorgeous photos, and is written by a former Moosewood chef, so I’d choose that one if you can only have one. Lean Bean Cuisine covers more countries in terms of the scope of its recipes than the other cookbooks, but is text-only and the recipes aren’t quite as inviting as The Bean Harvest Cookbook’s. And Growing and Cooking beans is a great book, but the recipes are fairly limited to New England. If you get any of these, let me know what you think!

4. Mr and Mrs VanLakke - August 31, 2009

The only good thing about this guy is his food. I was disappointed when he gave a great speech about how he wants to change the minds of the urban community on how they eat food. My wife and I witness how he turned his back on this African American women until she called him back. We got a feeling of haughtiness on his part.

Yikes, I’m sorry about that! Maybe he’s more comfortable with food than with people?

bryantterry - September 1, 2009

i do tend to get nervous and socially awkward when i’m speaking in public, but pompous i am not. i apologize if my actions came across that way. i love african american women. my family is filled with them (smile).

Wow, Bryant, thanks for checking in! As for being nervous and awkward when speaking in public, I can totally relate! It’s why I became an editor and writer rather than a professor—I just couldn’t imagine myself standing up in front of classrooms of people day after day and droning on! On the occasions when I’ve had to address groups, I’ve always been struck by how kind and generous they were towards me and my, shall we say, frenetic speaking style. I’m sure most people were thrilled to hear you speak as well!

bryantterry - September 1, 2009

funny, that was one of the reasons i left my doctoral program. i guess it was in the cards for me to stand in front of people day after day and talk about my work, though (i’ve given 58 talks since Vegan Soul Kitchen was published in march). as composed as i might be outwardly, i’m a wreck inside (ha, ha).

Well, at least you’re talking about something you love! I’ve had to give so many marketing presentations over the years—the last thing I’d ever have imagined an editor doing!—I might as well have become an actor and made some money for my efforts (assuming, of course, I could remember any lines… ). But the hardest speech I ever had to give was at a funeral, when the deceased’s wife asked me to stand up in front of everyone and say something to commemorate him. Yow! Fortunately, he absolutely loved hot peppers. So I brought in a basket of assorted hot peppers, marched up to the front of a packed roomful of mourners, and told them all how he was like his beloved hot peppers—spicy, assertive, never afraid of cranking up the heat, and lingering in the memory long after his physical presence was gone. I was so nervous I thought I was going to trip over my own tongue, but after all the deadpan harangues, his friends and relatives loved the humor, and his wife continues to bring up my so-called “speech” to this day. I continue to think that passion, brevity, and humor are the keys!

5. Daphne Gould - August 31, 2009

Well Amazon had The Bean Harvest Cookbook in its marketplace used and cheap (under $7 which includes shipping). So I’ve ordered it. It seems like it would be a fun read especially since she combines growing with recipes.

It’s a great book, Daphne! You won’t regret ordering it!

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