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Vegan picnic fare for the Fourth. June 30, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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 Silence Dogood here. This is going to be my first July Fourth as a vegan, and you can bet I’ve been giving plenty of thought to how to make a celebratory picnic meal without cheese!

Of course, you could do the predictable, which would certainly be filling and delicious: Make veggie burgers with all the trimmings, grill veggie kabobs, make corn on the cob, and serve it all with a huge salad and watermelon and/or cantaloupe, mangoes and berries for dessert. Yum! I’d be happy to be invited to a picnic like this any day.

But there’s no reason to stop there, or even go there if you’d rather make some picnic classics like coleslaw, potato salad, hot-sweet pickles, and even sloppy Joes vegan-style. Here are my suggestions for unforgettably delicious dishes to spice up your celebration! And of course, our friend Ben and I always watch “Independence Day” after our deckside dinner and before we head out to watch the fireworks in the nearby Breinigsville Park. It just wouldn’t be the 4th without it!

Our go-to potato salad recipe was developed by 92-year-old family patriarch and enthusiastic cook George Hays, and it’s still our favorite. Mr. Hays defies conventional wisdom and puts baking potatoes in his salad, and I can attest to how delicious it is. By substituting Vegenaise for mayo and leaving out the hardboiled eggs, it’s a perfect vegan dish. Try it and see for yourself!

           Mr. Hays’s Baked Potato Salad

3 pounds russet potatoes

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 T chopped parsley leaves 

1 t salt

1 t fresh-ground pepper

1 cup (about 1 stalk) chopped celery

1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper

1 cup (1 medium) finely chopped sweet onion

1/4 cup each chopped sweet and dill pickles

3/4 cup Vegenaise grapeseed oil mayo

Bring the potatoes and a teaspoon of salt to a boil over high heat until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and gently rub off the skins, using a paper towel, while the potatoes are still warm. Chop the potatoes into 1-inch chunks and toss with the cider vinegar, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir in the celery, red bell pepper, onion and pickles. Fold in the Vegenaise. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours or overnight. (Sadly, there are never any survivors when we make this!)

Here’s another vegan option, courtesy of  William Lamont of Penn State, which is made from red-, white-, and blue-fleshed potatoes, perfect for commemorating the Fourth.

           Penn State’s American Flag Potato Salad

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 lbs. new potatoes (red, white and blue)

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced

2 medium red bell peppers, diced small

1 bunch scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, salt and pepper, then whisk in the olive oil. Add the garlic and whisk again. Let stand for one hour for flavors to develop. Boil the potatoes with skins on until tender but slightly firm. Drain them and let cool long enough to handle. Peel and cut into 1-inch dice. Transfer them to the vinaigrette, toss and let sit until the potatoes have cooled. Add remaining ingredients and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss again. Let sit for at least 2 hours. Serve or refrigerate.

Our friend Ben and I love pickles. We love big, garlicky Kosher pickles, tiny crunchy-sweet cornichons, bread-and-butter slices—you name it, we love it. After my father gave us a jar of hot-sweet pickles from a specialty food company in Nashville, we fell in love with them and I (of course) developed my own recipe for this fabulous treat.

If you can keep any around long enough, the flavor just gets better over time, and they stay crunchy for months. And there’s no standing over a hot stove with canning jars. We keep several large containers in our fridge all summer so we can enjoy them ourselves with sandwiches and appetizers, and have plenty on hand when guests come over or to take to the Friday Night Supper Club. (See my post “The Friday Night Supper Club” for more on this great idea.) Even if we set out a whole vat, there are never any survivors! Needless to say, a container of these makes a great gift, too.

              Silence’s Hot-Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

5-6 slender cukes, sliced (any kind will taste fine, but please, no waxed skins) 

1 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt (any kind is fine, no need to get pickling salt)

1 tablespoon black mustardseed

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or Candy type), or more to taste, diced

dash hot sauce, such as Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa

Combine vinegar and sugar and heat until sugar dissolves; add salt, spices, and hot sauce. Layer sliced cukes and onions in alternate layers in a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. When the brine (the vinegar mix) is lukewarm, pour it over the cukes and onions, then close the lid and refrigerate. Shake container gently every day to make sure brine is saturating top layers. You can begin eating the pickles after 3 to 5 days; the flavor gets stronger over time. The pickled onions can be eaten as is, and they’re great as a sandwich relish and in salads, too. You can add more fresh cukes and onions as you eat the first batch, but make sure you put them at the bottom of the container with the older pickles on top. Check the brine to make sure it’s still flavorful, adding more salt, turmeric, and other spices as needed. I’ve found that the brine can be reused about three times before you need to pour it out and start over. (Note: This brine is cloudy, not clear like a canned pickle brine, which is why we use opaque plastic storage containers for our refrigerator pickles rather than glass.) So easy and so incredibly good!!! People can’t keep their hands off them. 

What about coleslaw? Coleslaw: What does that mean, anyway? From my horticulture background, I had no trouble with “cole”: The brassicas—cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and the like—are collectively referred to as cole crops. We learned that in class. But what does “cole” actually mean? And what about the “slaw” part?

Finding that out took me right to the founding of the American Colonies, or more particularly, to the Dutch founding of New Netherlands (you might know it by its later name, New York). Turns out, “coleslaw” is an Anglicanization of the Dutch koolsla, itself a shortening of koolsalade. A salad made from cole crops, or more specifically, cabbage. Early coleslaw was a simple combination of shredded cabbage, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, allowed to sit for a few hours to let the flavors marry, then served at room temperature.

Mind you, I’m not a snob when it comes to coleslaw. If I have a head of cabbage, I’ll use half and hand-shred it with my trusty Victorinox paring knife. But if I don’t have a head of cabbage on hand, or am in a hurry, I’m so happy there are now convenient bags of pre-shredded red cabbage, carrots, and “coleslaw” mix of shredded green cabbage with a little red cabbage and shredded carrot thrown in. I also love the bags of “broccoli slaw,” with shredded broccoli stems mixed with carrots and red cabbage, though I’ve never tried to use them in coleslaw. Instead, I mix a half-cup of broccoli slaw into my tossed salads to add some extra texture and cancer-fighting oomph.

But let’s get back to those slaws. When I’m pressed for time and want a super-fast, super-easy coleslaw, this is my go-to recipe: A bag of coleslaw mix, a half-bag of shredded carrots, a half chopped sweet onion, salt (we like RealSalt) and fresh-cracked black pepper, and olive oil and your favorite vinegar. (Red wine or white balsamic is especially good with this.) Yes, it sounds too good to be true, but it’s not only delicious, you should see how fast it vanishes from everybody’s plate. The trick is to let it marinate at room temp for an hour or so before serving. Adding pepitas (salted, roasted pumpkin seeds) just before serving for extra crunch and golden raisins for unexpected sweetness ups the ante. 

Let’s move on to some of my more elaborate coleslaws. But please note, as you read the recipes, that they’re easy, too. Bless coleslaw for being no more trouble to make, even in its more elaborate incarnations, than a tossed salad! The next one’s as beautiful as it is delicious:

           Silence’s Green and Gold Coleslaw    

1/2 large head green cabbage, shredded

1/2 large sweet yellow onion (such as Vidalia), diced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

2 generous handfuls yellow wax beans, trimmed and cut in thirds

1/2 fennel bulb, diced

3 radishes, minced

1-2 tablespoons whole caraway seeds, to taste

1-2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds, to taste

1/2 bottle Italian or Zesty Italian or Balsamic and Olive Oil dressing

3 tablespoons lemon juice

salt (we like RealSalt) and lemon pepper to taste

Put shredded cabbage, radishes, yellow bell pepper, yellow wax beans, fennel, and onion in a large bowl; stir with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. Add caraway and fennel seeds, lemon juice, salt, and lemon pepper; mix well. Finally, add dressing and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly coated. Refrigerate, covered, overnight so flavors can marry, and stir again to mix before serving.

For a lighter slaw with a fresh, green taste, try this one:

              Coleslaw with Cilantro and Scallions

1/2 large head green cabbage, shredded

1 large bunch scallions (green onions), chopped

1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

4 stems fennel tops (fronds), minced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 tablespoons Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt)

1 tablespoon mixed hot red and black pepper, ground

1/4 cup sherry vinegar, or more to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

In a large bowl, mix cabbage, red bell pepper, scallions, cilantro, and fennel. Stir in seasonings and oil and vinegar, mixing thoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, so flavors can marry, then stir again thoroughly before serving.

Baked beans are also a staple of July Fourth picnics. No doubt I could make my own, but our friend Ben and I happen to love Bush’s Beans Grillin’ Beans, and their Southern Barbecue Beans and Bourbon Beans are our favorites. (And are entirely vegan.) How nice to be able to simply heat them up while I’m making the rest of the food from scratch.

Finally, what if you’re vegan and want to add a taste of barbecue to your picnic fare? Ribs are out, but I have the answer! It’s a Japanese dish called kinpira. The dish mixes the naturally smoky flavor of minced burdock root (which I can find at a local health-food store) with shredded carrots and flavorings. I like to add diced sweet onion for a little more punch. Fair warning: burdock roots look ugly and dirty, but they’re not, and their flavor is amazing. But to bring the barbecue flavor front and center, I like to add a little liquid smoke. Here’s how I make it:

              Kinpira (Vegan Barbecue)

1 package burdock roots, scrubbed and minced

1 package shredded carrots

1/2 sweet onion (such as Vidalia), diced

Heat canola oil in a large, heavy pan (I love my LeCreuset pans). Add the diced onion and let it clarify. Add Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt), fresh-cracked black pepper, and generous splashes of Frank’s hot sweet chili sauce, sake, mirin, and shoyu (soy sauce). Add burdock and carrot, stirring well to mix, and cook until tender. I like to add seaweed-enhanced gomasio (sesame/sea salt) as well. Add pure intent, eat, and enjoy.

The flavor is smoky barbecue. The texture is definitely messy! You can enjoy it as a side dish, or mound it on whole-grain buns and try a vegan sloppy Joe. But remember, this will definitely be sloppy, so you’ll want plenty of napkins and to balance your head over your plate so your shirt doesn’t catch the worst of it! Never mind, yum!!!  

Happy Fourth of July!

          ‘Til next time,






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