Vegan Food & Culture: Featuring Jesse Farrell

Hi, Jesse! Thank you so much for offering your thoughts and inspiration today. To start, what does being vegan mean?

It’s really simple, and somewhat boring: to not exploit animals in any way, or at least to give it your best shot. 

It’s not simply a diet, or a “food allergy” as it’s often categorized on menus and nutrition-info databases.

It’s also not easy: there are animal products in everything from tires to McDonald’s french fries. Seemingly unrelated things like commercial real-estate development can be construed as exploiting animals by depriving them of (or poisoning) part of their habitat. The needs of commerce and taxation for a strip mall, or for strip mining, for instance   can trump their existence.

When did you become a vegan?

In 2010, when I began cooking more of my meals, I fell back on vegetarian recipes. I’d been vegetarian on and off since I was 16. But I also had a couple of vegan cookbooks, dating back to when I was experimenting with a gluten-free, casein-free diet, though still an omnivore at the time. Becoming vegan was simply a matter of combining vegetarianism with GFCF. (I would later drop the gluten-free part.)

A few months later I began to understand that it wasn’t simply about food or diet; until then I only had a vague sense that veganism was good in some larger context.

You know the DC/Baltimore area, which many people come to at some point. So, would you have any local vegan businesses to recommend?

All food-related:

There are also lots of good vegan-friendly fast-casual places –  a particular favorite these days is Rice Bar – plus a couple of very vegan-friendly, regional natural-foods supermarket chains: Mom’s Organic Market and Roots Market (the owners of the latter also own Great Sage).

Beyond food, how have you changed by adopting a vegan perspective?

I have a better sense of the autonomy and sentience of animals. My previous experience of living with a dog with a very strong, colorful personality helped cement that. I’ve progressed beyond “animals should not be food or commodities” to “animals have lives, and that should be respected.”

Jesse, could you describe how veganism and culture intertwine, from your perspective? How does veganism fit in with human social and economic striving? 

Your veganism doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s a whole world out there, where you should be applying that same compassion you have for animals, who exist solely to become part of someone’s meal or clothing or entertainment, to human animals, near or far, like factory or garment workers halfway around the world (or just a stone’s-throw away), working under difficult conditions for wages you likely wouldn’t wish upon yourself. Your choices, as a consumer or voter, may help reinforce or (better) tear down the bad aspects of the status quo.

There’s no need to overlay some elaborate belief system. Just apply the Golden Rule to all creatures on the planet, and to the planet itself. As one of my heroes, Wavy Gravy, puts it: We are all the same person trying to shake hands with our self.

Amazon took over CreateSpace, a platform for indy authors, and folded it into Kindle Direct Publishing. And Patreon, which sustains independent creators, relies on Amazon’s AWS platform to guard creators against fraud. There’s some weird irony here. We rely on this massive, famously exploitive company, with a CEO who has accumulated $147 billion, to carve out some measure of creative independence in our lives, maybe even escape gig work. Is the quest for living on our own terms an illusion? 

This ties a little into not being able to avoid random animal products in your life; if you interface in some way with any kind of commercial entity including many companies providing your vegan goods –  you are going to find yourself at odds with what some CxO says or does, or what the company itself does. Your organic vegan milk may come from a company far more invested in factory farms than it is in some vegan niche.

My work in IT had been cloud-adjacent for the last few years, and my current job is more directly cloud-related, plus I have side projects that involve even more cloud work. I’ve made my peace with it for now, but would like to find (or even found) a right-sized cloud platform that isn’t owned by a massive, for-profit entity. What we now know as Linux has roots in earlier projects started to create a cooperative, non-commercial version of the expensive proprietary Unixes of the day. Maybe something similar will happen for cloud computing.

I try not to enrich some large corporation if there’s a good alternative. It’s also important to recognize that we’re enriching various oligarchs and modern-day robber barons (whether it’s Bezos, Zuck, Bill Gates, or some Walton or Koch family offspring) with our choices of how we spend our time and money, and they’re all quite happy to use the power that accompanies their wealth to do things that may not be in our best interests.

And maybe we should, as voters, also be more concerned about un-sexy things like antitrust law than we have been in the past. 

What would you say to people who are curious about becoming vegan, and has anyone become a vegan because of your influence?

No one has ever done anything because of my influence 🙂

There are many different good reasons to go vegan — for animal rights, against animal cruelty, for health reasons, etc. But there’s also the negative effect on the planet that animal agriculture has. If we’re quietly careening toward a climate emergency, maybe the positive effect of reducing global warming could be an incentive in ways that other angles and rationales have not been.

 I live in the US, which has long been beset with elected officials for whom gratuitous cruelty toward marginalized groups and individuals is a core part of their branding. That’s not sustainable for a country, and, additionally, things like war, and greed, and a host of other forms of human folly endanger humanity’s long-term existence. Earth will go on just fine without human life; the reverse isn’t true. So being vegan should be  or should be thought of as – one of many things in one’s toolkit that exist as a counterweight to our various destructive tendencies.

What is an example of what you like to eat at home, how do you make it? 

I used to consume a lot of protein: I had a six-day-a-week yoga practice and also did a lot of powerlifting, and I had trouble keeping my weight up. So I would eat lots of tofu, tempeh, and seitan, and gulp down protein shakes. I’ve scaled back, partly due to the pandemic, but I still don’t eat enough actual vegetables sometimes. I try to fix that by grabbing a vegetable-centric cookbook, or an omnivore one with lots of vegetable recipes.

But I have a lot of fun improvising marinades for tofu/tempeh, and also like to incorporate various leftovers into batches of seitan say, some unused beans, or wilting kale, or almost-forgotten mushrooms sitting in the back of the fridge.

Seitan Improv

1. Soak 1 cup Textured Vegetable Protein in 1-1.5 cups broth or marinade to rehydrate the TVP. Set aside the excess liquid

2. Coarsely puree about a cup’s worth of stuff — beans, mushrooms, greens….

This week I used 1 cup of cooked black beans that were sitting in the fridge; 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast;  2 tablespoons of jerk seasoning (you could instead use salt/pepper, cumin, sage, smoked paprika, rehydrated hot peppers, etc., to taste).

3.  Add enough liquid (maybe taken from the TVP soaking) to help puree all of this in a blender or food processor.

4. Combine 1 cup of Vital Wheat Gluten in a bowl with the above. Work it into a dough for a few minutes; it may take a little trial-and-error over several improvised batches to get a sense of how wet/dry/stretchy/firm the dough should feel before the next step.

5. Form into individual pieces  e.g., burgers, meatballs, cutlets  and wrap each in parchment paper, then in aluminum foil. Steam for approximately 90 minutes. Allow to cool, and put everything in the refrigerator overnight, to firm.

Then…fry up your burgers (or cutlets, or whatever), or crumble into a stir-fry or pasta sauce.

Mayo for Your Future Seitan Sandwich

  • 1 box (likely 12.3 oz) silken tofu
  • 1/4 cup white miso
  • 1 dehydrated Chipotle or New Mexico pepper, rehydrated
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup oil (e.g., olive, avocado, coconut, peanut… maybe in combination)

Combine the non-oil ingredients in a blender or food processor. If your blender/processor allows the dribbling-in of the oil, do that until everything is blended well, with something resembling the consistency of mayo. Some time in the fridge will likely help thicken a thin result. If you can’t incrementally add the oil, that’s fine — just add it all, and continue blending.  Use as-is or as the basis for a sauce.

Thanks for sharing your recipe ideas, Jesse! It seems this creativity comes naturally to you. Do you consider everyday vegan life easy now?

Very easy for me, as a resident of an advanced industrialized country, with many options for cruelty-free food, clothes, and other products. Food-wise, it’s better now than ten years ago, when I started — more shopping options, more restaurant options. The hardest part might be for a newly-ex-omnivore to give up some favorite food(s). I’ve yet to find an adequate substitute for every situation that I might have, in the past, used cheese or eggs, though the situation is also much improved over the last decade. 

Any ideas that may be helpful to others who might experience similar struggles?

One thing that worked for me, on the ex-omnivore front, was noticing that food tastes better when I’m hungry. That’s not much of a solution, I understand, but sometimes quibbles about some vegan dish not being “as good” as something you’ve given up are lost when your food is, in some way, simply good. It may take a little time, or a little work, to find or cook consistently good vegan meals.

Thank you for the gift of your thoughtful and thought-sparking writing, Jesse. Greatly appreciated.

Just Desserts: Jake’s Festive Ice Creams

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we can’t have ice cream. And hey, the Northern Hemisphere isn’t the only one on the planet. So without further ado, here’s Jake Dicus of Cleveland, Ohio, sharing some brilliant recipes for your local restaurant or your own kitchen.

Jake moustache has been moved to facilitate ice cream testing.

Jake’s moustache has been repositioned to facilitate ice cream testing.

By the way, if you’ve thought about getting an ice cream maker for you or as a gift for another ice cream fanatic in your life, but didn’t think you could afford it, Jake might change your mind. If you have room in your freezer to stash the bowl, Jake notes the “pre-frozen” or canister-style models (models you freeze for 24 hours in advance of making ice cream) will work for you and come cheaper than the “self-refrigerating” models with built-in compressors.

When America’s Test Kitchen reviewed ice cream makers for Cook’s Illustrated, a top pick was the Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker at $49.99—cheaper still from Craigslist or eBay where unwanted wedding and holiday gifts are sold. Jake says, “I have the Whynter SNÖ Professional Ice Cream Maker [a self-refrigerating model] recommended in the article, but they are hard to find. I got mine off of eBay for pretty cheap.”

How to Make the Ice Cream Base

A coconut-milk ice cream base will give you a custard-like consistency. High fat-content coconut milks, such as Savoy Coconut Cream, parallel the fat content of premium ice creams. If the ice cream does not turn out to a desired consistency, more sugar or alcohol (rum, brandy, or bourbon) will soften it. A thickening agent such as agar powder, xantham gum, or corn starch makes for an ice cream with a creamier mouth-feel.  

In some cases the ice cream will need no thickening agent. Peanut butter, for example, creates a thick base that doesn’t need any help with thickening. Chocolate ice cream made using lots of vegan dark chocolate is thick on its own from the fat in the chocolate. (A coconut taste will come through with subtle ice creams such as vanilla, so those are not the best choices with this recipe.)

Ingredients:

  • Two 14-ounce cans of coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup vegan sugar or other sweetener.  Maple syrup complements maple-walnut ice cream; molasses is a good pick for oatmeal cookie ice cream. Remember: The more sweetener you add, the softer the ice cream.
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp agar powder (or a starch slurry of 2 Tbsp. corn starch mixed with ¼ cup cold non-dairy milk)

Preparation:

Put the coconut milk, sweetener, and salt into a medium saucepan. Heat medium-low, stirring frequently to dissolve the sweetener. This is also the point where you would add other flavor components such as those suggested from the list below.

Once the mixture is hot but not quite simmering, sprinkle the agar powder in and whisk to combine.  Continue to whisk frequently until the mixture thickens, adjusting the heat as necessary so the mixture does not boil.  When it thickens, remove the mixture from the heat.

Cool the mixture to room temperature and, optionally, run it through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate it until it cools completely.  Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Place the ice cream in a container in the freezer for at least 2 hours to allow it to set up completely.

Ice creams using the base above:

Peanut Butter Ice Cream:  Add one cup of creamy-style peanut butter and a half-teaspoon (½ tsp.) cinnamon to the coconut milk and sugar mixture and do not add the agar powder (as stated above, peanut butter also serves as the thickener).  After the ice cream has come to room temperature, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and stir to incorporate.  Serve with vegan chocolate sauce drizzled on top.

Spiced Pumpkin:  Add one 14 oz. (414 ml.) can of pumpkin puree, one tablespoon (1 Tbsp.) cinnamon, one teaspoon (1 tsp.) ginger, a fourth-teaspoon (¼ tsp.) nutmeg, and a half-teaspoon (½ tsp.) cayenne pepper (optional); or add one tablespoon (1 Tbsp.) pumpkin pie spice to the coconut milk sugar mixture.  You can also replace ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup maple syrup and ¼ cup molasses.  After the ice cream has come to room temperature, add 1 to 2 teaspoons each of vanilla extract and bourbon (optional) and stir to incorporate.  During the last 5 minutes of the ice cream machine’s cycle, add 1 cup of frozen vegan spiced nuts, pralines, or walnuts.   

Cardamom, Rose Water, Pistachio Ice Cream:  Add 2 teaspoons of ground cardamom to the coconut milk sugar mixture.  Once the mixture cools to room temperature, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of rose water and stir to incorporate.  During the last 5 minutes of the ice cream machine’s cycle, add in 1 cup of frozen pistachios.

Pandan Ice Cream

Pandan ice cream with rum-soaked mango and black forbidden rice, made and photographed by Jake Dicus

Pandan Ice Cream with Mango and Forbidden Rice: Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon of pandan extract (available at some Asian markets; also called screw pine extract) to the coconut milk and sugar mixture. This will turn the
mixture pale green. Adjust sugar and pandan extract to taste.

While the mixture is cooling according to the above instructions, peel one large
mango and separate the flesh from the pit. Finely dice the fruit. Larger pieces will freeze solid in the ice cream as fruity ice cubes. Macerating the mango in a tablespoon of sugar dissolved in two tablespoons of rum for at least 15 minutes will help to soften the mango when frozen. Spread on a sheet of wax paper placed in a container that will fit in your freezer and freeze. Now make the rice. Forbidden rice or purple sticky rice is available at many supermarkets and Asian markets. Put ¼ cup of uncooked rice into a small saucepan and cook according to its directions (but substitute coconut milk for the water or other cooking liquid and add ½ cup sugar). Once the rice is tender, you may need to add more coconut milk to get the consistency of soupy oatmeal.

When it has cooled, blend the rice pudding in a food processor or blender to break up the rice kernels. Thoroughly chill the rice pudding mixture. Make the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s directions. In the last five minutes add the frozen mango. Pre-freeze a freezer-safe container large enough to hold your ice cream. Starting with ice cream, alternate layers of ice cream and rice pudding in the container so you have two or more layers of rice pudding. Freeze for at least two hours to allow the ice cream to fully set up.

Now, another take on creating an ice cream base and putting together a thoroughly festive dessert—just the thing for a vegan Thanksgiving get-together, or to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Jake’s Bourbon Chestnut Ice Cream with Cranberry Sauce

Jake's Bourbon Chestnut Ice Cream

It doesn’t get more festive than this.

Ingredients for the ice cream base:

  • 1 – 5 ounce package of roasted and peeled chestnuts or 5 ounces of chestnut puree
  • 2 – 14 ounce cans of coconut milk
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
  • A few pinches of fresh grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon guar gum or xanthan gum (optional)

Ingredients for the cranberry sauce:

  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup sugar (adjust to taste, but tartness provides a nice contrast to the sweet ice cream)
  • A few pinches of lime or lemon zest

Prepare the sauce: Place all the sauce ingredients in a sauce pan and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and most of the liquid has reduced – about 15-20 minutes.  The sauce should be thick and slightly chunky. (For an interesting flavor addition, add a sprig of rosemary to the cooking cranberries and remove when the sauce is finished cooking.) Cool to room temperature and then thoroughly chill in the refrigerator.

Prepare the ice cream base: Carefully score an “x” with a sharp paring knife on the flat side of the nut, making sure to pierce the skin. Roast nuts in 375°F (190°C, Gas Mark 5) oven for half an hour. Let them cool a bit and then peel the shell and skin away from the nuts. This process can be a bit tricky and it may be best to use prepared rather than fresh chestnuts. If you can’t find chestnuts or don’t like them, try roasted walnuts or black walnuts.

Place all the ingredients in a powerful blender like a Vitamix and blend on high speed until the chestnut pieces are thoroughly incorporated and the liquid has a smooth texture – about 1 minute. If you want the best texture, strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Then refrigerate the base for at least 4 hours.

If you don’t have a powerful blender, you can get canned chestnut puree instead of the prepared chestnuts. The brown sugar may not completely dissolve using this method, so heating the mixture on the stove until the sugar dissolves can prevent a gritty texture.  If you apply heat, wait to add the vanilla and bourbon until after the mixture cools to room temperature.

Once the ice cream base is thoroughly chilled, add it to your ice cream maker and prepare according to the directions included with the machine.

While the ice cream is churning, place a sealable glass container large enough to hold the ice cream in the freezer. A few minutes before the ice cream is ready, remove the container from the freezer and place about half of the cranberry sauce in the bottom of it.

When the ice cream is ready, put half the ice cream in the container. Top with the remaining cranberry sauce and then the remaining ice cream. You can swirl the sauce by running a knife through the ice cream, making several passes in a figure-8 pattern. Alternatively, leaving the ice cream as is will result in scoops with ribbons of sauce running through them.

Thank you, Jake. I’ll never forget the ice cream you smuggled into Chrissie Hynde’s restaurant, VegiTerranean in Akron, after we got together though a presentation offered by the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance in 2011. VegiTerranean did not survive the recession, alas!, but your ice cream is invincible. 

How to Make Potato Pancakes with Vegan Caviar

Demo by Trish Sebben-Krupka

Caviar is in the federal spotlight again, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now undertaking a review of ten sturgeon communities to decide whether to list them under the Endangered Species Act.

And that’s good news. Yet the federal government is only going to protect these wonderful fish as long as it determines their populations are at the verge of collapse. If no one ate caviar, sturgeon would be better off for good.

Their roe—defined by Google’s online dictionary as “the mass of eggs contained in the ovaries of a female fish or shellfish, typically including the ovaries themselves, esp. when ripe and used as food”—is coveted by the human ape, which eats it at fancy gatherings or when sitting in first-class aircraft seats. The damming of rivers is another terrible problem for sturgeon: dams obstruct the way to waters where sturgeon go to reproduce.

???????????????????????????????Shakespeare in Hamlet used the adjective “caviary” to describe something unappreciated by the general public—so evidently we’ve been purloining eggs from sturgeon for a long time. But for about $10 a jar, there’s a Danish seaweed-based caviar that’s a lot gentler than regular caviar on the wallet, and it worries no sturgeon.

The distributor, Plant Based Foods, Inc., offers an elegant website, easy ordering, and attentive customer service.

Put to the Test

Chef and cookbook author Trish Sebben-Krupka would know??????????????????????????????? how this could play out in the gourmet world. Curious to learn the answer, I got together with Trish. Out of that delightful meeting came the recipe for Potato Pancakes and Vegan Caviar.

Cavi·Art “is an accent, not something to be eaten on its own,” said Trish; and we first tried it out with a bit of vegan sour cream* on water crackers. Trish liked the texture authenticity. The fresh taste of the yellow ???????????????????????????????variety—similar to a nicely marinated, half-sour pickle—welcomed the sour cream as a perfect complement.

“In some ways,” Trish said, “this is reminiscent of caviar—briny, salty; in other ways, not so much. You don’t get the pop you’d get eating caviar.”

Trish added: “I’m glad it isn’t an exact replica.”

Now that we were familiar with the taste and texture, Trish got cooking.

Here’s how it’s done.  ???????????????????????????????

Take a modest little potato. Peel it.

Grate and pan-fry it with a bit of organic cooking oil* and sea salt.

caviar  pan

When it’s golden brown, your pancake is ready.

???????????????????????????????

Next, cut the pancake as you would cut a pie, into triangular slices.

Top them with vegan sour cream, and create your festive medley oCavi·Art and chives.

Try apple sauce with the potato pancake.

Add sour cream, and yellow or orange Cavi·Art, topped with a bit of the black variety if desired.

???????????????????????????????But when all is said and done, the answer to everything, Trish says, is hot sauce. Which leads, of course, to a bit of avocado, sour cream and bell pepper. 

The samples we tried proved Cavi·Art is both delectable and vivacious. (See? I promised the next blog entry would be vivacious.)

???????????????????????????????And while Trish didn’t find that much difference in taste when sampling the black, yellow and orange varieties—for indeed, the ginger and the wasabi are the most distinct—they were invariably beautiful when combined, and there are subtle differences.

I’ll certainly give Cavi·Art high praise – for the taste as well as the way it advances respect for the ocean’s bio-community. It’s a bit lighter than caviar, with a less oily feel. It’s showy, versatile, delightful and real in its own right.

Trish sums it up:

???????????????????????????????It’s a really fun ingredient, and I can’t wait to play with it some more. I love the ginger and wasabi… with avocado, tamari and bell pepper. Looking forward to making maki rolls. It’s nice with potato pancakes, and I LOVE IT with hot sauce and Mexican-type ingredients (who would have guessed?). I think this will appeal to people who liked caviar, and those who never tried it or are put off by the fishy, inky taste of actual caviar.

Trish Sebben-Krupka  is a professional chef, caterer, and cooking teacher. Trish is equally well known as a rescuer of New Jersey cats, fostering for the group Angels of Animals.

The cats declined to review Cavi·Art.

Update: On 31 October 2013, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed listing five of the sturgeon species, inhabiting Asian and European waters, as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because of severe threats posed by human exploitation, dams and pollution. Said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “If we want to prevent these incredible creatures from going extinct, we must rein in the caviar trade.” 

*Sour Supreme is a vegan sour cream from Tofutti, but if you prefer to make your own, there are simple DIY recipes online. Trish used Spectrum Organics canola oil for the pancake.