Viva Vegan! Si, se Puede.
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in the series, ¿Vege-Que? — A Week of Healthy Eating, ongoing from April 11 to 17 on the Tiki Tiki. Please visit the first post to learn more about the series and enter for the chance to win some awesome prizes.
Latin and Vegan. It can Happen
“But my parents still don’t really get it,’’ Romero said “My parents are Venezuelan and my mom’s side is Polish/Venezuelan. When I go visit them, she still explains to waiters what I can eat. It’s still a mystery to them.”
“When I do go visit family for the holidays, I know I am not really going to be eating,’’ she said, laughing. “I try to have a really good breakfast.”
Confusion in la familia aside, Romero is a well-known vegan cookbook author, having written Viva Vegan! 200 Authentic and Famous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers, released last year by Da Capo Lifelong Books.
She also co-wrote Veganomincon, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. Her beautiful blog, full of recipes, is Vegan Latina.
So, Romero knows what she’s talking about, si?
Viva Vegan! was written to bring forth the flavors of Latin cuisine for everyone. It is a decadent romp with things like chocolate mole tamales, mushroom ceviche, and sweet coconut corn pudding, with a good dose of educational cooking and ingredients information.
While Latinos are stereotyped — and probably rightly so — as hearty and frequent meat eaters who wouldn’t dream of giving up the bistec, Romero says she likes to point out that the true flavors of Latin food are not meat-centered.
“A lot of things that make Latin food, Latin food — the beans, the grains, the chili peppers, the limes, the cilantro, the black beans, the avocado — those are the things that scream something Latin and these things are naturally vegan. Pork is just pork and chicken is just chicken and there is nothing particularly Latin about them.”
She’s not kidding. As you roll through the Viva Vegan! cookbook and hang out in the salsa chapter (hello, Venezuelan guasacaca!) and move on to the traditional asados made with tofu, tempeh and seitan and onto all things arepa, pupusas, tortillas and then over to the sweets like majarete, sopaipillas and arroz con leche, it hits you: Your mouth is drooling because of the spices and seasonings and fruits and beautiful vegetables and the combination of them all.
“I want more Latinos to try this,” she said. “Most of my testers were not Latinos and that is indicative of the vegan community in general.
But, I have had Latinos come over and I have given them plantains and they were like ‘Oh, we can have fried plaintains?’
“This isn’t punishment,’’ she added, laughing. “And yes, we are going to have dessert.”
And that could be papaya-lime sorbet or chocolate orange spice cake with dulce de batata.
For anyone completely confused by both veganism and Latin cooking, the book offers resources on the vegan Latin pantry and kitchen, with tips on everything from cooking oils to liquid smoke (great for giving beans and stews a meaty edge) to a primer on favorite Latin beans, hot sauces, chiles and herbs. There’s also a shopping list and menu plan.
Basically, she holds your hand throughout this Latin vegan cooking adventure.
During our interview, we spent a lot of time talking about seitan, my personal favorite meat substitute. It is made from vital wheat gluten. It looks meaty, works great in tacos and it can be sliced, cubed, or shredded. You can buy it at the grocer or make it. (I posted some photos of my seitan adventure on Facebook .)
“Nothing is really going to happen to the seitan. The homemade stuff can stand up to a lot of things,’’ she said.
The cookbook includes a “white” version for chicken-ish dishes and a “red” version for dark meat-like dishes. I made Romero’s white version for her Arroz con Seitan and was amazed by how simple, and good it was. (See recipe below)
Romero’s favorite ways to eat seitan include as a Venezuelan version of carne mechada, shredded in empanadas with olives and raisins and as kabobs.
“If people are looking for meaty, hearty foods, seitan is a good option,’’ she said.
Her favorite recipe in Viva Vegan! is the empanadas, which she said, “require a little more work, but the payoff is big. One of the recipes in the book is a creamy, corn-filled one that is really great, sweet and yummy.”
Another love of hers is the vegan Cuban sandwich, which uses vegan ham and cheese and mojo-marinated seitan.
“You bake that in the oven and it makes a really meaty sandwich,’’ she added.
We’re wondering how many Cuban readers will el flippo at the thought of a Cuban ham and pork sandwich made with non-meat?
So, we asked: What is the think people think is toughest about living vegan?
“I think most people miss dairy before they miss dried-out Thanksgiving turkey. It seems to be the need for creaminess and mouth feel.
“But it isn’t that hard to whip up a satisfying meal without a hunk of meat in the middle,’’ she said.
And so, we asked for tips.
Tips for Reducing Meat and Dairy
- Check out non-dairy milks such as almond, rice, soy and coconut milk. Almond milk is great in coffee and rice milk is perfect for batidos.
- Add fresh seasonings and spices and condiments, salsas and dips.
- If you are craving fat, especially in colder months. then avocados and nuts are your friends.
- Look for the foods that will make you feel full and emotionally satisfied such as beans of all kinds.
- Eat foods with texture. Add beans, nuts and whole grains like quinoa to your dishes.
- Start slow. Work up to it.
Viva Vegan! Recipes
Romero and her publisher are sharing three dishes with the Tiki Tiki, each available as a printable PDF:
Below is the complete Arroz con Seitan, a pollo-free dish which I made and loved. The annato oil is beautiful and adds a great taste. The seitan was as simple as making a loaf of bread that you don’t have to knead. (Seriously simple.)
The Un-dulce de Leche was not exactly what we’re used to, but makes a lovely sauce, and would make a great gift for a vegan friend, or someone who is lactose intolerant and can’t enjoy the traditional dulce de leche..
Arroz con Seitan
from Viva Vegan! by Terry Hope Romero
Serves 4 to 6 generously
Time: About 1-1⁄2 hours
A veggie tribute to the enduring Hispanic dish (arroz con pollo) that lets the chicken cross the road for yet another day. Steamed White Seitan (page 35) or purchased seitan is lightly browned and cradled in lively yellow rice pilaf. Beer adds depth and richness to this dish but it’s not essential; veggie broth will do the job just as well. Serve with a green or cabbage salad.
Tip: If you think you can cheat and use Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito (page 32) to start this recipe, then you are correcto! Substitute half of the Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito recipe (about 1 cup) for the garlic, onion, and bell pepper.
Seitan (See PDF printable above for recipe)
1⁄2 recipe (two loaves) Steamed White Seitan (page 35), or 12 ounces commercially prepared seitan, sliced
into thick strips about 3 or 4 inches long
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Big pinch dried oregano
Sofrito and Arroz
2 tablespoons Annatto-Infused Oil (page 31)
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 pound yellow onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 pound green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2⁄3 cup plain tomato sauce
1 cup light-colored Mexican beer or vegetable broth
1 1⁄2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1⁄4 teaspoon salt, or more as desired
1 1⁄2 cups long-grain white rice
1 1⁄4 cups water or vegetable broth or a combination of the two
1 cup fresh or frozen small green peas (petit pois, small sweet peas are best)
1 carrot, peeled and diced small
1⁄2 cup sliced pimiento stuffed green olives
1⁄4 cup capers (optional)
1⁄4 cup finely chopped cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare the seared seitan: In a large bowl whisk together lime juice, olive oil, and dried oregano. Add the seitan strips, using tongs to toss and coat them with the marinade. Marinate for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Heat a cast-iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat and generously coat with cooking spray or brush with peanut oil. Add a layer of marinated seitan strips, taking care not to crowd the pan. Fry seitan on each side for 1 to 2 minutes, flipping once (metal tongs work nicely here). Seitan should be crisp and dark on the edges but still look juicy. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. While preparing the seitan, prepare the sofrito: In a large Dutch oven or enamel-glazed cast-iron pot with a tight-fitting lid, combine Annatto-Infused Oil, olive oil, and garlic over medium heat. Fry until the garlic is fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add the onion and bell pepper and fry uncovered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and juicy, about 12 to 14 minutes.
3. Stir in the tomato sauce, beer (or vegetable broth), dried oregano, cumin, and bay leaf and simmer for 4 minutes. Stir in the salt, rice, water or vegetable broth, peas, and carrots; cover the pot, and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the lid, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and push seared seitan strips down into the rice mixture. Sprinkle sliced olives and capers, if using, over everything, cover the pot, and cook for 30 to 35 minutes or until rice is tender, fluffy, and all of the liquid is absorbed.
4. Remove from heat, keeping the pot covered, and set it aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly. Add chopped cilantro and gently fluff the rice. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and serve right away.
What about you?
Would you consider eliminating or reducing all animal products — including dairy — from your diet?
Check out the Giveaways
Please be sure to read today’s ¿Vege-Que? Giveaways post to enter for some great prizes, including cookware from IMUSA, copies of Viva Vegan, the e-book Healthy Snacks to Go; and new EatStrong trail mix and bars.
***You must comment in the giveaways post and in one essay, such as this one, this week to be entered to win.