To some people, the phrase "Vegan Cuisine" sounds like an oxymoron. To others, it sounds like the road of a hardcore food nutritionist. "Scary," was the word used by my roommate when I announced I was going to try to become a vegan. What most people don't realize is that it's very possible, indeed even probable, for a creative chef to make vegan food just as exciting and full of variety as any other type of cuisine.
What is veganism, first of all? Strictly put, veganism is a diet which contains no animal byproducts. Not only do vegans not eat meat, like vegetarians, but they also do not consume any food created by animals. No milk, no eggs, no dairy of any kind. No pasta derived from eggs. No gelatin. When you stop to think, it is surprising how much of the typical American diet is animal-derived.
All of this, I admit, can sound rather scary to the typical meat and milk lover, and certainly to the typical American who is surrounded by fast-food hamburgers and bologna sandwiches from a young age. But veganism is not as intimidating as it sounds. In fact, when the right choices in recipe and menu are made, it can be extraordinarily flavorful and rewarding.
Think of it this way: Vegan cuisine can't rely on heavy, flavorful ingredients like meat and dairy to get its flavor and substance. So what do they do instead? They replace those ingredients in a way that makes you never even miss them- with fresh vegetables, heady spices, wonderful texture combinations and delicate wheat-based starches.
One of the most uniquely vegan foods on the market, and the one that tends to scare the layperson the most, is tofu. Tofu is basically a soybean curd with a sponge-like consistency and a bland taste that absorbs whatever flavors are around it. Am I tempting you yet?
Wait. Let's try this. Imagine a dish of Italian stuffed shells, loaded with tomato sauce and basil, garlic, and oregano. Now imagine that instead of cheese, the shells were stuffed with a mixture of soft tofu, blended with fresh spinach. The tofu absorbs the Italian spices and has a delicate, creamy flavor all its own. Would you notice the absence of the cheese? Sure. Would you miss it? Not likely.
There are many recipes unique to vegan cuisine that is truly surprising in their variety and tastiness. Curry is one of the darlings of vegan cuisine, and is available in all forms and flavors. Other wonderful vegan dishes include several types of stir-fry, swimming in soy sauces and fresh vegetables; salads overflowing with fresh beans and sweet oil dressings, and many spicy and exciting side dishes and appetizers. Many people, for example, love the wonderful garlicky zing of hummus and do not realize that it's a distinctly vegan food.
Give vegan cuisine a try. Once you stop relying on meat and milk for your flavor and fullness, you might just discover a whole new world out there, where spices are abundant and soybean curd can be delicious.