The impetus for the experiment was a note from my friend Frank, who will be surprised, I suspect, by this news, mostly because he sent the note more than two years ago, but also because he will be generally surprised (though, I hope, not annoyed) to find himself mentioned here.
Frank lives mostly on the vegan side of the vegan-vegetarian universe. He is a fellow cook and good friend who has long encouraged and supported my career, my writing, and my general happiness, provided I remember to ground these pursuits in self-care and health.
A few years ago when I was experimenting with the dinner prompt blog (which I will continue to neglect until I have a clear idea of what to do with it next), Frank nudged me to expand beyond a traditional Western diet. “Too much meat,” was his exact comment.
Around this same time the Kitchn shared a list that included naturally Ella, Happyolks, Cookie and Kate, and Sprouted Kitchen – all beautiful and interesting, if a little far out there for my daily cooking. The main reason I’m not making vegan Mongolian “beef” is that I’m not making Mongolian beef, period.
As I tweaked and changed and adjusted the dinner prompt blog, I did think more consciously about meatless components, partially because of Frank’s advice, partially for health concerns, but mostly because I am clear about meat consumption’s devastating impact on the environment. For example, producing a single pound of beef requires approximately 1,850 gallons of water – almost FIFTY TIMES the amount of water required to produce a pound of vegetables.
For every reason, I believe in a predominantly plant-based diet. I also believe in buying the meats we do eat from local farmers who use sustainable, ethical farming methods.
While I had (have) no intention of going full-fledged Food52 vegan, I did (and still do) think it good sense to focus on plants first – at home and on the blog.
But then that blog stalled, and my other dinner-related endeavors faltered, and I went back to basics, returning to the basic five-recipe-links postscript to my (mostly) weekly posts here. Sometimes, though rarely, I follow my weekly plan to a T. More often I use it as a guide, the same way a recipe is, to me, more of a guide than a tight prescription. Whether or not we’re on point, though, I do still try to cook with the idea of meat – red meat in particular – as an occasional, thoughtfully-used ingredient, ideally in small quantity relative to the assorted, colorful greens and yellows and reds and oranges, etc., that should take up the majority of the plate.
So, back to the experiment I mentioned at the beginning:
Last week, cooking for a young guest who stayed with us over the long Easter weekend, I made kalpudding, a richly decadent Swedish meatloaf made from a blend of pork and beef, thickened with heavy cream and flavored with caramelized cabbage. It is completely delicious, if artery-clogging. We washed it down with a dry, crimson Côtes du Rhône to compensate.
What’s particularly satisfying about this dish is that it’s, well, satisfying. Everyone leaves the table feeling well-fed and warmly comforted, nourished in body and soul. While roasted root vegetable tarte tatin, mushroom-Gruyere grilled cheese, and Jane Grigson’s celery soup are similarly gratifying, meat-based dishes like meatloaf most often come to mind when the idea of comfort food beckons.
I often wonder, in an abstract kind of way, if the continued affection for meat-based dishes stems from fear of deprivation, from the notion that the only alternative is to eradicate and replace outright a much-cherished item with something new and foreign and unfamiliar and seemingly unattractive – a thin, cotton prison uniform in exchange for a cozy, handmade, heirloom sweater.
So, last night, while I was making a batch of dark chocolate bark with dried cherries, pistachios and Fleur de Sel (because chocolate is fundamentally important for my happiness), I looked at the leftover pistachios and wondered, out of the blue, what a meatless kalpudding, made with grains and nuts instead of pork and beef, might taste like. I consulted another cooking friend (Michelle, of Gourmandistan, a veritable walking encyclopaedia of recipes and cooking techniques), and she pointed me to this classic vegetarian nut loaf.
Then I got to work. I cooked the yellow onion and cabbage according to the original recipe (caramelized in butter and a bit of golden syrup – half for the topping, half mixed in to the main fare). Instead of meat, I used farro (boiled, with salt) chopped mushrooms (cooked in butter and white wine, with salt and herbes de Provence), and ground pistachios, all held together with a couple of eggs and a bit of heavy cream. Instead of water or stock, I poured some more white wine over the top before popping it into a hot oven. From there, I followed the original instructions, baking uncovered at 370 for about 40 minutes, until the top was a lovely brown color.
It was delicious – and still is, now served cold (though it won’t hold together like cold meatloaf for a sandwich; perhaps more eggs next time). It would have been as good, I suspect, with olive oil/coconut oil and and a binder of silken tofu with either cashew cream or coconut cream.
The point is that this was not a hard switch, and the end result was every bit as warm and comforting and satisfying as the original.
Today, Earth Day 2017, I leave you with a few things to think about, if you’re willing, now that you’ve reached the end of this rambling bit of ramble and are about to head to dinner:
Just one day a week of meatless eating will simultaneously help both your body and the environment. One day. You can do it.
You don’t have to go full-fledged crazy “vegan Mongolian ‘beef'” mode to go meatless.
Good food is best enjoyed when shared with friends – ideally in person, though also in simple conversation between here and there, wherever we may find ourselves, you and I, together on this good earth.
P.S. Red wine is a perfect accompaniment for dark chocolate, original kalpudding and the meatless version of kalpudding. The late writer Jim Harrison – as dedicated a meat eater as ever there was – credited to red wine consumption his reaching the ripe age of 78, despite his large and wide-ranging appetite.
Food | Week of April 24, 2017
White Bean Fritters | Green Salad
Shakshuka | Sourdough Toast
Dave T. Spinach Cake | Herb Salad