Warning - controversial content follows.
Do vegans cook? Can vegans cook?
We were eating recently at our favourite Thai restaurant, Soi.38, in Adelaide. We started with a plate of Sago Peanut Dumplings with salted coconut sauce. These were apricot-sized balls of sticky steamed tapioca, stuffed with both finely chopped mushrooms and peanuts. They sat in a shallow sauce of coconut milk and were topped with a ring of sliced red chilli and some coriander. They were amazing and delicious, like nothing I’ve ever had or imagined before.
Then it struck me. They were inadvertently, unselfconsciously, quite naturally made with no animal product at all. I guess you’d say they were vegan. I type this word with a tremor in my hand. Why?
This brought to mind another “vegan experience”, in particular a dish of steamed whole zucchini, served as is, with no enhancement. Let’s be brutally honest here, the zucchini is not the wildest little veg on the block. Apparently it has some food value hidden in its fibre and is certainly a flavour carrier but plain, steamed…?
The worst part of the experience was that the hosts/cooks commented at every bite “Yum. Isn’t this delicious!” Now I love sitting around a table and will enjoy practically everything I’m offered (and I don’t have to wash up). But, I’m the guest here guys and it’s my role to comment on any deliciousness, not yours.
I’ve found a recipe/explanation for the sago balls above, on the great Google cookbook in the cloud (and I’ll try that later) but my mind is buzzing. I know I can do a fantastic, delicious, exciting, meal where no-one misses the eggs, cream, honey or meat. I would have to put in a little effort, of course and that raises the question. Do vegans cook? Are they interested in flavour? Are they interested in texture variation? Are they committed to honouring the produce of this beautiful earth? Are they interested in exciting the senses or is that too base a desire?
Above - steamed asparagus and poached leeks (à la grec) topped with a toasted mix of chopped walnuts, olive oil, coarse breadcrumbs and parsley.
I'm thinking of a menu starting with gazpacho or chilled avocado and count milk soup. (Tetsuya offers a nice carrot and soy soup in his eponymous cookbook.)
We could follow with the dish above (1910 Wedgwood)...
or perhaps red capsicums, halved, stuffed with cherry tomatoes, garlic, marjoram and roasted just short of caramelisation...
or tofu fritters on a bed of pickled seaweed...
or... or... or...
Vegan cheese? Don't go there! We'll finish with orange segments, dates, cinnamon and caramelised zest with perhaps an orange sorbet or...
Help me out here. Comment and suggestions below.