Vegan is as Vegan Does

Recipe for a perfect Sunday: sleep in, go for a run, then go for lunch with two lovely friends at Herbivore, an all-vegan restaurant on nearby Divis. We ranged from vegetarian to mostly-vegetarian-but-sometimes-also-fish, and stalwart vegan to vegan-with-cheese-occasionally, but no matter each individual’s predilection toward dairy we all agreed that vegan can be purely delicious.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about eleven years now, and I can’t imagine going back. Luckily, I’m a person who never loved the taste of meat (and never really liked fish), so it was probably easier for me to make the switch than it might be for others. For the most part, I cook without using much eggs or dairy, primarily for the health benefits gained from a low-cholesterol diet (though when I go out, I’ll usually order something oozing with cheese because I just love it so. Faux-cheese, for me, will never be an appropriate substitute).

On special occasions, I’ll go down to the Ferry Buliding fish market and get a pinkly luscious piece of wild-caught, local salmon — or another wild-caught (always! please!) fish that looks fresh and delicious — that I’ll cook for my guests, and I have roasted a few chickens in the past few years. I’m not a preachy veggie; I just prefer not to eat meat myself and I know for a myriad of ethical reasons I perhaps shouldn’t even think about cooking it. Yet I also prefer not to limit myself by any sorts of ‘rules.’

[At the end of the day, cooking, for me, is about creating something nourishing and delicious — and my happiest moments are when I can serve what I have cooked to others. So this means occasionally I’ll be cooking animals, but I will only ever buy local, organic, or wild-caught creatures.]

But as a vegetarian, when I go out to eat, my menu choices are by default more limited. I’ve gotten used to ordering the one pasta with vegetables (and extra parmesan) dish, and will enjoy it happily. When biting into a toothsome veggie burger, I’ll conveniently not think about the fact that it was probably cooked right alongside a juicy hamburger on the grill. And I have been known to simply not ask if a soup was made with anything other than vegetable stock because it just looked so good and I had to have it.

So to go to an establishment that serves only vegetarian or vegan food is a rare luxury. One does not have to timidly ask if the tomato sauce is made without meat, or gingerly poke at a plate of spaghetti gently — and unexpectedly — adorned with bits of ham. And there are so many choices! We almost couldn’t make up our minds because of the wide variety.

I ordered the “lentil loaf, with red beet sauce, mashed potatoes, and wilted chard.” My dining companions ordered lasagne, a bowl of macaroni and “cheese,” and a corn cakes, potatoes, and black beans breakfast dish. To be honest, it wasn’t the best food I’ve ever tasted, but it was a treat to experience a completely plant-based meal. And I was inspired by the vegan carrot cake to attempt my own version; it tasted almost exactly like the ‘real’ thing.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up cheese, and I can’t imagine baking without eggs and milk, but it’s fun to experiment every so often (I see it as a challenge to cook without traditional ingredients while still achieving not only edible but delicious dishes). And I make a vegan chocolate cake (or cupcakes) that is quite divine.

Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or mix of wheat/white)
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease one 9×5 inch loaf pan. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add the oil, vanilla, vinegar and water. Mix together until smooth. Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Recipe may be doubled and baked in 9-inch round cake pans to make a layer cake. Frost with a vegan chocolate or chocolate-peanut butter frosting.

nicole spiridakis © copyright 2023