Accidentally Vegan

September 24, 2021

I am not here to tell anyone how to eat. That has never been my agenda in my 35 years of being a vegetarian. It doesn’t bother me if you order a hamburger when we have lunch together, I am fine if you cook a steak for my kids as long as its not in my kitchen. I have never (I hope) chastised anyone for eating the way they do although many have chastised me for eating the way I do. (Some people, not anyone I know well, had a field day with the fact that my kids were vegetarian for the first half of their lives. “What about protein?” Please. Have you seen them?) I eat the way I eat, you eat the way you eat. If you are curious about a more plant based diet and want some recipe ideas, this is a good place to be. As always, welcome!

I have noticed in the past 5-10 years that there is a big uptick in the number of vegan cookbooks and products available. Even in just the awareness of veganism. I realize I live in the Bay Area so I am probably seeing more of it than other parts of the country/world. But even if you check out the cookbook section of you local bookstore, chances are you will see quite a few vegan cookbooks, maybe even more than the vegetarian ones. The sales of impossible burgers and faux meat products are through the roof. I’m glad to see eating plant based coming out from the fringes into the mainstream but I do wish the emphasis was more on eating whole foods rather than highly processed meat substitutes.

It might be worth it here to clarify the difference between vegetarian and vegan. A vegetarian, which is what I am, does not eat animals or parts of animals. Yes, this includes fish. If you eat fish you are a pescatarian. (I can’t type that without remembering the guy on Silicon Valley who said he was as pesca-pescatarian, someone who only eats fish that eat other fish. Love it.) I like to say I don’t eat anything with a face but then have to include the caveat that I don’t eat mollusks either. I will eat things that come from animals like eggs, dairy, and honey. I will not eat gelatin which comes from cow hooves because the animal has to be dead to get that. And that means that I’ve made the Smitten Kitchen Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats probably 100 times and I’ve never tasted them. (Vegan marshmallows do exist but in my experience they don’t melt well enough to make those treats.)

If you are used to just eating any old thing, a vegan diet can seem restrictive. When I was having this very conversation with my children a couple of nights ago, they told me eating vegan sounded boring. Imagine their surprise when I told them our dinners are vegan easily twice a week. In fact some of their favorite things I make are vegan. An amazing curry from Diana Henry’s Plenty, any of the red lentil dhal variations I make, fava bean pesto pasta from Six Seasons (the pesto itself is vegan, Parmesan can be added later if wanted), Thai yellow curry from Everyday Greens. They love all of these dishes and do you know why? Because they are fabulous. Incredibly flavorful, terrific mixes of vegetables and pulses and grains and spices. Most importantly, they are not trying to be something they are not. They are not assaulting your taste buds with 40 spices and too much salt and tons of ingredients so you don’t “miss the meat”. They pull their inspiration from the wonderful world of plants that, when treated right, can be incredibly tasty and satisfying. I sometimes call these superstar dishes “accidentally vegan” in that they are vegan just because they are. They pull from cuisines that don’t rely so heavily on meat.

I’m choosing to share this recipe in this somewhat preachy sounding post (I am trying very hard not to sound preachy) because it is approachable and has been one of my very favorite things to eat since I got this amazing book from Anna Jones. (Side note – if you are looking for more plant based goodness in your diet, seriously check out her books. I have all of them and they are all terrific but A Modern Way to Eat is my favorite.) Sometimes you just want dinner to taste good, like really good, without having to spend a lot of time and effort. Aside from a bit of chopping, this dish basically cooks itself. It scales up easily, reacts well to all sorts of substitutions and additions, tastes great the next day, and will satisfy most palates. And oh yeah, it’s vegan. (OK, the garnish isn’t but you can use a plant based yogurt if you are vegan.)

Chickpea and Preserved Lemon Stew
Adapted from A Modern Way to Eat
Serves 4

Preserved lemons are easier to find than ever and their flavor is incredibly welcome in this stew. That said, if you can’t find them, grate in the zest of a lemon instead. The additions I make to the recipe are a sweet potato and olives, you can leave the former out, but I think the latter are necessary to balance the sweetness of this dish. You can make this soupier by adding more liquid and stewier by adding more Israeli couscous. Finally, I actually prefer to use fregola sarda instead of Israeli couscous. It is craggier making for a more interesting texture. Rustichella brand has a great one which you can usually find in the pasta section.

Olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 stick of cinnamon
1 preserved lemon, halved, seeds removed
Small handful of raisins
12 Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup Israeli couscous or fregola sarda
Handful of parsley leaves, chopped

To Serve:
Good pinch of saffron strands
4 tbsp. whole milk plain yogurt (dairy or plant-based)
1/2 clove garlic, peeled and minced
4 handfuls arugula

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, and sweet potato along with a good pinch of salt. Cook until the onions start to release their liquid, then add the garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.

Add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Fill both cans with water and add to the pan too. Add the bouillon cube, cinnamon stick, preserved lemon halves, raisins, and olives. Season with salt and pepper and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the tomato broth has thickened slightly and tastes wonderfully fragrant.

Add the couscous and cook for another 10 minutes, making sure you add a little extra water here if necessary. If you want it soupier, add another can or so of water.

Meanwhile, put the saffron in a bowl with a small splash of boiling water and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Then add the yogurt, garlic, and a pinch of salt and mix well.

After 10 minutes the couscous should be cooked while still keeping a little chewy bite. Taste to make sure and continue cooking if necessary. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed, stir in the parsley, and then scoop out the preserved lemon halves. Ladle the stew into bowls. Top with a good spoonful of saffron yogurt and a crown of arugula.



6 Comments »

  1. I have made this several times, but never with the fregola sarda. Next time I will try that for sure. So glad you are back!

    Comment by Cathy — September 24, 2021 @ 6:09 pm

  2. Can’t wait to try this recipe! Thank you!

    Comment by deborah — September 24, 2021 @ 8:15 pm

  3. I, too, am a vegetarian and not a vegan although I love foods that are vegan and eat and make foods that happen to be vegan often. There have always been veggie burgers, and I enjoy them (e.g., black bean burgers with oatmeal), but the trend towards veggie burgers that aim to look and even bleed like meat repels me. I have seen prefab veggie burgers even in expensive restaurants in our area: I just don’t get it. Here’s to eating vegetarian and vegan food that isn’t trying to look, taste, or feel (in its texture) like a dead animal!

    Comment by Heather — September 24, 2021 @ 9:42 pm

  4. Amen to that!! I had my first Impossible Burger at a baseball game this summer because I literally had no other choice. One of the many reasons I don’t eat meat is because I don’t like it. So eating something that mimics meat was pretty gross for me.

    Comment by dana — September 24, 2021 @ 11:17 pm

  5. Wow Dana, your boys are now young men. How time flies…
    Glad to have you back!

    Comment by Renee — September 25, 2021 @ 2:17 am

  6. I am so over all of the new meat substitutes. So processed, I can’t imagine that they are good for anyone. Give me a black bean burger over an Impossible/Beyond burger any day!

    I’ve been slowly cooking my way through The Modern Cook’s Year but I need to get my hands on A Modern Way to Eat and Anna Jones’s newest cookbook, One. We’ve loved most of her recipes and the flavors in this sound spot on.

    Comment by Joanne H Bruno — September 26, 2021 @ 12:10 pm



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