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Friday, September 10, 2010

Brought to you by an excess of eggplants and tomatoes

The top five questions people ask me when they hear I'm vegan are, more or less, in no particular order:

1) Don't you miss cheese?
2) How do you know plants don't have feelings?
3) Where do you get your protein?
4) Why?
5) What do you eat?

These are all difficult questions to answer*, but number 5 may be the hardest. Usually I say, "Everything except meat, dairy, and eggs. You know...Fruits. Vegetables. Grains. Nuts. Seeds. Funghi. Beans. Spices. Sauces." But, understandably, the answer still seems lacking, and probably comes across like "everything you surround your meat with and eat more or less reluctantly, minus your favorite stuff."

I suppose a better strategy would be to just mention something nice, simple, and tasty that I've prepared or eaten in the past day or two. Describing a specific meal probably does more to counter the sense that vegetarianism requires extreme discipline and asceticism, and might even be a bit alluring if done right. In fact, while looking up recipes, I found a blog called "What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?"** which addresses said topic.

(Indeed, in terms of convincing / coercing people to eat less meat, it's probably better to mention one good vegan meal and tell them how to make it than it is to mention 20 non-meat ingredients they could use to cook something for themselves, if only they knew how).

Actually, now that I think about it, there's no need to even mention something I actually ate recently. Why not just mention, say, one of my staple dishes, or a one-off that turned out particularly well? Something tasty, easy, and that doesn't feel like it needs meat to be complete. I could of course still pretend that I made it recently, to make it seem simple and concrete.

I submit, for your approval, an eggplant + tomato curry that I whipped up with produce I just had lying around, most of it on its last legs:

How to do it:

(Please forgive the lack of quantities and times. I don't pay much attention to either.)

- Mince garlic, chilis, and ginger and fry with some onion. If you have cumin or mustard seeds, fry them too. If you don't, add some ground cumin after a few minutes.

- Keep an eye out. Pour in a bit of water (1/4 to 1/2 a cup) if it looks like it is drying out.

- Add in the eggplants. Mine were cubed, but I'm sure strips would also work. No need to peel. Cover to keep the steam in.

- Continue adding water (1/4 to 1/2 a cup at a time) if it gets too dry.

- Once eggplants get pretty soft, drop in some tomatoes.

- Add tumeric, curry powder, ground cumin and coridander, garam masala, salt, and/or pepper to taste. I also happened to have some coconut powder, which I threw in.

- Depending on your preferred texture, you may also choose to mash it up a bit. Watch out for squirts of scalding cherry tomato juice.

- For some extra fat and protein, crush up some seeds or nuts and sprinkle them on top. Cashews would probably be best, but peanuts grow better here.

- I ate my first serving with mixed-grain rice (brown, black, sticky, corn, halved peas and beans) and my leftovers with some polenta, also left over. The third serving was accompanied by some steamed sweet pumpkin slices and half a sweet potato.

Voilà! I served some to my neighbor Mathan from Madurai (a city in Tamil Nadu, just a hundred km or so from Sadhana), a real authentic Indian person. He said that it was great but could use a little tamarind extract to thicken up the flavor and counteract the spiciness.

A very nice meal, with lots to recommend it! Lots of spice, lots of veggies, lots of flexibility (carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, peas, etc would probably work fine), very little oil, and can be made in about 30 minutes if you've got the routine down.

Give it a try.

1) People don't believe me when I say "not really." But it's true.
2) Generally nobody who asks this questions actually believes that plants and animals experience feelings the same way, or is asking it with plant welfare in mind. They are more likely than not trying to make my beliefs appear inconsistent, and make themselves feel justified. It's hard to answer a disingenuous question like this.
3) People, again understandably, don't believe me when I say that the above is enough.
4) "Environmental and ethical reasons" is too short and accusatory, but anything longer than that generates awkward silence.

**Actually, I'm not a huge fan of the blog. The meals are a little complicated and imposing for my tastes and, frankly, reek of BOBOhood***. I like my food simple, and with as many local ingredients and whole foods as possible. I suppose, though, that even these meals can seem simple, provided you keep the right stuff on hand and go through them once or twice. Also, I don't use my oven much.

***I realize I am a BO(urgeois) BO(hemian) in many ways and a hypocrite in some others. I also realize that you all probably realize this about me, and also that you realize that I also realize this about myself, and that I therefore probably don't need to point out that I realize it, too.


Jamal said...

I'm glad that you commented on the question about plants having feelings being typically disingenuine. I was rather incredulous of someone asking that for real... Is it really one of the top five questions you get asked, frequency-wise?

Mike said...

I don't take tallies, but if it's not among the most frequent, it's at least one of the ones that comes to mind most. Maybe the formula that generated the list was more like frequency x flummoxivity.

Speaking of which, I've also been asked a few times what will happen to all the poor cows and chickens if we stop eating them. Apparently there are people who keep the animals' or species' welfare in mind while chowing down.

Anonymous said...

Ah, so this confirms my green onion suggestions probably weren't very helpful. Although, you could probably throw them into this dish too!

Mike said...

Maybe someday if I find a reliable source of free-range eggs, I'll try your leek recipe. Actually I know some farmers down south (here in Korea) who keep a few ducks. Maybe they'll let me try your suggestion out...