No Vengeance, Please, Vegans

I love vegan cookbooks. 

This may come as a surprise to those of you who have seen my recipes for fish with bacon, chocolate truffles with bacon, and even bacon-from-the-ground-up, but I love vegetables just as much as meat, sometimes more. 

Vegan cookbooks are a wonderful place to look for vegetable recipes, because, obviously, vegetables are, for them, the whole point of eating.  I love cooked greens with ham hocks as much as the next (non-vegan) person, but sometimes I want the bright, clear flavor of a vegetable all by itself, or a crisp salad unsullied by salty crunchy bits.

I have, however, an unfortunate tendency.

Sometimes, when I make the recipes, I add animal products. 

The problem is protein–I can’t survive a meal without it.  If I don’t get a significant amount of protein at every meal, I will, in fact, faint.  It’s happened before, and it’s not fun.  And while I’m not a knee-jerk carnivore, and while I adore tofu and beans and lentils, I don’t want more than half of my meals to be leguminous.  Thus: meat or cheese. 

(I don’t know why I feel guilty about it–I change other recipes in ways that their authors never intended all the time–but I do).

The other week, I checked Veganomicon, a humongous and engrossing new vegan cookbook, out of the library.  I loved every recipe that I tried, but when the book went back to the library, there were plenty of wonderful ones that I hadn’t gotten to.  Instead of the recipes, I now had jotted notes, combinations of flavors: “Brussels sprouts, roasted, garam masala.”  “Chickpeas–do things!”  “Tofu, barbecue sauce, broccoli?”

The note that colonized the meal-planning section of my brain, though, was “kale enchiladas.”  I love kale, I love enchiladas, and, after the day-long blizzard last Friday, I needed simple comfort food.  (Explanatory note: my father is from New Mexico.  Thus, for me, even though I grew up in Iowa, Southwestern flavors are redolent of childhood, safety and comfort).

What I had: 1 bunch of kale, 4 tortillas, 1 can of tomatoes.  I made the tomatoes into a quick sauce by sauteing a minced shallot in oil, then adding garlic, the tomatoes, and a raft of southwestern spices.  (I know that real enchiladas are made with a chile sauce, not a tomato one, but I was making this up as I went along).  After everything cooked together for about 15 minutes, I turned off the heat, let the mixture cool a bit, then whirled it up in the food processor.

I tore the kale into bite-sized pieces, steamed it, and then added a big spoonful of the sauce.  I wrapped the lightly suaced kale in the tortillas, put them into a greased 8*8 pan, and poured the rest of the sauce over the top.  They looked great, but there was something missing–something that would take them from Extremely Good to Ultimate Comfort. 

Sorry guys: my platonic ideal of an enchilada includes cheese. 

The very last of the locally produced cheese–a chipotle cheddar–came out of the freezer, where I’ve been hording it.  It was, with difficulty, grated, and the rust-tinged crumbles scattered over the tortillas in sauce.  I baked the dish for 45 minutes at 350, until the cheese was browned and bubbling, then let it cool for about 10, until it was still hot, but not molten.

It. Was. Perfect.

The greens, sauce and tortilla had retained their integrity, but had so melded their flavors that they might have been one item: each flavor was distinct, but present in every bite, with no sharp edges between them.   The combination of a cooked green and a tomato sauce was almost reminiscent of spinach-stuffed pasta, even though the seasonings were completely different.  And, also similar to a stuffed pasta dish, the blanket of cheese held everything together and added a layer of chewy caramelization. 

The dish would have been delicious even without the cheese–I admit this.  I would have loved it, and not missed the dairy at all.  But I’m not sorry I added it; it made an extraordinary meal on a cold, cold night.

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Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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