Broadly Speaking

What’s in a name? Broad beans are a confounding classification that encompasses a whole swath of the legume population. Some use the term interchangeably, referring to butter beans and lima beans as if they were the same thing. Defying all rational definition, in a sense, they are! Why is it that lima beans tend to get the short end of the stick, the bane of many picky childrens’ existence, while butter beans come with an air of whole luxury? Words do matter, more than one might want to admit.

Different varieties for each title exist, but the whole naming convention is further complicated by location and appearance. In the south, you’re more likely to see butter beans on the menu, but if they’re younger and thus greener, they’re the spitting image of what one might otherwise refer to as lima beans. It’s the same, but different.

If we could forget about names for a minute, I truly believe that the smaller, greener subspecies would have a fighting chance at mainstream acceptance. Tender, but with the same toothsome bite as edamame, they’re textually unparalleled in the bean kingdom. That’s especially true if you treat them properly; canned or over-boiled beans are likely the root of cause of such historical disregard, but fresh or frozen, you’re talking about a whole different hill of beans.

Pan-fried with a generous glug of fresh pressed olive oil, they finally live up to the promise of buttery taste, too. Blistered over scorching hot temperatures, a literal flash in the pan, their skins become crisp, adding a whole new dimension of texture to the plate. Simply prepared, with a touch of garlic, salt, and pepper, you could easily eat them straight, as an entree over mashed potatoes, sprinkled over salads, or served up with bar nuts as a hot new beer snack.

This same treatment works for just about any bean, including but not limited to chickpeas, fava beans, and even lentils. Now, don’t even get me started about the additional complication of the terms “pole beans” and “butter peas.”

Continue reading “Broadly Speaking”

Flipping the Bird

When I was a kid, the closest thing I ever had to fried chicken was the sporadic nugget or tenders at Friendly’s, eaten as the obligatory protein that would unlock the gates to dessert. Meat was never a feature for me, so I had no problem making the switch to veganism, even in those early days when eating the plant-based alternative meant whipping up a pot of beans. Things sure have changed in recent years, accelerated by technological advances and the quickening drumbeat of climate change. It’s not just the compassionate choice, but simply the most sensible one for the planet.

That’s all to say that I’m fortunate enough to have expanded my palate since going vegan so many years ago. Rather than feeling the constraints of a restrictive diet, pledging to try anything plant-based has opened up my eyes to a bold new world of food, quite literally. Though fried chicken isn’t exactly the pinnacle of culinary achievement, it’s still quite a marvel to behold, for the beautiful simplicity of the art form.

Shatteringly crisp, a properly fried, greaseless crust should give way to quick, sharp bite, revealing tender, juicy flesh within. Meaty, but not sinewy, firm but yielding to the tooth, that texture is where 90% of the experience lives or dies- And in this case, nothing should have to die to fulfill that craving. Some are made of soy, some gluten, others pea protein, and still others use a combination approach to achieve plant-based prowess. Luckily, my only intolerance is to animal cruelty, so Austin is my vegan oyster when it comes to exploring these deep-fried delights.

Stunned by the breadth and depth of options suddenly at my disposal, I decided to embark on a noble quest to find the best vegan fried chicken in this fair city. Even as I ate, watching the plates pile up, even more restaurants opened with hot and fresh new options. Thus, this critique is forever a work in progress. At this rate, seeking out vegan fried chicken may soon become as relevant as hunting down vegan hummus; though it’s possible to go astray, you’d have to try very hard to mess that one up.

This is far from an exhaustive list, presented in no particular order; the rapidly evolving restaurant scene makes it impossible to keep a complete catalog of options. Rather, it’s my little black book of favorites, featuring plant-based renditions to do proper justice to the breaded bird. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve excluded fully vegetable-centric versions, buffalo wings, and barbecue, focusing on complete proteins, simply seasoned and fried only.

Continue reading “Flipping the Bird”

Fritter the Day Away

From the beginning of time, when humans discovered fire and the very concept of cooking itself, fritters have bubbled up across all cultures. Defined primarily as battered and fried morsels, the specifics that flavor these nuggets are limitless. Vegetables, fruits, or proteins could be the main feature, or a combination, or none of the above. The dough could be raised by yeast or baking soda or eggs, or left unleavened altogether. Served at any meal from day break to nightfall and in between, fritters can be sweet or savory, spicy or mild, served hot or cold. When you start trying to pin down exactly what a fritter is, it might be easier to describe what it isn’t instead.

Most Americans are familiar with simple, comforting fritters born primarily in the south; apple fritters are a staple lining in any decent pink doughnut shop box, while corn fritters are essential summer snacks. The French have beignets, while Italians call them bigne. Pakora hail from India, binding together bits of onion, potatoes, cauliflower or other vegetables in savory, seasoned chickpea flour.

While I could write a whole dissertation about the diverse world of fritters, I’d like to draw attention to a less celebrated sort today: the black eyed pea fritter. Known also as accara, this legume-based variant is primarily found in Africa. You could almost think of them as falafel from another motherland. Dried pulses blended coarsely with spices, fried until golden and crisp, they’re irresistible eaten out of hand as a snack, but work well in everything from sandwiches to salads.

This recipe comes from Chef Philip Gelb, who in turn adapted it from Bryant Terry. I was fortunate enough to first taste this beloved street food first hand, at one of his cooking classes eons ago. They were part of a lavish Jamaican spread including jerk cauliflower, calaloo, run down stew, and peas and rice, but I daresay they stole the show. Paired with a tart, tangy, sweet, and spicy tamarind chutney, I have a feeling you’ll fall in love with them, too.

Continue reading “Fritter the Day Away”