Thai It; You’ll Like It!

Laap, laab, larp, lahb, larb; there’s about as many ways to spell the dish as there are to make it. Regarded by many as the national dish of Laos, it shows up in numerous different forms in neighboring countries. Thai cooks present their own fiery rendition of the traditional minced meat salad flecked with aromatic herbs and bold spices in perfect balance, but meatless versions aren’t hard to find in the surprisingly vegan-friendly nation. Inspired by my own journey to the Land of Smiles, I’ve taken to a hearty blend of tempeh and mushrooms, swaddling the hot mixture in cooling lettuce leaves. The combination of so many contrasting tastes and temperatures creates incredibly satisfying, harmonious little bundles.

If the original inspiration remains of reach, fear not. You can take a trip to Thailand in less time than it would take to order takeout! Join me at the Sacramento VegFest this Saturday, January 26th at 11:30 AM when I’ll share my secrets for whipping up a quick fix tempeh larb without compromising flavor, nutrition, or your budget, even during the busiest weekday dinner rush. Pick up more tips and tricks for faster, tastier meals across the board, based on my latest cookbook Real Food, Really Fast.

If only for the free samples, you won’t want to miss this. Hope to see you there!

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Plant-Based Meals that Deliver

Meal delivery services have proliferated faster than amorous rabbits in recent years, expanding from an obscure, niche business model to one as common as the standard grocery store. There’s something for everyone, they promise with bright, inviting graphics, splashed across the screen with tempting photos of various dishes. If you like to cook, you can get bundles of ingredients with recipes. If your expertise in the kitchen ends at the microwave, you can have finished dishes ready to heat and eat land on your doorstep with just the click of a button. For those feeding a family, still more options abound for bulk meal prep. Don’t even get me started on all the specialized diets, from paleo to gluten-free, sometimes available all on the same platform. How does one begin to pick apart the best choices, given such a superabundance of promising meals- And seemingly endless deals?

While most enterprises now offer at least a handful of plant-based entrees, as is the trend, only a select few boast a fully vegan menu across the board. Veestro is one that can claim that distinction, inspired by the need for organic, healthy, and above all else, tasty food that fits into a fast-paced lifestyle. For their part, the stated goal is provide more plants for anyone hungry for a healthier alternative to takeout, appealing to the omnivores among us as well.

Sign up for a meal plan to save on the bundle or cherry-pick just a few dishes a la carte to supplement your standard rotation. Deliveries arrive frozen, conveniently packaged for further storage in your freezer or immediate thawing and consuming.

Here’s where I must sheepishly admit that I first tried Veestro many months ago, but as a testament to fervent following, these proven crowd-pleases are still delighting eaters all the same today. Such is the case for this Three Layer Scramble, which stacks up with a base of quinoa, smothered by a soft tofu scramble with black beans and topped by shredded dairy-free cheese. Reminiscent of enchilada filling without the heat of chilies, the ranchero-style sauce definitely erred more on the mild side, but that’s nothing a dash of sriracha can’t fix. Emphasizing the whole grains with a generous portion, it’s a very filling morning meal that would be just as enjoyable at lunch or dinnertime, too.

Perhaps the Breakfast Burrito was designed to be a more handheld, grab-and-go option, but the piquant sauce on the side is what truly makes this dish. Pour it on with abandon to make it a “wet” burrito, with a fork, knife, and plate required. Light and bright, it revives the slightly parched interior and adds volumes of flavor. Though labeled as hot sauce, it’s really more like a smooth, blended salsa. Wrapped up in the grilled tortilla, you’ll be pleased to find tender, toothsome, black beans, tofu, and potatoes. Served separately, lightly seasoned hash browns seem a bit redundant given this combination, but certainly aren’t unwelcome here. Who could say no to a supple, buttery potato, though?

If an urgent call should go out for some homey, uncomplicated comfort food, the Shepherdless Pie has got your number. Creamy potatoes with quinoa make up the bulk of this dish, slathered with a savory mushroom gravy that leads with the distinctive cheesy taste of nutritional yeast. Though slightly grainy after a harsh freeze and thaw, that textural shortcoming is easily forgiven when mixed into the main meal. Very much reminiscent of a pot pie without pastry, this easy entree presents familiar and uncomplicated flavors for widespread appeal.

There are no downright failures on this menu, but admittedly, some small disappointments. Thai Chicken Stew combines a thick, rich tomato base with incredibly meaty chicken strips, complete with a boldly charred, grilled essence, but I struggled to find any sort of Asian influence. Not a hint of curry, lemongrass, or coconut could be found. Although it looks like fried rice on the side, don’t be fooled; it’s just plain brown rice with peas and carrots. If simply re-titled without a reference to more exotic cuisine, it would be worthy of a reorder, but promises more on paper than it delivers in person.

Also available as a full “detox” plan, juices can be added a la cart, with a classic green juice predictably leading the pack as a top seller. Apple juice as a stand-alone beverage lost its appeal around kindergarten, so admittedly, I was not particularly enthusiastic to find the diminutive plastic bottle of Johnny Appleseed Juice in my sampler box. Clearly not just plain apple, as the dark green hue would make obvious at a glance, the initial smell is of grassy celery. Thankfully, it plays more of a supporting role in the overall flavor, which was definitely vegetal, but mellow and mostly sweet. More than mere veggies, this blend boasts a decent amount of protein thanks to the addition of sacha inchi, giving it much more more than just straight sugar for a quick energy boost.

As much as I love cooking, one of the greatest luxuries in life is allowing others to take the reins, and simply be fed. Knowing that those meals are of reliably high quality, healthy, and ready when you need them makes Veestro a strong contender for anyone who wants a night off from kitchen duty. Best of all, since they ship frozen, you can stock up and save them for times of need.

Have you tried any other prepared meal services? There are new plant-based providers sprouting out everyday, or so it seems, and I’m curious to try them all!

Printed, Published, Imperfect

Every time a book is published, print set to dry and locked in place for all eternity, a certain number of errors and omissions are inevitably sealed in at the same time. Some are more egregious than others, but any blemish on a beloved manuscript is hard for any passionate author to accept. Luckily, it seems that nothing untoward was baked into the cake for Real Food, Really Fast, but what wasn’t included feels like a terrible personal failing that’s hard to accept.

Somehow, despite best scrupulous proofreading and tireless testing, my Samosa Gnocchi managed to miss the last call and got left behind on the digital cutting board. Though simple in their final format, those spicy potato dumplings went through the gantlet and back to achieve perfection, making it an even greater shame that they couldn’t join the party.

Luckily, it seems as though the book is on track for many more re-printings to come, and in the meantime, I’m happy to share these spicy morsels to celebrate such success. In fact, Real Food, Really Fast has been selected as a featured ebook until May 23rd on Amazon.com which means you can snap up a digital copy for the fire sale price of just $1.99. If you haven’t poured over these pages yet, now is your chance to do it on the cheap!

Samosa Gnocchi

Plain potato gnocchi are about as exciting as white bread, which is why they rarely showed up on my dinner plate before I considered that baseline as just a blank canvas to build upon. Fix them up with a pinch of curry powder, for example, and you could consider each starchy sphere as merely a naked samosa, stripped of its deep-fried pastry shell. Akin to dried pasta, packaged gnocchi make fast work of this preparation, lending a toothsome bite to each chewy orb. As a brilliantly spiced side dish that could complement a wide range of proteins or simple stews, you’ll never accuse this humble spud of being bland again.

1 (16 – 17 Ounce) Package Potato Gnocchi
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 1/2 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed
Mango Chutney*, to Serve (Optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and pop in the gnocchi, using a spatula to gently break them apart. Cook just shy of al dente as the dumplings will continue to soften in the curry sauce. In some cases, this might amount to only 1 or 2 minutes in the water, so keep a close eye on the process and test frequently by poking the pieces with a fork. Drain and rinse with cold water to immediately stop the cooking process.

In a medium saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat and add in the par-boiled gnocchi. Spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible, and resist the urge to stir for about two minutes, allowing them to dry and very lightly toast. Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, both spice mixtures, and salt before pouring them into the pan. Turn down the heat to medium-low, mix thoroughly, and simmer for 1 – 2 minutes longer, until the sauce coats the gnocchi nicely. Toss in the thawed peas and serve with mango chutney on the side, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

*There are more types of chutney on the market than there are days in the year, from creamy coconut to fiery habanero varieties, but one of my favorites is made from mango. You can pick up a jar of it at most grocery stores these days, but you can also throw together a quick version at home, if you have an extra couple of minutes to spare.

Quick Mango Chutney

1 1/2 Cups Diced, Frozen Mango
1/2 Cup Diced Tomato
1/4 Cup Diced Yellow Onion
1/4 Cup Golden Raisins
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Place the mango and all ingredients in a microwave safe dish, stir well, and heat on full power for 4 – 7 minutes. The fruit should be softened, syrupy, and well-seasoned. This chutney will keep well if stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes 2 Cups

Printable Recipe

The Meat of the Matter

Order a veggie burger at any restaurant and steel yourself for a surprise- Whether or not it’s a good one. What might arrive at your table could be anything from a verdant green mash of chickpeas and spinach, or a “bloody” meat-facsimile so authentic that some carnivores wouldn’t know the difference. The humble vegetarian staple has undergone a stunning evolution in a very short amount of time, thanks to the spread of veganism, but also increased health and environmental concerns. Not everyone wants to eat legume patties when they’re craving beef, which is what makes this latest round of plant-based innovations particularly encouraging. I’ve long said that you don’t need to be vegan to eat vegan, and these more accessible, familiar options make the concept considerably more feasible. I’ve already covered the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger here, but they’re far from the only players in this game.

Tofurky, proud meatless proponents for over 2 decades, has managed to maintain their space in this competitive market while winning over new fans. Their copious and diverse offerings are a testament to that, providing something for everyone. Now, that includes the staunch meat-eaters among us, thanks to their newly launched line of Do-It-Yourself grinds, approximating the look, texture, and of course, flavor of traditional ground beef and/or pork, depending on your seasoned kit of choice. Today, with grilling season right around the corner, I’m talking burgers.

Molding easily into patties, no additional binders are necessary for sound, solid construction. They hold together beautifully through the entire cooking process, never once threatening to crumble under pressure. Before long, a distinctly meaty aroma will fill the air, but the scent also has a also wheaty aspect, like good old glutenous seitan.

Cooking quickly, it takes only 3 – 5 minutes per side to achieve a nice sear; a satisfying transformation that creates a crisp crust and seals in a juicy, tender interior. Hearty, satisfying, but not fatty nor greasy, this is the midway point between old school and new tech. Beefy without the overwhelming sensation of sinew, it’s an ideal savory, neutral foundation to build upon. You can truly make it your own with herbs and spices, or keep it simple for the classic backyard BBQ experience. It’s not a perfect dupe for the animal it was made to imitate, but I believe it comes close enough to quell a craving, without turning away those repulsed by the reminder of the flesh inspiration.

Best of all, the DIY format allows you to depart from the typical patty path and forge your own culinary adventure. Crumble the grind and cook it with a healthy dose of spice, load it into a crunchy corn tortilla, and taco night will never be the same again. That’s just the tip of the meatless iceberg, as they (might?) say. Think meatloaf, bolognese sauce, stuffed pasta and casseroles galore. Pick out any recipe your stomach desires and simply substitute this plant-based protein in a 1-to-1 ratio for ground beef. Anything meat can do, Tofurky can do better.