Take a Leek

For anyone into “clean eating,” I must imagine that leeks are obvious nonstarters. There are few foods more likely to be covered in filth, no matter where or when you buy them. Fresh from the farmers market, packaged in plastic; even those that claim to be pre-washed conceal a mouthful of silt woven between those leafy layers. No one could call this clean by any stretch of the imagination.

Thankfully, unlike the toxic mindset of diet culture, this is a problem that’s easily remedied. Wash away all those nasties in one fell swoop, and your labor will be handsomely rewarded. Related to garlic, chives, shallots, and onions, you get hints of all the four in one, with a subtle sweetness that lends itself to pretty much any dish you might add an allium to. Unlike their more pungent brethren, leeks are mild enough to be enjoyed on their own, simply grilled or roasted.

Why isn’t there more love for leeks? I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the dirt. It’s because of the way they’re grown, like asparagus, with dirt pushed up around them to keep their stalks whiter and more tender, that large amounts of sand gets trapped inside. Think of them as diamonds in the rough, that just need a bit of polishing. If you can take the time to peel an onion, try to muster a bit more patience and reap the benefits of luscious leeks.

Baked until they practically melt in your mouth in a savory sauce laden with cheese, this creamy leek gratin is the unassuming side dish that complements every meal. It’s so creamy and luscious, it’s almost like if mac and cheese and creamed onions had a love child. There’s even a bread crumb topping to finish each bite with a satisfying crunch.

Don’t write off leeks for their dark, dirty roots. They’d happily clean up their acts if given the chance.

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A Smash Hit

Forget about turkey and pecan pie; it simply isn’t Thanksgiving without potatoes. The greatest disappointment of my teenage years was a fateful Thanksgiving potluck where no one stepped up to bring potatoes. I haven’t spoken to them since.

Okay, so we exchanged a few choice words about the value of using spreadsheets for menu planning in the future, but I’ll never forget that lost year.

While you can’t go wrong with good old buttery mashers, smashed potatoes introduce a whole new textural element with crispy edges, making them even more compulsively edible with a drizzle of rich gravy aioli on top. After one taste of these spuds, no one could ever forget about the celebratory potatoes again.

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Breakfasts to Savor

A new day is dawning in the kitchen, jostling the soundest of sleepers awake. Far removed from the dusty boxes of cereal and granola bars, bold, bright aromas infused with spice and umami fill the air. Though the standard American diet leans heavily on sweets for the “most important meal of the day,” polls have shown that the majority of those chowing down before noon prefer a savory breakfast.

Skip the batter, forget the flour, and stick firm slabs of tofu straight into the waffle iron for a high-protein foundation to hold a deeply umami lashing of espresso-spiked gravy. Waffled Tofu with Red Eye Gravy provides a hearty, gluten-free vehicle for enjoying this thick, creamy sauce enriched with sautéed mushrooms without any regrets.

If dry cereal is more your speed, you’ll be bowled over by Curried Coconut Granola. Warmly spiced clusters of thick oats and coconut flakes are baked to golden-brown perfection with minimal added oil. They’re perfect for sprinkling over unsweetened yogurt, plain oatmeal, soups, salads, or simply eating out of hand.

Craving buttery pastries, flaky and crisp? Skip the sugary frosting and syrupy fruit filling with Cheesy Broccoli and Bac-un Toaster Tarts. White bean-based cheese sauce fills flaky pastry pockets along with smoky bites of tempeh bac-un and tender-crisp broccoli florets.

Some Americans consume eggs in the morning, but have you heard of the latest Indian street food sensation taking the world by storm? Bread Omelets wrap up a fusion of French toast, scrambled eggs, and an egg sandwich all in one neat package. My vegan version is made with chickpea flour seasoned with black salt for the same sensation, without the eggs or dairy.

South of the border, Chilaquiles have been an essential staple for using up stale tortilla chips but take on greater flavor when prepared fresh, from scratch. Homemade corn tortilla chips are baked and not fried in this take on breakfast nachos. Little prep or planning is needed to throw together fresh salsa, black beans, and diced avocado in a meal that can be scaled for one or one dozen.

Tall stacks of pancakes dripping with syrup may sound dreamy, but the sugar crash soon to follow isn’t quite as satisfying. For a substantial morning meal that will power you through the day, skip the sugary stuff. The breakfast revolution will not be sweetened.

Get all these recipes in the 2021 Issue 1 of Vegetarian Journal, and online at VRG.org!

Chickens Come Home to Roost

Wasn’t it hard to give up meat? Didn’t you crave your old favorite foods?

Asked about my conversion to a plant-based diet, the questions are as predictable as they are consistent. When I went vegan, despite what my culinary background might suggest, I was not the least bit interested in food. In fact, I was a terribly picky eater, shunning all green vegetables, most fruits, and yes, any sort of meat that resembled the original animal. It wasn’t hard to make the switch because I barely ate anything to begin with!

Staple foods like ramen, mac and cheese, and hotdogs were my primary sustenance, despite my mother’s valiant attempts to expand my palate. Only after making the switch did I declare that veganism would not become a limitation, and declared that I would try absolutely everything cruelty-free.

Prior to that moment, however, one dish that would bring everyone to the table was chicken paprika. Despite the difficulties posed by two fussy children and one equally discerning husband, my mom did enjoy cooking, and tried repeatedly to find something that we could all eat together, in health and happiness.

Chicken posed the least threat; bland and anonymous, it’s really the tofu of the animal world, and thus got a pass from all of us. Onions were a bit contentious, but she was very carefully cut them into large chunks, so us kids could easily sweep them aside on our plates.

It’s incredibly basic, as the most comforting dishes tend to be. In tough times, when I miss my parents, my cozy home back on the east coast, and all the tenderness they showed me as I grew into a self-sufficient little herbivore, I do crave these flavors. Swapping out the meat is effortless now, thanks to the rapidly expanding array of plant-based options in stores.

I still don’t miss the chicken one bit. All I’m missing now is the company.

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