Oceans of Inspiration

Culturally inseparable from its crunchy breaded or battered exterior, the default notion of calamari unfailingly involves deep frying. Even adventurous omnivores typically balk at the idea of eating naked squid, approximating both the look and chew of thick elastic rubber bands. That makes it delightfully easy to replicate in myraid plant-based forms; it’s hard to go too far wrong with anything crispy, still hot from a bubbling cauldron of oil, and lightly salted.

If you’re so lucky as to randomly find ready-made vegan calamari while idly shopping around Austin, TX, however, such a rare delicacy demands greater finesse for proper appreciation.

Yes, I’m that oddball who treats grocery stores like museums when traveling, with the added benefit of being able to eat the art if it resonates. Essentially seasoned rings of seitan, it would be easy enough to replicate on your own, but the novelty factor is what sold me. Stripped down and freed of breaded boundaries, the toothsome wheat spirals afforded me the opportunity (and inspiration) to consider a fresher, lighter side to this cruelty-free creation.

Gaining in popularity due to profusion of poke eateries opening up around the country, chuka ika sansai is a traditional Japanese salad made of thinly sliced squid and an assortment of tender vegetables, marinated in vinegar and ginger. Served as a side or a feature in rice bowls, the gently oceanic flavors satisfy a craving for seafood like nothing else.

Tomorrow, June 8th, is World Oceans Day. The importance that our oceans play in everyday life cannot be overstated, and yet rarely do we consider the greater implications of this fragile ecosystem. A vegan lifestyle is the best way to make a positive impact right away, everyday. With so many great alternatives, there really should be more fish in the sea, and fewer on the plate.

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Go Fish

More than half my life has been spent as a vegan, cleaving my personal story into two distinct pieces. Childhood, before any sort of food awareness or appreciation, and all the rest, a more conscious consumer and supporter of all things cruelty-free. The split was quick, concise, but not entirely as clean as it sounds on paper. Though it began with an exploratory affair with vegetarianism at first, there was one big issue that held me back from diving into the deep end: Fish.

Yes, I was a strange one indeed. No meats nor cheeses gave me particular pause, but fish, and only raw fish at that, beckoned me back to the dark side. Sushi topped my list of favorite foods, from simple buttery slices of ahi tuna sashimi to the slippery tangles of octopus salad, topped with slivers of bonito dancing in the breeze, no crudo could turn me off. Landing squarely at the top of that list was salmon nigiri, a mildly briny sensation that has yet to be matched in the plant-based sphere of alternatives.

That’s why I must admit that after 15 years, I’ve begun to indulge once again.

That briny, savory flavor, toothsome yet slippery, silky texture that simply can’t be imitated is a truly luxurious sensation. Those fatty coral-colored slabs that top tender mounds of rice instantly brought me right back to my pre-vegan days of indulgence. One bite and I was won back to the dark side.

You see, I went vegan because I opposed animal cruelty, not because I hated the taste of animal products. Why should I have to suffer too? Besides, it’s said that fish in particular lack a properly developed neocortex, which makes them incapable of feeling pain. Though it’s true, there’s no way to definitively confirm this since I don’t speak the language However, I can rest assured that my own oceanic feast didn’t suffer one iota…

Because it’s all made of melon!

April Fools to anyone who was tricked by these convincing slabs of sashimi, but there’s no fooling around with the truly impressive results from this recipe. Building upon my incredibly popular tuna poke, I sought out the powers of marinated melon once more, opting for unripe cantaloupe for subtle sweetness and a beautiful orange hue. Small tweaks to better suit the flavor nuances seal the deal for salmon lovers abstaining from eating seafood.

While retail solutions for ethical oceanic edibles still lag behind mainstream demand, this homemade formula will quickly and easily quell any residual cravings. As a reformed fish-fancier, take my word for it!

Sushi, sashimi, poke, and salads; all are enhanced by this new approach to fishless satisfaction. Add a touch of liquid smoke to fix up an effortless dupe for lox, or try enhancing the brine with dill and lemon for that essential gravlax experience.

There are plenty of other fish in the sea, so let’s keep it that way. There’s no need to cast a line out in hopes of a bite again!

Fish-Free Salmon Sashimi

1 Small, Unripe Cantaloupe
1 Cup Mushroom Broth
4 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Sauerkraut Brine
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Sheets Toasted Nori, Roughly Torn

*To make lox or smoked “salmon,” add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, to taste.
*To make gravlax, add 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill and the zest of half a lemon.

Cut the cantaloupe in half, scoop and out discard the seeds. Slice those halves into four wedges each, carefully “filleting” the fruit to remove the peel. Place all 8 cleaned wedges into a large, shallow container.

Place the remaining ingredients into your blender and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth. Pour this marinade all over the melon, making sure that all pieces are fully submerged. You may need to move things around so that you have complete coverage.

Seal the container and place on a flat surface in your freezer. Allow the whole thing to fully freeze; at least 12 hours, but ideally 24 or longer. If you want to save the “salmon” for a later date, just leave it at this stage until you’re ready to serve it.

To continue preparing your fish-free feast, allow the tuna to fully thaw either in the fridge or at room temperature. Drain away the excess marinade. You can save this and reuse it if you like, since there’s no potential bacterial contamination like you would get if using raw meat. Thinly slice the edges as desired for sashimi, or cube for “salmon” poke!

Printable Recipe

Shell Game

Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe it’s the sun. Maybe it’s just the general summer attitude that’s disrupted the typical work routine, but focused, inspired opportunities to write have been far and few between. Grasping desperately for words that are sufficient at best and cramming them into confused, awkward prose, the irony of speaking at BlogHer PathFinder Day about becoming a published author is not lost on me. When there’s so much to share, from photos to recipes to review and beyond, but no words to tie them all together into one neat, professional package, what’s a blogger to do?

Surely you can relate. You might not be a blogger or a writer at all, but this frustrating state is universally understood across all disciplines, even amongst those terrifically passionate in their chosen field. An abundance of material sits unexplored, despite best intentions. Not even carefully laid plans could create a concise schedule when the words simply won’t flow.

These “lazy days” of summer have never been busier or more fulfilling. Projects are never-ending, and for a workaholic like myself, it’s a dream come true. All I can do is keep going, relishing every moment, and trusting that the words will come sooner or later. That’s why it would be silly to keep waiting for the perfect story to sum up this latest recipe, withholding something so delicious until its forgotten at the bottom of my archives.

That analogy is rather fitting, however, since these vegan scallops became buried underneath bags of frozen vegetables and pints of ice cream, far into the depths of the freezer, all for lack of that “perfect” preparation. Instead of fearing that I couldn’t do these rare savory morsels justice, it was high time to just make what sounded best in that moment. And you know what? It was a decision that turned out pretty close to perfection after all.

Spurred on by my mother’s memories of Coquilles St. Jacques, my interpretation came out naturally lighter, brighter, and tastier, in my entirely biased opinion. Still plenty rich, a buttery base of mushrooms and shallot lend depth to the seafood-free scallop, elevating it beyond the standard cream sauce approach. A tangy splash of lemon and and subtly herbaceous parsley round out the flavor profile, ensuring that the last bite is every bit as irresistible as the first.

There’s no shame in licking your plate here, especially if it’s a ceramic scallop shell. That could easily be chalked up to enjoying an “authentic” scallop experience.

Yield: Makes 4 Appetizer-Sized Servings

Coquilles St. Jacques, Re-Imagined and Revitalized

Coquilles St. Jacques, Re-Imagined and Revitalized

A buttery base of mushrooms and shallot lend depth to the seafood-free scallop, elevating it beyond the standard cream sauce approach. A tangy splash of lemon and and subtly herbaceous parsley round out the flavor profile, ensuring that the last bite is every bit as irresistible as the first.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1 Package Sophie’s Kitchen Lightly Breaded Vegan Scallops
  • 1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
  • 1 Large Shallot, Minced
  • 8 Ounces Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Minced
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Dry White Wine
  • 1 Teaspoon All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
  • Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon each of the butter and oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Once the margarine has melted, carefully place the scallops in a single layer on the pan. Don’t try to move or flip them for at least 6 – 8 minutes, to achieve a better sear. If they still appear to be sticking and look pale on the bottoms, let them continue to cook, undisturbed for up to 5 additional minutes. When the undersides are nicely browned, give them a single flip over to the opposite side, drizzle with lemon juice, and saute until similarly golden. Transfer the scallops to a plate and set aside.
  2. Return the empty pan to the heat and add in the remaining butter and oil. Gently saute the shallot for 2 – 3 minutes, until translucent and aromatic, before stirring in the mushrooms. Cook over medium-low heat until tender; about 5 minutes. Stir together the almond milk, wine, and flour, beating out any potential clumps, and pour the mixture into the pan. Simmer gently for 10 – 12 minutes, until thickened and creamy. Stir in the tarragon and parsley, and finally season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Spoon a small mound of the mushroom mixture onto each serving dish and top with 3 – 4 scallops each. Serve right away while still hot.

Notes

If you don't have access to vegan scallops, king trumpet mushrooms can be used instead. Simply slice the stalks into 1-inch thick rounds an proceed with the recipe as directed.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 150 Total Fat: 13g Saturated Fat: 5g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 8g Cholesterol: 16mg Sodium: 202mg Carbohydrates: 7g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 3g Protein: 2g