Brain-Eating Vegan Zombies

Legend has it that vegan zombies only eat grains, making them less of a threat to humanity than conventional omnivores. That may be true of the old-school undead, but times have changed. If we can have nearly identical analogues for steak and seafood, why wouldn’t we be able to upgrade to plant-based brains, too?

This decadent brain food pâté is scary delicious. Creamy, firm but spreadable, buttery and subtly savory, brains are a delicacy unlike any other. The addition of blood-red sriracha on top introduces a spicy, tangy element that makes it truly irresistible. Heat from the chili peppers and acidity from the vinegar play off the richness of the brainy base. You might end up fighting the zombies off to go back for seconds and thirds yourself.

What Are Brain Foods?

Brain food pate is more than just a fun Halloween party starter; it has real brain-boosting nutrition behind it! A varied diet is key for reaping the greatest nutritional rewards, but certain foods in particular have been shown to have a greater impact on our cognitive abilities, such as understanding and processing new information, plus maintaining memory and concentration. This pate isn’t just brainy in appearance, but a smart choice for your health!

  • Nuts and Seeds: Walnuts are particularly beneficial in this category, packed with protein and omega fatty acids. Protein builds brain cells, amino acids help them communicate, and omega fatty acids keep things humming.
  • Beans: All legumes are like the support crew for your brain, supplying fiber, B vitamins, and those omega fatty acids. Fiber offers steady energy, B vitamins aid memory, and omega fatty acids keep your brain sharp.
  • Beets: These earthy root vegetables fight inflammation, pack in antioxidants, and amp up blood flow, all of which help boost brainpower.

Big Brain Ideas and Adaptations

There’s a wide range of brains out there; big, small, sweet, and bitter. Use your own intellect to customize shapes and flavors to your own personal preferences.

  • Nut-free: Swap the walnuts for sunflower seeds. If you want an even more haunting color, add a pinch of baking soda to turn those seeds green!
  • Not spicy: For the more timid of palate, feel free to omit the sriracha and serve your brains plain, or use mild cocktail sauce instead.
  • Hip to be square: If you need a less gruesome presentation for the office potluck or a less appropriate holiday, like Christmas or Hannukah, set the pate in a simple square baking dish, rather than a brain jello mold.

Serving Suggestions

Don’t be a halfwit by serving up brains with no accoutrements.

  • Something as simple as crackers and vegetable crudites will do just fine.
  • Soft bread would also be a welcome foundation for this schmear, enjoyed solo or turned into a fully stacked sandwich.
  • Briny pickles, such as cornichons (small cucumbers), cocktail onions, or pickled peppers help balance the richness of the pâté with contrast acidity and crunch.
  • Serve up slabs of brain on salad plates for a formal first course, nestled into mixed greens to provide a crisp, refreshing element.
  • Wine pairing are always welcome, particularly a crisp white wine, a light rosé, or a sparkling champagne to cleanse the palate between bites. Contrary to popular belief, a nice Chianti would be quite overpowering.

Vegan zombie fam, I’ve got you this Halloween. Stop settling for bland grains, when you can have genuine brains in all their glory. It’s simply a smarter choice for your health and happiness.

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Truffle Hunting

Truffles are as old as dirt, at least when referring to the prized fungus known worldwide for its heady umami aroma. Chocolate truffles, fashioned after this rare prize, are a relatively recent innovation. Legend has it that the rich confections we know and love were originally created by accident, sometime between 1890 and 1920. French chef Auguste Escoffier is often credited as the first to mistakenly pour hot cream over chocolate chunks instead of sugar and eggs, intending to make a classic pastry cream. Personally, I have my doubts about the veracity of this claim, but his renowned patisserie certainly did kick-start their astronomic rise in popularity.

The word “truffle” comes from a Latin word tūber or the Vulgar Latin tufera, meaning “swelling” or “lump.” Especially when rolled in cocoa powder, evoking a fresh coating of dirt, their striking likeness to mushrooms easily explains the name. While I’ve previously worked to bridge the gap between candy and spore, I now have a new secret ingredient in my arsenal: Sugimoto Shiitake Powder.

Foraging for Flavor

As autumn paints the world with its warm hues and Halloween approaches, it’s the perfect time to forage for mushrooms and indulge in sweet treats alike. Bringing together the richness of chocolate, the nuttiness of walnuts, the earthy sweetness of dates, and the unique umami notes of shiitake powder, these mushroom-shaped truffles are the epitome of fall charm, both in taste and presentation.

Sweet, Salt, and Savory

At the heart of these exquisite truffles lies Sugimoto Shiitake Powder, a secret ingredient that elevates the flavors to a new level. Made from carefully selected shiitake mushrooms, this powder infuses the truffles with a subtle umami taste, without inherent mushroom-y flavor, adding depth and complexity that’s both surprising and pleasing to the palate. It harmonizes with the delicate touch of miso paste, lending a subtly salty finish, punctuating the whole mouthful with a bold flourish.

Easy and Adaptable

While the novelty of having a mushroom-shaped chocolate truffle is a large part of the visual appeal, you could certainly keep it simple and make traditional, stemless rounds instead. What’s more, you can use this basic formula as your palate to paint with a wide range of complimentary flavors, such as:

  • Orange zest
  • Mint extract
  • Pumpkin spice
  • Instant coffee powder
  • Powdered raspberries

To infuse your truffles with a touch of fall and Halloween spirit, consider lightly dusting the mushroom caps with cinnamon or powdered sugar. These subtle additions evoke the essence of autumn leaves and festive celebrations.

Smarter Sweets for Halloween

These wholesome treats aren’t just a delicious indulgence; they’re also a healthier alternative to store-bought Halloween candy. Perfect for serving at parties, these truffles are bound to bewitch the taste buds while keeping sugar in check.

Each little bite packs in immense chocolate flavor, with the caramel-sweetness of dates for body. They’re easy to sink your teeth into thanks to their genuinely fudgy texture, set off by a satisfying crunch from your “stem” of choice. Both elegant and whimsical, decadent and wholesome, umami truffles are the best of all worlds, sweet, savory, and salty alike.

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Day Of The Tentacle

Described by some as the Japanese version of Thanksgiving and Halloween combined, Obon is the midsummer celebration of life, remembering those who have passed, and to show gratitude for the everyday gifts often taken for granted. While each region may celebrate Obon in its own distinctive way, one thing remains constant: the integral role of food in fostering a sense of togetherness and community.

At the heart of Obon festivities, takoyaki emerges as a culinary delight that encapsulates the spirit of this joyous occasion. Otherwise known as “octopus balls,” takoyaki is a unique creation that tantalizes taste buds with its savory and crispy exterior, revealing a warm and tender surprise within. The combination of flavors and textures makes it a true gastronomic delight and an essential part of the Obon experience.

Origin Of Takoyaki

It’s hard to imagine a Japanese festival without revelers walking the streets with hands full of takoyaki skewers, but it’s a relatively recent innovation. Takoyaki as we know it dates back to Osaka in the 1930s, where it originated as a twist on akashiyaki, an egg-rich dumpling stuffed with chopped octopus. With time, more mix-ins joined the batter, such as konjac, chopped scallions, red pickled ginger, tempura flakes, all manner of seafood, and in more modern renditions, even chunks of cheese.

Takoyaki owes its distinctive taste and texture to its key ingredient, octopus, which is finely chopped and mixed with a batter made of flour, eggs, and dashi broth. Cooked in specially designed takoyaki pans with half-spherical molds, these bite-sized morsels emerge from the hot iron as perfectly golden spheres, creating an ideal contrast of crispy outside and soft yet chewy interior.

How to Make Vegan Takoyaki

If you’re sitting there thinking, “well, that doesn’t sound very vegan-friendly,” you’re right! It may seem like quite a task to remove all the animal products, but it’s a lot easier than you’d think. Shirataki noodles, made from glucomannan, which is fiber that comes from the konjac plant, has a unique bouncy texture that mimics the mouthfeel of cooked octopus surprisingly well. Black salt adds an eggy flavor to the batter, while miso incorporates a subtle umami taste.

For the sake of simplicity, sweet American BBQ sauce is a close dupe for Japanese takoyaki sauce, and a drizzle of creamy mayo is always invited to the party. Each bite encapsulates a harmonious medley of flavors, showcasing the savory batter and fillings, the sweet tanginess of the sauce, and the rich indulgence of the mayo.

Making Takoyaki at Home

There are special takoyaki pans you can buy, made for cooking over a hot grill or open fire, or more user-friendly electric models made for plug-and-play convenience. What I find striking is that few people make the connection between takoyaki and Danish aebleskiver pans. Designed precisely for making round griddled pancakes, they’re ideal for takoyaki, too.

Takoyaki holds a special place in the hearts of those who partake in Obon celebrations. As families and communities gather to honor their loved ones, the act of sharing takoyaki becomes a bonding experience, fostering a sense of togetherness and continuity. The sizzling of the batter as it hits hot takoyaki pans is part of the background music that brings the scene to life, like something out of a movie, but better. Food allows us to recreate that feeling anywhere in the world, which is what makes takoyaki so special, whether you can celebrate Obon in person or at home.

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Flat-Out Fantastic Lahmacun

Must we describe every topped flatbread in the world as some form of a pizza? It’s a helpful cultural touchstone that’s easily understood, but does a grave injustice to every minimally related dish. Lahmacun shares this overly simplified description, but make no mistake about it: We’re not in Italy anymore, Toto.

What Is Lahmacun?

Whether it’s technically Turkish or Armenian is still hotly debated. Regardless, Lahmacun comes from the Arabic words “lahm,” meaning meat, and “macun,” meaning paste. Alternative spellings are “lamejun,” “lahmajin” and “lahmajun,” just to be clear. Typically beef or lamb is ground or finely chopped with vegetables and herbs to create this iconic “meat paste” that gets spread onto very thinly rolled circles of dough. In this case, tempeh is our protein of choice, enhanced by the naturally umami flavors of Sugimoto shiitake powder.

Not All Shiitake Powder Is Created Equal

That’s why Sugimoto is the only brand I’d trust for the job. Theirs is made of pure, dried shiitake mushrooms and absolutely nothing else. Their unique drying process concentrates all the natural umami compounds to make the overall taste sensation even more concentrated, making it a potent flavor booster for all kinds of dishes. Adding shiitake powder ultimately creates a more satisfying and complex dish, plant-based or otherwise.

Furthermore, the presence of amino acids like glutamic acid in shiitake mushrooms can also contribute to their meaty flavor. These same amino acids are found in meat, which is why shiitake powder can be a great option for adding depth and richness to vegan recipes. Tempeh, which is made of fermented soy beans, may not sound like a natural substitute for ground meat, but some sort of kitchen alchemy occurs when this secret ingredient hits the pan.

Tips For Success

Don’t be daunted if this is your first try making lahmacun. It’s an incredibly simple recipe that can be mastered with little effort.

  • The meat paste topping and dough can both be made in advance. The topping can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 6 months. The dough can be kept in a lightly greased ziptop bag or covered bowl in the fridge for up to 5 days. That way, you can simply assemble and eat when hunger strikes.
  • To make this recipe easier, you can start with 1 pound of prepared pizza dough rather than making your own from scratch.
    • In a pinch, you can even use flour tortillas to skip the rolling step entirely, but reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees so they don’t burn.
  • When rolling out the dough, think “crackers” rather than “pizza.” The crusts need to be super thin, as thin as you can possibly make them, to get a perfectly crisp, crunchy bite all the way through. The exact size and shape isn’t as important as the thickness, which should be around 1/8th of an inch. You can use your fingers to pull and stretch it too.
  • I like to roll my dough out directly on an ungreased piece of parchment paper, flouring only the top of the dough. That way, it sticks to the sheet and not the rolling pin, helping it to keep its shape instead of immediately springing back.
  • Leftover, fully baked lahmacun can be frozen once cooled. To reheat, toss them back into a 400-degree oven for 5 – 8 minutes, until hot and crisp.

Leftover Topping Ideas

A little bit goes a long way for these super thin and crispy flatbreads! You may end up with more topping than you can spread over your dough, which is a great “problem” to have. There’s no end to the possible uses for such a versatile component.

  • Dumplings: Wrap up a spoonful in wonton wrappers and steam, saute, or fry your way to dumpling delight.
  • Pasta Sauce: Consider this the meat component of your favorite ragu. Add diced tomatoes and simmer until thick.
  • Tacos: Grab your tortillas and load them up with this meatless filling, pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded cabbage, and anything else you’d like at this instant fiesta.
  • Meatballs: Mix in seasoned breadcrumbs until the mixture holds together, then shape it into walnut-sized balls. Sear before adding to your favorite al dente pasta and sauce.
  • Stuffed Peppers: Slice off the tops of your bell peppers, fill with the seasoned meatless mixture, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with shredded vegan cheese, and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes, until melted and browned.

What makes lahmacun so special is its balance of flavors and textures. The thin, crispy bread provides a perfect contrast to the rich, savory meat topping, while the fresh parsley and tangy tomatoes add brightness and acidity to the dish. Fragrant spices give lahmacun a warm, aromatic quality that makes it both comforting and complex.

Lahmacun is often served as street food in Turkey, where it’s eaten folded up like a taco. Popular as an appetizer, snack, or entree, you can easy enjoy it straight out of the oven or with a variety of condiments, such as lemon wedges, pickled vegetables, or garlic sauce. Whatever you do, just don’t call it pizza. Lahmacun is a true culinary treasure as a wholly unique, distinctive dish that’s well worth the effort of making it right.

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Queso The Mondays

The longer I live in Texas, the more recipes I’ll have for queso. A party doesn’t start without liquid cheese on the table, and who says you can only have one?

Though chili is the official state dish of Texas, I think queso should have its own distinction as the state’s official dip. While we’re on the subject, pecan trees are the official trees of Texas and naturally, pecans the official nut. While cashews are the standard base for vegan queso, there’s no reason why we can’t take a more Texan approach to this savory staple.

What Makes This The Best Vegan Queso Recipe

Buttery, subtly sweet, and robustly nutty, pecans add a whole new level of decadence to everyone’s favorite Tex-Mex appetizer. Creamy and thick enough to generously coat chips, it’s rich enough to satisfy any craving. Plus, it’s ready in mere minutes, so you can always have queso on hand for gatherings big or small.

Uses For Plant-Based Queso

Naturally, queso was made for dipping tortilla chips, but that’s just the start. Save some for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in all sorts of other dishes.

  • Drizzled over tacos
  • Mixed into tofu scramble
  • Stuffed into burritos
  • Used as filling for quesadillas
  • Tossed with pasta

Forget processed dairy products. There’s a whole world of queso with bolder flavor and better nutrition, and I promise, it’s not a tough nut to crack.

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Where The Buffalo Roam

No contest, buffalo wings are the painful pleasure most likely to make the MVP list at Super Bowl parties across the nation. From dive bars to family dinners, there’s truly no wrong place or time to put a wing on it. Cauliflower has somehow become the go-to alternative for vegan eaters, perhaps owing to their inherently neutral flavor, accessibility, or compact florets that hold on to that fiery hot sauce brilliantly. Whatever the reason, I’m here for it.

What Are The Alamo Drafthouse Cauliflower Wings?

Vegan Cauliflower Buffalo Wings were one of the hottest recipes to come out of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema kitchens. The (no longer) secret formula was graciously released to starved movie-lovers in the early days of the pandemic. At least that’s one good thing to come from the initial lock down. Now, as they say, the show must go on. After a triumphant return, it’s absolutely a luxury to enjoy these spicy morsels from their place of origin, illuminated by the glow of the screen. Forget dry, stale popcorn; this is a substantial snack that could easily become the main event of the matinee.

That recipe is still a golden opportunity for innovation at home. Using the Alamo approach to kick-start the process, I daresay we can build an even better buffalo wing with just a little work.

How Can You Make Alamo Drafthouse Buffalo Cauliflower Even Better?

  • Replace mushy frozen cauliflower with fresh.
  • Cut the all-purpose flour with cornstarch for a crispier finish.
  • Add more savory seasonings to the flour coating.
  • Use any unsweetened non-dairy milk instead of soy for flexibility.
  • Make a more well-rounded, seasoned sauce than using just straight hot sauce.
  • Replace the thyme in the ranch dressing with dill, because who does that?

Granted, with all those modifications, it’s a substantially different recipe. To be frank, I find it very unlikely that the “real” version starts with frozen cauliflower in the first place, so maybe I’ve hit a better formula to come closer to the original, in an odd, roundabout sort of way. Regardless, it brings this vinegary, spicy snack to life in brilliant color. That should easily earn two thumbs up from the critics.

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