Do As You Peas

Standing in the kitchen, hands full of half-peeled zucchini in the dark of night, I’m trying to channel my grandmother circa 1984. Five years before I was born, President Ronald Reagan was in office, astronauts went on the first untethered space walk on the moon, and Apple made a splash with its infamous “1984” Macintosh commercial. It was also the year that Bon AppĂ©tit magazine published a recipe for Zucchini Cups Stuffed with Peas.

Zucchini Cups Stuffed With Peas - Recipe Card from Bon Appetit Magazine, December 1984

I know this because my grandmother so carefully clipped and preserved this relic of the past. It survived nearly four decades, multiple moves, deaths and births, whole lifetimes. Not once did I ever see zucchini cups with peas grace our table, and I can’t help but wonder…Zucchini cups, cored

Why? Why zucchini cups?

  • Why was this recipe run in December, for starters, when neither zucchini nor peas would be in season?
  • Why was this the standout dish my grandmother kept, of things?
  • Why couldn’t I stop thinking about it, from the minute my mom unearthed it?

Stuffing baked zucchini cups with peas.

These questions have no answers.

My grandmother doesn’t remember the zucchini cups or what inspired her to file the recipe away. I’m okay with not knowing; some things just are that way, and I’m happy to have this taste of the past, maybe even better than what my grandmother had envisioned during her years of entertaining.

Zucchini cups stuffed with peas on a silver platter.

Small changes were necessary, of course, to veganize and enhance the original stuffed zucchini recipe with modern ingredients and technology.

  • Butter is traded for peppery extra virgin olive oil.
  • Dried tarragon gets axed in favor of verdant fresh herbs.
  • Melon ballers belong only in museums at this point, so I reached for my trusty zucchini reamer instead (yes, that’s a thing)- Though you could very happily use a regular pairing knife here.
  • Boiled zucchini sound downright dreadful, which is why the dry heat of the oven, which concentrates flavors and gently browns the surface, had much greater appeal.

The real beauty of the concept, however, is that it doesn’t take much to assemble or enjoy. I suppose they were intended to serve as appetizers or snacks for guests, as every good housewife should be ready to entertain at the drop of a hat, but I happen to think they make a fantastic side dish for any random weekday dinner, too.

Green pea stuffing.

If you have extra peas, those alone are brilliant to pair with just about any protein, such as a meatless loaf, balls, or cutlet, especially with creamy mashed potatoes or al dente pasta as a base. Beyond that, consider using them to top avocado toast, puree to use as a dip, or mash roughly to stuff into sandwiches.

Zucchini cups stuffed with peas on a silver platter.

I’m certain my grandmother never made the original recipe, but I hope I could still do her proud with my rendition. We don’t have many memories together, at least in recent years, so I’m grateful to keep making new ones now.

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Sure Cure For Plant-Based Prosciutto

Sliced paper-thin to drape delicately over the finest charcuterie board, or directly into one’s mouth, prosciutto is a luxury of the highest order. Italians would throw hands over proper labeling of the stuff, especially those with esteemed pedigrees like Champagne or Parmesan, as products of Denomination of Protected Origin, AKA, DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta.) This may be grounds for a fight, but I’d like to throw all that out the window to make genuine, inauthentic prosciutto that can be made anywhere in the world, not of meat, but of plants.

What Is Vegan Prosciutto?

Vegan prosciutto replicates the gossamer cured ham with a subtly seasoned brine, leaning on Sugimoto shiitake powder for an unmistakable umami flavor. Purely savory and rich, there’s no overt mushroom character to detract from the experience. That’s because through the drying process, the complex proteins are broken down into simpler amino acids, such as glutamate, which is responsible for their inherently meaty taste and aroma. This serves to amplify the other flavors in the same way that a touch of salt would; never so much to seem salty, but enough to boost the overall dish.

Inspired by The Gentle Chef’s innovative approach using rice paper as the base, I knew the opportunity for fine tuning to my own personal tastes was ripe. I couldn’t resist adding my “secret” ingredient of shiitake powder to fully capture the full bouquet of tastes that range from sweet to salty found in conventional cured ham. Pale pink, the fine strips glisten in the sunlight like jewels, piled daintily like the finest silks. Everything about the experience exudes an air of lavishness unlike anything else available for vegan alternative meats. This is a “DIY, don’t buy” situation if there ever was one.

Other Key Ingredients For Making Vegan Prosciutto

Given that it’s such a simple recipe, quality and attention to detail count.

  • Square rice paper: More common in Vietnamese cuisine, this angular shape lends itself more readily to making even, consistent strips like thinly shaved prosciutto. Naturally, you can use round rice paper sheets instead if that’s all you can find. You might end up with some more abstract pieces is all.
  • Mushroom soaking water: Never toss the water that you’ve used to rehydrate your shiitake mushrooms! It’s full of free glutamate, aka umami, ideal for making meaty soups, stews, and in this case, marinades. If you don’t have any on hand, you can substitute packaged mushroom broth or, in a pinch, plain water.
  • Beet juice: Waste not, want not- I get my beet juice from cans of cooked, sliced beets. You could get cold pressed juice in the refrigerated section or make your own if you want to really go all out.
  • Nutritional yeast: I’m sure no one is a stranger to the cheesy goodness that is nooch, but it may seem strange to call for it in a recipe for making mock meats. Suspend your disbelief! Just like Parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast is packed with umami flavor that works synergistically with the shiitake mushrooms to create new flavor compounds and amplify those inherently rich flavors.
  • Olive oil: Do. Not. Omit. The oil. Genuine prosciutto is quite fatty, so we need to step up our game to match that level of decadence. Moreover, the rice paper will become downright gummy without it.
  • Truffle oil: Yes, it’s worth the splurge. There’s room for more than one mushroom in this killer app, and there’s no substitute for the ambrosial fusion that happens when a few drops of this liquid gold enters the mix.

How To Serve Plant-Based Prosciutto

Best served cool or at room temperature, no cooking is needed to enjoy the rich, heady essence of meatless umami. Prosciutto is an ideal topper or accompaniment to many of your favorite dishes.

  • Wrapped around melon slices and drizzled with balsamic glaze
  • Draped over toasts, such as…
    • BLT toast
    • Almond ricotta toast
    • Cucumber and cream cheese toast
  • On top of pizza
  • As a breakfast or brunch side with your favorite scramble
  • Chopped and mixed into salads, such as…
    • Leafy green salads
    • Pasta salads
    • Potato Salads
  • On a charcuterie board or cheese board

My meatless prosciutto may not have an authentic Italian pedigree, but it brings its own unique richness to any table at a fraction of the cost, without any cholesterol, and free of harm. You can’t top that with any DOP seal.

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Doing Doughnuts Around Austin, Texas

Dollars to doughnuts, deep-fried balls of yeasted batter have ostensibly fueled generations. Running the gamut from cheap sustenance to high-end indulgences, there’s truly a doughnut for every day of the year. Having survived the low-carb craze, sugar-free evangelists, and fat phobics, it’s safe to say that our beloved olykoeks (“oily cakes”) aren’t going anywhere.

Like any city worth its sprinkles, Austin, Texas has its fair share of doughnut purveyors, waking up before sunrise to feed the hungry hordes. What you may not know is that many of them include vegan varieties, free of the usual eggs and dairy that define conventional pastries. Next time cravings strike, here are all the bakeries turning out dough from scratch, with plentiful plant-based treats.

Best Vegan Doughnuts in Austin, TX

Knead Doughnut and Coffee Bike

Brought to you by the same culinary talent behind The Forking Vegan trailer, this young upstart is slinging fried delights at sporadic pop-ups, online sales, and regular stock at Dear Diary Coffee. More local cafes are quickly joining that list as word spreads about this new addition to the sweets scene. Large and slightly daunting, they look heavy but seem to melt in your mouth like an ethereal sprinkled cloud. From strawberry shortcake to purple rain and everything in between, this is a perfect example of the vegan option matching and quickly exceeding the original dish. Yes, these are doughnuts that could convert omnivores with very little effort. I swore I wouldn’t pick favorites for this list, but… Let’s just say they’re at the top here for a reason.

Wheatsville Food Coop

After a heartbreaking absence following pandemic-related worker shortages, vegan doughnuts are back and better than ever at both Wheatsville locations. These are by far the most accessible fried treats in town, ready and waiting to come home with you following your next grocery run. The Austin cream pie are most famous, but keep an eye out for seasonal specialties, such as pumpkin spice in the fall or rainbow glazed during Pride Month. For a real splurge, don’t miss the apple fritters that are roughly the size of a dinner plate.

The Salty Donut

Watch your language! These small batch doughnuts served with craft coffee could make you curse like a sailor. This Miami-based mini chain makes sure that at least one, sometimes two vegan options are in the case at all times. While I would have never otherwise ordered a passionfruit and dark chocolate combo, it’s a testament to their frying prowess that I found myself hoovering up every last crumb. Though the yeasted cakes are thick and slightly bready, they’re tender all the way through and not remotely oily. Icings seem to melt in your mouth, exploding with rich flavor, adding just the right amount of sweetness to the neutral base.

Mr. Natural

Think “cupcake,” not “pastry,” and you’ll set your taste buds up for success. These sweet rings are a different breed from the rest, being both gluten-free and baked, not fried. Best known for their plant-based Mexican specialties, both locations also boast homemade treats, such as conchas, tres leches cake, and yes, gluten free chocolate donuts. Small but substantial, you can really sink your teeth into these babies for a bite of intense cacao flavor. The fudgy icing on top gives it the air of devil’s food cake, individually portioned so you don’t have to share.

Fat Cats Organic Coffee & Desserts

Take your pick from a wide array of classic and creative treats at this 100% vegan cafe, where baked, cake doughnuts are a mainstay. Expect some variation on chocolate or vanilla for most any visit, but come prepared for happy surprises like samoa (like the Girl Scout cookie), matcha, Elvis (with peanut butter glaze, meatless bacon bits, and caramelized bananas), tiramisu, and whatever else these clever cats dream up. Those aren’t just cute names either; bold, rich flavors ring true to those promises, supported by a relatively light, fluffy crumb.

Bougie’s Donuts & Coffee

Contrary to the high-highfalutin title, Bougie’s takes up residence in a nondescript strip mall in Sunset Valley. Striving to serve an “elevated” cafe experience with gourmet treats and third-wave coffee, they manage to sidestep the pretension that sort of program typically entails. There are two vegan versions of their plump cake-style doughnuts; blueberry and birthday cake, each coated in a crisp confectioner’s sugar glaze that shatters upon impact. Tender, moist, and impeccably fresh, they do proper justice to this tricky format. I’d suggest that kids and children at heart would especially dig this spot, since the vegan blueberry doughnut has a flavor strikingly reminiscent of fruity pebbles cereal.

Voodoo Doughnut

Imported from Portland, OR, avant-garde options have always been the standard at this late night haunt. There are ten possible vegan options, stocked on a rotating basis or available for pre-order as a full Voodoo Vegan Dozen (the most popular flavors are doubled, if you’re keeping count.) If you only have room for one, you must try the iconic Voodoo Doll, shaped like a hapless human stabbed through the heart with a pretzel stick, bleeding sweet, gooey raspberry jam. That’s some delicious witchcraft right there.

Zucchini Kill Bakery

Gluten-free, soy-free, vegan sweets are always on the menu at this punk rock bakery. You can’t miss it if you just look for their delivery hearse parked outside. Best known for coffin cakes (modeled after Twinkies) and rebel swrrrls (mini swiss rolls in the style of Yodels), doughnuts are a less common but worthy prize, appearing most prominently for holidays or seasonal occasions in appropriately festive flavors. Case in point, the queen cake donut, presented as the equal and opposite reaction to Mardi Gras’ king cake, festooned with colored sugar and stuffed with a single goji berry in lieu of a plastic baby. Soft and tender, light on the lips, I’m a big fan of this low-key baked offering whenever I’m lucky enough to pick one up.

Percolator Coffee + Tiny Donuts

File this under “coming attractions.” Previously known as East Austin Coffee, this shoe box of a trailer situated on the east side has rebranded with a stronger focus on sweets. Unfortunately, although the reported open date was in November 2022, then January 2023, there still aren’t any donuts rising to the occasion.

Hungry For Homemade Vegan Donuts?

If you’re not nearby the sweet city of Austin, Texas, you can make your own at home from any of these easy vegan donut recipes:

Sustainable Sushi Grows In Austin

Someday, I hope the nebulous “vegetable roll” can be eradicated from sushi menus everywhere. It’s not that I have anything against such a humble staple, usually filled with pedestrian raw crudites, but I want to imagine a world when the concept is simply redundant.

Of course, we have vegetable rolls, the server would laugh gently, They’re ALL vegetable rolls. There’s nothing that would give it away from the menu, or the taste, but every last utterance of “tuna” and “salmon” will actually be plant-based.

Places like Nori give me hope that such a vision of the future may one day come to fruition. That’s already the reality inside this sleek new establishment. New to the scene in Austin, they’ve brought truly sustainable sushi to Texas right when we need it most. Fulfilling an unmet need for elegant, high-end yet affordable dining, with vegetable-forward dishes that don’t lean on processed substitutes as a crutch, it’s the place for special occasions and everyday affairs alike. Healthy enough to feel good about while still satisfying the need for indulgence, everything on the menu is equally well balanced.

The Tatume Squash perfectly exemplifies this approach. Each bite-sized morsel is coated in an immaculately crisp tempura batter that gives way to a creamy interior, not unlike buttery mashed potatoes, punctuated by peppery chili flakes. Lemon-corn aioli cuts through the richness with a zesty citrus kick. It’s a perfect appetizer to set the mood for an innovative culinary experience.

On to the main event, sushi takes center stage as you might expect. The Volcano Roll, a fully deep-fried behemoth stuffed with sweet potato, avocado, and spinach, is the current bestseller for obvious reasons. Spicy mayo and sweet chili sauce bring the heat without drowning out the other flavors, providing a more gentle warmth than the fiery name would suggest. A touch of briny Cavi-art finishes each sizeable round with eye-catching elegance.

If breakfast sandwiches are your jam, the Manhattan Roll was made for you. JUST Egg, avocado, smoked carrot, and vegan cream cheese come together in a harmonious homage to everyone’s favorite morning meal. It’s an incredibly creative take that has no common equivalent. Though it’s a close call, this might have been my favorite maki of the night.

The Hearts of Palm Roll features one of my very favorite vegetables, paired with avocado and crisp bibb lettuce, but it’s the spicy marinated tomato fillets draped on top that steal the show. Emphasizing the natural umami in the tomatoes to approximate tuna sashimi, while still remaining true to the underlying fruit, I’d jump at the chance to have a much larger serving in a poke bowl instead.

This is only the beginning. Hot entrees include katsu curry made from either tofu or eggplant, yaki soba stir-fried with local mushrooms, and two different, distinctive takes on ramen. Saving room for dessert sounds like an impossible task, but I’ve heard downright rapturous reviews for the chocolate lava cake as a suitably grand finale.

Fish are so passé; plants are here to stay. Nori is living proof that a new day is dawning for sustainable sushi that can satisfy any appetite.

Nori
3208 Guadalupe Street St B
Austin, TX, USA

Flourish Of Trumpets

Valentine’s Day draws near, which means that love is in the air- Or is that just the aroma of a luxurious meal for two coming from the kitchen? There’s no better way to show you care than with a thoughtfully crafted dinner, if you ask me. It doesn’t even have to be about romantic love either.

Let’s not forget there’s…

  • Familial love
  • Platonic (friendship) love
  • And perhaps most importantly, self love

Just for starters. That’s why it’s especially important to take the day to lavish someone, anyone, with a bit of extra attention. Yes, you can totally make this gourmet plate of plant-based scallops all for yourself, and even eat it in bed, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, too.

Trumpet mushroom scallops are an uncanny substitute for seafood, bearing a similar meaty yet delicate texture, subtle umami flavor, and equivalent rarity that make them a treat for special occasions. Forget about fussy preparation though; this vegan version comes together with minimal effort. You don’t even need to worry about them sticking to the pan while attempting that perfect high-heat sear. After marinating them in a simple, savory broth, just pop them into the air fryer, and dinner is served in no time!

Beautifully golden brown on the outside and buttery all the way through, each mock mollusk is further accentuated by a bright beet puree at the base, spiked with a touch of peppery horseradish. Green peas and pistachios lend both a gorgeous color and textural contrast to create the perfect bite.

Love Is Love

All love is valid, full stop, no excuses. Go forth and love what you eat, too.

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