Vegan, soy-free, seasonal… is there anything you can eat?!

Apparently it’s been a while since my last post, because it definitely isn’t summer any longer. But here we are, right in the middle of possibly my favourite season of the year, food-wise. The rich autumn harvest of pumpkins, grapes, chestnuts, mushrooms and apples, to mention a few, make the farewell to summer bearable, and usher in a new, colder, yet cozy and comfy time of the year.

Celebrating each season’s offerings, discovering creative ways to put them to use, can actually enrich your cooking repertoire, rather than limit it. And just when you start getting tired of pumpkin everything, the winter’s leafy greens and earthy roots bring something fresh to play with. So, go at it with abandon, dare to bring home some weird-looking vegetable you’ve never worked with before, and let it inspire you into discovering new textures and flavours.

This week on the menu for the Breitschtraeff Tuesday evening restaurant, I wanted to highlight another aspect of vegan cooking that is commonly viewed as a limitation: what to eat if you don’t want to use soy?

If, for whatever reason, you are avoiding soy-based products, maintaining a vegan diet can seem even more like an insurmountable challenge. But, in somewhat the same spirit of curious exploration as seasonal cooking, it can actually lead you to discover new ingredients, or use familiar ones in unusual ways. Here is a quick guide, by no means exhaustive, to get you started thinking along this direction.

  • use the power of your ingredients: sometimes the ingredient you choose does all the work itself and requires not much else. A fine example is the chestnut soup featured on this week’s menu, which owes its rich, velvet-y texture to the chestnuts. No cream (animal or soy) required.
  •  white bean puree: works well for making creamy soups, with added protein and less fat bonus than soy-cream-based concoctions. Simply puree to a fine paste cooked white beans with some broth and add it to your soup towards the end of cooking, before blitzing everything together. I have tried with mushroom soup, it works wonderfully.
  • cashew cream: soak cashews in water for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, then blend with a little water in the most powerful blender you own until smooth and creamy. This can then be used in a myriad of ways, from soups, to creamy polenta, to a perfectly delectable alternative to cream-based desserts (vegan cheesecakes, to substitute a dollop of whipped cream, etc). I plan to serve some vanilla-spiked cashew cream on top of this week’s pear-cranberry tart, instead of a ball of plain ol‘ vanilla ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, I believe there’s a brand of soy-free ice creams based on nut creams (cashew, almond, etc), available at the Egli bio store at the Bern train station. I don’t know if they are still available, but it may be worth checking out.
  • avocados: their rich and creamy texture works well to replace tofu in savoury dips and sauces, as well as in sweet treats such as chocolate mousse. Come with nutritional bonus including monounsaturated fats (the „good“ kind of fat, also found in olive oil), vitamin K, and others.
  • coconut cream and milk: to easily extract the cream from a can of coconut milk, place it in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight without shaking it. When you open it, the cream will have solidified at the top, and can be carefully scooped out and works especially well as a whipped cream substitute. Coconut milk based curries and sauces are also creamy and delicious alternatives to tofu, soy creamer or soy yoghurt. A lemony, herby coconut sauce will be substituting yoghurt on this week’s crusted pumpkin and parsley root dish.
  • other protein-rich ingredients: soy protein is particularly convenient for vegans, being a „complete protein“ (since it provides all of the essential amino acids the human body requires) but there are a few others, such as quinoa. Many other grains and legumes (lentils, beans, etc) may not be complete in themselves, but when combined provide the complete profile. Exploring less common grains such as teff, buckwheat, spelt, or everyday grains in a different format (green wheat) may bring you unexpected taste adventures, in addition to nutritional benefits.

I’ll stop myself here, but you shouldn’t. Shifting your view of „limitations“ in your kitchen to a celebration of the sheer abundance of edible matter available to us on this planet will empower you to feed yourself, family and friends: all of them, all the time!

A quick PS: Scott Jurek, a vegan ultra marathon runner, has a book called Eat and Run which may be worth checking out for a further exploration on the theme of perceived dietary limitations.

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