Saturday, March 3, 2012

Adventures in "Sorta-Veganism"

Okay, so there's no such thing as "Sorta-Veganism." I'm a poseur, and I'm more than willing to cop to that... But I did just turn 40 last year, and while I have no pressing health issues as of yet, no diabetes, no angina, no tingling in my left arm or any such like, I do have my vices, and milestones have a way of making a fella think. So, inspired by the work of George Mateljan, T. Colin Campbell's The China Study, and this dude, whose blog I kinda stole the title for this post from, I've decided to see how close I can get to an animal product free culinary lifestyle.

This all started about a year back, by the way, with an impulse purchase at New Seasons:

I picked these things up on a whim while shopping for jambalaya ingredients. I used them in place of traditional andouille, and the results were astounding... They were fantastic! The texture was great, and the flavor profile and spice level were dead-on. I decided right then and there that there was no reason to ever again use a pork product in my jambalaya. Then I did nothing, for about a year...

...Until Portland's favorite local bagel shop, Kettleman's, was purchased by the Noah's/Einstein's conglomerate, and I was forced to seek out another local bagel purveyor. I set out with whole grain bagels in mind, and after some legwork, found a few, including notable varieties from BagelLand and Spielman's, as well as Dave's Good Seed Halos. Kenny and Zuke's, unfortunately, still offers no whole grain variety, according to their website, anyway (Nick, I'm talkin' at you here). All of this bagel searching got me to thinking about also considering an alternative to cream cheese; which led me to this stuff:

Now, I'd be lying if I were to say it were a perfect match. The texture is good, but the flavor is just a bit off, a little reminiscent of cardboard, even after adding some chopped up smoked salmon (see, I told ya I wasn't going totally vegan...). But it's better than the Tofutti version, and I've found that mixing two parts of this to one part Philly brings the flavor profile into the range of acceptable. So that's what I put on my bagels now, and I'm quite happy with it.

My cream cheese epiphany inspired me to revisit my experience with vegan chorizo and jump headlong into the fake meat scene. A little bit of research revealed that "meat analogues" are made from one of two things: Soy, which yields tofu and tempeh, and vital wheat gluten, aka seitan. Here's what I've discovered so far:

I've been really impressed with Seattle-based Field Roast's line, which is built around wheat gluten and contains no soy. Their Italian sausages are fennel forward flavor-wise, which for some might be a problem, but for me, not so much, as that's how I like Italian sausage to taste. The texture, as with the Mexican Chipotle variety, is pretty damn close to the real thing. They're great in pasta & marinara, beans & rice and kushari.

Here we see two patty varieties, one sausage from Trader Joe's, the other chicken from Morningstar Farms (pretty sure Morningstar doesn't operate any actual farms, but anyway...). Both of these are soy based, which in theory isn't a bad thing, but in reality usually means that there's fair amount of textured vegetable (soy) protein involved. The problem with that is that the production of TVP typically involves temperatures high enough to denature the proteins in the soy, rendering them more or less inert as they pass through the digestive tract. In other words, about as useful, health-wise, as Cheetos (also, look out for soy protein concentrate and soy protein isolate; pretty sure neither of those comes straight off the tree, either). Another thing to think about when dealing with soy products is that you're likely to wind up with genetically modified products, unless you're really diligent about reading labels (look for Organic or Non-GMO). For the record, TJ's sausage patties were pretty tasty once I had a really good sear on 'em, though the interior remained a bit mushy. The Morningstar Chik patties were kinda chicken-like, but at the end of the day... meh.

This stuff's actually quite good, whether formed into a pattie and fried, crumbled up, sauteed and added to a scramble, or what have you. It's composed mostly of suspect soy products, and is manufactured by a subsidiary of ConAgra... Make of that what you will. I'm considering this the "guilty pleasure" of the meat analogue world.

We've all heard of Tofurky... Turtle Island Foods have been doing their thing for about thirty years now (in Hood River, OR, no less), but it's only in the last decade or so that they've emerged from the shadow of Gardenburger, Boca and Morningstar to make a name for themselves. Tofurky's deli slices are made from a combination of vital wheat gluten and tofu (soy), which is non-GMO and contains no TVP. Both approximate the texture of meat-based cold cuts pretty faithfully. The hickory smoked variety is the tastier of the two.

At the risk of sounding like I'm shilling for 'em, which I assure you I'm not, here we see Field Roast's entries in the deli slice category. Like the rest of Field Roast's products, these are made without soy. The Wild Mushroom variety, while tasty, is a bit crumbly and fragile, making it somewhat impractical for serious sandwich work... The Lentil Sage and Smoked Tomato versions hold up a bit better, and have great flavor, with a texture that's a ways off from real meat, but this becomes a moot point once piled into a sandwich. For me, flavor trumps texture, and these have become my go-to fake cold cuts.

By now you've probably guessed that I'm more or less in love with Field Roast. That said, I'm not in love with their meatloaf product. The flavor is pleasantly meatloafy, but the texture isn't exactly 100%. It's weirdly springy and chewy, and I'm pretty sure I lost a bit of enamel from one of my teeth while test-driving this stuff... Not a good thing. It would probably be better suited to a "meatloaf" sandwich than sharing a dinner plate with some mashed potatoes... Either way, be mindful of your choppers.

Also picked up one each of these. Both are good, both slightly gritty in texture, the hazelnut's definitely the better of the two. Really nice flavor. Drinking a second glass of it as I write this. I'd put it on my cereal, if I ate cereal. Might try it in my coffee.

Anyway, stay tuned, more to come in my "sorta vegan" adventure...

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