Work was cancelled today, which I wasn’t expecting, so I’m feeling giddy. After all, Blizzard 2011, as they are calling it, is still raging outside here in Chicago. I was not feeling as giddy driving home on the Edens expressway last night just as the storm hit. But today, I’m on my laptop writing to you from my cozy bed with my thick fuzzy socks on, a steaming cup of coffee is next to me, and a pot of red lentil soup is simmering on the stove.
Ah….so much better than heading down to work in a blizzard. Did you hear that thundersnow last night? Crazy!
There is really no going anywhere today. I tried digging my way out the front door, and then gave up when I realized the snow was waist-deep. OK, so I’m not very tall, but still. I just peeked out my window and saw my neighbor Russell digging a path for me all the way to my car. So nice! I will have to buy him some cinnamon bread to say thank you, right after I dig my car out of the wall of snow that’s surrounding it. Thank you Mr. Snowplow.
Anyway, this post is not only about snow. It’s also about that delicious red lentil soup you see up there in the photo. And mostly, it’s about eating vegan.
Shocking, I know.
And the reason I want to tell you about that is because I’ve just spent a week in their camp (cue the scary music).
There was this challenge at work last week, for those of us who were interested, and the challenge was to eat strictly vegan for one week. Not vegetarian, vegan; no meat or animal products.
This means no beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish or eggs. No milk, butter or icecream. No yogurt, sour cream, whipped cream or cheese of any kind. Nooooooooo pizza!
Really? How could I live without dairy?
I feel like I could be someone who sort of moves toward eating this way. But I mean, let’s not get crazy.
We were given a shopping list of odd looking vegan items to buy, and vegan recipes to try. Also Rose, the chef at our café, was going to be preparing vegan meals all week for us at breakfast and lunch.
OK, that helps. And it’s only a week, right? I do like a challenge.
You may remember when I mentioned here that I want to eat more of a plant-based diet this year. Well this challenge came up and I needed a little excitement in my life. I mean, my usual Friday night festivites of drinking 3 glasses a glass of wine, eating a whole bag of some turkey jerky and watching,“The Real Housewives” Comedy Central just wasn’t cuttin’ it anymore.
I signed up.
I’ve been wanting to add video to the blog for a while, and I’m happy to say that I’m not messing around anymore. It’s here! My friend (and edit-assist) Casandra and I shot some footage of our friends at work who were taking on the challenge (or not). THANK YOU FRIENDS, for being such good sports!
Oh boy, this is exciting. Let’s see how Brian and Jenna were feeling just minutes before it all began. We sort of ambushed them in the lunch line at our café…..
I opted for the vegan veggie burger which was really good! When you add cheese (vegan), sprouts, grilled mushrooms, grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup & mustard, how can you even tell that you’re eating a chickpea patty? And tater tots?! C’mon. Rose is good.
Day 2 – Vegan Taco Day at The Café
Casandra and I head over to the café for some tacos….
OK, those tacos were seriously delicious. I know what you’re thinking….strange meat substitutes? Yuck. But they were good! Rose told us that she used (I hope I get this right) Upton’s Naturals chorizo-style sausage for the chorizo tacos, and Gardein brand products for the chicken, which was probably a soy/wheat/spice combination.
I honestly loved these tacos. Especially the chorizo tacos which were made with crumbled chorizo seitan (wheat, water, salt, pepper, apple cider vinegar, spices and soy sauce.) I know they don’t sound all that delicious, but they were. I’m sure the guacamole and hot salsa that I loaded on top of them also had something to do with it. ;-)
If only I could get Rose to move in with me and make all of my meals, eating vegan would be a breeze!
That’s the thing. There seems to be a bit more planning involved in eating this way, but I’m learning that once you get used to the products and how to prepare them, things can be really tasty.
Oh no! Julie is having a set-back and it’s only Day 2!
Yes, that was my thumb in the shot and yes, she ate tuna. But after that little 6″ slip-up, she jumped right back on that beautiful bean horse with the rest of us.
Still struggling at home. But, I finally had the chance to run to Whole Foods before work to pick up a few things on my vegan shopping list.
I picked up some Earth Balance buttery spread, and I’m not kidding, it tastes just like butter. Seriously. It’s all natural, made from soybeans. I suggest you give this one a try on your favorite toast. You will love it, I promise. You can add this here and there to your meals, and skip the saturated fats that butter has. Finding this has already made my animal-free week worth it!
At Whole Foods I also bought soy milk for my coffee (I can get used to vanilla soy milk), vegan sour cream (OK, not great) some beans, lentils, and a few frozen meals. Amy’s was a brand that was suggested, so I tried Amy’s Indian Mattar Tofu for lunch that day:
It was tasty, but I could have eaten three of those things it was so small. And to be honest, I don’t really enjoy frozen meals that come in a cardboard box.
I started to wonder how I was going to survive the week.
Yes, hon, it’s impossible to give up meatballs and cheese. I’m with ya.
Days 4 5 6 & 7. All kind-of a blur. Maybe it was because I was starving! I’m kidding. This isn’t a diet. I mean, you can eat all the veggies, pasta and bread you’d like, and I did.
One of those days Rose made vegan chicken pad thai.
Looks like chicken, right? I liked the taste of the pad thai, but I wasn’t crazy about the vegan chicken. I don’t know, maybe it was the texture. I’d rather have tofu, which I like and eat often.
And look what the non-vegans had!
Oh, so tempting.
Rose also made us this delicous pizza, with more of that yummy chorizo sausage seitan. Really good, round two.
I can definitely see myself using this chorizo in pizza and tacos. Why not cut down on some of that fat of real sausage if I actually like this stuff? I think I will move towards using it.
For dinner I was making vegetables. And lots of them. I guess that’s good, right?
One night I ate a whole bag of edamame. I overdo it sometimes.
Way back when I was trying to fit into my smaller-than-it-should-have-been wedding dress, I started eating spinach every day, and lots of it. This didn’t even faze me until my then-to-be-husband pointed out that I smelled funny and that it was from all of the iron in the bushels of spinach I was ingesting! Well, smelling like a barbell at the gym on my wedding day would not have been a good thing, so I stopped, but still. I could have kept right on gobbling it up.
Wow, that story is a nice segue into how food can affect you in other ways. Sarah, why don’t you tell us what eating all of this fiber is like.
Can I say ass on my blog?
There may have been some cheatin’ goin on……
A hot dog? OK, that’s bad. And funny.
So the vegan challenge is over, I did it and it feels great. And now I can joyfully say, “Welcome back cheese, eggs and chocolate!”
There are just some things I will never cut out completely. Food gives me too much pleasure. But, I do want to try to lean towards eating this way, while still enjoying the things I love. It was a fun week, I learned a few things and will definitely be using some new products.
Overall, this experience was very positive for many of us….
I really need a new adjective. And I’m sorry you’re blurry Rich, it’s just an iphone. Your pizza is impressive!
Now about the soup.
One vegan meal that I actually made myself was red lentil soup with lemon and cilantro.
I always thought that adding lemon gives food a lemon-y flavor. I was wrong. The lemon in this soup doesn’t make the soup lemon-y, it just makes you say, WOW! And the fresh cilantro and splash of olive oil in the end really put it over the top.
This recipe calls for Aleppo pepper. I happened to have a bag in my spice drawer, a great Christmas gift from my brother and sister-in-law.
It’s similar to cayenne, and its flavor is killer. It’s smoky and salty and has a kick. This pepper has got it going on! This is the first time I’ve tried it, and I’m addicted. If you’ve got it, or can find it, use it. If not, use cayenne.
I added extra cilantro to mine and extra Aleppo pepper.
Try this soup. You’ll love it. And I imagine if you replace the vegetable broth with chicken broth you’ll love it even more!
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Cilantro
Adapted by In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, Melissa Clare, inspired by Orangette
4 Tbsp. olive oil, plus additional good oil for drizzling
2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of Aleppo pepper (or Cayenne), or more to taste like I did
2 quarts vegetable broth
2 cups red lentils
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, more to taste
In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and Aleppo pepper, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the broth, 2 cups water, the lentils, and the carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. Using an immersion or regular blender, puree about half of the soup. It should still be somewhat chunky, not completely smooth. Reheat if necessary, then stir in the lemon juice and cilantro. Serve the soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted very lightly with aleppo, if desired. Garnish with cilantro.
Makes 6 to 8 servings