Meal One: Alex

Last Wednesday I cooked my first meal for Meals with MelRob or my friend, Alex and a few of his friends.

So, what was on the menu?

– Cheapamole (credit to Vegan on the Cheap, p. 35) 

– Cranberry Salsa (from the Vegan Stoner)

– Southwestern Black Bean and Corn Chowder (again, credit to Vegan on the Cheap, p. 68)

– Lemon Bars (via Veganomicon, p.244)

I pre-made the Lemon Bars and Cheapamole, also pre-cooking the black beans I had soaked for the Southwestern Chowder because it can be stressful to prepare several dishes at once, particularly in an unfamiliar kitchen. Plus, the suitcase I am using to transport the bulk of my ingredients and cooking accessories is only so big.

My cooking baggage, much lighter than my emotional baggage.

The Meal:

When I arrived at Alex’s, I whipped out the Cheapamole, a guacamole lookalike made with  unthawed frozen peas and white beans, to munch on with the tortilla chips, while throwing together a quick batch of Cranberry Salsa to accompany in my food processor. The Cheapamole proved a fantastic, cheap, and less-fatty alternative to guacamole that tasted pretty close to home, solidifying my steadfast faith in the wonders of peas, an under appreciated vegetable. Similarly, the Cranberry Salsa recipe was quite delicious and just as easy as the Cheapamole recipe to throw together; it can be found on The Vegan Stoner, a gem of a blog with lots of easy recipes that are detailed in a surmountable fashion including notably precious illustrations. The cranberries I used for this salsa were actually grown locally and frozen, distributed to me as part of my winter farm share through Locavorious, and deliciously tart and satisfying all on their own as well as an integral part of the salsa.

What do you get when you put cranberries, green onions, and agave into a food processor? Cranberry Salsa.

Cheapamole, Cranberry Salsa, 'n Chips

Soon, I had Alex pour me a glass of wine and I began cutting yellow onions for the Southwestern Black Bean and Corn Chowder from Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap. This recipe is another simple gem that uses own of my favorite powerhouse seasonings: smoked paprika, the smell of which alone gets me every time. I think the smoked paprika redeems the perceived shortcomings of vegan food held by omnivores due to its rich smoky flavor many associate with meat dishes alone. The sweet corn was also part of my winter farm share from Locavorious, and the bean, onions, and garlic were all Michigan-grown. We garnished the chowder with cilantro and what was left of the tortilla chips.

Southwestern Black Bean and Corn Chower, even better leftover after the flavors have had more time to stew.

The final product, as lovely as it was tasty.

The lemon bars were a rushed labor of love and also comprised my first dealings with the mysterious agar-agar sometimes called for in vegan cooking. Agar flakes are a plant-based gelatin and I can now attest to their ability to successfully create gelatinous substances. Get it, agar-agar. Get it.

The Lemon Bar recipe was from Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s infamous Veganomicon. I would have to say that these lemon bars are my favorite over others I have tried, some of which included ingredients like tofu. The crust was crumbly, yet melt-in-your mouth rich, while the filling distinctly lemony-fresh, tart, and sweet. However, I would say that the hours of cooling time and layers of preparation between the lemon zesting and juicing, crust construction, and filling manufacture, combined with the fact that this is a dessert best served the day it is made, render this a creation for special occasions only. The texture got a little too gelatinous for me after the first day and I think next time I would bake a half batch of this recipe, downsizing from the 13”X9” pan.

I would also recommend that everyone try cooking with agar-agar. It can be fun to try new ingredients and recipes and, hey, you can even read up on the science behind baking in many recipe books in the process if that’s your thing. Vegan baking has really pushed me to question and understand how and what exactly is going on in the oven after I close the door.

Sprinkle confectioner's (powdered) sugar on top immediately before serving, but do a better job than I did. Seriously.

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