Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Vegan Gourmet

In college, we loved the vegan restaurant in town. On the occasional Sunday night, I would trek alone to the far ("sketchy") end of Main Street to treat myself to dinner. I sat at a small, square table with a white tablecloth and a single flickering candle, soothed by the simple decor, enjoying a secret dinner to myself. The prices were college-student friendly, about $15 for generous portions of gourmet vegan food. I am not a vegan and, barring some unforeseen conversion experience, never will be--but I loved the cajun tempeh, the tahini-carrot spread on homemade bread, the astounding salads, and ohmygod, the vegan cakes. Once a year, all the workstudy employees from the Kosher Kitchen* would have lunch there, in deference to the vegans on staff. It was no sacrifice for the omnivores. The flavors were intense and unusual, and the chef was not shy about using oils and decadent amounts of tahini. I always left feeling satisfied without feeling stuffed. Spring in my step, I would bounce contentedly back to Church Street, Washington Street, or High Street.

Our sophomore year, the vegan restaurant moved to a better location at the other end of Main Street, amped up the decor, and added a few fish and cheese dishes to its still-mostly-vegan-menu. College students muttered that their place had become "bourgeoisie". Although I preferred the original, Zen monastery-meets-storefront look, even as a young liberal I didn't see that the vegan restaurant had "sold out" so much as "stayed in business by diversifying". But, I also chose one of the most liberal colleges on the East coast and then, finding aspects of it ridiculously liberal once I was there, elected to study dead, white Greek men. Take that, early 19th-century biracial womyn's poetry majors!

Before my husband was my husband, or anything other than a buddy, we were college roommates with a group of friends. I remember when G's longtime girlfriend broke it off during winter break of our senior year. He was sad, then...he started dating. I remember, late that spring, when he fretted over where to take a girl from his tennis class for a date. "Maybe we should go to the vegan restaurant for coffee," he said, "Because I like soymilk in my coffee." Now he doesn't drink soymilk in his coffee. He prefers powdered "creamer," a mystery to me.

Years later, after meeting again in California, coincidentally moving to neighboring towns in Massachusetts, falling in love, moving in together, and, at long last (to my mother's impatience), getting married, we visited campus one summer and made a stop at the vegan restaurant. And they were selling--a cookbook! Yes!

Which is all a very long preamble to telling you what I made for dinner tonight, a vegan feast. Herbed, breaded tofu cutlets that had been marinated in red and white wine, garlic, a touch of soy sauce, and a generous portion of dried sage; quinoa salad with sweet, diced yellow bell pepper and carrots, parsley, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and sesame seeds; and (my own creation) kale braised with ginger and pine nuts, with a squeeze of lemon on top. We drank oolong.

It was delicious. We were sated, but not stuffed.

*Nope, I'm not Jewish.


Narya said...

Is it possible to appreciate the spirit and flavor of your meal while knowing that I would not actually have enjoyed the actual food? Because the bell peppers, as we all know, would make me unhappy. And tofu and I . . . well, "small doses" is really the only thing that works. We are not meant to be together.

But seriously? It sounds like a fabulous meal! Plus, I loved the story of the restaurant. And I hadn't realized that you and G weren't an Item in college.

My word verification: ipzfck

kStyle said...

ipzfck! I would not expect such crude verifications. ;)

It may be that you have yet to meet the right tofu. Press extra-firm tofu and marinate, it can be a whole different experience. (A sesame oil and soy sauce marinade imparts a delightful meat-like flavor.)

Narya said...

It's not just that the taste kinda doesn't turn me on, it's also that I think my body isn't all that enthused about that much soy. It's not that I have an allergic reaction (or even a reaction like the pepper/cucumber reaction), it just doesn't . . . settle properly. Given that my ancestors most assuredly did not eat a lot of soy, that doesn't shock me terribly. You know that part where Pollan says, if your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it? Trust me when I tell you that none of my GGGrandmothers would have recognized tofu as food. (Which is an unexplored aspect of his dictum, but one worth considering.)

kStyle said...

I never quite bought that argument that we must slavishly eat what your ancestors did. It's a very popular idea among the holistic health community. Because how far are we going back? We're all from Africa, you know.

But, if soy doesn't agree with you, then you're right, you shouldn't eat it. :)