My Facebook feed is no stranger to the plethora of memes aimed at fluffing the feathers of vegans and vegetarians. So far, only one has gotten a chuckle out of me. With a couple of dinosaurs grilling meat on an open flame, the brunt of the joke is the herbivore who brings the hummus to the party. This one amuses me because it reveals a lot more about myself (a self-confessed omnivore), than it does about my vegan and vegetarian friends. Hummus has become that reliable go-to when having vegetarians and vegans over for drinks and snacks. It speaks to my total lack of imagination when it comes to catering for such occasions.
As someone who relies heavily on cream, eggs, crispy bacon, authentically-made chicken stock and butter, I’m stumped when it comes to having some of my dearest friends for dinner. I spend weeks going over flavour combinations in my head that might work. I feel inadequate when gathering the ingredients for dinner… What does it mean when the dark chocolate packaging says it MAY contain animal products?!! I’m envious when invited for dinner at their homes. They cook without meat and animal products so effortlessly, and whip up the most sumptuous of dishes… Of course, they are not just vegans or vegetarians… The friends of which I speak are die-hard foodies.
So why mock them? Does it make it easier for meat-eaters to validate their own eating habits, their own predilection for animal flesh? In all my years, I have never had a friend admonish me for my love of a rare T-bone… So is there really a need for such persecution? Can’t we open up dialogues instead? Perhaps learn from each other’s experiences?
I, for one, would like to rely less heavily on meat and animal products in my cooking. The street upon which I worked a few months back had three takeaway chicken houses all within a three metre radius, all buzzing with people daily, making an absolute mint. It unsettled me. I considered how chickens have to be reared in our society to meet that demand for animal flesh. This is not a feeling that is new to me. I explored it many moons ago after reading and reviewing Jonathan Safran Foer’s brilliant contribution to the subject in his book, Eating Animals.
As South Africans, so many of us love our steak houses, love our burgers, love our Nando’s, our KFC, and treat braaing meat as an Olympian sport. And we want our meat cheap. Plentiful and as inexpensive as possible. Sourcing it more ethically means breaking the bank if we are to continue eating the way we do. But what if we could simply eat less? And when we did cook with meat, cook without waste? Save that chicken fat for roasting potatoes… Save the bones for making stock… What if we were all prepared to at least show an interest in alternative ways of eating…?
A few days ago, my roommate made the most heavenly miso broth with greens and chunks of fried tofu. It was just what the day called for, some simple and honest cooking on a cold winter’s afternoon. My friend, Samesh, has also taught me that nothing compliments a curried beans tortilla like the vegan substitute for sour cream, a paste made from cashew nuts, a drizzling of lemon juice and olive oil. Perfection. These friends of mine have not gone out of their way to limit my foodie world; rather they have expanded it.
So it was with eager anticipation that I flipped through the pages of Amy Chaplin’s latest cookbook, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well. Australian-born Chaplin has been working as a vegetarian chef for the last 20 years, in prominent kitchens across the globe, from Amsterdam to New York to Sydney to name but a few, honing her craft. Her message is a simple one:
The fact is that that a well-stocked kitchen and pantry still induces a deep urge in me to create nourishing food. When faced with jars of grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, I see not only their beauty but also their potential to nourish and heal while being pleasurable and delicious to eat.
From beet chickpea cakes served with tzatziki, to plum millet muffins, tempeh portobello burgers and date, pistachio praline tart, there is a little something for everybody in this bloody marvellous book. In fact, when I next have my meat-free friends over for dinner, I intend to make Chaplin’s butternut squash lasagne with whole-wheat noodles and sage tofu ricotta. I have no doubt it will go down a treat! And no more will I be flummoxed by the question ‘What to cook?!’! No more will I simply present my guests with a bowl of hummus and some pita bread! With the guidance of these recipes, I will learn to cook with all of nature’s bounty and gain the confidence to tweak the recipes so they become my own with time.