Vegan Night: a welcome warming trend

I’ve been a pretty busy Tenant lately. Last week it was the Chocolate Dinner, and this week I found myself enjoying the Vegan Night offerings once more. Yes, we’ve all been marveling/complaining/whatever about the winter weather we haven’t had much of this season, and how Jack Frost hasn’t exactly been socking it to us the way he has in winters past. Yet, as I look out my window right now, I see snow on the ground and the infamous horizontal lake-effect flurries flying back and forth. Yeah, sometimes winter really is acting like winter for us. And when it does, it’s great to have some stick-to-your ribs food sent in front of you to warm you from the inside out. Thursday’s Vegan Dinner proved that such a thing is possible without a smidgen of meat or animal products.

The first course was Creamy Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup. What a terrific winter soup! Rich, thick, and full of woodsy flavor. If you’re thinking “what’s it like to have wild rice in soup? Is it grainy and crackly and hard, like it is on its own?,” the answer is no! This wild rice was pureed to smoothness, so it had none of the texture of wild rice, just the flavor. The chunkiness of the soup came from the mushrooms, and it was all just heartwarming.

Then came the entree, Stuffed Cabbage in a Savory Sweet-and-Sour Tomato Sauce with Yukon Gold Potato Mashers and Maple-Glazed Carrots. Wow! I love traditional cabbage rolls (again, the German side of me), but although these contained no meat, they were utterly wonderful. Ruth explained to me that she made the rolls using Savoy cabbage, which she feels is tenderer and easier to work with than other cabbages. Inside went a mixture that included rice, tomatoes, vegan sausage (to give it that “meaty” flavor without the meat), a variety of spices, and something called “farro.” “What’s farro?” I asked. “I never heard of it before.” I knew I was going to have to research this one. Well, my trusty Internet connection tells me there’s actually some debate as to exactly what constitutes farro, but that it is essentially the whole grain of certain wheat species. Whatever it was, it tasted good inside these stuffed cabbages. The entree consisted of two HUGE cabbage rolls sitting atop a bed of the Yukon Gold mashed potatoes (the absolute best mashing potato, I think), coated with tomato sauce, with a serving of the carrots cozied up alongside. The sauce was a great complement not only to the cabbage but to the potatoes; I could smell the cinnamon in it (which always reminds me of my family’s spaghetti sauce recipe) and it was as if my own mother had made this dish. The carrots? Mapley sweet and pure joy–I could’ve eaten a bowlful of these on their own.

Topping it all off was dessert: a generous serving of Apple Brown Betty with Vanilla “Ice Cream.” My, oh, my! A classic winter dessert, reworked so as to use no butter, eggs or milk, yet to taste just as delicious as the original. Tender thin slices of cinnamony sauced apple, crunchy sugary cinnamony crumbs, all this hot crunchy saucy stuff contrasted with the coolness of the scoop of vanilla almond-milk “ice cream” on top. I tell you truly, if I didn’t know this was a vegan dinner, I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t typical milk-and-egg ice cream. It’s eating like this that makes me think “Yes, I could give up all the animal stuff and eat just fine.” Of course, it is a little easier when you have someone else doing the work for you. But mmm, what a tasty outcome!

Vegan Night has to be a real treat for people committed to vegan or vegetarian eating who enjoy an evening out, but don’t enjoy having to ask a lot of questions about a restaurant dish to make sure it passes the test. From my viewpoint, however, it is repeated proof that it’s possible to cook creatively and deliciously not only without meat, but without some of the other items we so often take for granted as staples, such as milk, eggs and honey. It seems that every time I sit down to another vegan dinner I learn something new, and this one was no exception. At this one, it was that even in wintertime, a hearty meal doesn’t have to be “meat and potatoes” to be satisfying. Potatoes, you can have, but the meat you can do without–if you know how. Congratulations to Ruth for showing us how yet again!

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