Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

A few weeks ago, I had surgery. It roundly sucked: a lump in my neck turned out to be a tumour in my submandibular salivary gland. Fortunately, initial biopsies and a raft of other tests confirmed it was benign, but I could have done without the entire affair. As such, after the surgery I was left with 16 stitches and the left side of my face, as various nerve bundles had to be shoved out of the way to remove the offending mass, wasn’t working so well.

As a freelancer, you’ve more time on your hands than you could ever imagine, if you so choose. As I’m somewhat neurotic and a recovering workaholic, I tend to keep my days fairly bustling. However, after the surgery I could do very little for at least two weeks aside from lying on the couch, watching the boob tube and reading cringeworthy celeb gossip pages online. Sure, I could have read Proust or done something more closely resembling a Better Use of My Time, but I guess I’m one of those that can’t do much when soused with ethereal doses of Tylenol-3’s. Don’t judge.

Enter the Food Network. The Playboy Channel for foodies. Despite its paltry offerings for vegans, one can’t help but watch for endless hours. Though I doubt Bobby Flay has ever done much vegan cooking per se, he is unquestionably one of the finest chefs today. One particular program of his, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, is a favourite – he challenges chefs and cooks across the States and competes with them on their signature dishes. A couple of weeks ago, I watched him challenge (and get his behind handed to him by) the Lee Brothers, two boy-wonder, nouveau Southern cooks, on a classic American dish, Country Captain. 

Country Captain is essentially a chicken curry served with rice, but broadened with dried currants and a tomato and vegetable base. A few minutes into the program, I started making notes and concocting a vegan version of the dish. Aside from the chicken itself, it was an easy adaptation. It won rave reviews from my housemates. I initially though they perhaps were laying on a bit thick considering I had a crooked face and looked like I had just lost a knife fight, but it was a triumph. Here’s the vegan version, similar to that of the Lee Brothers, who wiped the floor with Flay with their signature Country Captain. 

Eat-Your-Heart-Out-Bobby-Flay Vegan Country Captain 

1/2 cup vegetable “chicken” broth (Use a half-cube of McCormick’s or Harvest Sun with water)

¼ cup dried currants 

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more for seasoning

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

Canola or vegetable oil for frying

4 strips of Yves Soy Bacon (OR 2 dashes of liquid smoke)

1 package of soy “chicken” strips (either Yves or President’s Choice work well)

1 small red chili pepper, seeds removed, or ½ tsp of chili flakes

1 large carrot, chopped

2 bell peppers (red or yellow), chopped

1 large yellow onion, or 2 small onions. 

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, with juice

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

2 cups cooked quinoa, or brown or white rice

1/3 cup slivered toasted almonds, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Pour the broth into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Put the currants in a mug or bowl and pour enough stock over them to cover and set aside. In another bowl, combine the curry powder, garam masala, salt, and black pepper and set aside.

3. (If you don’t have soy bacon, SKIP THIS STEP.) Chop the “bacon” into one-inch pieces, and fry with a little canola or vegetable oil until brown in a Dutch oven or large pot (about 4-5 minutes) on medium heat. Transfer the bacon into a bowl and set aside. 

4. Brown the chicken strips on medium-high heat on medium-high heat for approximately 5 minutes. If you are using liquid smoke, add it about two minutes after the strips hit the pan. After the “chicken” is browned, set aside. 

5. Add two teaspoons of oil to the pot you used to cook the “bacon” and “chicken.” Add the chili and, on medium heat, toast it until fragrant and slightly browned. If you are using chili flakes, simply add to the oil and stir for approximately 1 minute on medium heat. 

6. Add the carrots, bell peppers, onions, and garlic and cook until slightly softened, for about 5-7 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, spice mixture, ginger, and the currants and their broth. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatoes have cooked down to a puree and the sauce has thickened around the vegetables, for about 8 minutes.

7. Add the “chicken” and “bacon” to the mixture.  If you are using a Dutch oven or a pot that can be baked, tent the top with foil. If not, transfer the dish into a large casserole dish, and tent with foil. Bake until bubbly, for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the sauce has thickened, for about 10-15 minutes more.

8. Remove from the oven, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the chili. Spoon over the quinoa or rice, and garnish with the almonds and parsley.