One of my favorite aspects of the PAN Vegan Pledge is the weekly meetings. Every Saturday, we meet for about 2 hours. The Peace Advocacy Network (PAN) provides us with plenty of tasty vegan food as well as helpful information. During the meetings, pledges can ask questions, share shopping tips, and generally just get to know one another. In addition to casual socializing, we also enjoy a weekly speaker or two. In all honesty, I was a little afraid that the lectures would be filled with horrifying photos of slaughtered animals. It turned out that the fellow who sat next to me last week had exactly the same fear. We bonded over this and laughed as we realized how counter-productive it would have been to make potential vegan-converts lose their appetites over lunch.
At the first meeting, Christopher McJetters shared why he sees veganism as more than a simple food or even lifestyle choice; for him it’s an issue of social justice. At the second meeting Dara Lovitz explained many of the environmental effects of animal agriculture. I plan to devote a separate post to “what I’ve learned,” so please hold on to your questions for a few weeks.
But not all of our speakers are lecturers. This past week we were treated to a cooking demonstration by Rachel Klein (pictured above), owner of Miss Rachel’s Pantry in Philadelphia. I had heard wonderful reports of Miss Rachel’s weekly Farmhouse Table Dinners, so I had been anticipating this meeting all week. Needless to say, she did not disappoint!
Rachel made two dishes: a simple carrot ginger soup and a baked tempeh sandwich. As you can see, carrots and ginger were two of the primary ingredients in the soup. To this she also added potatoes (she recommended yukon golds or red-skinned potatoes over russets for a creamier texture). To make the soup even richer, she added coconut milk. Much of this was prepped in advance, because we couldn’t really devote the entire two-hour meeting to food prep. Instead Rachel focused on showing us how to make baked tempeh. First off, she recommended slicing the tempeh into thin strips for maximum flavor and a pleasing texture.
She then poured soy sauce and liquid smoke over the sliced tempeh, all the while chatting with us and answering questions. “Where can I buy tempeh?” “Can I substitute Braggs Liquid Aminos?” It turns out that Rachel buys her tempeh from Hardena Resto Waroeng Surabaya, a little Indonesian restaurant that also makes their own tempeh, and yes! you can make substitutions (although one pledge pointed out that Braggs actually has a higher sodium content than soy sauce or tamari). As we were shuttled out of the kitchen for Dara’s lecture, Rachel baked the strips on well oiled baking sheets and then constructed the sandwiches. Everything was so fresh and so delicious! Whole grain baguettes were spread with homemade sun-dried tomato cashew “cheese,” layered with the savory tempeh, and topped with thickly sliced, ripe tomatoes and fresh basil.
One thing Rachel noted was that while vegan cooking doesn’t need to be expensive, prepared vegan food can be pricey due to the amount of prep work involved. As an example, she pointed to the lunch she made for us. Carrots, potatoes, coconut milk, tempeh … none of these are high-priced luxury items. But making a cultured cashew cheese requires significant time, labor, and knowledge. Buying what’s organic and in season and producing quality food in small batches also adds to the cost. For me this was a real “lightbulb moment.” Factory farming is heavily subsidized; small family-owned farms that sell at farmers’ markets or direct to restaurants and caterers are not. Now that I know this, and especially because I’ve sampled Miss Rachel’s cooking, you can bet she’ll be seeing me at one of her dinners in the very near future!
Duly inspired by the fresh flavors in Rachel’s cooking, I went straight from the meeting to the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market. Peaches, cherry tomatoes, and “fairy tale” eggplant are only some of the wonderful items that I purchased. As I biked home with both my belly and my backpack full, I started planning a Sunday dinner that would highlight fresh summer produce but also leave us with some leftovers for a busy Monday.
Sunday was a real scorcher, but luckily my boyfriend loves to grill. We marinated the eggplant in a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Squares of pressed firm tofu were slathered with a simple mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and basil. And the asparagus was drizzled with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt. As the my boyfriend set the coals to fire, I started on a pot of quinoa.
Once everything was ready, I drizzled a bit of vegan pesto onto the tofu to accentuate its flavor.
On Monday I turned the leftovers into a gorgeous salad for a super easy but equally delicious dinner.