Friday, August 21, 2009

Vegan, American-style.

I can be incredibly dense sometimes. Since I went vegetarian and then vegan, I’ve gravitated towards the kinds of recipes that are easiest to prepare. This makes sense to me, because even though I like cooking, I don’t really like to spend all that much time eating. Once dinner’s ready, I eat like I’ve been locked in a dungeon with nothing but cat food for a week. Then I go do something else. Weird, I know.

This means I usually make things that involve as few pots and pans as possible. Stir-fries, curries, casseroles, pasta dishes—you get the picture. The stereotypical American layout—meat, starch, vegetable—all but vanished from my repertoire. It was too much work! Too many dishes to wash! Really, why do all that when you can just as easily throw it all together in one delicious mélange? Add in the fact that many ethnic dishes, which are already vegan, use the one-pot formula. All was well.

And all continued to be well during the first year I lived with Red House. I'd only ever cooked for myself, and he liked what I made, so I didn't think to do anything different. I cooked (or we cooked, as he is quite the dab hand in the kitchen, especially when I need an onion chopped), we ate, and we were happy. Recently, upon the happy occasion of our marriage, he confessed that he (gasp!) missed the Standard American Platescape. How did I did not realize this? Was he crying a little inside every time I unveiled another chana masala or risotto? He still liked my cooking, he assured me, but the meat-starch-veg trio had yet to give up its hold on his palate. As he wrote the other day, our dinner of brown rice, fresh green beans with butter and dill, and Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala burgers is more his speed. (Cue Offspring’s “Keep ‘Em Separated.”)

I balked at first, because dammit, I didn’t want to do more work in the kitchen! But then I realized that this might be the case for lots of people considering a more vegan life. It can be tough to abandon the foodways you love and start over with a steaming cauldron of weird colorful something that smells funny. (It’s the cumin, baby.) Lots of people, when they think of a vegan meal, mentally subtract the meat from that Standard American Platescape and have no idea what to replace it with. For Red, it’s easier to do it gradually. He loves veggie burgers, and while I have never felt such devotion towards those hockey-puck conglomerates of protein, I’m glad he’s found an animal-friendly substitute. Another favorite is BBQ tofu, paired with cornbread or polenta and green beans or broccoli. I am justifiably proud of my cornbread, and he would eat BBQ tofu every day if he could.

So I’m going to try to make more of an effort to put meals together in pieces, rather than falling back onto a one-pot solution. It’s interesting to see what goes well together, and how it looks arranged on a plate (something else that never concerned me). It might take a little more planning, but luckily, he’s around to help me. And to do the dishes.

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