VHS volunteer Miles Linklater loves to cook vegan meals but he had a challenge on his hands when some Gallic, gourmet guests came to dinner.
Two of my good friends are world travellers and very snobbish about their food. Whenever I visit them for dinner, they ‘deign’ to provide me with some kind of boring bean dish or uninteresting pasta, but serve all the other guests various forms of meat and cheese.
It is always a challenge I love when it’s my turn to cook for them. As a vegan I consider it my ‘job’ to show non-vegans how delicious and easy it is to create a wonderful meal without animal products. I always start with the idea of serving them something which they will find familiar and tasty and then proceed to ‘veganize’ it. I often take non vegan recipes and find a way to make them animal-free.
For appetizers I simply prepared some dips (hummus and tapenade) served with bread sticks and vegetables, and then created some ‘cheese’ toasts using a mixture of chopped tomatoes and vegan cheese (Daiya or Earth Island) mixed with some vegenaise and grilled on slices of baguette until bubbling and browned. No one misses the cheese.
For my first course I cooked a traditional onion soup. Onion soup is normally not made with animal stock; the deep colour and richness of the soup is obtained from slow cooking of large numbers of onions for 1-2 hours until they have browned. I made the base of the soup a mixture of dried portobello mushrooms soaked in boiling water and then puréed in the blender, with a little sherry. I didn’t want to repeat the ‘cheese baguettes’ I’d served as an appetizer so I made some tarragon dumplings. Nothing is easier than making vegan dumplings for soups and stews. Simply a mixture of flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, whatever herb you wish to use (I usually use fresh dill), and then the ‘buttermilk’ (which is nothing more than soy or other nut milk with a teaspoon or two of vinegar added to it which causes it to thicken and sour like buttermilk). Most dumplings are cooked on top of the soup/stew, but I prefer to ‘steam’ mine over water as you would Chinese dim sum. This makes it more likely that they will turn out nice and fluffy and dry.
The main course was a vegan shepherd’s pie. This was the easiest thing to veganize as one just has to use vegan mince (Yves ground or Gardein) in place of the ground beef. Mix that with some pre-cooked vegetables and mushroom gravy and top it with puréed mashed potatoes and you’re set. I served the pie with Brussels sprouts stir-fried in garlic and olive oil.
The dessert was where I knew I would impress them the most. I decided to make a Hazelnut Almond Dacquoise with Espresso Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache. I’d never worked with the new vegan ‘miracle meringue’ replacer aquafaba (bean water), but I found a recipe to use this leftover liquid from a can of chickpeas as the replacement for the egg whites normally called for in a meringue, and the base for the multi-layered dessert and I couldn’t have been happier with the results. After only 40 seconds in my stand mixer the chickpea ‘liquid’ had already begun to form beautiful white stiff peaks. The coffee buttercream was just a mixture of Earth Balance, icing sugar and espresso. The chocolate ganache made from vegan chocolate chips and soy creamer. It was a time consuming dessert as the ‘meringue’ had to be piped into circular shapes, baked for two hours at a low temperature and completely cooked before assembly, but the result was really impressive and my guests said they could not tell the finished dessert was any different from what they would purchase and consume in any French pastry shop! I’m looking forward to experimenting with aquafaba again soon, trying my hand at macarons and other ‘meringue’ desserts.
Tips for a gluten-free version of this meal:
Use rice flour for thickening the onion soup
Use Gardein ‘ground’ in the shepherd’s pie, with rice flour to thicken gravy
The dessert is gluten-free (but has LOTS of sugar)