Vegan Texas by the Numbers

Top: Texas VegFest shirt, sign outside Green Vegetaran, Jalisco Taco from Vegan Nom; middle: Loving Hut in Arlington, Sunny Day Farms, Texas State Veggie Fair; bottom: Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off, vegan pigs in blankets, Green Seed Vegan

Part of the reason why I started blogging here at Lone Star Plate is to combat the jokes about vegans in Texas. There’s the idea that meat is entrenched in Texas cuisine and that you can’t be vegan in Texas. The truth is, meat is entrenched in most of the world. And being different anywhere isn’t easy. But, there’s a thriving vegan community in Texas, and I’m here to document it. As of today Texas is home to

Big Tex and the Texas State Fair

Source: LostinTexas

Early this morning, Big Tex, a 60-year-old Texas icon, caught fire due to an electrical problem. If you’ve never met Big Tex, he’s the friendly giant at the Texas State Fair who greeted fairgoers with a hearty “Howdy, folks!”

I probably went to the State Fair every year as a child (all school children receive free tickets and a day off school in October). Big Tex, along with the giant ferris wheel, the new car showroom, the butter sculptures, and the people in the exhibit hall (think As Seen on TV) who magically made my glasses steamproof, was a part of my childhood and my identity as a Texan.

While I have ethical problems with much of the State Fair these days (animal cruelty is a prominent feature of the fair), Big Tex wasn’t part of that. He’ll be missed sorely.

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This weekend, I’ll be traveling to Dallas for the Texas State Veggie Fair, the ethical response to the traditional fair. I hope you’ll join me there. If you visit the traditional fair as well, check out this list of healthy food at the fair, much of which is vegan.

Meet a Vegan Texan

Part of what inspired us to start writing Lone Star Plate are the constant jokes and quips about the impossibility of being vegan in Texas. Just the other day I saw “Real people eat meat” scrawled across the wall of a restaurant in Texas. So, dear reader, clap if you believe in vegan Texans.

That’s what I thought.

In a new occasional series, we’ll introduce you to real live Texas vegans from all across the state. The first person in the series is Anna from San Antonio. Anna blogs at Carrot and Potato Time and also runs the etsy shop Analog Accessories.

Anna, San Antonio

Why are you vegan?
I’m vegan for ethical reasons. I was lacto-ovo-vegetarian (still consuming dairy and eggs) for about 8 years before I was introduced to information about dairy, eggs, and honey that made me reconsider my habits. I read Diet for a New Americaby John Robbins and I felt that a vegan diet would be more aligned with my feelings about animals and their use.

How long have you been vegan?
10 years

What’s it like to be vegan where you live?
When I became vegan I lived in Los Angeles and it is extremely easy to be vegan there. Next I lived in San Diego, which was also pretty accepting of vegans. Living here in San Antonio, I feel I need to make more effort to reach out to people who do not have negative reactions to my choices. Fortunately though, San Antonio is large enough for a certain level of diversity. We do have a Whole Foods, and Green Vegetarian Restaurant is great for getting a vegan meal. Just about a month ago, San Antonio’s first vegan restaurant, Vegeria, opened up and we are really excited about that.

I have a three year old son, so when we moved here I got involved in a couple of mom’s groups right away. One of them is focused on more natural living, and I have met a couple of other vegans in that group, however their children are not entirely vegan. One thing I would like is to find some other vegan buddies for my son because he is getting to be the age where he’s more tuned in to group dynamics. Not that I would only have him play with other vegans, but I don’t want him to be the only vegan child we know. That has been a bit difficult here. The new families we’ve met, although most are not vegan, have been very nice and often make and bring vegan foods to share when we meet for playgroups. I don’t expect them to do so but I think it is so thoughtful of them.

What’s your favorite resource for finding vegan food? Your favorite vegan restaurant dish?
We use Happy Cow to look up vegan restaurants when we travel. For local food, word of mouth has been the best resource. Through a friend I discovered a totally vegetarian Indian restaurant here that I didn’t know existed. It’s called Pavani Express. They make some super spicy and delicious vegan dishes.

Right now my favorite vegan restaurant dish is the tamale plate at Vegeria. They also make an outstanding portabello sub sandwich with a homemade cashew cheese on it.

What’s your favorite vegan Texan food?
Green Vegetarian Restaurant has some great vegan southern style items. It’s hard to pick a favorite, they are all good! I’m still new to Texan food and I probably haven’t really experienced it in its full glory yet.

Since I moved to Texas I have definitely developed a new fondness for okra. During the summer we get a lot of okra in our CSA share and I just love it.

Do you have a secret vegan weapon? Laser vision? Kale? A larabar in your pocket?
Sounds funny saying it this way, but lately my secret weapon is seaweed. In recent months I have been attempting to incorporate a lot more seaweed into my family’s diet. It’s packed with excellent nutrients and even helps the body remove radiation! Iron, vitamin C, iodine, enzymes, and most of the minerals found in the ocean are all found in seaweed. It helps regulate blood sugar, is great for cardiovascular health, and has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.

Fortunately I don’t have to force my family members to eat a huge pile of sea vegetable salad every day to get these plants into our diet. I add a couple of pieces of kombu to my crock pot of beans to make them easier to digest. I incorporate bits of dulse into my pasta sauces and stir fries. I use agar-agar to thicken the soy yogurt and “cheese” that I make at home. I add a bit of spirulina to our smoothies.  We each occasionally snack on toasted nori strips, and my son has become accustomed to eating his tofu cubes with bits of arame stuck to them.

If you could only choose one, would it be tofu, tempeh, seitan, or beans?
I would choose beans. I always feel great after eating beans!

What advice do you have for people in your area about being vegan?
- It can sometimes help to seek out other vegans. Here in San Antonio we have SAVS (welcomes vegetarians and vegans of all types, but is essentially a vegan group) and a vegan Meetup group.
- Take heart that the food options in San Antonio are becoming more diverse. Green Vegetarian restaurant is opening a second location soon and I’ve heard rumors of yet another vegan restaurant in the works.
- Support Vegeria, our new vegan restaurant.
- Support Sunny Day Farms, our local animal sanctuary.
- I have a vegan dining guide on my blog and I hope it’s helpful. I will continue to update it as things change, so keep your eye out for that.
- Also, a brief trip to Austin can be great if you want some dining adventures!

Book Review: Blissful Bites

Blissful Bites by Christy Morgan

I was excited to hear that my friend and fellow Texan Christy Morgan was publishing a vegan cookbook, Blissful Bites. And I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the book to review.

To begin with, there are beautiful photos throughout the book, unlike many vegan cookbooks which only have a color section. I work in publishing, so I know exactly why it’s not feasible to have color photos throughout a cookbook for a specialized audience, but I still like to see them as a reader. Another thing that I love about the book design is that each chapter has a table of contents. This makes it so easy to browse through the recipes or find a specific recipe.

The introduction walks you through Christy’s food philosophy, which is largely based on her macrobiotic training at the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts here in Austin. I admit, this part of the book wasn’t for me. I’m not looking for my food to make me blissful, and I’m a bit skeptical of some of her health claims. If you’re firmly in the science-based nutrition camp, I would skip to the end of the introduction where Christy included photos and directions of how to make basic knife cuts like chiffonade and julienne. The visual along with the directions is perfect for beginner cooks.

Even though I didn’t care for the nutrition information, this is actually a great cookbook for most people on special diets. The recipes are all low-glycemic index, which is good for us diabetics. Many of them are gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free, or raw, and these recipes are flagged with symbols for easy identification. And there’s an emphasis on nutrient-dense foods. Anyone on a special diet for health reasons should absolutely pick up this book. It’s also a good buy for people interested in a whole foods-style of cooking, since Christy cooks by season, sweetens all her recipes with maple syrup or brown rice syrup, and uses whole grains.

Of course, these same qualities might be a downside for some people. Some recipes use harder-to-find ingredients like barley flour and coconut palm sugar. I’m certain I can find these things here in Austin, but if you only have access to a small grocery store with limited options, you may need to order some ingredients from the Internet or substitute something easier to find in order to make these recipes. This also isn’t a cookbook for picky eaters. Or at least my picky eater. And if you’re on a budget, know that some recipes contain as much as half a cup of maple syrup.

Polenta Fries from Blissful Bites by Christy Morgan. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

I took the book out for a spin and tried three recipes. First up were Sage-Infused Polenta Fries. This was a bit of a test for me since I’ve never successfully made firm polenta. I eat soft polenta all the time, but for some reason, I can never get it to firm up well. While my polenta fries aren’t as pretty as the ones pictured in the book, I’m enormously pleased with how firm they got. The recipe was really specific about how thick the polenta should be before you let it cool (the spoon needs to be able to stand up in the pot), and I think that made all the difference.

To go with the polenta fries, I also made the Cashew Garlic-Aioli, which contains nuts, coconut milk, lime juice, coconut oil, and a few other things. From the name, I was expecting a garlicky sauce to go with the fries, so I was a bit surprised when I dipped my first fry in the aioli. I liked it a lot, but it just didn’t go with the sage-flavored fries. Between the lime juice and coconut, it tasted very tropical. I ended up saving the aioli for another day, and it went perfectly with sweet potato fries. It was very creamy and held up well in the fridge.

The final recipe I tried was Chewy Trail Mix Bars. This one was a success with even my picky eater. Even though there’s a good deal of sugar in it (in the form of brown rice syrup), the almond butter, puffed brown rice, and oatmeal made this something I was happy to eat for breakfasts and snacks. And it made so much that the two of us weren’t able to finish it off in a week. Next time I make it, I’ll cut the recipe in half.

If you’re in Austin and you’d like to get a signed copy of Blissful Bites, head to Counter Culture on Saturday between 4 and 7 PM for a book release party. There will be samples of recipes from the book, cupcakes from Kristen at Sugar-Skull, and beer available by donation. And 20% of the proceeds from the book and all the beer donations go directly to Sunny Day Farms.

Chicken-Fried Chickpea Cutlets

Chicken-Fried Chickpea Cutlets based on the chickpea cutlets in Veganomicon. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

One of the best things about being vegan is not having to worry about doing things the traditional way. We’re not stuck with just chicken-fried steak or chicken-fried chicken. We can chicken-fry virtually anything.

I wrote a round-up of chicken-fried things recently, and I’ve had chicken-frying on the mind ever since. My husband is obsessed with the chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon. And somehow, the two just seemed right for each other.

To begin with, go read the recipe for chickpea cutlets. It should be part of every vegan’s repertoire (assuming they can eat wheat). For that matter, this cookbook should be in every vegan’s library.

So, to make chicken-fried chickpea cutlets, follow that recipe up until it’s time to form the cutlets. Make your cutlets thin since we’ll be breading them and you want them to cook all the way through.

Next, start heating your cast iron skillet to medium on the stove. Add a thin layer of neutral oil. We used canola.

Then get two flat-bottomed bowls. Cake pans actually work great for this. In one, combine a cup of flour, a large pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. In the other, combine a 1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons of egg replacer or cornstarch. Do not use sweetened or flavored milk. You will be sad.

Take each cutlet and dip it in the milk mixture. Then dip it in the flour mixture, making sure it gets covered with flour on every side. Then dip it back in the milk and back in the flour. The best way to do this without ending up with a dough-mitten on your hand is to designate one hand as your “wet hand” and one hand as your “dry hand”. The wet hand only touches the cutlet when it’s wet. The dry hand only touches the cutlet when it’s dry/floury.

Finally, fry each cutlet in oil for four minutes on each side, or until they’re golden brown. Place the cutlets on a cooling rack over paper towels, or directly on paper towels to let any excess oil drip off.

CFCC are best served with cream gravy. If you want to be really traditional, you can serve them with fried okra and mashed potatoes, too.

Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Photo by 7-how-7. Licensed under creative commons

The Texas Craft Brewers Festival is this weekend in Austin. I was looking up which beers at the festival are vegan (pretty much all of them!), and thought I’d share the info with everyone. I filled in a few breweries that won’t be there so the information is all in one place. Much of this is compiled from Barnivore, and the rest is from emails sent directly to the brewers. In a few cases, I’ve left the place holder (email sent) because I wanted to be able to publish this in time for people going to the Craft Brewer festival on Saturday. It hasn’t been long since I sent emails, so don’t think that any brewer was unresponsive or unhelpful. I’ll update this as I get more responses.

It’s probably a good idea to ask about special edition beers as they may contain honey or, apparently, milk.

Austin Bakes for Bastrop: Sign Up Now!

Doggie Biscuits at the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale in 2009. Photo by dontloseyourlunch. Licensed under creative commons

Vegan bakers, mobilize! The seven bake sale locations to raise money for Bastrop fire victims have been announced, and they’re taking baked good pledges now. I want to see vegan baked goods at all seven locations!

A deal has been worked out so that any leftover vegan baked goods will be transported to the Gathering of the Tribes later that same day for a post-sale bake sale. So even if you’re not baking, the bake sale will come to you. But seriously, bake something.

Tomato Rosemary Scones at Tacoma Vegan Bake Sale in 2011. Photo by Roxanne Cooke. Licensed under creative commons

Baked goods should be individually packaged as cutely as possible (we’re pulling for big bucks here!) and labeled as vegan. The label should also include your name and blog/twitter.

Bake sales will all be from 10 AM to 2 PM on Saturday, October 1. The Gathering of the Tribes is at 5 PM that same day. Sign up here to bake something.

New Veg Restaurant Opening in Midland

Midland, Texas, is anticipating its first vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant will be entirely vegetarian and vegan, with a focus on raw foods.  The restaurant will be part of the newly expanded Vibrant Health Wellness Center, which offers nutritional counseling, health and life coaching, massage, and physical therapy. I’m personally a little skeptical of a health provider that claims to analyze vocal frequencies to find imbalances in the body. Sounds like quackery. But that wouldn’t stop me from eating their food if I were in the Midland/Odessa area.

The Vegg Out menu offers salads, snacks, smoothies, juices, desserts, along with a wrap and black bean soup to round things out. The majority of menu is vegan.

VegDocs

From the Adventures of Doodlegirl. Licensed under creative commons

It’s always tough finding a recommendation for a new doctor, and being vegan can make it a bit tougher. Will the doctor think you’re ruining your health just by avoiding animal products? Will she blame veganism each time you get a sniffle? Does he have any idea of what vegans actually eat?

There’s a new website out there that I’m really excited about that should help with this issue. VegDocs is the project of students at the Institute for Humane Education. The idea is that people recommend doctors who are veg-friendly. That can mean anything from a doctor that recommends a plant-based diet to just an ordinary doctor who is well informed about vegan nutrition and health.

The database is still pretty bare at this point, though Texas has the most doctors listed so far. If you like your physician, add their name to the list.

Recipe Round-Up: Texas Chili

Photo by dasroofless. Licensed under creative commons

It’s a bit repetitive to include “Texas” in the title there. Of course any chili on a blog about Texas will be Texas chili. But Texas chili, real Texas chili, poses special problems for vegans. Traditionally, Texas chili contains no beans, and beans are the basis for most vegetarian chilis. But vegans are creative, and we don’t let a pesky problem like this bother us. Here are the best beanless vegan chilis from around the web, each purist in its own way.

But first the rules. Besides no beans, Texas chili can’t have any vegetables. So no recipes that include corn or zucchini. We’ll let onions and tomatoes slide, but the veg meat should be the star of the show.

First up is this chili from the crew at Radical Eats in Houston. This recipe is an ode to Texas chili. It’s about the ingredients and the journey, and not about following directions. The chili features ground crumbles like Boca or Gimme Lean, though Staci says that tvp will work in a pinch. But really, you can’t go wrong with a recipe that begins with “Well you have to start with a really good veggie stock and lots and tons of onions,” and includes the option of cooking the chili “forever” or “half of forever” depending on your tomato choice.

Texas chili made with bulgur. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

The next recipe is mine (you knew that was coming!) I feel strongly about my Texas chili. Don’t even think about adding beans. I use bulgur, though I’ve also subbed tvp or a combo of tvp and bulgur for a lower carb version. My recipe was born out of a longing for real Texas chili despite the fact that several of my family members make great with bean chilis (my sister-in-law’s has hominy, it’s fantastic). Those other chilis just weren’t what I think of as chili. This cooks up fast and makes a mean Frito pie.

Texas chili made with Gardein beefless tips. Photo posted with permission from Vegan Chronicle

And the final Texas chili comes to us from Starr at The Vegan Chronicle. This recipe uses Gardein beefless tips and a Dutch oven for a recipe that probably comes closest to the slow stewed chuck wagon chili made with tough cuts of meat on Texas cattle drives. For extra authenticity, use a cast-iron Dutch oven.

Three beanless vegan chilis made with three different kinds of veg meat. We still need a good seitan chili that stews in the pot to round things out.

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I can’t write a post about Texas chili without mentioning the Texas Vegetarian Chili Cook-off, now coming up on its 23rd year! This annual festival inspires all kinds of creative dishes, with every vegan ingredient known to man. Last year there was even a raw chili. They’re not all authentic, but they’re a great picture of the creativity and pride inherent to Texas vegan cooking.