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No Turkey, Thank You

What can I make you? What will you eat?” These questions commonly get passed around the dinner table when a family member mentions that they’ve decided to stop eating meat.

Some people choose a meat-free diet for health reasons, but for many (myself included) it’s an ethical issue. Unfortunately I was working at a pizzeria when I first made the switch. Admittedly, the smell of Buffalo wings made me salivate a little my first month there. But I passed my own tests and made it through okay.

Pumpkin Ginger Soup

Here is a wonderful vegan recipe. It’s a Buffalo recipe, too—Cafe 59 on Allen Street sent it in to Artvoice several years ago. Ironically enough, this is probably the simplest recipe I’ve ever seen for a cream-based soup, and the ingredients are all so non-perishable you can simply keep them on hand in your pantry for months at a time, for one of those nights when the autumn weather is less than glorious and you just don’t want to go out in it.

Into a large saucepan, pour 28 ounces canned vegetable broth. Season with one cinnamon stick, two whole cloves, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, eight tablespoons brown sugar, one tablespoon cider vinegar and one teaspoon salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer five minutes.

Remove cloves and cinnamon stick. Then add a 14-ounce can of unsweetened coconut milk, a 29-ounce can of solid-pack pumpkin, a generous heaping tablespoon of fresh ginger, grated. Bring all to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.

This is a substantial soup and is good served with crusty bread or, what the heck, croissants from a tube.

—bridget kelly

Homemade Sauerkraut

If you want cabbage throughout the year but don’t want to buy it in off-season, do it the old fashioned way—salt and preserve your own kraut. It’s simple to make (just two ingredients), tastes better than anything you’d purchase, and eaten raw has great pro-biotic properties.

1 small head of cabbage and a little kosher salt

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut the head in half and then quarters. Cut out the core and discard it. Slice the cabbage as thin as you are able and put it in a large bowl. Sprinkle with two or three tablespoons salt and mix. Taste the cabbage; it should taste salty but not overly so. Transfer the cabbage to a container that is wide enough to fit a few small plates. Press the cabbage down with your hands and weight it with plates. Cover the container and leave at room temperature. After a day the cabbage should have released enough of its own liquid that it is submerged; if not, add enough salted water to cover the cabbage. After two or three days small bubbles will appear; after about a week or so it will begin to smell and taste distinctively sour.

Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the cabbage will take between one and three weeks to sour completely. Taste it as often as you like and when the flavor is to your liking transfer the container to the refrigerator to slow its fermentation. The finished sauerkraut may be eaten raw as a side salad and digestive aid, or drained and cooked in any recipe that calls for it.

—joe george

When I first made the choice nine years ago, my family was unsure about what to make of it. It was particularly concerning to my mom. Like many people she thought vegetarians don’t get enough protein. (They do.) It also made things tough on her those first few holidays. I’m lucky to have a family who understands my choices and accommodates me at dinners and get-togethers. My mom even tried a meat-free diet for a while. We were stuck in traffic behind a cattle truck, and seeing the face of her food made her decide to try giving up meat. My 14-year-old cousin still eats meat but has reduced her consumption after seeing a slaughterhouse. My aunt joked, “Where did you think meat came from?”

But the facts are staggering. The US Census predicts that 242 million turkeys will be slaughtered this year for the colloquially termed “Turkey Day.” Last year 7.1 billion pounds of turkey meat were eaten in the United States. My purpose here is not to decry eating meat or to try to convince people to ditch the turkey this year. I simply think it’s worth considering where your food comes from, regardless of what you eat.

There are other options for those who skip the meat this year. Tofurky makes a fantastic roast with stuffing, but products like this can be pricey. If you can afford it and enjoy stuff that tastes like meat, great. If not, there are virtually unlimited possibilities of what you can make at home. Tofu can be marinated and cooked just like traditional meat dishes. It’s made from soy and high in protein, generally sold as silken/soft or firm, depending on how you want to prepare it. Tempeh is also made from soybeans but undergoes a fermentation process. Seitan (wheat gluten) is a common meat substitute because of its texture. Beans are another great source of protein, although a little less versatile than tofu/tempeh or seitan when it comes to flavorings and prep work. Beans, along with other legumes such as lentils and nuts, can be combined with grains like rice to round out a meat-free diet.

For those who are considering a vegetarian diet, it may be difficult to give up meat cold turkey (pun very much intended). It may be easier to transition into a vegetarian diet gradually. There are a wealth of resources at your local book store or online that can make the transition easier and healthier by helping you plan your meals.

When I first gave up meat I had a tough time finding restaurants to eat at, especially on the road. Interstate rest stops tend to offer cheese pizza, veggie sandwiches (i.e., ham sandwich sans ham), or the occasional veggie burger (if you’re lucky). But with more and more places accommodating vegetarian diets, that’s becoming less of a problem.

If you feel like eating out and want to skip the well-worn veggie burger, Buffalo has plenty of vegetarian options. Indian and Thai restaurants are always excellent places to find vegetarian dishes. Merge (439 Delaware Avenue) offers seitan “wings,” vegan lasagna, “TLT” sandwiches (tempeh, lettuce and tomato), and an evolving list of daily specials. Betty’s (370 Virginia Street) has great food, too—I recommend the scrambled tofu hash (vegan). Amy’s Place (3234 Main Street) is a staple diner for many local vegetarians. Almost everything on the menu can be ordered to suit a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Some vegetarians and vegans may feel uncomfortable at holiday dinners with a cooked animal as the centerpiece. I know when I first became a vegetarian I felt a little uncomfortable handling and preparing meat for other people. Not because I had an opinion about others eating meat but because, in a sense, I felt like I was supporting the meat industry and perpetuating the cruelty I was actively trying to rebuke. Eventually I had one of those Lisa Simpson epiphanies, but the first month or two were the hardest. The fact of the matter is that handing out pamphlets and lecturing others on the ethical and environmental evils of the meat industry won’t change minds, it just annoys people. If you want to make people aware of the impacts of an omnivorous diet, fine. But don’t expect your family or friends to change their lifestyles because you chose to. Above all else, be respectful of others, regardless of diet and lifestyle choices.

brian pietrus

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