I am still a few weeks early for Thanksgiving, but definitely getting into the spirit, My wife suggested that, for the month of November, I prepare an alphabetical list of things for which I am thankful, and post one letter each day. I liked the idea, but found myself writing about too many other topics. As the Thanksgiving holiday tends to be a difficult time for vegans, I decided instead to take this opportunity to compile a list of the some of the vegan foods that I most enjoy and for which I am extremely grateful.
Avocadoes. With a name like Uncle Guacamole, this should come as no surprise. Lately, they have been rather expensive here in California, so they have become more of a treat than a staple. In addition to using them for guacamole, I like making avocado and tofu sandwiches, to which I add tomato slices, green olives and Dijon mustard. Delicious! Oh, and pass the chips, please. Honorable mention to apples. I eat one with my lunch at work nearly every day. The sweet California Fujis and Galas are like candy.
Blueberries and Bananas. I grew up picking very tart reddish-purple blueberries from the bush in my parents’ backyard. We also bought them at the supermarket, where they were reasonably priced all summer, thanks to our location about five miles from New Jersey, the blueberry growing capital of the world. These days, I see tiny packages of blueberries selling for three to six dollars, which is a bit too rich for my blood. The frozen berries from the supermarket tend to be a bit mushy, so I hold out for the prices to come down on the fresh ones (except when I get a terrible craving). My favorite way to eat blueberries is with a little almond milk poured over them. In the absence of blueberries, we are fortunate that bananas are reasonably priced most of the time. I enjoy sliced bananas in my oatmeal, but mostly I just tear one off the bunch and throw it into my lunch bag. I am grateful for my afternoon snack!
Cucumbers and Chocolate. I eat a lot of salads, and they just wouldn’t be the same without cucumbers. Uncle G has a black thumb, but as a teenager the only things I could successfully grow were beans and cucumbers. You have to be grateful for something so delicious that comes out of the ground with minimal effort. As for chocolate, I don’t think any comment is needed. I am fortunate to have discovered an extremely dark chocolate bar (85% cocoa) that is non-dairy. Far too bitter or most people, but a hot cup of tea just isn’t the same without it. Thank you, Trader Joe’s! Honorable mention to chick peas (more below at hummus and vegetable broth). Chick peas are a super source of soy-free protein and hence a staple for many vegans, myself included. I’d have a much more difficult time getting enough protein without them.
Dill Pickles. There aren’t too many things that my wife and I will both eat, but when it comes to being aficionados of the dill pickle, we are in firm agreement. They are the perfect accompaniment to almost any meal. I even dice them and throw them into cooked vegetables for flavoring. My favorite pickles are Bubbies, which are technically garlic pickles, but do contain dill. They are more expensive than most brands, so they’re a treat. Oh, and I recently discovered peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches. Before you say “eeeeewwww!” I dare you to try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Eggplant. My favorite way to prepare eggplant is to just slice it, douse it with garlic and oregano, pour tomato sauce over it and bake it at 400°F for about 40 minutes. We don’t even peel it. Easy peasy. Although my mother didn’t buy eggplant, I grew up being treated by my Italian food loving Dad to eggplant parmagiana hero sandwiches at the local pizzeria. It isn’t necessary to douse eggplant in egg and bread crumbs to fry it, however. My creative wife discovered that it is great diced up and thrown in a pan with olive oil and rice. I can’t walk through the produce section of the supermarket without checking the price of eggplant.
French Fries. Some fast food places now claim to use 100% vegetable oil for frying their potatoes, which is a boon for vegans. The frozen ones from the supermarket are not bad, either. My favorite, however, is the French fry, salsa and jalapeño burritos from the little taqueria across the street. I call these “change cup burritos” because they charge me only two bucks each for these, which I typically pay in nickels, dimes and quarters.
Garlic. After a year of being a vegan, I am finding that a lot of the food I eat (tofu and most vegetables, for example) are more than a bit bland. Enter the glorious bulb known as Allium sativum. As I do not use salt for health reasons, I season nearly everything with copious amounts of garlic powder. I am as grateful for garlic as my readers undoubtedly are that they are not exposed to my dragon breath.
Hummus. The white bean variety is not bad, but the type I truly enjoy is made from the garbanzo bean (chick pea). I use it on sandwiches and to dip raw veggies, crackers and chips. One of my current favorite dishes is hummus and green olives on toasted sourdough. The price of store-bought hummus is highway robbery and the homemade kind pales by comparison. I try to eat it slowly and savor every bite.
Italian Ice. My favorite frozen dessert is coconut milk “ice cream,” but it is only in stock occasionally at the only area supermarket that carries it (and it’s over $4 for a small one). Second choice is Italian ice, with my favorite flavor being lemon. It’s not like the fresh stuff scooped up by our neighborhood bakery in the New York town in which I grew up, but I’ll take what I can get. I find it interesting that I do not miss “real” ice cream nearly as much as I thought I would when I first ventured down the vegan road.
Jalapeños. Like garlic, jalapeños are among my go-tos for flavoring my frequently bland food. Before migrating to California, I wouldn’t touch the things. I believed that I had a delicate stomach and that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate anything that spicy. Now, I can’t imagine food without them. I’ve already waxed poetic over the jalapeño burritos from across the street. I may be sad when we eventually move from our current location.
Kiwi. These funny green fruits from New Zealand do not make it onto our grocery list, although I indulge in them regularly thanks to the salad bar at one of my favorite local restaurants. See Quinoa. By the way, I first became familiar with the kiwi as a kid when my parents would buy a special dessert from the local bakery when we had guests visiting. It was called a “tropical fruit pie,” and was actually a custard tart topped with kiwi, pineapple, blueberries and strawberries. Sweet memories!
Lemon Juice. I am grateful for lemon juice because I drink about a gallon of iced tea daily, which I find entirely tasteless without a liberal dose of lemon juice. Also, I couldn’t make a decent batch of guacamole without it.
Mixed Vegetables. Yes, the canned kind. Okay, don’t laugh. Sure, they contain a lot of sodium, but the amount can be greatly reduced by draining the liquid and rinsing the contents of the can. I use these in soup, with rice, over potatoes, or just thrown into a Rubbermaid container and heated in the microwave for lunch. My favorite part is the tiny lima beans!
Nuts. Walnuts, pistachios, Brazils, cashews, almonds — I can’t get enough of them. I keep a jar of mixed nuts stashed in my desk drawer at work. A handful of nuts is one of my favorite snacks.
Olives. My favorites are the green manzanillas stuffed with pimentos. Black olives just seem flavorless to me. Soy “cream cheese” and olive sandwiches are among my favorite standbys. Like dill pickles, olives make any meal better. I am very thankful for olives!
Potatoes. Thanks to the marvels of the microwave oven, baked potatoes have become one of my mainstays. Call me weird, but I like them for breakfast! As for mashed potatoes (prepared with almond milk and vegan margarine), my mother-in-law makes the best. Honorable mention to pineapple, and I am referring to the chunks in the can. This is an easy dessert that satisfies my sweet tooth.
Quinoa. My favorite local salad bar feature quinoa-pineapple-kiwi salad. What a wonderful combination!
Radishes. My grandfather taught me to love radishes. As a kid, whenever I had lunch at his apartment, a dish of sliced radishes undoubtedly found its way onto the table. Here in California, the Mexican style is to marinate radishes in lemon juice and douse them with salt. I, however, eat them raw and whole as a snack. You never know whether any particular radish will turn out mild or hot. The hot ones are the best! Honorable mention to rice, particularly when fried with veggies in a little olive oil.
Salad. Start with red leaf lettuce, slice up some tomatoes and cucumbers, thrown on some green olives, sunflower nuts and raisins, then douse with olive oil and vinegar. Juicy and delicious!
Tofu/Textured Vegetable Protein. Soy has obtained a bad rap lately, but it remains an important source of protein for many vegans, including this one. My favorite tofu is the extra firm nigri style that can be sliced and used for sandwiches. As for TVP, my vegan “hot dogs,” “beef,” “chicken” and Boca Burgers are definitely on my gratitude list!
Vegetable Broth. I recently discovered that Swanson’s vegetable broth (although not its vegetable “stock”), sold in a box, is vegetarian. Throw in some garbanzos, black beans, carrots or mixed vegetables, and you have a quick, hot meal in the microwave.
Watermelon. Although the kind imported from Chile is available all year at inflated prices, we wait until the California grown kind becomes available in the spring. This is one of the few foods that all of us here can agree on, and it’s always a happy day when we pass the bowls of watermelon chunks around.
All in all, I am very thankful for the bounty of God’s green earth and proud to be a vegan. I am still learning about ways to maintain a balanced diet, but let me assure any of you who may have thought of going vegan that it is definitely possible and not as difficult as may seem at first.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!