When my Ottawan cousin recently visited San Diego for a few days of paradise and an escape from her Arctic winter peeked into my refrigerator, her jaw hung open. What happened to her carnivorous cuz, the charcuterie queen? Growing up on the East Coast, we practically sucked in cured, salted and smoked meats intravenesouly, everything from spicy pastrami, marbleized corned beef and pickled tongue to bratwursts and sausages of all manners. Instead, my clean, green fridge was now filled exclusively with organics, including plant-based meats and cheeses, probiotic pickled delights and meatless pates galore. Maybe some of these healthier vegan charcuterie (cured meats — i.e. cold cuts) offerings will convert a few fellow diehard carnivores too.
For those with delicate palates, tofu — also known as bean curd — has been a staple of Asian diets for centuries. These solid white blocks of compressed, coagulated soy curds come in soft, firm and extra firm textures, all having the chameleon qualities of adapting to an array of sweet or savory dishes with a fairly neutral flavor profile. Having a mother lode of bone-boosting calcium, protein, blood-enriching iron and magnesium, tofu makes a healthy meat alternative whether blended in soups or sauces, tossed in stir-fries, salads, egg scrambles, lasagnas, or as a pan-fried patty chowed down burger style.
Tempeh is an ancient Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans and shaped in a densely-packed wedge. A gustatory sponge, this vegan protein with a rich store of calcium, essential minerals and stress-busting Bs seamlessly absorbs flavors, making it an ideal add-in for stews, curries and sauces. Tempeh's firm texture and zesty flavor lend well to meat and fowl substitutions in chopped and Cobb salads, grilled sandwiches and kebobs.
For those who don't do soy, seitan — nicknamed "wheat meat" — is comprised of gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains that gives it a chewy heartiness. Reminiscent of luncheon meat in texture, taste and appearance, seitan does a good Reuben, pastrami or other deli fake out sandwich.
Other popular knockoff meat products like Tofurkey and vegan bacon called "facon," usually blend tofu and seitan with smoky mesquite flavors to closely imitate the real McCoy.
Finally, coconut jerky from young coconut meat produces a chewy, zippy carnivororous alternative, especially for those with gluten or soy sensitivities.
In a pickle
When assembling a vegan charcuterie board, expand your sour dill pickle horizons with other crunchy and colorfully fermented foods. Load up on a variety of toothsome probiotics like a heap of fermented cabbage. Fresh refrigerated sauerkraut trumps jarred or canned with a bigger bang of friendly flora. For an Asian riff, try spicy kimchi, a Korean staple of the fermented crucifer, one of the highest probiotic sources on the planet; also rife with Vitamins A to amp up ocular health, stress-balancing B and antioxidant C. Or simply pick a peck of pickled peppers, green tomatoes, cauliflower florets and baby carrots to add an oomph of healthy eye candy to your table.
Charcuterie offerings typically include an assortment of divine cheeses, particularly aged ones. Pungent, rich, fermented cheeses from organic raw nuts, including cashews, Brazils and almonds, along with soy and rice milk, will pair well with any faux meat selection.
Chopped liver and foie gras lovers can enjoy healthier mock versions without feeling deprived. Pureed into a silky spread with choice herbs and spices, veggie pates are scrumptious on a variety of crackers or breads, including lentils and walnuts, cannellini beans with a Meyer lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, assorted olives and roasted red peppers, eggplant caviar, chopped "meaty" nuts with tahini paste, and marinated wild mushrooms.
Traditional hummus can be amped up by blending everything from sriracha sauce and jalapeño peppers to curry spices, shredded coconut and even super dark chocolate.
Now, you can veg out on this recipe for a meatless Cobb salad, feeling indulged without the guilt.
•••• Recipe: The Kitchen Shrink's Vegetarian Copycat Cobb Salad
Ingredients (Serves 4):
• 1 head Romaine lettuce (cut into strips)
• 1 head watercress, torn into bite-size pieces
• 16 ounces organic tempeh, cut in slices or wedges
• 1/4 pound cooked vegan bacon, crumbled (or turkey bacon if you must)
• 1 vine-ripened tomato, diced
• 1 avocado, diced
• 3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
• 1/2 red onion, diced
• 1/4 pound cashew or other non-dairy cheese, crumbled
• 1/4 cup vinaigrette dressing
The dressing: 1/4 cup vinegar (champagne, red wine or balsamic), 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 teaspoons spicy mustard
Method: Blend vinegar with mustard. Whisk in oil and seasonings. Toss with the lettuces and cheese. Place the mixture on a large platter. Decorate with the remaining ingredients making mounds or strips across the greens.
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