Great-tasting vegan options abound, say Middletown restaurant owners



MIDDLE-TOWN — Restaurant Owner Renana Magee started following a plant-based diet at a young age, making the choice to go vegan at age 7.

“My parents were hippies. We lived in a commune then, and as kids we named every animal, including ducks,” she said. Her decision was cemented when she saw the meat stored in the freezer.

She went camping as a child with her father. “My dad told me and my brother to pick lobsters, then they were dropped in front of us, dead and steaming, next to corn on the cob,” the restaurateur added.

Magee, who runs the restaurant at 606 Main St. in the north of the city, which offers creative dishes on traditional menus, such as turkey with seitan with cashew sauce, pea protein sausage or soy sauce, crab cakes with lemon aioli, cheeseburgers with homemade beets and mushrooms, land and sea: grilled seitan with trumpet scallops.

She is among local restaurateurs sharing their meatless recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays who say it may take a little convincing to encourage carnivores to try plant-based foods.

“There’s a different learning curve” when learning how to make vegetarian and vegan meals, Magee explained.

“The trend of making ‘fake meat’ — something that’s supposed to taste or look like meat — has come to an end,” Magee said. “Now people are going for really delicious food.”

Recently, cauliflower dishes have become very popular with diners. An ION favorite is made with a whole cauliflower, which is braised and then baked. “It’s flavorful and delicious,” Magee said. Roasted cauliflower bites are another favorite. “It’s pretty easy to transition into that. Meat eaters don’t understand. but that’s fine,” she said.

The mushrooms add the texture that meat-eaters appreciate, explained the owner, who buys exclusively from Mystic-based Seacoast Mushrooms. “You can use oyster mushrooms; just about any mushroom you can imagine. It easily turns into that mouthfeel you get with meat.

Mushrooms can be used as a substitute for chicken or other meats, such as ION’s pasta dish with plant-based scallops. “People love it,” Magee pointed out.

Some veggie dishes everyone will enjoy include mashed potatoes with garlic sauce and gluten-free cornbread stuffing with celery, carrots, herbs, vegan butter and even turnips. .

Quinoa is very popular now, Magee said, because “it’s light and fluffy and it has protein in it, so it’s good.”

Just like tofu, quinoa should be seasoned with herbs, sauces and other marinades. “It has no flavor,” she added. “You give it taste. People pick up something like tofu and say, ‘what do I do with it?’

“They don’t do anything about it and say it doesn’t taste good. Everything you would do for your normal food if you’re a carnivore, you have to do for tofu,” Magee said.

At ION, the tofu is pressed to remove the water, sliced ​​and cooked on a large griddle with sesame oil, tamari and olive oil for 20 minutes.

“So you have a base that you can do anything with,” she said. “It’s absolutely delicious when you cut it into little cubes that will absorb all that flavor. You can eat it cold and it’s still good.

ION’s Thanksgiving Day menu is Seitan “Turkey” with Cashew Sauce, Walnut Sausage Cornbread Stuffing with Golden Oyster Mushrooms, Maple Miso Glazed Honey Squash , roasted broccolini in garlic butter, pepitas and tart cherries with cranberry compote.

The Soulfully Vegan food truck is run by longtime residents and Middletown High School graduates, Allison Vaughan and her husband, Calvin, who left their jobs at the company to serve healthy dishes from May 2021. This is the couple’s third year as an all-vegan, Vaughan said.

Veganism has moved beyond its roots, which Vaughan called “terrible.”

“The problem is that people hear the term ‘vegan’ and it’s such a taboo word. Even still, people say, ‘What is this? Celery? Is it salad? What do we get here? »

Encouraging people to embrace the lifestyle is changing perceptions, she added. “Vegan just means no animal products. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in flavor. I still pack the punch in terms of all the great flavors you missed and recognize.

“We put them back in the food,” Vaughan explained. “It’s almost like it’s vegan – it’s an incidental thing. … All vegan foods have a bad reputation.

“The need for vegan options is out of fashion,” she added.

Today’s meatless options can be indistinguishable from the real thing, which Vaughan is proud of. Indeed, his three children have adopted the diet. “If you can get kids into veganism, you can convince anyone,” she said.

Their burgers are made from Beyond Meat, which has the same meaty texture, she said, unlike bean burgers, for example, which are a little “earthy” to some, and often fall apart during the process. cooking process.

Vaughan admits the vegan world is “super ambiguous”.

“We have people who subscribe to vegan silos,” she explained, like picky eaters who say they don’t want processed or “unhealthy” foods with added sugar or salt, or ingredients. herbal that doesn’t look or taste. like meat.

“We try to stay in the middle,” with an intro menu, she added. “There’s such a void for that.”

The truck was at the Big E this year in Springfield, Massachusetts, which can take about 20 years to get in — or others not at all, Vaughan noted. “It was the Grammys for food trucks.”

The family’s Thanksgiving meal will include candied carrots and vegan meatballs, mashed potatoes, creamed corn with vegan cream cheese, whole cranberry sauce and cornbread.

Home cooks can replace eggs in recipes with applesauce and bananas, which double as a binder.

To make leftovers more appealing, Vaughan transforms menu items such as corn and makes shepherd’s pie the next day.

“Vegan food isn’t this abstract, scary thing,” she said. “It has been, and we understand that. We’re really, really trying to change the narrative.

Magee shared her cracklin stuffing and marinade recipes.

Cornbread stuffing

3 cups cornbread cubes, cut into ½-inch-thick cubes
¼ cup diced yellow onion
¼ cup celery, diced
1 cup butter
2 cups of vegetable broth
1 teaspoon parsley, thyme and rosemary, fresh or dried, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Toast the cornbread cubes until firm, lay flat on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté the onions and celery in a pan until soft. Add the remaining butter and cook until melted. Add broth and cook until hot.
Pour liquid over cornbread and stir until moistened. Add the herbs and toss to combine.
Bake in a dish for 30 minutes.

Cracker marinade

3 tablespoons vegetarian broth
3 cups of water
1 cup rapeseed oil
2 teaspoons onion and garlic powder
3 cups nutritional yeast
rice paper

Combine ingredients in half of a hotel-sized pan. Half fill another with water.
Dip the rice paper in the water, then the cracker marinade and lay flat on a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray.
Bake at 350 degrees for four minutes, then flip and bake another four minutes or until desired crispiness

Vaughan came up with two recipes, which are “really handy for someone who needs a dish that can fit any diet in the room, but still can be a crowd pleaser,” said she declared.

candied carrots

1 bag of raw carrots, washed and peeled

Brown sugar sauce:
4 tablespoons of margarine
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt to taste

Easy Vegan Appetizer Meatballs

2 bags of frozen vegan meatballs
1 can 16 oz marinara sauce
1 medium onion and green pepper (chopped)
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

The Soulfully Vegan truck will be parked at Gastro Park in West Hartford Friday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and National Cyclocross Championship at Riverside Park in Hartford, a nationally televised event, December 9-11.

For more information about ION, visit ion restaurant on Instagram, IONRestaurant on Facebook or on the website To learn more about Soulfully Vegan, visit or the Facebook page at SoulFullyVeganLLC.

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