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Vegan Co-op Luncheon

From the Panic kitchen, Chef Neven

As attentive readers of our blog know, the Panic kitchen occasionally turns into a battleground as yours truly and our one and only Les Pozdena compete in a format similar to TV’s Iron Chef™. Our co-workers judge us – not very harshly, I must admit – on presentation, taste, and use of the sort-of-secret ingredient.

The last such event took place two weeks ago and it was both heartwarming and a little sad – you see, the battle format was put aside as we joined forces to tackle a challenge neither of us had any advantage in:

Vegan cooking.

The newest addition to our team, Mr. Garrett Moon, is vegan. It would have been downright unfriendly of us to do anything except stretch our cooking muscles and come up with an interesting thing or five to welcome him with. My offerings, prepared while wearing the Salt & Fat cook’s jacket my pal Jim gifted me, are described below.

Ginger-scallion noodles

I based this on David Chang’s recipe, which was itself based on a Noodletown dish. There’s no sense in reinventing it, but it’s always helpful to hear how recipes work in the real world.

First note: fresh ramen noodles make a big difference. If you can’t find them, go with fresh yakisoba. I’m sure there’s an Asian market near you that makes or carries one or the other noodle. (For this lunch we had to use yakisoba since ramen noodles contain egg; I made this with ramen later and it was noticeably better.)

I topped the noodles with fried cauliflower, tossed in a sauce very similar to the fish-sauce vinaigrette Chang describes. I substituted soy sauce for fish sauce and upped the garlic for extra pungency. Either version of this is really great.

My presentation was simple – noodles, cauliflower, and pickled carrots. I also skipped the puffed rice and the mint. This was still a wicked flavorful dish, savory and full of kick.

Khao Man Tofu

The definitive recipe for this delicious Thai street food has already been written by Leela at She Simmers. I have only two things to add to it:

  1. I add some roasted peanuts to the sauce before chopping,
  2. Since boiled chicken skin isn’t very appetizing, I remove it (in giant strips) after cooking and fry it. It makes an awesomely crunchy, salty topping for the rice.

Khao man gai (“rice fat chicken”) is easily made vegetarian or vegan; most of the flavor is in the sauce. For my version, I replaced the boiled chicken with a mix of sautéed tofu cutlets and seitan. In the future, I’ll try this with mushrooms, as the tofu was a bit boring.

It didn’t matter so much – everything else was delicious. I cooked the rice in veggie stock (with added vegetable oil). My recommendation regarding stock is unchanged: make your own if possible, and if not, use Better Than Bouillon bases. They taste better than Pacific, Imagine, or any other canned or boxed brand, and they’re infinitely more convenient. How often have you opened a big box of stock only to use half and throw the rest out a week later? This way, you make what you need at whatever strength will work best for the recipe.

The key to the sauce is yellow soybean paste. Please note that this is NOT interchangeable with miso, and it’s also not yellow. (It’s made from yellow soybeans.) Look for something like this at your local Asian grocery store. You might have to ask for it; the bottle I got didn’t have a label in English. Once you do find it, I’m sure you’ll like its über-savory taste and ridiculuous price tag ($1.18 at Uwajimaya).

About that fried chicken skin… I replaced it with fried shallots. They changed the flavor profile a little bit, but me, I’ll take fried shallots on top of anything.

Few US Thai places I’ve visited serve khao man gai. That’s a shame – it’s a very friendly and distinctive dish. When in Portland, don’t miss Nong’s Khao Man Gai cart downtown.

Black garlic sorbet

More precisely, what I served was apricot sorbet with fried bananas and black garlic sauce. Black garlic is a recent addition to US kitchens, a sweet and caramel-y thing completely unlike the pungent bulb we know. Common garlic is fermented until the cloves turn soft and black; the result is, to my tongue, like a combination of balsamic vinegar and Marmite. If you can’t find it (check Whole Foods or this website) make the balsamic sauce without it; don’t substitute ordinary garlic.

  • 1 qt apricot nectar (I like the Looza brand)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • a bit of lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp port wine

This recipe requires an ice-cream maker. I’m very happy with Cuisinart’s model. There’s nothing special you need to know about it except that the bowl should be chilled for at least 24 hours; we just store ours in the freezer so it’s always ready to go.

Pour the nectar into a large bowl and stir in the sugar until it dissolves fully. Add a few squirts of lemon juice and the port; stir and chill in the fridge. It’s crucial that everything (except the electric part of the ice cream maker, of course) be as cold as possible – the faster your desert chills, the smoother the texture.

Once the bowl and the juice are sufficiently cold, pour the juice into the maker as directed and take for a 20-25 minute spin. Ice cream and sorbet will always look a bit soft at this point; they need to go in an airtight container and in the freezer for another hour or two.

During that time, make the sauce:

  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (Lucini is always a good bet)
  • 1 tbsp port wine
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3-4 cloves black garlic

Stir and heat all of these in a saucepan over low heat until the vinegar reduces by half. Strain and set aside at room temperature.

Next, fry up some sliced baby bananas in a tiny bit of oil. I slice mine the long way so they’re easier to handle. Fried bananas are great warm, but since sorbet doesn’t melt as creamy as ice cream does, I let the bananas cool off a bit.

Top the sorbet with bananas and drizzle the syrup over it. Taste the syrup to gauge how much you’d like to use; it’s potent stuff, and also delicious over anything else you might accompany with a sweet sauce.

Les, my partner in this co-op-mode fight, presented the following menu:

  • Mushroom-walnut paté with cornichons
  • Cream of asparagus soup
  • Squale (sautéed butternut squash and kale)

It’s hard to believe we were working with any limitations at all!

Posted at 5:30 pm 15 Comments

Garrett Moon

5/4/2010 5:38 PM

It was delicious. Thanks Neven and Les!

I’m pretty sure my fiancée had Nong’s last time we were in PDX, and I’m pretty sure she loved it. Damn it, now I’m craving Thai.

Ray Brown

5/4/2010 6:07 PM

It’s great to see Neven showing the world that good, healthy food doesn’t have to be crazy expensive or impossible. Keep up the great work, Chef Mrgan!

Leela@SheSimmers

5/4/2010 6:51 PM

Tofu Man Gai! This is sheer brilliance! I love it. :) I’d call it, “Khao Man Tofu,” though. Since the Gai is absent. Man, this is genius. I’ll add a link from my Khao Man Gai post to this one, if you don’t mind.

Derek Hogue

5/5/2010 4:59 AM

Love to see some vegan love over here, especially that which breaks people’s misconceptions about what vegan cooking looks like (see: steamed vegetables and tofu – not that I have anything against steamed vegetables and tofu). Thanks for that!

Brian Arnold

5/5/2010 7:25 AM

Yet another thing I love about Panic. You guys are simply awesome.

Khao man gai is an awesome dish. Makes me wish I lived in Portland again, just to get it from a cart. I remember fondly, the restaurants in Thailand where that’s all they’d serve, for a buck or less. Sigh.

Jon Brown

5/10/2010 1:02 PM

As if I needed another reason to respect Panic… Well done. You guys rock.

Adam Yanalunas

5/13/2010 11:28 AM

It may be the blog of a software development company but I’m using this entry to bolster my arguments that vegan cooking is delicious, flavorful and easy to make.

ADRIAN VERNE

5/13/2010 11:47 AM

Has anyone got any $ 3 R 1 @ l z for these vegan dishes?

Wow… thanks for the recipe. I’m big fan of Khao Mun Gai. Great stuff. I’ve only ever seen it twice here in the Bay Area and when I ask for it at other restaurants they usually ask me where I get it.

I’m going to Portland this summer and I will definitely hit up Nong’s Khao Man Gai cart. Thank you so much!!!

I’d recognise a Global knife anywhere ;) <3

Jenna Fox

6/7/2010 8:08 AM

Wow! That’s so awesome! Much Vegan Pride! I’ll have to try some of these ideas some day! ^_^

Jim Santo

6/10/2010 10:48 AM

Great! But lose the plastic and use real plates!

Jim: Good idea. But we serve 6 courses to 15-20 people – we don’t have that many plates and utensils :)

The plasticware is corn-based and compostable, and it lets us focus on cooking instead of cleaning :)

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