Hello my Lean Green Friends! As you know, I am a vegan blogger and when other vegan bloggers push out great content, I am honored to share it for them. Meet Wendy Werneth. She has a new book coming out and put together a blog post for me to share to help her announce it. I hope you enjoy the post and support her however you can! Her book looks great! -Cory
Exploring New Cuisines as a Vegan
When I adopted a vegan lifestyle two and a half years ago, I was concerned that following a vegan diet was going to be limiting and restrictive. I worried that, as a vegan, I wouldn’t be able to find anything to eat when dining out in restaurants or traveling. But what I’ve found is that the opposite is true, and that veganism has actually expanded my palate. It has allowed me to discover many new foods, flavors and cuisines that I never knew existed!
What I’ve also discovered, is that I’m not alone. Just about every vegan I’ve spoken to has had the same experience. It generally starts with the discovery of new ingredients, cooking techniques and cultures.
Discovering New Ingredients
At first, you might feel intimidated when you scan through the ingredients lists of vegan recipes you find online or in vegan cookbooks. Many of them call for strange-sounding ingredients you’ve never heard of. Seitan? Agar-agar?? Nutritional yeast??? But let me emphasize that you don’t have to use any of these ingredients to cook a delicious vegan meal. Some of the tastiest (and healthiest) vegan dishes are made with simple, whole-food ingredients like fresh vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes.
That brings me to an exciting fact: there are plenty of new whole foods to discover on your vegan journey too! Celeriac, amaranth and adzuki beans are all whole foods, and yet their names may sound just as foreign to you as the more processed ingredients used to substitute meat, dairy, eggs and gelatin in many vegan recipes. Most people who are interested in the vegan lifestyle, gradually start experimenting with new foods; whether those foods come from the produce aisle or the aisle with all the plant-based meats and cheeses. Inevitably, they fall in love with some of those weird-sounding ingredients that once seemed so scary.
But the new discoveries don’t stop there. As you explore vegan cooking, you’ll soon realize that, not only can you make healthier, vegan versions of all your favorite comfort foods, you can also make more exotic dishes from other international cuisines – dishes that don’t need to be veganized because they are already naturally vegan. Unlike the standard American diet, most ethnic cuisines are actually quite vegan-friendly. A big slab of meat is rarely the focal point of the dish. Instead, vegetables, grains and legumes take center stage, while meat is used sparingly, if at all. Dairy products are also far less common in most Asian, African and Middle Eastern cultures than they are in the West.
Favorite Ethnic Cuisines are Already Vegan-Friendly
An easy way to start is by asking yourself this question: Which ethnic cuisines do you eat on a regular basis? No matter what your favorite cuisine is, I’m willing to bet that it has loads of vegan dishes to offer, including many that you’ve never heard of. The Westernized version of these cuisines often makes greater use of animal products than the authentic version as prepared in the motherland. Nevertheless, with a few tweaks, you can enjoy plant-based versions of these foods even in the most Americanized ethnic restaurants.
Do you love a good Chinese takeout meal? If so, you’ve got plenty of vegan options. Firstly, the foundation of any Chinese meal is rice or noodles, both of which are available in vegan versions (if the wheat noodles are made with egg, just ask for rice noodles instead). There’s always an abundance of vegetables in any Chinese kitchen, as well as tofu and other soy-based foods. While menus at Chinese restaurants in the US typically focus on meat-based dishes, restaurants should be able to veganize most of those dishes by replacing the meat with tofu, eggplant or mushrooms.
But maybe it’s Italian food that has stolen your heart! Pizza, pasta and risotto are all easily prepared in vegan versions. Fresh Mediterranean vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers and tomatoes are used in abundance in Italian cuisine, whether it’s as pizza toppings, as ingredients in pasta or risotto dishes, or as appetizers or side dishes to round out the meal
Or is Mexican food more your bag? The foods eaten by native Mexicans in pre-Colombian times were largely plant-based. Even today, some indigenous communities still eat a diet that largely consists of corn, sweet potatoes and beans. And while a number of animal products have been incorporated into Mexican cuisine in the centuries since the Spanish conquest, the adaptability of most Mexican dishes makes it easy to substitute meat and dairy with beans, guacamole, and other plant-based ingredients.
There are Many Other Vegan-Friendly Cuisines to Explore
In addition to your favorite ethnic cuisines, there are plenty more vegan-friendly cuisines around the world that you might not have come across before. Ethiopian cuisine, for example, includes a wide range of lentil and chickpea stews as well as plenty of vegetable dishes. These dishes are eaten in Ethiopia on the “fasting” days prescribed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
A great way to sample the best of Ethiopian vegan food is by ordering a yetsom beyaynetu. This is a fasting platter made up of many different dishes – hearty lentil stews, fresh salads, spicy chickpea-flour sauces, and seasoned vegetables. These are all served on top of a round piece of injera – a type of sourdough bread that serves as the main staple of Ethiopian cuisine and is completely vegan.
Much like the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church also observes fasting days for more than 150 days out of the year. The diet followed on these days is mostly vegan, and as a result there is a huge variety of vegan dishes in Greek cuisine. And, due to the rich and complex history of the region and the resulting cultural exchanges, many of the same dishes are also part of Turkish cuisine.
And what about East Asia? It’s not just the Chinese who make vegetables the focus of their dishes; other Asian countries such as Thailand or Vietnam do this too. As an added bonus, the strong Buddhist tradition in these countries has led to the creation of a completely plant-based, Buddhist version of these cuisines, which is sold in Buddhist restaurants known as jay restaurants in Thailand or chay restaurants in Vietnam.
Middle Eastern cuisine might not have a reputation for being vegan-friendly – probably because of all the kebab stands that prominently display their shawarma meat roasting on a spit. But that’s not what most Middle Eastern families enjoy eating at home. Instead, they eat a diet rich in vegetables and legumes, such as the chickpeas used to make hummus and falafel. The fame of these dishes spreads well beyond their region of origin, and they have even become staples for vegetarians and vegans in Western countries.
If you love Mediterranean food, cuisine of the Levant has plenty more to offer! It includes dozens of vegan dips, salads, and other appetizers, and even just a modest selection of these can easily make a delicious and filling meal.
And let’s not forget Indian cuisine either. About 40 percent of the population of India is vegetarian, thanks to the value of ahimsa (non-violence) upheld by the teachings of Hinduism and Jainism. Not surprisingly, Indian cuisine contains a huge variety of vegetarian dishes. Indian chefs do often use dairy when cooking, but in many dishes this can easily be replaced, for example by cooking vegetables in oil instead of ghee (clarified butter).
From East Asia to the Middle East to Mediterranean Europe, the world is full of culinary traditions that highlight healthy, plant-based foods. And while you may have grown up in a culture where such foods were overshadowed by hot dogs and hamburgers, exploring a vegan lifestyle provides the perfect opportunity to discover the rich culinary heritage of cultures that have not forgotten what good food is all about.
Far from being restricting, veganism actually opens up a window into whole new worlds, where you will discover different cultures through the flavors of their traditional cuisines.
About Wendy Werneth: Wendy is the creator of The Nomadic Vegan, where she shows you how you can be vegan anywhere and spread compassion everywhere. Her upcoming book, Veggie Planet, highlights the many vegan dishes in 11 of the world’s most famous cuisines and shows just how vegan-friendly these cuisines really are. If you pre-order the book before 21 July, 2017 you’ll get free access to exclusive bonus materials. Click HERE to preorder!