Cooking a Vegan Shabbat Dinner
I've cooked Shabbat dinners for my parents and grandma a few times in the last year, but until fairly recently, I didn't feel up to the task. Not too long ago, my idea of adventurous vegan cooking was rolling GimmeLean Ground Beef into "meatballs" and mixing them with white-flour spaghetti and a jar of tomato sauce. As recently as early 2008, I was a lazy cook who relied too heavily on mock meats and other processed foods. At that point, I'd never hosted a non-potluck meal for more than two guests. I assumed the identity of a bad cook, and I never tried to get past it.
Thanks largely to the influences of The Jew & The Carrot, Michael Pollan, my boss, and a couple of lead-by-example friends, I saw the need to cook healthier food and stop being a mockmeatatarian. All it takes to become a better cook is a can-do attitude, the willingness to follow some more exciting recipes, and some practice. As one friend who gave me a cooking lesson said, being a decent cook is as simple as following a recipe. Even if you make a few mistakes along the way, you'll get the feel of how different spices impact a dish and what ingredients go well together. Usually the experiments gone wrong are still edible. Almost always, the feeling you get from making a tasty dish yourself is very satisfying.
I don't claim to be a great cook. But I've gotten to the point where I truly enjoy many of the foods I make, and I'm confident enough in them that I want friends and family members to enjoy them too.
On my birthday last November, I spent the whole day in the kitchen and was proud to cook a Shabbat dinner for the very first time. As my birthday approaches this year, I feel as though I can conquer the world, or at least a vegan cooking competition. All joking aside, I actually will be spending the day in the kitchen and then competing as a chef in Veggie Conquest 3. If you're a processed-foods kind of vegan, put forth a little effort and you, too, can make this transformation.
Photos of my tempeh-potato salad and curried lentils by Val Zimmer. Click the images for a better view.