Monday, November 5, 2007

Vegan MoFo: veganizing something I never ate in the first place

I was reading through the list of suggestions for Vegan MoFo on Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk, and while they're all great, some of them don't really apply to me. I was raised vegetarian from the age of 11 on, so I don't even remember the first time I ate at a vegetarian restaurant. And tofu has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I do, however, remember eating at some upsettingly non-vegetarian restaurants.

See, I grew up in Nebraska. No, I did not ride a horse to school, yes, we had a computer, and no, I didn't go to a one-room schoolhouse--not for my schooling, anyway. My mom is an actor, and she works with an organization that brings artists to public schools for workshops and performances. One of the focuses of the organization is bringing artists to schools that don't have arts programs at all, which, in Nebraska, means rural schools. And some of those rural schools did happen to be one-room school houses.

Now, I went to big public schools for all of my pre-college life: there were about 700 students at my elementary and middle schools, and 2,100 at my highschool. So, naturally, my mom thought that going to see a one-room schoolhouse was an essential life-experience for me, and pulled me out for school for a week in sixth grade to take me with her to the one-room schoolhouses in Western Nebraska. Actually, it was a pretty cool experience. I remember a surprising amount of it, and most of my memories are pleasant and interesting.

What was not pleasant, though, was eating. My mom and I were both vegetarians at the time, and consider a place where a school that has a total of eight students services all the kids within a 20-mile radius of it: probably not population-dense enough for a vegetarian restaurant, right? Yeah, probably not. We always ended up at the only restaurant within driving distance of wherever my mom was teaching, veal and steak were always on the menu, and it seems like we had the same conversation at each place:

Us: So, is the lentil soup (it was always either lentil or minestrone) vegetarian?
Server: Well, it could be, but 'sgot bacon.
Us: So could it be vegetarian without the bacon?
Server: It can't be made without the bacon, it's already in there.
Us: So how could it be vegetarian?
Server: Well, if you eat bacon...

Needless to say, eating was difficult. We often ended up with plain pasta or baked potatoes. The cuisine was the worst part of the trip. But if nothing else, it's given me an idea: if so many people like bacon in their otherwise vegetarian soups, maybe they're on to something... maybe tempeh bacon would be a good addition to my lentil soup!
I can't speak for pig bacon, not having had it in more than a decade, but the tempeh bacon added a lovely smokey flavor to a nice, subtle lentil soup. I used this recipe but subbed an onion-y broth for veggie stock, tarragon and oregano for coriander and cumin, and green beans for potatoes. So, I can safely say that it's a recipe that adapts well to whatever you have in your kitchen. Plus, it's nice with pieces of tempeh bacon!


Anonymous said...

That sounds really, really good! I love smoky things in my bean soups. Did the tempeh bacon get too crumbly to notice the pieces of it, or did it stay whole enough to where you could recognize it in there? And I had no idea you'd been veg this long! That is truly awesome.

Gwenlet said...

Thanks! The tempeh bacon had a surprising will to live, it stayed together completely. I only put it in for the last ten minutes on the stove, though.

And I'm been vegetarian since I was 11, but vegan only for two months. Still, so far, so good!