My (almost) Vegan Dinner

Ok – so I’ve probably had a vegan dinner on several, or possibly many, occasions without even thinking about it (maybe – I love cheese). But Friday night’s dinner was different. It was Friday that I purposefully decided to make a vegan dinner.

Honestly, I blame Rich Roll and Scott Jurek. I read both their books in the last month and, as I blogged earlier, those books made a huge impact on me. One of the things I took away from both of them was how much following a vegan diet benefitted their bodies.

So, as you all probably know I made the transition to vegetarian in February of this year, and I was a vegetarian during my 66-Day Challenge. And, you also know that I absolutely love being a vegetarian. I feel better. I am more focused. I am leaner. Strange food cravings have stopped (yes, even my chicken cravings went away).

I also have the type of personality that likes to push the envelope. Well, I got to vegetarian, what can I do next?

I could go vegan, but I don’t know. I do love the cheese. It’s mostly all about the cheese.

I have had a love affair of cheese since I was born maybe even before I was born. My mother, who despises cheese, claims that when she was pregnant with me she would crave cheese and she would enjoy it. As soon as I was born, she found she no longer liked cheese. Interesting, huh?

So I am not confident in my ability to give up on cheese. I’m not confident I want to give it up either. And I don’t have to. But here are some things I have figured out:

1. I used to say I could never be a vegetarian because I wouldn’t be able to give up eating chicken wings. Everything else I believed I could do. I just drew the line at chicken wings. And yes, giving up chicken wings was hard, but I did it. And today? I do not miss chicken wings or chicken. I feel so good that I don’t want it in my body. So clearly I can do more than I think I can.

2. Since I have become a vegetarian I eat less cheese. Some of this is probably because cheese doesn’t always work with some of my vegetarian meals. However, I also snack on it a lot less. I recently purchased a block of cheese to put on crackers, and that was probably the first time I’d done that in at least four months.

But back to my (almost) vegan dinner. Based on Rich’s and Scott’s books, I decided I was going to have one vegan dinner a week. I thought I would start with that and see how it went. Well, it’s a lot more complicated than you might think.

Being a vegetarian, or just trying to make one vegetarian meal, is technically easy. Anyone can do it once and do it fine. All you have to do is take out the meat. I figured I could find a simple vegan dish and have success. I didn’t want to make anything overly complicated.

Turns out, you gotta put some thought into having a vegan meal. At least I did. Since I wasn’t interested in making spaghetti with no cheese (boring. plus, I am a bit further along than that in my cooking), I had to stop every other second to determine if the ingredients to my vegan dinner had any animal products in them. H-A-R-D.

First, I had identified what I thought was the easiest thing on the planet – a grilled avocado sandwich. I found it on VegWeb which has over 15,000 recipes that are vegetarian/vegan. So, I got my recipe. What could go wrong here?

Well, it started with the bread. As it turns out, there are a lot of things I have to think through when it comes to making a vegan meal. I was initially going to make it earlier in the week. Mark brought home a loaf of bread from the farmer’s market, and I was going to use that. Except, he pointed out, the bread had cheese in it.

Well crap. Ok. We ended up eating leftovers anyways. The bread ran out, and the avocado sandwich was back on. I headed off to Whole Foods knowing I needed bread, a vegan butter, and vegan cheese. Even though the recipe does not call for cheese, I wanted cheese! I was headed into sliced vegan cheese territory baby! No fear.

First up was the cheese. The vegan cheese, so I thought, was sectioned off by itself in its own display case at Whole Foods. I settled on Almond cheese (we’ll be revisiting this decision later). It looked like vegan cheese to me. For starters, it definitely did not look delicious. The label seemed to check out. So what if we didn’t like it? Just a 4.00 mistake in my food adventures. I tossed it in the cart.

Next up was butter. I got Earth Balance. I have no idea if this was a good decision or not. I can say it’s better than eating margarine. Anything is better than eating margarine.

Finally, bread. I skipped into the bakery and found my favorite loaf of bread. What is it? Why it’s an asiago/parmesan cheese bread of course. Nuts! I had to put it back. Not vegan. I got plain old sourdough.

Those were the three major things I had to pay attention to at the store. Now, on to the cooking!

Although the recipe says you should slice the avocado, I made guacamole with it and spread it on the bread. I did this because I had some peppers from my garden that I wanted to chop up and incorporate into the sandwich. This worked out fine. So you can really make it either way.

I got my Earth Balance on my sandwich, put the guacamole on it, layered on some cheese and started cooking away. Yeah! My first mindfully planned vegan dinner was underway.

Wait a minute – no, it’s not.

Stupid almond cheese isn’t vegan! While my sandwich was cooking I read the label more closely and noticed it contained casein. How did I miss that? Then I realized that the label never said the cheese was vegan. So I guess the section I thought contained vegan cheese at Whole Foods really just contained alternative cheeses. It’s like the indy section for cheese.

I was bummed. I put all this energy into thinking through what I was buying, and I had missed this so obvious ingredient on the almond cheese (which tastes ok for the record). But you know what? That’s ok! I got the ball rolling, and I learned how difficult it can be to try to make a vegan meal sometimes. There’s a lot to pay attention to and get your brain around when you’re just getting started.

And the sandwich? It was pretty good. It could use some fine tuning (more “cheese” and peppers were requested by Mark), but it’s worth a second go-around.

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