Wowing meat lovers with vegan food: A true radical uses niceness
I don’t have many stable routines, but the ones I do, I seem to follow quite faithfully, when it’s convenient.
Saturday mornings are always quite lovely when I get up early enough to make my pilgrimage to Urban Harvest Farmers Market at Eastside in search for my vegan sustenance for the day. The vendors to whom I owe my survival happen to be in close proximity to one another. When I have time, we gossip about things past (or the lady who failed to bring her own reusable, recycled and eco-friendly bag), when I am late (fashionably of course), I grab, pay and bolt.
I would imagine by now that most readers of this column would be quite aware of my tumultuous love affair with carbs. My religious-like weekend pilgrimage always begins with Sinfull Bakery’s latest creation, whether it happens to be a pumpkin cinnamon roll or an arugula kolache.
Like it’s possible to have too many tamales.
“Do you have any pork tamales?” a cute lady, short and somewhat stocky, sporting a baseball cap and impeccably too much makeup, inquired.
I rolled my eyes wondering if she had noticed the sign: A fork poking a tomato. No pork to be found here, lady.
Staci caught my reaction, smiled and proceeded to implement the vegan bait-and-switch with utmost professional dexterity.
She handed the lady a robust morsel of something wrapped in masa. The pork seeker ate it joyfully and let out a high pitched squeal in delight, serendipitously sounding somewhat like, well, a pig.
Whatever she sampled was a hit as she filled her reusable bag with Staci’s Radical Eats.
At first, I was plenty tickled that a vegan treat had satisfied the needs of someone seeking swine. But then, my primal instincts kicked in when I feared that she would purchase too many and deplete the available stock. She was invading my territory, a threat I do not take lightly.
Breathing a sigh of relief as I tiptoed above her cap to witness a healthy food supply, I realized this would not turn into an unruly incident.
I bet it feels good when the vegan tamale line is much longer than the meat.
Curious, Staci does not use the word vegan in her sign.
“I have come to the conclusion that vegans will find me and I don’t think of my food as vegan,” Staci justified. “It’s just great food, filling and satisfying that happens to be free of animal products.”
Perusing Staci’s offerings I took with me a spinach and corn tamale, a breakfast tamale with eggless migas and sage masa, a caramelized onion and mushroom tamale on sesame-rosemary masa wrapped in a banana leaf and a chipotle black bean tamale.
“I had tried to make tamales before,” Staci explained. “They weren’t quite right. So I researched. When you don’t provide good food, any business will fall apart.”
During a trip to Guatemala, Staci learned from a local to make masa with potato.
“It got me thinking about putting vegetables, herbs and spices in the masa to enhance the taste,” Staci recalled. “They were an instant hit.”
My mouth was full. I had just stuffed a piece of the chipotle black bean tamale in it and was experiencing a burst of piquant jubilee. Thankfully, I was able to prevent a lady pig-like squeal like the one I had just witnessed.
Radical Eats debut in 2008 started with a sassy watermelon gazpacho, made with local watermelons, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, celery and balsamic vinegar, at what was then called Bayou City Farmers Market. It was the beginning of a series of cold summer soups like pecan gazpacho with muscadine grapes, peach and cherry soup.
But winter was coming, so the Radical Eats vegan tamale was born out of inventive necessity and scarcity.
Amen and hallelujah.
Staci is a chef first, vegan second.
“All my jobs have been in the food industry," she says. "I have always loved food and remember instances of eating a whole bucket of fried chicken in one sitting. I was infamous for my ginger bread pancakes at a cafe in Austin. After working as a grill line cook, i wanted to experiment with gourmet foods so I began supplying hand-made pasta for a restaurant at the time owned by the Chuy’s group.”
While working for BFD Productions in Austin, Staci had the opportunity to cater for a number of vegetarian and vegan rock stars including 10,000 Maniacs, Psychedelic Furs, the Ministry and Love and Rockets.
But at 29, it was breast cancer that turned Staci inside-out, forced her to reevaluate options and turn away from becoming a corporate suit.
“I went through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery," she says. "It was a life changing process where my whole body was sending electrical signals about death. My brain was all screwed up.
“I knew I had to change as I learned more about processing of foods. It was Janice Blue from Go Vegan Texas that had the most influence in me, so I started cooking vegan. I didn’t want to go through cancer treatment again.”
It is not uncommon for the journey into veganism to start with a life altering experience. Often, it is the search for healthier options that one finds contemplating an animal-free diet.
“And it can be quite filling, even for meat eaters,” Staci says.
Curious me, in the midst of planning a series of holiday fetes, I sought her advise on how to best satisfy non-vegans with vegan food.
“Easy,” Staci replied. “Do this.”
Start with your budget
- Choose foods familiar to vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike
- Choose filling options with lots of protein from nuts and beans
- Decide on the format. Will it be formal? Buffet? Casual? Cocktail Party?
- For formal events, try things like filled puff pastry and fillo dough, crepes, high end pastas, bisques and soups
- For informal events try tamales, chili, cornbread, enchiladas, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed jalapenos, mac and cheese (made with cashew cheese)
And you can try making these:
Black Bean Chipotle Masa
- 2 cups tamale masa maseca
- 1 cups hot vegetable stock
- ¾ cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 small chayote squash
- 2 chipotle peppers (Chipotle in Adobo) or more as desired
Combine chayote squash and chipotle peppers in a food processor until pureed. You may have to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times to accomplish the desired consistency. Set aside.
Place the Masa in a mixer on low. Add the hot vegetable stock and mix well, stopping to scrape the bottom of the mixer. Add the oil, salt, baking powder and chipotle pepper chayote mixture. Combine until a silky homogenous consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Black Bean Chipotle Filling
- 1 small onion roughly chopped
- 1-15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 chipotle peppers (Chipotle in Adobo) or more if desired
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Corn husks soaked in water
Place all the ingredients (minus the husks) in a bowl and mix with an immersion blender ensuring you leave some homey chunks of beans still intact. You can also use a food processor.
Spread about 1/4 cup of masa in a corn husk in the shape of a large rectangle. Press the masa really flat. Scrape off the excess. Add a strip of black bean filling that runs the length of the masa. Roll the tamale up in the husk.
Steam for 30 to 45 minutes. You can also wrap several tamales in foil.
Joel Luks offers vegan recipes, reviews and opinions at www.vegangoodeats.com
Watch Staci Davis give a tutorial on how to make her vegan chipotle black bean tamales: