I’m not a big fan of “protein, starch/grain, green” meals. It might be due in part to the fact that this was the layout of most of the meals my family had in my omni days, often with very little variation in the key players. I’m sorry to say that, before we discovered the benefits of eating plant-based, we weren’t very creative.
My other problem with this American staple is that I’ve had very few successful veganized versions. (We won’t even mention the recent seitan pot roast disaster.) In general, I prefer soups, stews, chilis, casseroles, dinner pies…things that put all of the ingredients together into one delicious whole. They’re a lot less trouble and a lot more satisfying.
Then along comes something like the Cajun Chickpea Cakes in Everyday Happy Herbivore. I do love good vegan burgers, cutlets and patties, and HH never disappoints. How could I resist a combination of chickpeas (my favorite legume EVER), Cajun seasonings and liquid smoke? Of course, I couldn’t, so out came the mixing bowl and all the ingredients to throw these suckers together. I had to substitute tomato paste for the vegan mayo as a binder, given that the only mayo in the fridge had developed that funky smell you don’t want your tofu-based condiments to be emitting, which also meant no spicy Cajun mayo for serving, alas.
Of course, I needed something green to go with it. The “greens” I remember accompanying the protein/starch combinations of my omni days were usually either spinach, green beans or a mixture of corn and peas. Nowadays, my go-to choice is kale. I can’t help myself. It’s KALE. I’m surprised that no one’s written a fantasy novel where this stuff has magical properties, because seriously, I could eat it until I turned green. The recipe I most often turn to when I want it as a side dish is the Garlicky Mushrooms and Kale in Appetite for Reduction, but this time I wanted something new. I remembered seeing a recipe in The China Study Cookbook called, believe it or not, Tasty Potatoes and Kale, so I pulled that out to take a look.
Far from being just those two ingredients, it has a zesty combination of seasonings to boost the flavor of both. The original recipe calls for onion, garlic, dill, lemon juice, black pepper, tamari and mustard to make a “sauce.” I left out the dill because I didn’t think it would taste right along with the Cajun spices in the chickpea cakes and chose dijon mustard for added zing. I didn’t bother with the sesame seeds either, though I do enjoy sprinkling them on greens from time to time.
I was blessed enough to be making this at a point in the season when a local farmstand had potatoes and the Red Russian kale in our side garden was going bonkers. There’s nothing better than heading out to your own yard and grabbing dinner ingredients fresh off the plant or out of the ground. Even the stems were tender enough to eat. Instead of cooking it in a skillet to wilt it, I plopped it in the steamer once the potatoes were done and let it turn that lovely bright gemstone green that kale takes on when it’s cooked just right. (Don’t you love that?)
As a side note, did you know that kale has vitamin K? Totally under-appreciated vitamin that’s been one of my favorites to study in the past few months. It helps with necessary blood clotting and also keeps calcium in your bones. Tru fax.
Needless to say, all of this was awesome together. To round it out, I made a bit of rice with the same Cajun flair as the chickpea cakes. Both could have used more seasoning–I like my Cajun flavors hot hot hot! But overall it was quite delicious. I could picture the cakes in a wrap, most likely accompanied by a leaf or two of kale, with some vegan mayo and tomato. In a way, they reminded me of the baked falafel recipe in Appetite for Reduction, mostly because of the texture. I prefer the softness of this kind of vegan “meat subsitute” over blocks of tofu or wedges of seitan. Things that are too tender and “meaty” remind me too much of…well…meat, which usually isn’t what I’m going for! HH hits the nail on the head every time with her patties and burgers, so I know I can grab one of her cookbooks and have a “main dish” vegan protein that I’m happy with.
As for the potatoes and kale…what else can I say? Two of my favorite foods, farm- and garden-fresh with a sauce that includes dijon mustard. Boo. Yah.