Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mission Vegan: Day 4

Several things come to mind, but I'm going to stick to the latest. One of my vegan meat tricks.

As you may remember, I'm not a fan of fakery.

i.e. fake meat

This is one of the vegan challenges. At least for me. For anyone who has recently eaten such things and hasn't completely lost touch with the way they taste in this our shared dimension of reality. Now, I don't mean meat itself, necessarily, but it proteinaceous nature. That fifth flavor: umami.

Umami, briefly, is the savory flavor we perceive – separate from salty – in things such as meat and cheese. Animal products, often, but not animal products alone. It's present in a number of vegan friendly foods, and figuring out how to use them can take a vegan dish from merely edible to actively enjoyable.

Today we spotlight the olive. Very vegan, very umami.

For dinner tonight I made a pretty simple red pasta sauce – I grew up in New York where good Italian food is actually good Italian food – and I'd say it was the olives that satisfactorily took the place of ham or bacon or sausage or cheese even. That and a pinch of nutritional yeast. But we'll get to that later. Of course, tomatoes are umami, too, but the brine on the olive really brings out its umami characteristics.

Tomato Sauce with Green Olives and Fennel Seed

(measurements variable)

olive oil (2 tbsp)

garlic (3 cloves)

dried red chilies (3 - I use whole, but flakes would do)

onion (half)

fennel seed (1 tsp(?))

canned tomatoes (14 oz. - cause it's winter and I don't support fresh off-season produce)

Bragg's/salt (tsp-ish)

smidge of sugar

nutritional yeast (2 tsp)

chopped green olives (7 – pitted. Duh.)


  1. Saute the garlic and chilies over medium-high heat in olive oil for about a thirty seconds and then added onion and fennel seed. Saute until onion is translucent.

  2. Add everything else, bring to a simmer, lower heat to very low and let simmer until sauce has thickened and flavors have melded.

  3. Optional: I added broccoli florets – about two hands-worth – at the end for some extra etc.

Usually I would grate Parmesan or Romano over this – maybe add feta or fontina. But with the olives I don't miss it. So there.

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