Meatless Sunflower Sausage

If you read yesterday’s post claiming that Southern classics like biscuits with sausage gravy can be veganized, you may be curious how I approached the “sausage” component of the recipe. Wonder no longer.

Vegan soy crumbles are easy to find at most supermarkets by now, but I was interested in making the sausage from scratch. Kristy Turner’s But I Could Never Go Vegan! offers a straightforward recipe that calls for ingredients commonly found in my refrigerator and pantry, so I could get to work without preamble.

Beyond assembling the ingredients on the kitchen counter and lightly sautéing the onions and garlic in a frying pan, the sausage crumbles come together with minimal effort. Thanks, trusty food processor. Since I was using the sausage for the gravy recipe featured yesterday, I fried up the crumbles immediately and mixed them in the gravy. The gravy recipe advises you to use an entire batch of these sunflower sausage crumbles, but I found that half a batch offered the perfect sausage-to-gravy ratio.

Vegan Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

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Sunflower Sausage
(a But I Could Never Go Vegan! recipe)
Serves 4

– 3 to 4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

– 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped

– 1 garlic clove, minced

– 2 cups raw hulled sunflower seeds

– 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (I used the oil-packed version.)

– 2 TBS liquid aminos (I used low-sodium soy sauce.)

– 1 1/2 tsp maple syrup

– 1 tsp liquid smoke

– 1 tsp dried sage

– 1 tsp fennel seeds

– 1/2 tsp ground cumin

– 1/2 tsp paprika

– Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is slightly translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.

2. In a food processor, combine the sunflower seeds, 2 tsp of the oil, sun-dried tomatoes, liquid aminos, maple syrup, liquid smoke, sage, fennel seeds, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper. Pulse until broken down and combined. Add the cooked onion and garlic and pulse until the mixture is sticky and no piece is larger than a lentil, pausing to scrape the sides as necessary.

3. You can serve the sausage uncooked or cooked. To cook, heat the remaining 1 tsp of oil over medium heat in the same frying pan used earlier. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook about 5 minutes, stirring and flipping as needed so it’s evenly cooked. You may need to use your spatula to break up the crumbles if they start to stick together. If you’re not eating it right away, chill in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.

Vegan Southern Biscuits with Sausage and Gravy

Southerners take their biscuits and sausage seriously. Add gravy to the mix, and you’ll have yourself a very satisfying Southern meal. I know this because I ate the hell out of biscuits and sausage gravy as a kid. If you could have been around when sausage and I parted ways in 1997, you would have heard a mourning song that went something like this.

For several years, vegetarianism felt like deprivation in service to political advocacy. It wasn’t until I moved to China in the early 2000s that I learned of a world of flavor to be had without the need for meat. (Chinese cuisine features meat like you wouldn’t believe, but in south China, I fell in love with the flavorful vegetable and tofu meals on offer for a pittance.) While I eat seafood occasionally now, vegetarian and vegan recipes in America have finally caught up with the omnivorous cool kids, and I rarely think about the meaty recipes of my Southern youth. Until this month, that is. My primal itch for a platter of BBQ ribs, fried chicken gizzards, and bacon cheeseburgers is at an all-time high. Fortunately, Kristy Turner’s But I Could Never Go Vegan! cookbook has saved the day (and more than a few innocent animals, no doubt).

Last weekend she helped me bring biscuits with sausage and gravy to the dinner table without harming any of my farmyard friends. Her vegan version of a Southern classic seemed an impossible feat until I poured the “sausage” gravy over a few hot biscuits and chowed down. I’m not going to lie. I prefer biscuits cut with plenty of butter and gravy creamy with whole milk, but I also don’t need those ingredients in a meal to survive. Besides, this recipe pays attention to seasoning and oil, so you’re not denied flavor just because you steer clear of animal products. Served warm from the stove, this meal satisfied my need for comfort food and inspired me to try to minimize the amount of animal products I consume. You don’t have to be “vegan” to include vegan meals in your diet, and if you pick the right recipes that emphasize complex flavors, you won’t worry about what you’re missing because you’ll be too busy scrambling for seconds.

Vegan Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

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Southern Biscuits with Sausage and Gravy
(adapted from a But I Could Never Go Vegan! recipe)
Serves 4

– 1 cup non-dairy milk

– 1 TBS apple cider vinegar

– 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

– 1 TBS baking powder

– 1 tsp baking soda

– 1 tsp salt

– 1/3 cup vegan butter, kept very cold (You can put it in the freezer.)

– 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil

– 1/2 cup diced yellow onion

– 2 garlic cloves, minced

– 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

– 3 cups non-dairy milk (I used almond milk.)

– 1/2 tsp dried sage

– 1/2 tsp dried thyme

– 1/2 tsp black pepper

– A few dashes of nutmeg

– 1 TBS nutritional yeast, optional

– Salt to taste

– 1 TBS non-dairy milk (I used almond milk.)

– 1 TBS vegan butter, melted

– 1 batch Sunflower Sausage crumbles, cooked (I’ll post the recipe tomorrow.)

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Which together the non-dairy milk and vinegar in a small bowl; place in the refrigerator.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the very cold vegan butter, and use a pastry cutter butter knife to very quickly cut the butter into the flour until it is the consistency of bread crumbs.

3. Add the milk mixture, and mix with a spoon until just combined. Turn it onto a floured surface and knead for a couple minutes into a pliable dough. Use your hands to flatten the dough into a 1-inch thick rectangle. Fold it in half widthwise, then again to make a square. Repeat two to three more times. Flatten and stretch the dough into a 3/4-inch thick round.

4. Use a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass to cut out biscuits; place them on the baking sheet. When you can’t cut any more, roll up the dough, flatten out, and cut more biscuits. Repeat until there is no dough left. Set the sheet aside in a cool area.

5. To make the gravy, heat the oil in a large shallow saucepan (I used my 1.75 quart saucepan, and it worked fine.) over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion just starts to become translucent. Ass the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, until the flour turns golden.

6. Slowly whisk in the 3 cups of non-dairy milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and add the sage, thyme, pepper, and nutmeg. Simmer, whisking frequently, for 15 minutes, or until the milk has reduced by about 1/3 and has thickened. Add the nutritional yeast, taste, and add salt. Turn the heat down to low to keep warm until ready to serve. If the gravy thickens too much, stir in a couple tablespoons of milk.

7. To finish the biscuits, use your thumb to make a tiny well on top of each. In a small bowl, mix the 1 TBS non-dairy milk and the melted vegan butter. Use a pastry brush to brush on top of each biscuit. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are golden.

8. Serve hot, topped with the sunflower sausage and gravy. (I mixed the sausage into the gravy before serving.)

‘Colorado Spring’ Smokehouse Chickpeas And Greens Salad

Spring in Colorado is not like spring in most places I’ve lived. While my body expects cool, rainy days that make way for sunny skies and blossoming flowers, my brain knows by now that making a home a mile above sea level usually means that as soon as tree branches bud and flowers start blooming, snow, rather than rain, makes its appearance, freezing all signs that summer is right around the corner. It’s pointless to complain about a Colorado fact of life, so I’m getting in to the state’s springtime spirit by focusing on landscaping and garden preparations. When the last freak snow storm passes in May, our flower and vegetable garden beds will be ready for planting.

We bought our house a couple of years ago with minimal landscaping but have had grand plans for how we’d like our small patch of property to look when all is said and done. One of our long-term plans has been to turn more of our backyard space into edible garden plots. Now that Cameron is becoming a woodworking magician, over the weekend it took him less than an hour to construct an additional raised bed for our garden.

Cameron's Carpentry Handiwork. Image by Cameron Turner.

Cameron’s Carpentry Handiwork. Bring on the veggies! Image by Cameron Turner.

Below you’ll find a backyard-inspired spring recipe that offers the smoky flavor of barbecue without involving meat in the equation. I found this smokehouse chickpeas and greens salad recipe in Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don’t Have to Be Vegan to Love. Ms. Romero is one of the masterminds behind the now iconic vegan cookbook Veganomicon, and her newest cookbook focuses on turning the uninspired vegan menu item on offer at most omnivore restaurants into a delicious dish that even non-vegans will gobble up.

This hearty, protein-filled salad is a great example of her thoughtful consideration of complementary flavors. Warm smoky, sautéed chickpeas meet buttery avocado, zesty red onions, crunchy carrots, tangy sweet cherry tomatoes, airy spring greens, and piquant dressing. Cameron and I tucked in to two huge bowls of this salad yesterday during a break from yard work, and it powered us through the spring afternoon.

Smokehouse Chickpeas and Greens Salad

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Smokehouse Chickpeas And Greens Salad
(a Salad Samurai recipe)
Serves 2

Roasted BBQ Chickpeas
– 2 TBS olive oil

– 1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

– 1 TBS tamari

– 1 TBS tomato paste

– 1 TBS pure maple syrup

– 1 tsp liquid smoke (preferably hickory)

– 2 TBS nutritional yeast

– 6 cups baby spinach or mixed salad greens

– 1 small red onion, thinly sliced

– 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

– 1 big, ripe avocado, diced

– 1/2 cup julienned carrot

– Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Smoked Paprika Dressing
– 2 TBS apple cider vinegar

– 1 TBS olive oil

– 1 shallot, minced

– 1 TBS pure maple syrup

– 1 1/2 tsp smoked sweet or hot paprika

– 1/2 tsp smoked salt or regular salt

1. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then pour in the olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom with oil. Add the chickpeas and fry for about 6 minutes, or until golden. Whisk together the tamari, tomato paste, maple syrup, and liquid smoke. Pour over the chickpeas, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, tear the greens into bite-size pieces, wash, and spin dry. Transfer to a large salad bowl and add the onion, tomatoes, avocado, and carrot. Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Toss the vegetables to coat with dressing and divide the salad among serving bowls.

3. Sprinkle nutritional yeast over the warm chickpeas and stir to coat. Top the salad with hot chickpeas and a twist of freshly ground black pepper to taste, and serve it up!

Dressing Po’Boys with Creole Spices and Creamy Red Bell Pepper Sauce

My last post unlocked the secret to po’boys for the vegetarian connoisseur. But po’boys are as much as about the toppings as the protein filling. Below you’ll find easy recipes from Bryant Terry’s Afro-Vegan cookbook for the homemade creole spice blend I used to season the fried tofu and the creamy red pepper sauce slathered on the French roll that held all the flavorful goodness.

Creole Spice Blend

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Creole Spice Blend
(an Afro-Vegan recipe)
Makes 1/3 cup

– 1 TBS garlic powder

– 1 TBS paprika

– 2 tsp coarse sea salt

– 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

– 2 tsp onion powder

– 2 tsp chili powder

– 2 tsp red pepper flakes

– 1 tsp dried thyme

– 1 tsp dried oregano

– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a mortar or spice grinder (I used a coffee grinder dedicated to spice grinding.) and bring into a fine powder. Transfer to a jar and seal tightly. Stored at room temperature, it will keep for 6 months.

Creamy Red Pepper Sauce

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Creamy Red Bell Pepper Sauce
(an Afro-Vegan recipe)
Makes about 2 cups

– 1 red bell pepper, roasted, seeded, and cut into a few large slices (I roasted the bell pepper over my gas stove flame, but if you’re short on time, you can pick up some jarred roasted red pepper.)

– 1 cup silken tofu

– 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise

– 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil

– 1 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice

– 1 TBS red wine vinegar

– 1 TBS tamari

– 1 large clove garlic, minced

– 1 tsp paprika

– 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

– 1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper

– 1/2 tsp maple syrup

– 1/2 tsp dijon mustard

With a clean kitchen towel, pat the bell pepper slices dry. Put the pepper in a blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth and creamy. Use immediately or store in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Tofu Po’Boys with Creamy Red Bell Pepper Sauce

While the occasional shrimp dish offers me a taste of the Gulf Coast, most of the regional Southern meals I grew up on are off-limits unless I cross the border to meat land. Since cutting most meat from my diet, I’ve sought out vegetarian and vegan versions of some of my favorite Southern recipes like bitter and rich collards, the ample ‘slap your mouth with flavor’ muffuletta, and lard-free sweet potato biscuits.

Today I bring you another Southern classic, the po’boy, revamped for those who’ve turned away from fried shrimp and shaved beef, ham, and chicken. Like the muffuletta, po’boys found their home in New Orleans and spread across the Gulf Coast. I ate my weight in po’boys when I lived in Alabama, so I was pleased to find a great vegan po’boy recipe in Bryant Terry’s Afro-Vegan cookbook. Replacing meat with battered tofu and dressing the crusty bread with a plant-based red pepper sauce, this sandwich offers the heft of a hearty sandwich without the environmental impact that comes with scarfing animal products.

Also, it’s delicious.

Tofu Po'Boys

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Tofu Po’Boys with Creamy Red Bell Pepper Sauce
(adapted from an Afro-Vegan recipe)
Yields Four 6-inch sandwiches

– 2 (1 lb) blocks extra-firm tofu, pressed for at least a half hour before marinating

– 1 cup water

– 1/4 cup tamari

– 2 TBS freshly squeezed orange juice

– 1 TBS apple cider vinegar

– 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

– 1 large clove garlic, minced

– 2 tsp minced fresh thyme

– 3 cups chickpea flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (I used a combination.)

– 2 cups unsweetened almond milk, homemade or store-bought

– 2 cups panko breadcrumbs

– Sunflower or safflower oil, for frying (I used canola oil.)

– 3 TBS Creole spice blend (I made mine from scratch, but if you’re short on time, pick up a good spice blend at your local grocery store.)

– 4 French sandwich rolls (I used whole-wheat French sandwich rolls to lower the glycemic index.)

– Creamy Red Bell Pepper Sauce, for serving

– 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce (I used spring greens since I had those on hand.)

– 2 heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices (I used hothouse tomatoes since it’s far from tomato season in Colorado right now.)

1. Place each block of tofu on a long side and slice it in half lengthwise. Turn it onto the large side again, keeping the layers together, and slice crosswise into 3 even slabs. Cut each slab in half crosswise to yield 12 cubes per slab. Transfer the tofu to a large baking dish and spread it in a single layer.

2. To make the marinade, combine the water, tamari, orange juice, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and thyme in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour over the tofu and refrigerate for 6 hour or overnight, turning the tofu a a few times to evenly coat with the marinade. (You can certainly marinate the tofu for a shorter time, but prepping the tofu a day ahead of time allows it to better soak up the flavors.)

3. In a shallow dish, spread 1 cup of the flour. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flaxseeds, almond milk, and the remaining 2 cups flour. Spread the panko in another shallow dish. Dredge the tofu in the flour, the flaxseed mixture and then the panko.

4. In a large saucepan, heat 1 inch of oil to 325 degrees F. (Flick a few drops of water in the oil. It’ll pop when it’s hot enough to get frying.) Fry the coated tofu cubes in batches, turning them until deep gold, about 7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season with the spice blend.

5. As soon as the tofu is ready, split the rolls, leaving them attached at one edge. Spread a thin layer of red pepper sauce on both cut surfaces of each roll. Arrange 6 cubes of tofu on each sandwich. Top the tofu with the lettuce and tomatoes.


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