Monday, October 13, 2008

Caramelized Onion Marinara with Almesan

So I was tired tonight and I wasn't even planning to cook for the purposes of this project, but Iv suggested spaghetti, which sounded like a good idea. Then I started thinking that it always seems that vegetarian and vegan cookbooks are so often focused on being all righteous and tofu-ey that they forget that a lot of regular foods are vegan. So before getting started, I checked to see if the Veganomicon had a regular-people pasta sauce recipe.

And indeed it does, with variations. So I went for the Caramelized Onion Marinara, which is cooked precisely how you think it is--caramelize the onions, add garlic, tomatoes, and herbs, cook down, and done. Classic, no soy products involved.

What was more interesting was what the Veganomicon calls Almesan, a concoction that is supposed to serve the same function as Parmesan cheese. It's essentially ground almonds, toasted sesame seeds, lemon zest, and salt. We were out of lemons, so I used dried lemon peel, which might not have been the right choice.

A tiny cast iron pan is essential for toasting sesame seeds. Also good for toasting cumin.

Whirl all this stuff around in a blender (being mindful not to do too much whirling, or you might end up with almond butter), and this is what you get.

I tried talking Iv into agreeing that it smelled like Parmesan. No dice. It smells like toasted sesame. Which was fine.

So here's dinner, on display on the coffee table before we watch the Project Runway we recorded while we were both out of town.

Here's the deal. The spaghetti and sauce were fine. And I should be clear, it was far better than spaghetti sauce from the store -- Iv and I haven't used store-bought spaghetti sauce since we moved in together. So I will say this: if you are buying sauce at the store, stop it right now and make your own. It's so much better, and it's super-easy. You can make it while your pasta is boiling.

And actually, the Almesan was pretty good, too. It imparts a distinct sesame flavor, though, and I think should try making it again sometime with fresh lemon peel. But this has me thinking about, of all things, Lynn Rosetto Kasper. She kind of drives me crazy, because everything's so "fabulous" and all, but every now and again, she talks about the concept of umami, or the quality of "savoriness". And the ingredients she consistently mentions as having this quality are red meat, red wine, parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Exactly two of which are vegan. Anyway, the thing that's not satisfying about the Almesan is that it really lacks the depth of flavor that Parmesan has.

So I'm on a mission now, which is not really to develop the perfect fake Parmesan, but to work on ways to really get depth of flavor into vegan cooking without using soy sauce for everything. The difficulty that the vegan ethic imposes is that omnivorous cooking can always rely on beef or chicken stock as a shortcut to complexity and deliciousness, but vegan cooking doesn't provide that option (at least not in Western culinary traditions). The vegetable stocks I've made before are not a satisfactory solution.

Together we will find a way to deal with this problem. Veganism is a human ethic, not one that denies the Yum. Let's figure it out!

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

a good substitue for parm cheese is
1/4 c sesame seeds
1/4 c nutritional yeast
1/4t salt
grind all in spice grinder and store in glass container.