December 9, 2023 | Rome, Italy

The vegan days

By |2023-10-18T23:08:43+02:00October 18th, 2023|"Suzanne's Taste"|
When meat isn't an option. And cheese isn't an option. Not even cream, not even butter.

n the summer, we have the whole family. Stepkids, friends of the stepkids, the new wife of the step-grandson, the whole shebang descending on our little village. They stay for varying lengths of time in a rental provided by us.

My summer fun, full of surprises, was to cook for the three vegans members of this pack of vegetarians. The challenge of creating meals that would suit both and would be quick to fix and cool to eat on hot days was a challenge. Not to mention the obvious – working only with ingredients that lack a central nervous system.

The word “vegan” often strikes terror into a cook’s heart but it inspired me to start researching veganism and know exactly what I was going to be up against. I have to admit that as I went over my repertoire, I found myself thinking, uh, oh, my chocolate pot de crème has eggs, no dairy of any kind and even yogurt, my favorite go-to for cream, has to go.

No dairy of any kind and even yogurt, my favorite go-to for cream, has to go.

However, many of the recipes in my vast collection were plant-based and simple to make despite culling.

And thank God they were not anti-gluten, as focaccia filled in all the blanks.

I went joyfully about the search for eggless, meatless, dairy-less – dishes containing nothing that could reason.

I know someone whose husband wouldn’t eat anything with a face, and I have run into mothers who lamented that their kid would only eat white food, so I did have a bit of prior practice, but nervous systems?

Who knew? But how satisfying to find that one of my specialties, spaghetti alle vongole, involves little clams – and they don’t think a lot about olive oil, garlic and hot peppers, and surely not about chopped parsley!

Mussels don’t seem to ponder things a lot either.

There was hope after all that vegan foods would be, so to speak, a piece of eggless cake and that the bistros in our little town would take up some of the slack, moules frites being their specialty.

This is what came out of my kitchen swiftly and easily one very hot evening when nine vegetarian/vegans were at table:

Chickpea hummus with garlic, mint, lemon, and olive oil; cold corn soup made with corn kernels, sweet onion, vegetarian broth, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon, then whizzed into a smoothie with a hand mixer and chilled; rosemary focaccia-flour, water, yeast, fresh rosemary, and coarse salt on top; tabbouleh with lots of parsley, mint, olive oil, baby green onions, and lemon juice; roasted eggplants with their centers scooped out and mixed with garlic, lemon juice, a pinch of cumin, tahini, and salt to make baba ganoush; guacamole with sweet onions, avocados, cilantro, garlic, and lime juice, laid out upon the table with multiple spoons and tortilla chips that you can even find non-gluten, but scratch that! Thank heaven there were no gluten-intolerants.

As for other choices for the crowd, there were, of course, the favorites: Pasta alla romana, pasta con zucchnei, pasta con a melanzane, pasta alla putanesca, pasta al pesto. No one starved.

And after the main course, there were endless dessert possibilities that I had been making for years, thanks to coconut milk.

For sorbets I freeze cut-up summer peaches or nectarines or apricots with a little vanilla, suga,r and lemon, and at the end of a meal, throw the frozen fruit in the bowl of a food processor with a splash of coconut milk and whiz. Wa la! A miracle.

Serve it quickly, but if you have any left over and it sets, you may add a dash of hot water or coco milk to soften the mousse.

But what really amazed us all was an eggless, creamless chocolate mousse made in less than five minutes! In the bowl of my food processor, I pulverized two bars of 70% Lindt chocolate, placed them in a metal bowl, added a cup of very hot water (or coconut milk) a dash of vanilla, and stirred until the chocolate melted completely. I placed the bowl over another bowl of ice cubes and using my hand mixer, whizzed the “sauce” just until it thickened into a mousse.

Serve it quickly, but if you have any left over and it sets, you may add a dash of hot water or coco milk to soften the mousse.

Innovation was my summer fun. For a cook who feels she knows a bit about food, becoming a vegan specialist was a wonderful new look for an old toque.

A highlight of all these concoctions was my mystery dip for crackers, deep purple from a cooked vegetable, with lemon juice, olive oil, a clove of garlic, pepper, and coconut milk added, then whizzed up into smooth spread.

The color alone was spectacular and the kids had never had anything like it.

You couldn’t beet it for vegan perfection.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.