It has nothing to do with cheese.
In C'mon, It's Just 7 Days, members of the Food52 team share what it was like to take on a personal challenge for one week: skipping caffeine, going plastic-free, and more. (Spoiler alert: We all survived.)
I eat meat once-ish a week—and milk and cheese even less—so I figured that going vegan for seven days wouldn’t be so hard.
I should tell you about my back first, though. If I explained the whole thing, we’d have to sort out terms like pars defect and disc herniation. The quick version is: Sometimes I’ll lean over to tie my shoes or pet my cat and then I’ll barely be able to move for a week. The week I signed up to be vegan—as part of our C’mon, It’s Just 7 Days challenge—was one of those weeks.
But a challenge is a challenge for a reason. So, couch-bound, ice pack–wrapped, and severely medicated, I started picking and choosing from my list of Vegan Recipes That I Would Very Much Like to Make. (You have one too, right?) It’s a long list.
Maybe I’m attracted to vegan recipes because I only like to eat meat occasionally, for my personal health, and for that of our planet. Maybe it’s because I think vegetables are just as starworthy as steaks. Maybe it’s because when I eat less dairy, I feel a little better. Or maybe it’s because I’m a recipe developer and vegan recipes are, if nothing else, creative. Like, “Here’s how we’re going to turn lentils into sloppy Joe’s!” creative.
So I had my dinners all planned out. There was Gena Hamshaw’s vegan palak paneer (tofu? cheese? who can tell?!). Spaghetti “carbonara” (indeed, Serious Eats’ Daniel Gritzer is a magician). Orecchiette with crispy tofu-sausage, plus sautéed peppers and onions (turns out, I don’t like tofu-sausage). More orecchiette with butternut squash and kale (is too much pasta a thing? don't answer that). Tacos with Instant Pot black beans, fried plantains, and avocado vinaigrette. Mushroom-pecan-lentil burgers (on toasted English muffins, always) with sweet potato fries (from our cookbook Vegan).
Making these recipes when I couldn’t stand up by myself should have been the complicated part. Instead, my husband Justin brought cutting boards (and, yeah, knives) to the couch and served as my proxy in the kitchen.
If there’s a more humbling experience for a kitchen control freak, I need not know it. But Justin never made me feel like he was doing me a favor; he helped me to feel as helpful as possible. By showing me the color of the sautéeing onions for a progress check, bringing me spoonfuls of palak paneer to taste for seasoning, and letting me pick which shape pasta to pair with which sauce.
These recipes surprised me for a couple reasons. Some were significantly more time intensive than their not-vegan counterparts. The palak paneer, for instance, meant pressing and marinating the tofu for hours (versus just buying the paneer). And the carbonara involved a slew of ingredients to successfully mimic an otherwise minimalist dish.
But the extra steps went a long way. While they made certain dishes less weeknight-friendly, taking a bite and saying, “Whoa, I can’t believe this is vegan,” felt especially satisfying, especially when it's chocolate chip cookies. As the days passed by, not only did I not miss meat or dairy, but I kept thinking: I’m actually enjoying this. (And I love pasta!)
So dinner ended up being a breeze, and lunch was either veggies, crackers, and hummus, or leftovers (love you, leftovers). But breakfast was a bit more complicated. I have a few go-tos: Scrambled eggs with buttered toast, scrambled eggs on a whole-wheat English muffin with mayo and Calabrian chile paste, or scrambled eggs over brown rice with soy sauce and chili oil.
Notice a pattern? Scrambled eggs are my comfort food. For when I’m feeling down or stressed out. Or when I’m in pain or feel so nauseous from medications that I can’t eat a single thing—you know, unless it’s scrambled eggs. I’m not sure what it is about them, but they just make me feel tended to. Like I’m taken care of and like everything’s gonna be okay.
If you’re wondering if I cracked (pun sorta intended) and just ate them, well, I didn’t. In the beginning of the week, this felt difficult. My English muffin missed its salted butter and fluffy egg friends (and I did, too). But, to make up for it, I ate lots of bagels with tofu cream cheese and found a new obsession in banana smoothies (frozen banana, tahini, soy milk, water—more exciting than it sounds!) and those became another sort of comfort food.
And by the end of the week, I realized something else. The thing about feeling horrible is: After the wallowing (and at some point, there will be wallowing), you have to figure out all the little things that make you feel better. And for me, sure, scrambled eggs is one of them. But there’s also Justin putting fuzzy socks on my cold feet. And my cat watching Riverdale with me. And my mom calling to check in. All of this turned out to be more important and nourishing.
So maybe veganism isn’t for me on an off-week. Or maybe it’s just what I needed.
What're some of your favorite vegan recipes? Share in the comments!