Lights, Camera, Vegan

Posted by Robert on August 23rd, 2010

I catered a big party in Jackson over the weekend. It was a fundraiser featuring the cast and crew of the movie “The Help.” The actresses, actors, director, and producers took a break from filming in Greenwood and were all bussed down to the event site in Madison.

We created an elaborate spread for the event’s 450 attendees, and tried to give the visitors from Los Angeles— by way of Greenwood— a sampling of how good Southern food can be.

We were told that one of the lead actresses was Vegan. A member of my crew pulled her aside and pointed out the dishes that would be safe on a Vegan diet. She filled her plate and went back for seconds. A little while later I approached her in the main dining room to let her know that all of the antipasto in the main kitchen was Vegan, too. She asked if the corn dip was Vegan. “No,” I said. “The corn dip has mayonnaise and sour cream in it.”

In an instant, her expression looked like Janet Leigh’s when Anthony Perkins opened the shower curtain in “Psycho.” The entourage who were standing beside her gasped as they quickly turned their gaze from her to me. The room was still. Silence. Crickets chirping. “They told me the corn dish was Vegan!” she demanded.

“Ooops,” I said, and looked around for the person who might have told her this. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” While looking for the culprit, Jeremy, the lead chef walked over to the actress and explained that she had eaten corn salad and not corn dip. The Roasted Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad was, indeed, Vegan so all would be well that night— and for years to come— in Tinseltown.

The diet snafu was resolved and written off to lack of effective communication on both sides. Indeed, the Roasted Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad, the Southwestern Orzo and Roasted Red Pepper Salad, and the Petite Truffled Potato Salad were three Vegan dishes. Unfortunately, they were all placed on the dining room table next to a platter of medium-rare, garlic-studded, roasted beef tenderloin, which probably jarred the Vegan’s sensibilities and sent her into a temporary state of animal protein befuddlement causing a breakdown in communication.

The Spicy Gulf Shrimp and Silverqueen Corn Dip that she referred to was on the other end of the table and not only contained mayonnaise and sour cream, but cream cheese, too. Vegans are Vegetarians on steroids— albeit all natural, tofu-laced, macrobiotic steroids. Not only do they not eat meat or fish, they don’t eat anything that ever came out of an animal— even if the animal didn’t give his or her life in the process. In other words, no eggs, cheese, or milk.

It’s hard to cater for a vegetarian while catering to Southern tastes, but trust me; it’s exponentially harder to cater for a Vegan. I lived as a vegetarian for the entire month of September last year. It wasn’t easy. I actually became a carbotarian and lived on bread, cheese, and milk. In the end, I gained three pounds but I also gained a new appreciation for people who make that lifestyle choice.

My saving grace during that trying time was dairy products. I am a lifelong milk lover. As kids, my brother and I drank a gallon of milk between us, every day. I didn’t drink a glass of iced tea until I was 18 years old, and I grew up in the deepest section of the Deep South. Dairy is a big deal at my house. Vegans don’t do dairy. That’s got to be tough.

Later, I went over the menu and discovered that we served even more unintentional Vegan dishes than I thought. In addition to the aforementioned salads and antipasto, we offered a Deep South Hummus made with butter beans instead of chickpeas, an eggplant dip, roasted asparagus, marinated artichoke hearts, imported olives, various fruits, marinated mushrooms and several vegan-approved sweets.

In the end, everyone was happy. The event raised a lot of money for the MIND Center at the University Medical Center that will help with Alzheimer’s research, and all Vegans remained pure.

Eggplant and Roasted Garlic Dip

2 medium-sized eggplant
1 /2 cup roasted garlic puree
2 tsp Creole seasoning
1 cup olive oil
2 Tbl sherry vinegar
1Tbl chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 cup small dice seeded tomatoes
1 /2 cup thinly sliced green onions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel Eggplant. Take one and a half of the eggplants and cut into a large dice. Toss with half of the olive oil and place eggplant on a baking sheet. Roast 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and tender.

While the eggplant is roasting, take the remaining eggplant and cut into small uniform dice. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat and sauté until tender, (not soggy). Set aside.

Place remaining olive oil, large dice roasted eggplant, Creole seasoning, vinegar, basil, thyme and black pepper into a food processor and puree until smooth. Fold in the diced tomatoes, eggplant and green onions.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: 3 cups

Southern Hummus

You may never use chickpeas again. This should be the new standard. Pink-eye purple-hull peas or butter beans would work, too. Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds and can be found in specialty markets. There is no substitute for the Tahini, it makes the recipe.

2 tsp minced Garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups black-eyed peas, cooked (or butter beans)
1 cup Tahini, stirred well
2 TBL fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive
1/2 cup water, plus extra, if needed

1 /4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 /4 cup pine nuts, toasted lightly

Using a blender, puree all ingredients except for the parsley and pinenuts. Add the water only as needed to keep the puree from becoming too thick.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Before serving, garnish with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts. Serve with herbed pita triangles.

Yield: 3 cups


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