Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but normal food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with what is produced from good old terra firma is what makes the world go around.

World Vegan Month is an annual designation observed in November. This is the month plant-based eaters from across the globe come together to celebrate their 100% cruelty-free lifestyle.

 

There is a big following of vegetarians and vegans on island. Numerous events, where some of the best vegan cooks on island prep food for the enjoyment of anyone who would like to enjoy a vegan meal. Just very recently, the Passionate Food was able to attend an excellent vegan evening.

 

Vegans do not eat animal products and by-products: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, honey. They also do not use leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, soaps or anything derived from animal products. Vegans choose to be vegan for health, environmental and/or ethical reasons. Vegans believe they have a responsibility to try to do their best in not causing the demise of any living thing and they try not to be judgmental of others who do eat or use what is on their list.

 

Vegans have to ensure that they eat a nutritionally sound diet with plenty of variety including fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds and legumes.

 

But how will they get all the required nutrition, e.g. enough protein, to stay healthy? Interestingly, almost all foods provide some protein. Vegan sources include lentils, chickpeas, tofu, peas, peanut butter, soy milk, almonds, spinach, rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes, broccoli and kale. Foods that really have no protein are alcohol, sugar and fats.

 

Eating a vegan diet generally promotes a healthy lifestyle as it is free of cholesterol and generally low in saturated fat. High-fat foods include oils, margarine, nuts, nut butters, seed butters, avocado and coconut.

 

Do vegans get enough Vitamin D, Calcium, Zinc, Iron, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin B12? Yes, they do; but time is needed for the non-vegan to “get into the swing of things” if they are to start eating this way.

 

Vitamin D is more about getting enough sunlight – something none of us living in the tropics is short of!

 

Here is a short list of the “good” food vegans eat:

Calcium: sesame seeds, okra, turnip greens, soybeans, tempeh, almond butter, broccoli, bok choy, commercial soy yogurt, dark green vegetables, various calcium fortified foods like tofu, soy milk and orange juice.

Zinc: Grains, legumes and nuts.

Iron: Dried beans, dark green leafy vegetables, soybeans, lentils, blackstrap molasses, kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, Swiss chard, tempeh, black beans, prune juice, beet greens, tahini, peas, bulgur, bok choy, raisins, watermelon, millet and kale.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, tofu, soybeans and walnuts.

Vitamin B12: Tempeh, miso and seaweed, Red Star nutritional yeast. (It is important for pregnant and lactating women, infants and children to have reliable sources of vitamin B12 in their diets.)

 

If vegans feel they are not getting enough, they can always supplement with pills from the health shops.

 

Having received a dinner ticket to a vegan evening recently, I set off to the event looking forward to some interesting dishes. Now, I have to say that as a carnivore, I am quite happy not to have meat/poultry/fish at every meal. I have also found that as the years have gone by, one or all of the “3-animal protein” foods do not have to take centre stage at any meal. In fact, as the years have gone by, veggies and salads take centre stage on our plates. If we are going to eat one of the “3-animal proteins,” they are often served more as a side dish! That means we occasionally eat less animal than before.

 

The dinner was held as a fundraiser for St. Maarten Animal Defenders. As good as any an excuse to eat out, it was a very special way of celebrating animals by eating delicious food with no animal products therein. All tickets were sold, and the restaurant was teaming with happy people.

 

Shown to my table, I was thrilled to see I would be sharing the evening with a delightful dining companion who kept the conversation going through a number of subjects. Good companionship at a meal equals much enjoyment.

 

We were met with a great welcome drink and an amuse of corn potage, which the menu says was a Japanese corn soup. This tasty morsel disappeared very quickly and then, by mistake, our table was sent another one which disappeared as quickly. Lucky us!

 

Vegan food is all about the seasoning, we decided. Well, we also agreed that any food is all about the seasoning. Great vegan food may not have animal products, but it sure should have loads of flavour. We also agreed that if one does not say “vegan” and just presents the dish, it will be enjoyed for what it is.

 

The first dish, a trio of appetizers, was served to the table with the drink pairing and it was divine, truly. The plate was adorned with a round slice of dark (rye) bread atop of which was a slice of carrot – this was “Carrot Lox.” It had the gentle flavours of salmon from the dill and lemon juice.

 

Alongside on the plate was a strawberry “feta” bruschetta. Leave the word “feta” off and this very delicious white square of a cheese-like morsel was the perfect foil for the strawberry red topping. A third morsel was also on the plate. These were very more-ish, curried quinoa “buffalo tots” – who needs the other kind when there is such delicious food being presented?!

 

The next part of the evening involved the guests dishing up their plates at the buffet table. The choices were cauliflower steak; kale salad with a couple of toppings; green beans; mashed potatoes; veg roast with gravy; and something called eggroll salad which seemed to be Asian flavoured (shredded cabbage and other ingredients one usually finds in a rice paper roll).

 

There was a delightful drink pairing with the buffet, too. Apart from the green beans with lemon garlic baste, I tried all the dishes. They were all very good, with the favourite dish being the cauliflower steaks. At no time was meat missed. It was filling and really tasty.


The dessert plate offered a small helping of three sweet treats. There was a chocolate “panna cotta,” that did not hit the mark for me – this was the only dish that did not make an impression. Of the other two desserts, the cherry tomato, apple crumble was simply divine. It was a very light cookie with a delicate flavour. The second cookie on the plate was a “rose scone with coconut cream” which was tasty too. The drink paired with this was an expresso martini – one simple cannot go wrong when offering such a lovely ending to the meal.

 

Eating vegan is healthy, no doubt about it. As long as the true flavours of the individual foods are kept fresh and clean and the seasonings are not complicated but give different levels of sensual quality, even causal home cooks can produce great vegan dishes.

 

RECIPES

 

Cauliflower Steaks

 

Ingredients

1 small head cauliflower

Salt

1 garlic clove, minced

2 TBL fresh lemon juice

2 TBL tahini

2 TBL olive oil

1 TBL vegan butter

2 sprigs oregano

2 3-inch strips lemon zest

Lemon wedges – garnish

Pomegranate seeds – garnish

 

Salsa ingredients

1 cup walnuts

1cup olive oil

8 TBL capers, patted dry

4 jalapeño chilies, deseed and chop

12 TBL chopped parsley

4 TBL dried currants

4 TBL sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

4 tsp finely grated lemon zest

Kosher salt

 

Method – Salsa

Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Toast walnuts on baking sheet, 7–10 minutes.

Cool, coarsely chop, set aside.

Turn oven up 425 °F.

Heat oil and capers until capers burst, about 5 minutes.

Carefully pour oil and capers into a small heatproof bowl – cool.

Stir in walnuts, chilies, parsley, currants, vinegar, lemon zest and salt.

 

Method – Cauliflower

Remove leaves from cauliflower.

Trim stem flat and resting cauliflower on stem, cut in half from top to bottom, creating two lobes with stem attached.

Trim outer rounded edge to create two 1½"-thick “steaks” – set steaks aside.

Coarsely chop remaining florets.

Cook florets in boiling salted water 6-8 minutes, drain well.

Process with garlic, lemon juice, tahini, and 1 TBL water until smooth.

Season with salt, set aside.

Heat oil in ovenproof frying pan, add butter; when melted, add cauliflower steaks, oregano, and lemon zest.

Cook gently until steaks are deep golden brown.

Turn season with salt and transfer pan to oven, roast cauliflower 10-15 minutes.

Spoon ⅓ cup cauliflower purée onto plates, place steaks on top.

Spoon salsa over and sprinkle with salt.

Garnish with lemon wedges.

 

Vegan Mashed Potato (no quantities)

 

Idaho potatoes peeled

Vegan butter

Soy milk

Roasted garlic

Garlic powder

Sage

White pepper and salt

A bit of “potato water” from the boiled potatoes

 

Method

Mash cooked potatoes with all ingredients and serve.