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Somethings Shouldn't Be Made "Vegan"

I had a really nice meal at a Philadelphia gastropub named Memphis Taproom last evening with my wife . That is until the cassoulet came out. You see I'd simply seen the word "cassoulet" on the menu and ordered it in a knee jerk fashion (I love cassoulet). So when it comes out the server announces "here's your vegan cassoulet". In my mind I was like "vegan?". But I still eagerly jumped in. After a few nibbles though I knew it wasn't for me. It wasn't awful but is wasn't cassoulet either. Cassoulet as we all know is a mashup of starch and succulence from the pork. This version substituted the succulence with strong herb and a smoke flavored soy product.
So why try and make something vegan that is based so tremendously on pig anyway? Aren't some dishes virtually impossible to translate into vegan effectively?


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  1. yes! pork-based dishes...

    i made vegan split pea soup. i remember how this used to taste... and i'm not going to fool myself. nutritional yeast does not taste like cheese, anything used to impart "that smoky flavour" still doesn't taste like ham. so i can't tell people it's split pea soup, or associations will be made.

    ersatz food is not cool. just accept it how it is. vegetables (beans, lentils, grains, etc) do what they can do.

    arms against tofurkey!

    6 Replies
    1. re: dumpycactus

      boca burgers?? tofu sausages??
      have you tried Quorn? however I have tried to cook it it just tastes of nothing. It is not a substitute for hamburger mince in a spaghetti sauce.

      1. re: smartie

        I actually like veggie burgers. Especially topped with bacon & cheese. (Yes, I'm serious about the bacon-cheese-veggieburger.) But you're right, they're not a substitute for beef burgers. I just like 'em (some brands, anyway) for their own characteristics.

        1. re: Emmmily

          EM - I do that too, and you get the most interesting reactions from servers.

            1. re: Emmmily

              yeah that double-take is so cute and precious!

      2. re: dumpycactus

        I think you can totally have vegan split pea soup. It depends on what you're used to. My family never used pork in it to begin with, mainly because we didn't have a ham hock lying around, so a veg version doesn't seem weird.

      3. Absolutely - meat will always taste of meat and meat-centric dishes can/should not be recreated. But that's not necessarily bad since the focus now shifts on making vegetables incredibly tasty. Umami from kombu, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc contribute to the savoriness found in meat. I do make a mock meat loaf from vwg and tofu weekly that is seasoned with various flavors but it still isn't meat (although my vwg salami has been mistaken for the real deal - by a bad palate!) . It's used mostly to add texture and protein to dishes.

        And I agree with dumpycactus and smartie - ugh on the tofuturkey and the stuff they sell as mock meat - it just doesn't taste good.

          1. re: cstr

            Yes, definitely not bacon. Probably not cheese either.

          2. FWIW My new best friend is smoked paprika. For some odd reason, I thought it was going to taste hot or maybe like cumin, but to my surprise it reminds me of bacon! I've been using it liberally in soups (just made split yellow pea this morning) and I swear it gives just enough smokiness that it tastes like I used ham hocks. Notice, I said I've been using it liberally. It's one of the more expensive spices, so I can't keep this up, but to me it's the best thing I've found in a long time!

            I investigated liquid smoke, and even though the company says it's an all-natural process, it sounds too chemically to me.

            5 Replies
            1. re: nemo

              Liquid smoke is natural and you can make it yourself if so inclined (I won't). When used sparingly, it adds some complexity to mock meat and dishes but it still doesn't make it meat. Have you tried kombu in your soups?

              1. re: alwayscooking

                Yes, I've tried kombu when cooking beans, but I thought that was to help neutralize the gas-producing sugars. I never noticed any smokey flavor from it.

                I'm still wary of liquid smoke. It just seems like it's liquid carcinogens, and while I eat roasted peppers, I do rub most of the charring off them. I don't need a smokey taste, just was pleasantly surprised at the paprika.

                1. re: nemo

                  The kombu adds a naturally occurring MSG - the umami. It isn't smoky but will add some richness t the dish. I pull it out when the stew/soup/beans comes to a boil, otherwise it adds a slightly fishy flavor.

                  Your decision on the liquid smoke. A dish needs to very little that it doesn't bother me to add it. You might want to check your paprika - it may also be smoked.

                  As for reducing the bean gas - seach for the thread that goes into some detail . . .

                  1. re: alwayscooking

                    Oh, yes, the paprika is definitely smoked. I guess I am splitting hairs here! Thanks for your comments.

              2. re: nemo

                Liquid smoke is one of those ingredients that, once you get to know it, you can spot in a heartbeat in any dish. It's made in a natural manner, but I think it's one of the most disgusting fake flavors I've had.

                This is because of a big pot of beans I made with it one time while I was ill. No details -- but suffice to say that a bottle of that garbage will never cross my home's threshold again.

              3. I had a vegetarian (not vegan) "cassoulet" in a local restaurant years ago, and it was absolutly delicious. Don't remember what was in it, but no fake meat product.

                5 Replies
                1. re: pikawicca

                  I dunno, I agree with mcsheridan below and the OP. What you had may indeed have been delicious, but it wasn't cassoulet by traditional definition of the word. It was a veggie casserole.

                  1. re: tatamagouche

                    No, it was a vegan "cassoulet," nontraditional, but informed by the tradition.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      How so—that is, how so in ways that might not as easily be said to be informed by the tradition of casserole making, or stew making, depending on your dish?

                      Not trying to be belligerent here, promise—only trying to make sense of why you feel this dish fit the definition of a cassoulet.

                      1. re: tatamagouche

                        "Informed by the tradition of" does not mean the same thing as "fit the definition of."

                        I should think that a Vegan Cassoulet would contain Tarbais beans, lots of garlic, onions, carrots, homemade vegetable stock, smokiness from somewhere (perhaps smoked tomato), lots of olive oil, and a crunchy breadcrumb topping.

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          Mmm, smoked tomato.

                          But that's just it. If it doesn't fit anything close to the definition, then why call it that? Isn't it more accurately something else? It's a question of semantics, yes, but semantics are important in respecting food traditions too. If I change half the ingredients in a recipe, it's no longer the same recipe. There's a reason we call different things by different names. Stew informed by cassoulet does not equal cassoulet.

                2. Last year this lady in my office brought in "vegan italian subs" , they were an abomination.

                  1. I don't care what people make for vegans, so long as they don't call it by the meat-based name. I totally agree, a cassoulet should have duck confit and pork product in it. If you're going to turn cassoulet into an ersatz product by eliminating the meat, please come up with a new, unrelated name for it. How about "Pot au Legumes"? :)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mcsheridan

                      I'm with you on this count. I love lots of vegetarian things, but I'm not going for the marketing of a tofurkey. It underlinesthe attitude that vegetarians have to compensate. "Boy! Don't you wish you could still eat turkey? This is just as good! We swear!"

                      1. re: thinks too much

                        The comedian Jim Gaffigan has a nice take on this: "You know who's obsessed with meat? Vegetarians." He then mimics the ordering of a veggie fake burger topped with veggie bacon and veggie cheese -- "And can you serve it dressed as a cow?"

                        He finishes with the vegetarian saying, “I don’t like meat, I just like to call meat late at night and hang up. Let’s drive by meat’s house. Does meat ever ask about me?”

                    2. I don't think somethings shouldn't be made vegan. I make vegan chicken and dumplings, and everyone who tries it loves it, even if they aren't vegan. If you don't want to eat it, that's fine, but if I miss something I used to eat and want to re-create it vegan, that's fine too. Some restaurants do it better than others, like Angelica's Kitchen in NYC, but regardless, everyone has the right to eat what they want.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: marietinn

                        I hear you, and the bottom line is how it tastes. My point was that certain things are harder to translate into vegan or vegetarian I think. This cassoulet was such a departure in character from what I expected. I tried to forgot about the fact that it was pork free and judge it on it's own merits but it just wasn't hitting home for me. I didn't think it was a good meal. And I'm not biased against meatless meals. My mushroom risotto and mushroom lasagna both rock.

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          it just comes back to nomenclature, naming it with a meat name raises false (good or bad) expectations. it's just bordering on misleading. at your house, I'd love and appreciate anything you care to serve and what you call it, but in a restaurant....

                      2. I have a couple of vegan friends and have tried their 'BBQ seitan' and 'adobo tofu' and other interesting substitutions, and think that any protein made to taste like ' fake meat' should not be attempted. I am OK that you don't want to eat meat, that's your choice. But making the protein taste 'meat-like' is just kind of disgusting.

                        1. Back when my ex-wife and I had just split (amicably if irretrievably), she was on a vegetarian - not strictly vegan - diet, by way of experiment. She was bringing our boy out for the weekend one evening and was going to stay for supper, for which I was making a pot of beans. She mentioned that she'd prefer them not to have any animal products, but that if I couldn't bring myself to do that it'd be okay. Well, I thought I'd try, so I chopped up carrots and onion and celery, sautéed them in olive oil with some dried thyme and black pepper, then put in the soaked beans and cooked them. When Judy tasted them, she said, "Guess you couldn't do it, huh?" I had a hard time convincing her that they were totally animal-free. Even I couldn't tell for sure, just from the taste.

                          I would never refer to such a dish as "cassoulet", however!

                          1. Vegan cheese. I'm a cheese connoisseur and that's just insulting.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: DarthEater

                              I agree that nothing vegan should ever be called cheese. Cashew butter tastes great, but it's not cheese, so please call it what it is.

                              Ditto bacon, and many egg-based dishes -- you can't make vegan egg salad (it's tofu salad, which is fine).

                              Again, I'm not opposed to the food itself -- I'm vegetarian, and I eat most of those things anyway -- just the fact that they're called "vegan (something )."

                            2. Jfood absolutely agrees that one should not have to read the fine print to see that a cassoulet or chicken and dumplings or anything else is vegan.Imagine renting a lamborghini and the engine in a kia, or being upgraded to a suite and the room was smaller with no bathroom. Now jfood is not saying that a vegan dish is worse by these analogies, but when there is a use of a word and that word has a particular meaning, then that is what should be delivered.

                              And is jfood orders a pepperoni pizza, that;s what he wants, not tofurkey, same with bacon and eggs.

                              So if a vegan wants to serve and a vegan wants to eat a casserole like a cassoulet, that is great, but please come up with a different name.

                              With all the rage on these boards with false advertising, smaller packages being the demons of marketing, why do this get a free pass?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jfood

                                If I ordered "cassoulet" in a restaurant and a vegan dish appeared, I'd be very upset. If I ordered "vegan cassoulet," I would not. Truth in menu descrition, and the word "cassoulet" gives me a great deal of information about where the chef is going with the dish.

                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  Yeah, that is information they restaurant needs to disclose in the menu or by the server. Some people need to avoid soy and soy-based ersatz meatlike whatevers are *not* the expected ingredients in cassoulet!

                              2. I've tasted a "cheesecake" offered around holiday time (a special offering) at the local health food store that was vegan, and it was so good I couldn't believe there wasn't cheese in it. I have no idea how they did it, though it was probably tofu-based.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: comestible

                                  Definitely tofu-based, and probably very rich -- fat and sugar make up for the lack of animal products. (Vegan chocolate cheesecake tastes awesome without too much added fat, because chocolate is such a complex flavour.)

                                  1. re: comestible

                                    You should check out the Moo-Less chocolate pie from Alton Brown. It uses honey, so not vegan, but still dairy free. And really, really good.

                                  2. Boy, I am in a cranky mood and this post will reflect it. I am TIRED of vegan. Have a lovely teenage nephew who lost 150 lbs. 2 years ago. Whoopee for him, we are very proud. But he is an outspoken vegan. Every friggin family dinner, I have to make special dishes for him. Then, he has the nerve to sit there with crocodile tears in his eyes whining about unfair it is the rest of us have matzo ball soup, chopped liver, brisket, etc and he won't eat it. For his 18th Bday in Feb, we bought him some vegan carrot cupcakes from a vegan bakery (the only one in our Midwest town). The rest of us enjoyed the usual yellow cake with choc frosting from our favorite bakery (HS graduation is coming up, yet another PITA situation with him). Again, more crocodile tears because the cake has milk, butter & eggs.

                                    Enough with the vegans! Eat your soy in private!

                                    24 Replies
                                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                      Wait, is he upset that the rest of you are using animal products and he doesn't like hurting animals, or that the rest of you are using animal products and he's stuck with something else that he doesn't like as much? If it's the former, then he may need to mature a little and find a better way to stick to his convictions. If it's the later, well I don't think my response would be very polite...

                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                        One teenage boy does not a vegan make.

                                        Someone needs to tell him that this is a personal choice and as such belongs on the personal side of a conversation (along with politics, sex, and other interesting topics). I'd also buy him a vegan cookbook and when he pulls out his handkerchief, show him the kitchen or suggest that he bring his own food.

                                        And please, give vegans some credit for more maturity.

                                        1. re: alwayscooking

                                          Although I have a vegan sister who gives me hell for merely being vegetarian - and it is pretty tiresome.

                                        2. re: Diane in Bexley

                                          Give him some tough love baby.

                                          Jfood was sitting next to a couple having dinner at a bar when the husband struck up a conversation with jfood. Great peeps. All of a sudden he says "I am a failure as a father." Oh crap thought jfood now what. The gentleman takes a deep breath, another bite of his sirloin and says "My son just told us he's a vegetarian." Whew, deep exhale. Then he continues. "The kid is 19, 6'4", 240 pounds and he wants to be a vegetarian." Head shake, another bite of sitloin. "So he came to visit his mother and me last weekend, and I did what any self-respecting father would do....I made him a freakin' double bacon cheeseburger....placed it in front of his stupid face...and said....OK prove it by not eating it...Tick...tock...tick...tock...major inhale of the burger!" Another bite of sirloin, swig of beer...."stupid freakin' kids don't know when they have it good."

                                          The next hour the three of them ordered a bunch of plates and shared them and had a hoot. They told jfood about some great places to eat and they took there son home some sirloin.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            Bacon IS the gateway meat, heheheh.

                                            Personally... I hope that when my time comes (to parent a <gulp> teenager) I will be respectful enough to let them make the decision, but also insist on proper nutrition because there are plenty of teens (well, and adults, but that's their own lookout!) - carnivores, vegans, and everything in btwn - who just don't know enough to get a balanced diet.

                                            I don't need to push my agenda on my kid, although I certainly hope he absrobs enough btwn now and then to choose ethically-raised and sustainably harvested tofu-franken-faux-whatever-the-hells. :p

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              As a vegetarian of more than a decade, I have no problem with what this man did (though I'm not a fan of his attitude). It's up to the kid to stand by his decision.

                                              What I can't stand is well-meaning relatives who sneak meat into vegetarians' food "for their own good."

                                              1. re: piccola

                                                sneak meat is wrong for sure. gotta man-up on both sides

                                                1. re: piccola

                                                  It's the labels and attitudes I can't stand, on all sides. I very rarely eat meat, mostly because I'd rather eat lots of cheese and drink gallons of beer and still be somewhat healthy - plus I don't much care for meat, can't afford it, don't know how to cook it, and would like to depend less on animal foods in general...but I don't label myself "A VEGETARIAN" or anything like it, don't preach 'meat is murder', etc. Being a sanctimonious ass about food, whatever type of food, is disrespectful to the food and to the consumer. Honestly I don't know why some people are so interested in what I eat, what I don't eat, and why! And why they're so scandalized when I satisfy my occasional KFC craving.

                                                  1. re: Kinnexa

                                                    Lots of cheese + gallons of beer = healthy, while lots of cheese + gallons of beer + meat is not healthy?

                                                    And some meat isn't too expensive -- I can get a chuck roast for $2 a pound -- find me a cheese worth eating for that, and you'll make me a happy person!

                                                2. re: jfood


                                                  If I were a vegetarian suffering from the affliction of thin-skin (a condition occasionally found in those who eschew meat), I'd be a tad hurt by the implication that you three carnivores had a hoot that I couldn't share.

                                                  Happy to meet you in any bar and do a plate to plate showdown - and I won't fight you for the Jamón Ibérico!

                                                  1. re: alwayscooking

                                                    Glad to trade you the Jamón Ibérico any time for the Tofu.

                                                    And jfood hopes that the vegetarians stop giving jfood lectures when he orders a nice big steak.

                                                3. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                  If it's HIS birthday, I think it would have been really generous of you all to enjoy the same carrot cupcakes. Doesn't the birthday boy/girl always get to choose the cake? That one is almost reasonable to be pouty about.

                                                  If it's any other holiday or occasion, he needs to get over it. Does he want to eat the chopped liver but can't because of his commitment to his diet, is it upsetting to see/smell, or does he just need attention?

                                                  1. re: babette feasts

                                                    The word “vegan” really needs a marketing overhaul! I sympathize with the difficulty of cooking for vegans, but as with so many things in life, the difficulty often has more to do with the personality of the person making the demands, not the actual diet. But man just the thought of cooking a vegan meal gets me all tense and paranoid that some whey or gelatin sneaks its way in. There are few things more frustrating than knocking yourself out to produce a meal to satisfy all sorts of parameters, including keeping the non-vegans happy, and then finding out that some minor ingredient (say maple syrup, which apparently is made with a drop of beef tallow) doesn’t pass the test. Sigh…

                                                    Much better to meet them at a restaurant! I’ve had plenty of vegan friends over the years and thus eaten more than my share of pressed nut cakes, etc. The key to enjoying the “faux-meat” portions of the meal is to view them not in comparison to the meat they’re trying to replicate (since they’ll invariably be off), but as a substitute. After all in a non-vegan meal, if you replace shrimp with chicken, you don’t spend the whole meal thinking, “Damn this chicken doesn’t taste like shrimp” – you just accept the new protein. It’s a subtle but important difference.

                                                    1. re: extrasalty

                                                      I've never encountered maple syrup that contains tallow, nor a vegan that wouldn't eat the syrup. Sounds like you might be acquainted with a vegan head-case (there are a few around).

                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        Thanks. You can tell this touched a nerve.

                                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                                          Pikawicca, the tallow may not be listed in the ingredients. I went to a cabane au sucre here in Quebec, and I was very surprised to see a hunk of bacon dipped into the vat of maple syrup. It is used as part of the process, something about preventing it from overboiling or something (my french is not so good, so I didn't fully understand the explanation). But the bacon is not listed on the final product list. If I were a strict vegan, I would be worried about my source of maple syrup. I am also careful with my friends who are kosher, or are Muslim.

                                                          1. re: moh

                                                            I don't know about Canada, but this would be against the law in the U.S. I have friends who tap their sugar maples and boil the sap down into syrup; they've never heard of this tallow nonsense.

                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                              I'm just saying buyer beware. If someone is really strict about their restrictions, they have to at least be aware of the possibility of animal products being used in the process. Clearly other people have heard of this "tallow nonsense", so it must be an issue. If all your vegan friends restrict themselves to your friends' maple syrup, then they will be fine won't they?

                                                              1. re: moh

                                                                I would call this a rumor, rather than an issue.

                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                  Perhaps I'd call it a rumour too, had I not seen it with my own eyes.

                                                                  I don't fully understand your resistance to the possibility that some maple syrup might be made with the use of animal products.

                                                    2. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                      Veganism isn't really the problem -- but I know what you mean.

                                                      In my long experience with vegetarianism/veganism, I've noticed that a lot of people who've had serious weight problems have "resolved" them by giving up meat or animal products. It's a food-control thing. I'd be patient with your nephew. He's working out his food issues.

                                                      1. re: dmd_kc

                                                        it's a 2-way street. not all dishes need be omnivorous and not all dishes need be vegan.

                                                        I guess the argument would be - you can eat mine and I can't eat yours. after art-school cafe vegan stuff, I prob. don't want yours. but if you made something for me to eat, I'd like it just for the thought, and I won't try to 'sneak' meat or dairy into something I made for you. hell, I'll even go gluten-free if necessary. deal kiddo?

                                                        1. re: dmd_kc

                                                          I've seen some of the opposite. Not everyone has the carb tolerance, even when relying largely on greens and other veggies, to go that way without health consequences.

                                                      2. I agree, Chinon00.
                                                        I am very much a meat eater. However, on a trip to San Francisco about 15 years ago, I talked my girlfriend into going with me to Greens Restaurant. It was (and may still be, for all I know) reputed to be the best vegetarian restaurant in the country. Reviewers from all over the country raved about it.

                                                        So we went. We were, to put it mildly, unimpressed. But we both agreed that the problem was that the menu was full of dishes which normally contain meat but had substitutes added to avoid the meat problem. We agreed that none of these dishes succeeded. On the other hand, the dishes that were never intended to have meat in them were, generally, although not always, pretty good. The problem was that there were not enough of these dishes on the menu.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: gfr1111

                                                          It's definitely not the best anymore, which may be Ubuntu in Napa.

                                                          1. I'd hate to see a vegan version of "Choucroute garni." Maybe you'd just end up with a pile of white wine cooked saurkraut.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: salsailsa

                                                              Actually, I think there might be a great vegan version of this very meaty dish out there, and I'd like to taste it.

                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                Surely possible; I just hope that if it's on a menu, it's called "Choucroute Gar-not".:)

                                                                Incidentally, Vegetarian Journal had an 1997 article on sweeteners that discussed the maple syrup question

                                                                It's clearly not a rumor, although most maple syrups no longer use lard or other animal fat as the defoaming agent.

                                                                1. re: Striver

                                                                  Thanks Striver for the link and for clarifying the maple syrup question. It seems likely that most of the major brands of maple syrup are probably ok to serve to vegans, and people who keep halal and kosher. I do wish there was a way to be sure that a certain brand is ok, as I don't want to accidentally serve it to a friend who has restrictions.

                                                                  You should have seen my face when I realized they were using the bacon for the maple syrup! All I could think was, Darn! To whom have I given maple syrup who maybe shouldn't eat it? Small amount of panic and guilt ensued.

                                                                  I also had no idea about bone char and sugar.

                                                            2. And it goes both ways

                                                              This is absolutely legitimate of a restaurant near jfood:

                                                              "BEST VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT" - 1999-2008 - THE ADVOCATE


                                                              California Burger - a big juicy burger with cheddar cheese, ripe avocado, and salsa-mayo dressing. Far Out! 7.95
                                                              Cajun Sausage Pita - a hot and spicy andouille sausage in a whole wheat pita with garden greens and a honey mustard dressing 7.95

                                                              Cant make this stuff up

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                can I get real bacon on that? as a side?

                                                                actually I have more of an issue with the salsa-mayo dressing. that and whole-wheat pita, tastes like a newly mown lawn IMHO and who would put Andouille, real or not in a pita in the first place?

                                                                these are some of the reasons I left the lower Haight (and you're where, the NYC/New England area, right?)

                                                                I blame the Trustafarians.

                                                              2. As the French would say, this is sacrilege ;)