If there were a Nobel Prize for food, Miyoko Schinner would be rehearsing her Oslo speech right now. Committed to human health and happiness, environmental stewardship, and animal welfare, her activism tends toward the decidedly delicious.
She's a return guest, having shared her cheesemaking secrets with the podcast a couple of years ago.
Her newest book, The Homemade Vegan Pantry, is a combination punk/DIY manifesto of liberation from the world of commercial products and packaging and a gourmand's call for a slower, more pleasurable lifestyle. And, unlike a lot of homesteading and gourmet books, it presents an extremely health-promoting diet as well.
In our conversation, Miyoko and I discuss:
- how she got the idea for a book of pantry staples
- why making our own staples is a really good idea
- the blessing and curse of transparency in our food
- when DIY is quicker than going to the store
- the empowerment principle
- discovering – and rejecting – chemical aftertastes in the foods we're used to
- the importance of slowing down in the kitchen
- my embarrassed obsession with Outlander, and what it has to do with pantry staples
- why you should make your own tofu at least once
- Miyoko's soymilk secret (as a marketer, I would have just teased this one to get you to buy the book, but Miyoko reveals it without hesitation. You do have to listen to the podcast, though 😉
- what creamer to use in tea and coffee
- the cheap and dirty 15-minute homemade jam method
- “no waste” cooking (as demostrated by Miyoko's roasted tomatoes)
- Miyoko's Kitchen, and the gourmet cheese they produce, and when I can finally buy it retail on the east coast, and why I'm going to buy it instead of making my own
- and much more…
Also, around minute 17, I trip on a bathroom scale that has somehow ended up in my home office and nearly pitch myself out the window into the iris bed. That's when you hear the “whoops.” I left it in because that's how my life goes sometimes.
Recipes and commentary from The Homemade Vegan Pantry
I had almost forgotten the joy that feta cheese can add to dishes. For example, the wonderful Greek spinach pie, spanakopita—I had basically given up on this entirely. I’d made and had many vegan versions of it, but without the briny flavor of feta, the flavors just fell flat. After much knocking around in my noggin, I came up with the perfect vegan substitute. Salty and briny, this feta works beautifully crumbled over salads or slightly melted in all of the traditional dishes. Best of all, stored in brine, it keeps for weeks, getting stronger in flavor and more delicious as time goes by (in fact, it vastly improves after a month, so make this weeks ahead of time if you can).
2 cups blanched almonds, soaked in water for 12 to 24 hours1 cup Easy Rejuvelac (page 71) or juice from sauerkraut
1/2 teaspoon sea salt2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons agar powder
6 cups water
3/4 cup sea salt or kosher salt
Drain and rinse the almonds. Place them in a high-speed blender with the rejuvelac and salt, and process on the highest setting for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth and no longer grainy to the tongue. Pour the mixture into a clean container and cover with a nonpermeable lid or plastic wrap. Leave on your kitchen counter for 1 to 2 days to culture, making sure you taste it each day, until it begins to get tangy. Keep in mind there is no hard and fast rule about how long it needs to culture—your taste buds will have to guide you in determining the right length of time. In warmer weather, it could be just a day, while in cooler weather, it could take 2 days or even longer.
Once the cheese is slightly tangy, you can move onto solidifying it. First, prepare the mold for the cheese by lining an 8-inch square pan with cheesecloth. Combine the water and agar in a medium saucepan and whisk well. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to a simmer over low heat. Don’t peek for 3 to 4 minutes, then check to see if it is bubbling away. At first, if you peek too early, it may look as if it has solidified. However, if you let it simmer over low heat for a couple of minutes more, it will start to liquefy again and bubble away. When the agar is fully dissolved, pour in the cultured almond mixture and whisk immediately until fully combined. Pour the cheese mixture into the cheesecloth-lined pan. Refrigerate for several hours, until hard.
Prepare the brine by whisking together the water and the salt in a large bowl until most of the salt is dissolved. Cut the cheese into four pieces and place in the brine. Cover and let sit for 8 hours at room temperature. Transfer the cheese to a storage container and pour the brine over the cheese until it is halfway submerged. Add more plain water to completely cover the cheese and dilute the brine. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 months. The flavor vastly improves after the first 3 to 4 weeks.
MAKES 1 POUND
Here’s another recipe that hearkens back to the days when I produced commercial meat substitutes. On the days we made UnRibs, you’d walk into the factory and get hit by the smoky smells of garlic, spice, tomatoes, and chilis wafting in the air. It would permeate my clothes, and I’d go home smelling like one giant rib. I’d grab several packages on my way out, and my kids would chomp on them right out of the bag. Ah, those were the days.
Recently, I found the old recipe. It starts out calling for 250 pounds of vital wheat gluten. Well, a few adjustments had to be made, of course. But over the years, I’ve had people ask me if I was ever going to include the UnRib recipe in a book . . . so here it is (almost). These are quite addictive, and I have to hide them from myself so I don’t keep eating them. They really improve in flavor from sitting for a day or two, so make them ahead if you can. Then just keep them around for noshing.
To make it easier for folks, I’ve changed the technique slightly, giving you the option of making them low-fat or not. When I think of ribs, the words smoky, chewy, and savory certainly come to mind, but the word that tops it all is greasy. That flavorful grease dripping down your chin is one of the highlights, don’t you think? Maybe not . . . so there’s a version for you, too! Both versions are tasty, and I enjoy them both. Make a bunch, freeze them, and you can thaw, slice, and cook them whenever you want.
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon white, chickpea, or red miso
4 or 5 cloves garlic
11/4 cups water
2 1/2 to 3 cups vital wheat gluten
Oil, for cooking (optional)
31/2 to 4 cups Zippy Barbecue Sauce (recipe below) or your favorite store-bought variety
2 cups water
In a food processor or blender, combine the soy sauce, nutritional yeast, peanut butter, tomato paste, miso, garlic, and water and process until a smooth and creamy slurry is created. If you are using a food processor, just keep everything in there;? if using a blender, pour it out into a large mixing bowl. Add 2 1/2 cups of the gluten?to the slurry and mix well, either using the food processor or by hand in the bowl.?If you’re using a food processor, keep pulsing to knead the dough, adding a little more gluten flour as necessary to form a stiff dough (the more gluten you add, the chewier your ribs will be, so you can control how tender or chewy you want them). It may form one ball in the center or break up into little beads; if the latter happens, all you have to do is push it together with your hands. If you’re mixing it by hand, knead it in the bowl for several minutes until it becomes smooth.
Roll the dough into a log about 6 inches long. Slice the log lengthwise into four “steaks” about 3?4 inch thick. Now here’s one of the places where you get to decide whether or not to use oil, and how much. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat—if you’re going for oil-free, make sure that it is nonstick. If you’re using oil, add a couple of tablespoons to the skillet and let it get hot. Add the steaks and cook until browned on both sides. They will rise and puff a little.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. If your skillet is ovenproof, you can just leave the steaks in the pan. If not, transfer them to a baking dish. Mix 11?2 cups of the barbecue sauce with the water. Pour the diluted sauce over the steaks in the pan and cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake the ribs for 75 to 90 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and just barely coats them and the steaks are chewy and cooked through. They will be relatively tender while hot but will deflate slightly and become chewier as they cool, so fear not if they seem too soft right out of the oven.
Let them cool until they can be handled without burning your fingers. Then slice each steak lengthwise into “ribs” about 1?3 to 1?2 inch thick. Heat the skillet over medium-low heat. You’re going to sauté the individual ribs once more to brown or even blacken them on both sides. Once again, you can choose to oil or not to oil. If you like your ribs on the greasy side, you’ll want to use a good 4 to 6 tablespoons of oil to sauté them. Or you can just use a dry nonstick skillet. Cook them all until nicely dark on both sides (I like them almost black). Then toss them with the remaining 2 to 21?2 cups barbecue sauce. Now you can dig in. Or wait until the next day, when they will have deepened in flavor and become even chewier. To reheat, just throw them in the oven or on the grill, or eat them cold with some potato salad—yum! Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
MAKES 8 TO 10 SERVINGS
Zippy barbecue sauce
This is a well-balanced barbecue sauce for UnRibs, tofu, tempeh, or anything else where you want to capture that Fourth of July flavor. It’s got just the right amount of sweetness balanced by acidity, heat, and spice. If you prefer your sauce on the sweeter side, feel free to increase the sweetener.
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
1/2 cup maple syrup or organic sugar,?or 3/4 cup coconut sugar, or more as desired
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 to 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (canned), minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup water
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together well or mix in a blender or food processor. Store this in a jar in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months.
MAKES ABOUT 3 1?2 CUPS
Miyoko's Kitchen – for all your artisanal vegan cheese needs
Miyoko's website: Artisan Vegan Life
The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, Dance of Peace (Sabali Don), is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians. It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.