But if you hum it…

Peppers stuffed with kasha, farro, toasted pine nuts, and currants

Peppers stuffed with kasha, farro, toasted pine nuts, and currants

The question I get asked the most is, “Do you have any recipes for vegans?” As it happens, I do take requests. So, drop a lil’ something into the brandy snifter on top of my piano (yes that is a five dollar bill in there…) and I’ll see if I can’t remember the verse to “Melancholy Baby.”

I am not a vegan. No judgment on my part, I just like a little more freedom in my choices. But I find that creating entire meals that conform to a vegan lifestyle is a fun and interesting challenge. There’s a little innocent hocus-pocus—like the use of a good butter substitute—and a little switcheroo here or there—like using silken tofu as a great imposter for several dairy products.

Mostly though, I think that celebrating the great colors and flavors of vegetables is a great way to feed vegans while supplementing the menus of us non-vegans. The Tomato Tart recipe I published last summer is a good example. While the filling calls for custard made of goat cheese, eggs, and milk, a vegan could easily use silken tofu, and goose the flavor with nutmeg, salt, pepper, and some caramelized onions.

The real key to a vegan diet is the combinations of foods that create a “complete” protein. I’ll avoid too much science here: let’s just say that there are three key combinations of foods that allow vegans to get protein that is equivalent to meat or eggs. Combine a legume (like beans) with nuts (like walnuts) or with seeds (like flax seeds) or with a whole grain (like cracked wheat), and you have a complete protein. The easiest version of this is whole wheat pita with hummus. It doesn’t get much easier—or more portable—than that.

Here’s my problem: how much hummus can you eat?

Indian food can often save the day: I could make a meal out of dal (lentils) and naan (flat bread) any day. But that is the extent of my Indian cooking skills; I am, at best, an inexperienced Indian cook.

So for this week’s vegan home cooking project, I’m stealing from…me. Last year I wrote about buckwheat a/k/a kasha as a good source of protein, and even mentioned combining it with farro (a type of wheat) as a cold salad. It’s time to blow the dust off this old library book.

During this cold, snowy January, thinking about making a cold salad seemed like wearing shorts to shovel the snow. I’m craving something warm and hearty. What could I add to the buckwheat and farro to make the meal stick to my vegan ribs?

I’m not especially worried about other ingredients completing the protein profile even though I have two whole grains. (Buckwheat isn’t actually a grain, it’s an herb, and has a fairly complete protein profile on its own.) I decided to focus on texture, color, and a bit of flavor. My first stop was a look in my refrigerator. My holiday cooking ended just a few weeks ago, but I do still have some ingredients left over that could be called into service.

Crystalized ginger? Uhhhh, no. But I did find some pine nuts and dried currants. I toasted the pine nuts to give them a bit of color and to warm up the flavor. The currants are tiny and add little polka-dots to the mixture. You might think they’d be too sweet, but currants are so tiny that the sweetness they add is subtle. I finished the whole mixture with some roughly chopped parsley for color.

While I was at the market buying the parsley (no, that wasn’t left over from the holidays) I noticed some really beautiful orange bell peppers. These will serve as an edible bowl. Because the meal is so hearty two of these stuffed peppers will make a main course, one is a great side dish.

The great thing about combining grains, seeds and nuts is that you really are creating a meal that can be eaten anytime of the day. Without the bell peppers my combination can even be eaten for breakfast.

Anybody mind if I sneak an egg onto the plate?

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