TOP 5 Unexpected Byproducts Of Going Vegan. By A Vegan.

In just a few days, it will be my one year “veganniversary.”  Before you ask,

YES, THERE WILL BE CHOCOLATE INVOLVED.

But, I will be devoting a separate blog post on the veganniversary festivities and thought it might be nice to reflect upon what impact, if any, going plant-based has had on my life for the past year.

I Did Not Want To Go Vegan Because I Thought It Was Stupid.

Keep in mind, I came to this “experiment” as a skeptic. I didn’t want to go vegan–in fact, I adamantly opposed my boyfriend’s suggestions to do so. We got into one of the biggest fights of our relationship over his determination to cut out meat, and I was worried we might not make it.  I viewed vegansim as a lifestyle reserved for the over-zealous, uninformed, and, quite frankly, the arrogant.  All the vegans I knew were judgmental, self-righteous, and very, well, wrong about how to keep a trim and fit body, particularly as a woman. I’ve since realized, however, that omnivores are certainly not immune to the aforementioned character flaws, and therefore, it was probably shortsighted of me to hold vegans to a different standard.

In other words, being vegan doesn’t automatically make you a better person.

Notwithstanding my misgivings, I decided to take the plunge for myriad of reasons, started this blog, started cooking a lot more than I used to, and voila.  Here I am.  One year later.

Oh, and my boyfriend and I are still together. 😉

And No.  Going Plant-Based Did Not Magically Cure My Headaches/Bloating/Vision.

The thing I read/heard most from vegans sounds a lot like the following:

“Oh my GOD, I feel so light and healthy and FIT since going plant-based!! I don’t get colds anymore, all my headaches have disappeared, and my stomach never gets bloated!  I can even SEE better without my glasses!”

Ok. Well, I’ve been vegan for one year and I don’t feel light, I’m pretty sure I packed on a few lbs over Christmas, and I definitely still get headaches and colds.  As to my gut health?  Nah.  My stomach gets as bloated as a beach ball when I scarf down brownies or a green smoothie.  It doesn’t seem to care whether I’m eating sugar, salad, or chicken.  And I still have to wear coke bottles to read a book.  In broad daylight.

So, am I saying that I’m ready to call it quits?  That this vegan experiment has failed and that I’m going to haul ass to the nearest Burger King?

FUCK NO.

And here’s why:

Top 5 Unexpected Byproducts Of Going Vegan.

1.  You Become A Master Chef By Necessity.

In most places (and wallets), Whole Foods and vegan eateries are not readily available options.  Before going vegan, I had the entire city at my disposal, saturated with every imaginable cuisine. If I didn’t feel like cooking, I could punch a few buttons on my phone and GrubHub would have dinner delivered to my doorstep in 45-70 minutes.  Obviously, going vegan means that my dining-/carrying-out options have shrunk.  A lot.  Not only are there few places that have a broad selection of vegan menu items, many places don’t offer very tasty ones (think wilted greens + greasy tofu + over-nooched dressing).  Whether you are an average Joe or a foodblogger, as a vegan, my boyfriend (whose culinary skills consisted of pouring a can of tomatoes over overcooked pasta noodles) is living proof that you will inevitably learn how to

  • properly season your pasta water
  • chop and saute vegetables
  • mix together a killer salad dressing
  • blend a mouthwatering smoothie bowl
  • soak things (cashews, rice, quinoa, beans)

 2.  You Become A Science Nerd With An Intimidating Vocab.

“Nutritional yeast.” “Sentience.” “B12.” “Turmeric.” These are now terms that are part of my everyday vernacular.  I’d never heard of nooch or turmeric prior to going vegan and I rarely had the chance to spit out the word “sentience.”  Vitamin B12 (as well as Vitamin D) is part of my breakfast every morning.  And how many of you have seen that person standing in the grocery aisle pouring over labels with phone in hand (to look up ingredients)?  Chances are, she’s vegan.  I can explain to you exactly WHY the sugar you drop into your coffee each morning is not vegan or how the gelatin in your favorite piece of candy is made.  I can also engage in long, drawn out philosophical discussion regarding the distinction between plants and other living things, and even talk–with some knowledge–on the most recent studies regarding plant sentience.

3.  You Become Greener Than Your Most Tree-Hugging Non-Vegan Friends.

I’m green now, guys.  Green as the peas in my vegan risotto, and way greener than the non-vegans who recycle and ride their bikes to work. Dude, I’m greener than Leonardo DiCaprio.  Without devolving into a post about how being vegan is the single greatest contribution to environmentalism, I will share the following green morsels for your consideration*:

  • Animal agriculture (i.e., the farms that raise cows, pigs, chickens) is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all transportation (i.e., carpooling).
  • More than half of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock and their byproducts.
  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 measly pound of beef; 477 gallons for 1 lb of eggs; and 900 gallons for 1 lb of cheese.
  • Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat distribution.
  • A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.

4.  You Become Way More “Cultured” And Ethnically Informed.  

When your options are limited, you start looking at foods you couldn’t previously pronounce.  For example, after going vegan, I not only reacquainted myself with all the foods of my childhood (i.e., the “Korean” in the Korean Vegan), I started experimenting with recipes from India, Lebanon, and Brooklyn.  One of our favorite “vegan friendly” spots is Kurah, where they serve up amazing Mediterranean dishes.  I once spent all 43 minutes of an Uber ride discussing the pickling process for eggplants because my driver happened to be a Lebanese immigrant.  He was delighted to find that I was vegan and wanted to share with me all the non-meat dishes he could think of.  The thing with eating foods from different cultures is that it’s almost impossible not to pick a thing or two up about the culture itself–its people, the history, and the reasons underlying the recipes they birth.

5.  You Become A Stronger Advocate. 

This, by far, is the most unexpected and welcome byproduct of them all and the one that inspired this blog post.  So, I saved it for last as a reward to those of you who’ve actually read through this entire tl;dr post. Shortly after definitively making the choice to go vegan, I noticed, weirdly, that I was able to sit through and watch an entire video clip on FB about stray dogs and humane shelters.  I was also able to read articles containing photos of what happens to cows and pigs under the regime of animal agriculture.  Facebook, Tumblr, and even IG is fit to bursting with these types of click-baiting posts, but for me, I had always scrolled right past them if I didn’t hit the “hide” button.  Thus, I was surprised to discover that I could now stomach far more of these images and videos than I had in the past–not because they no longer bothered me, but because I no longer bothered me.

Specifically, I realized that I was allocating so much of my mental resources to suppressing the reverb of cognitive dissonance (a fancy word for “hypocrisy,” see supra at 2), I didn’t have much leftover to cope with the immediate rage and hopelessness that would fill me whenever I witnessed inexplicable acts of cruelty against the least of us.  Because, let’s face it, every time I would allow that sort of empathy to grow, I would have to squash it down with the fact that I would happily chow down on a burger.  So, like the vast majority of the world, I unconsciously sacrificed compassion for the guise of moral defensibility on a daily basis.

Going vegan has liberated me–liberated me–from the constant need to cover up a lie.  It was like I’d spent 37 years cheating on my spouse–can you imagine how much energy and stress and anxiety would go into covering that shit up for that long?  You would have to delude yourself with all sorts of moral compromises; so, when I finally came clean, I had all this leftover emotional fortitude to channel towards the truth.  And the truth was simple: it hurt me to watch what people did to animals.

When my mother asked me how I stuck to being vegan for so long, I told her:

Omma, I can look at my dogs, my Daisy and Roodle, look them straight in their faces and know that now, finally, I am loving them with every inch of my heart.  And it is the best feeling in the world.”

*I shamelessly borrowed these stats from here.

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Daddy’s Favorite Noodles And That Time I Went Vegan. #Noodleholicsparty

My father eats noodles at least once a week.  Like clockwork, at 10:17 a.m., every Sunday morning, I would wake up to the spicy mouthwatering aroma of Shin Ramyun (spicy Korean ramyun noodles).

Actually, my mouth is watering right now thinking about it.

Shin ramyun, though, is really not good for you.  God only knows what they put in that little tin-foiled packet of pungent good/bad-ness that magically turns into ramyun gook (soup), but the internets is rife with urban mythology of Warcraft addicts who have actually died from OD’ing on ramyun.  So, for years, I have suggested to my Dad that he replace the ramyun noodles with something healthier…to no immediate avail.

When we were little, my father would venture out beyond the packaged ramyun noodles, even beyond his own kitchen, and take me and my little brother out into the city (we were suburbanites).  Two kids in the backseat of the Honda hatchback with no mission but to eat his favorite noodles for lunch at the sleepy little Chinese-Korean eatery in K-town.  We would often be the only patrons at 11 a.m. (the minute they opened), and my Dad would order two “samsun jjajangmyun”–one for himself, and one to split between my brother and me.

Jjajangmyun is the stuff of K-pop legend.  It’s the noodle dish for which all the impossibly beautiful K-pop actresses have the caloric/carb count memorized, because it is their enshrined “cheat meal.” It’s the most frequently ordered item off of Korea’s version of Grubhub–the dish you eat when your boyfriend has just cheated on you, when your mom is giving you crap about your grades, when you’re feeling so fat the only rational thing to do is to eat something extremely delicious (and full of fat).

Made of fried jjajang–thick black fermented soy bean paste–and a deep rich broth (usually from beef or pork), it’s not the type of dish that you can burn off with an hour on the treadmill.

So, when Soe invited me to come to his #noodleholicsparty, I could think of no more perfect recipe to “bring” than jjajangmyun.

Now, the trick for me, of course, is making jjajangmyun vegan. I can guarantee you, there are ZERO Chinese-Korean restaurants in my area that serve vegan jjajangmyun.  And in fact, my father would probably scratch his head were I to attempt to order “meatless jjajangmyun,” before his face split in half with a wide, embarrassed grin.  “You can’t eat jjajang without meat!  You need the meat!”

If it isn’t evident, my father is not vegan.

Ironically, though, my Dad played an incredibly key role in my choice to cut out meat last year.  Right after watching all the movies about plant-based diets that zeroed in on the statistical and indisputable proof of the connection between meat consumption and cancer, in early January, my father got very sick. After a routine biopsy, he came down with Sepsis and nearly died. While his body was fighting to survive the sudden onset of poison, we learned that the biopsy came back positive–he had prostate cancer.

To me, that was about as close as it got to a lightning bolt from God.  I’m not saying that my father’s illness was the thing that made me go vegan, but it was undeniably one of the primary reasons I am vegan today.

And it’s why I try so hard to veganize Korean food.

Because Daddy likes Korean food.


Luckily, there’s no need to veganize the noodles.  Most noodle recipes are, by default, non-dairy (and meatless….).  While some noodle dishes call for eggs, most Asian noodles consist of flour, salt, water and possibly oil.  In order to give the noodles the requisite “jjeulgyuh” or chewiness, some type of alkaline substance should also be included (enter baking soda, kansui, lye water, etc.).

Non-luckily, handmade noodles are, well, a bitch.  Gluten formation is the lynchpin to all noodles, and it only happens when the dough gets beaten around a bit.  Whether using a stand mixer, bread machine, or your triceps, developing the requisite gluten is not easy and there will be more losses than wins during your first attempts to make your own noodles.  Trust me.

In the end, for my recipe, I settled for knife cut noodles or “kalguksoo.”  This is purely because after one solid hour of kneading, my arms started to feel numb and I didn’t have any more upper arm strength to stretch and pull the noodles by hand (not to mention the fact that I’d never done it before…!).

After steeping them in boiling water for about 3 minutes, I was happy to see that they didn’t disintegrate or fall a part even when I fished them out.  They were chewy, doughy, and, though a little uneven, quite yummy.  In fact, I like to think their unevenness provided more “hooks” for my sauce, so that it didn’t just slide off into a puddle at the bottom of my bowl (which, let’s face it, I would gladly spoon into my mouth-hole without any noodles).

The sauce wasn’t that difficult either.  In lieu of big chunks of meat or shrimp, I used some shiitake mushrooms.  And, to give the sauce that added depth, I added my Fishy Sauce in lieu of just water or store bought vegetable broth.  In the end, it all came together quite beautifully, and I had some for lunch, dinner, and then breakfast the next day (i.e., while I’m writing this post…).

Definitely good enough for binge watching Korean dramas.

And maybe even good enough for my Dad.


You can find the recipe for my jjajangmyun here.

You can find the recipes for all the other amazing noodle addicts who came to the #noodleholicsparty at the following links:

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Moms & Baking Go Hand in Hand.

 

You’ve been there.  You’re 8 years old.  You’ve bragged to all your friends about the amazing cupcakes you’re going to bring to school the next day for your birthday.  You get home and share the good news to the one person in your life who actually knows how to bake cupcakes:

Your mom.

“Mommy!!  Guess what!! I told all my friends and my teacher and my gym teacher and the kids at recess and Mr. Bernard’s class that I’m bringing cupcakes for my birthday to school tomorrow!”

My mother was a full-time nurse in the Emergency Room of a mid-sized hospital in Chicago.  In other words, the last thing she wanted to do after coming home from literally one of the most stressful jobs on earth was bake cupcakes.  No, like most humans, my mom preferred windows down with a warm beverage before the television for an hour or so before heading to bed.

But, like most moms, my mother put to one side the fact that she was bone-tired and stayed up all night frosting a bunch of cupcakes for her daughter’s second grade classmates.

So, it was pretty appropriate that she asked me to bake her a bunch of shortbread cookies for Christmas this year, so that she could “show off” to all her friends. The past two months at work have been busier than normal and baking was honestly the last thing this food-blogger had in mind for the Christmas holiday.  But the thought of disappointing my 67 year old mother on Christmas Eve was about as appealing to me as disappointing an 8 year girl the day before her birthday.  So, I rolled up my sleeves, whipped out my rolling pin, and ganache’d the fuck out of these shortbread cookies.

And yes.  Mommy loved them.

Recipe for Chocolate Ganache Shortbread Cookies.

 

The Korean Vegan = Vegan Kimchi.

 

Can you recall your first day of kindergarten? To be honest, I’m not sure I can. I think I somehow mish-mashed a bunch of memories from that first year of school into what I now call my “first day.”  Here are the fragments that have stuck with me from that first day:

I didn’t speak English.  Everyone else did.

I had long black hair, black eyes, and yellow skin.  Very few others sported this ensemble.

I had to wear sok-neh-bok (Korean long underwear).  No one else’s grandmother appeared as concerned with the cold.

My grandmother packed for me kimbap and kimchi. Everyone else’s lunchbox contained ham sandwiches and potato chips.

I came home after that “first day” of kindergarten crying.  I hated my mother, my father, my grandmother, and everyone else who was “responsible” for making me so painfully different from everyone else, so Korean.  I fearlessly told my mother from that day forward,

“I am not Korean, Mommy.  I am American.”

Fast forward to my first day of college, at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign.  The first thing I hunted down was a decent Korean restaurant, to ensure that I would have sustenance for the next few years.  Thank goodness for Dorcas, the teensy-tiny family run Korean eatery on Green Street, that served unlimited quantities of kkong-namul-gook (bean sprout broth) through a water dispenser and made the best damn soon-doo-boo chigae of ever (…besides my mom’s, of course).  I could have stuck a chopstick in my “Korean-ness.”

Over the years, my palate continued to be my “tell.”  My favorite meal consisted of three things: rice, water, kimchi.  If I was feeling fancy, I’d have a few sheets of keem (roasted nori) to wrap around my rice.  And every time my mother saw me eating this way, she’d remark with a great deal of joy that, for some reason, continues to pierce my chest,

“You are definitely Korean.”

So, when I went vegan about a year ago, all I could think about was how my mother used to massage the great big heads of bright cabbage with handfuls of saewoojeot (fermented baby shrimp) on Kimchi Days…  and I wondered,

If I can’t eat kimchi anymore… am I still Korean?


As I’ve written about earlierThe Korean Vegan is, in large part, a project that aimed to prove to everyone and to me that I didn’t have to shed my identity together with meat.  Thus, figuring out a way to make vegan kimchi not just look like kimchi but taste like the kimchi I grew up eating was critical.

My favorite kimchi of all kimchi (there are many many different kinds of kimchi) is invariably chonggak kimchi, made with Korean baby radishes.  So, I knew when I decided to finally tackle kimchi, I would be making chonggak kimchi.  But first, I would have to figure out a way to mimic the fish sauce that was called for in every single recipe of chonggak kimchi I’ve ever seen.

Now, you might ask, “Why not just omit the fish sauce?  Surely, it can’t make that much difference!”  My mother took this approach when I first went vegan.  She spent hours making me a huge batch of regular kimchi without fish sauce.  She lugged it all the way to my house in a large kimchi jar to store in my new home.  We both agreed,

“This isn’t very good.”

I was thereafter pretty intimidated.  Despite receiving hundreds of requests from followers of the blog for my vegan kimchi recipe, I deflected.  I made vague assurances that one would be forthcoming, without any real plan in mind for how that would materialize.  But, after watching my mom and everyone else in my family chomp down on mouthwatering kimchi, and finding zero non-fish-sauce options at the Korean grocery store, I determined that the only way to address this gaping deficiency in my fridge was to make my own.

Starting with my own vegan fish sauce.


Google vegan fish sauce, and you’ll find plenty of recipes.  I’ve tried a bunch of them, but none of them provided the requisite tang for my kimchi–which is literally the only reason I would ever had any need for fish sauce.  So, after trying a few things here and there, I put together a bunch of flavors that I thought might work. After some trial and error, my Fishy Sauce was born.  I added it to my kimchi, and voila:

I had chonggak kimchi that tasted almost as good as I remembered it when I was busy trying to convince my mother that I was American.

Recipe for My Favorite Kimchi Of All Time.

 

The Pickled Perilla Leaf.

My grandmothers were both born in what is now known as North Korea.  Of course, it was just Korea back then and both my grandmothers died here in the United States, far away from the war-torn country they watched on their tv sets.  While they got to rear their grandchildren with things like wall-to-wall carpeting, VCRs, endless varieties of fresh fruit, and backyards to themselves, their worn hands held all the stories of poverty that very few in the US could ever tell.

They were farmers.  Above all things, to them, wealth was a function of growing things–lots of things.  So, when my mother’s mother first immigrated to the little town of Skokie, Illinois, she nearly wept at the expanse of our backyard.  Within a couple summers, we had stalks of golden corn lining the perimeter, squash the size of fairy tales  tucked into the corners, chilis peeking out from the eaves, and, her crown jewel, a patch of dark earth with neat rows of perilla leaves lifting their bright green faces to the sun.

It was my job to pick the leaves and bring them back to the kitchen.  By then, the stalks were so tall, I could imagine wandering through a thicket of alien trees, far far away from my home, Skokie, or even Earth.  Until, of course, my grandmother’s voice would peal through the summer air like an old familiar tune and reel me back,

“Sunyoung-ah!  Hurry back!”

What I wouldn’t give to have a backyard of my own with a patch of perilla leaves as tall as I am.  What I wouldn’t give to smell the sweet burning scent of gochugaru on my grandmother’s dark hands as she pickled the leaves I had only just picked for her. What I wouldn’t give to hear my hahl-muh-nee’s voice, tugging at my heart and pulling me back into the warmth of our kitchen.

What I wouldn’t give…

Pickled Perilla Leaf Recipe.

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Banana Tahini Hemp IRON Waffles.

My boyfriend is an athlete.  He runs 2 marathons a year, can do 1,500 pull-ups per workout, and spends about 50% of his time planning other athletic milestones.  When we went vegan, we were both worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with this kind of lifestyle.

Truth is, vegans do have be a little careful about making sure they get their vitamins.  BUT, no more so than non-vegans.  The only thing that’s different is WHAT you have to watch for.  Vitamins B12 and D, and of course, protein and iron.

So, I try to find creative ways to sneak protein powders and other enriched ingredients into our everyday. This morning, I incorporated some hemp protein into our waffles to make these amazing, gluten free, DELICIOUS fluffy dream cakes.  I topped them with basically everything in my fridge.

Recipe here.  Enjoy and then hit the weights!

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Kickin’ Gochujang Pesto, Because Boring Ole’ Pesto Was Getting Boring.

So, I’ve been eating pesto about 1-2 times per week these days.  Ever since I discovered just how easy it was to make and how FREAKING unbelievable it tastes with just about everything, it’s become one of my “go-to” dishes.  It literally takes 15 minutes, from start to finish, and you can even have your pasta cooking while you pulse all the ingredients in your food processor.

But, after having pesto 8 times in a month, I decided it was time to spice things up a bit–literally.  And thus, gochujang pesto was born.  Because I’ve realized that gochujang makes just about everything more delicious.

Check out there recipe here.

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My No Fuss Un-Fuck-Up-Able Fuh.

A good friend asked me to veganize some pho.  When I think of pho, I think of very cold winters, Argyle Street, just north of the Green Mill, where resides some of the best pho you’ll ever have, with the smell of fresh thai basil and liquorish curling up into your face, still red from the Chicago bluster, until your stomach comes to life.

The key to a good pho is the stock.  How to recreate the rich, velvety beef broth that serves as the foundation for pho?

I turned to one of my favorite tricks on the book:

Dashima.

Otherwise known as dried kelp, it serves as the base for tons of Korean soups and chigaes, and as I suspected, it was the PERFECT base for my vegan pho.

You can check it out HERE.

That Time I Got Lost In Italy.

I’m not much of a traveler.  I’m too anal for that level of “fly by the seat of your pants” flexibility.  I like to plan every millimeter of my life, so endless days of required absence from structure is a little unnerving for me–particularly if I’m in a country that doesn’t speak the same language as me, doesn’t have all the foods I’m used to, and has questionable commitment to personal hygiene facilities (i.e., bathrooms).

But, over the past decade or so, I’ve learned to accommodate my planning obsession while letting myself loosen up for travel.  Last year, I took my first ever trip to Europe (chronicled here) and fell deeply in love with Rome–particularly Trastevere.  I loved stepping out of our little flat and breathing in the yeast wafting from the bakery just next door, or falling asleep to the crooning voices of carousers every night.

Going to Rome this year as a vegan, though, was a little intimidating.  I had no idea what to expect from a country that views almond butter with mistrust and doesn’t really understand the purpose of kale.  But, Rome did not disappoint.  Cheeseless pizza on every menu and plenty of egg-free pasta to make this carb lover quite happy.

AND dairy free gelato at every single fucking corner!!!

Here are some photos from my trip!!

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