Yesterday I went out with my girlfriends to an Indian restaurant. We were seated next to an Indian family with two young children. While admiring the children’s impeccable restaurant behavior (don’t we all wish…) I noticed they were all eating in the traditional Indian way, with their hands. I also noticed a plate of very English chips (French fries) on the table.
This made me think about traditions and habits we all have, treasure or perhaps sometimes even endure. Food seems to be strongly associated with habits and traditions. As John Robbins puts it: “Our familiar foods give us comfort, reassurance, and a sense of identity. They are there for us when the world may not be. They can be friends, loyal and true.”
Unfortunately this notion of tradition (or a habit) can stand in the way of change. All vegetarians and vegans have experienced conversations about their choices. We have all heard opinions that humans are omnivores and it is unnatural for them not to eat meat. However research is showing us that a plant based diet is the most beneficial one to adopt.
I wouldn’t dispute that humans have always included some meat in their diet. One thing is clear it was never consumed in the quantities we see today. My grandmother was born in 1926 and she used to describe her family diet as mainly meatless, they only had meat on Sundays. Her father became an incidental vegetarian when the times were hard, offering his meat portion to the children.
It may be a strange thing for a veggie to write about meat, but my aim was to show that many of the traditions we embrace may very recent. It is time to take a step back and embraced diet based on whole plant foods; the most natural way to eat. I accept that not everybody will take the plunge and stop eating meat and dairy, but even a small step can make a difference. We can and should create new traditions for a better future.
My friend G., during our dinner yesterday, said that even if she is not going to stop meat completely, knowing me had inspired her to eat more vegetarian meals and explore new ingredients. This left me with a warm feeling indeed (or was it the curry?).
The recipe I decided to make is steeped in my country’s history. For some 400 years the Czechs were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and even these weren’t the easiest times for my compatriots, we embraced foods of both Austria and Hungary as our own. I grew up never questioning whether Apple Strudel or Gulyas is Czech or not. It became part of my country’s culinary tradition. Szekely Gulyas (or as we call it Segedinsky Gulas) is one of these dishes. Here I present the veganised version using seitan as a replacement of the traditional pork.
We always had Czech dumplings with this gulyas but rice, quinoa or even pasta work great.
1 Tbs rapeseed oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp sweet paprika
2×285 g (10oz) tins seitan, cut into bite size pieces
250g (1 and 1/2cups) sauerkraut, drained
500ml vegetable stock
1 Tbs liquid aminos
1/2 cashew cream (made out of 1/2cup cashews and 1/2 cup water, you may have some leftover)
In a large wide pan heat the oil and saute the onion till softened, about 10 min.
Add caraways seeds and paprika, saute for about 30cm, take care not to burn the paprika.
Next add the seitan, sauerkraut, vegetable stock and liquid aminos.
Cook on low heat for about half an hour.
Add the cashew cream and let warm through.
Serve with rice or pasta. Garnish with extra paprika.