Saturday, August 21, 2010

Don't Be Scared, I'm a Doctor

Becoming vegan can be a daunting undertaking, or it can be an adventure. As in any adventure, you have to be prepared. In this blog, I will go through some of my favorite tools as well as items you should always have in your fridge and pantry. I will also present innovative yet simple vegan recipes that both novices and experienced cooks can put to use.

When I decided to go vegan, one of my first thoughts was “$#!*!! I can’t have that anymore?” It is true: there are many foods that you will have to give up. I’ll help you through the grieving process with some tasty alternatives to conventional dishes. I’ll also give you a handful of reasons to avoid things like ice cream, those morning sausage biscuits in your freezer, and the microwave oven you use to heat up the sausages after a long night out of barhopping.

Creating healthy, delicious vegan meals doesn’t require a fancy range top and a kitchen full of tools worthy of a Food Network chef. My girlfriend and I live in a tiny New York City studio apartment along with a couple of guinea pigs and two green-cheeked conures (a species of small parrot). Even in our miniscule kitchen, I’m able to make a good marinara sauce, stir fried veggies, and country loaves of bread.

I’m not a formally trained chef; I’m just a guy who has two decades of cooking experience and who enjoys experimenting. If I can do it, I’ll bet you can do it, too. Some recipes will take time, and you will make mistakes, but don’t be scared—it’ll be fun.

Vegan Cuban Sandwiches

Making this guilty pleasure isn’t as tough as you would think: the ingredients don’t need to be cooked, and prep time is pretty low. You will be surprised at how good this turns out.


  • Vegan smoked ham: I get this from an incredible vegan/vegetarian Chinese market called May Wah Healthy Vegetarian. May Wah ships to all locations within the US. While their brand is delicious and has a wonderful texture, there are alternatives available outside of May Wah’s shipping range.
  • Vegan sausages: I prefer Field Roast sausages, but they’re still not as widely available as Tofurky sausages. Tofurky sausages are easier to prepare as they have no casing, and they’re cheaper than Field Roast. With either brand, I’d recommend the Italian sausage.
  • Vegan cheese: Many vegan cheeses taste awful or don’t melt well. In contrast, Daiya cheese tastes and melts like real cheese. Unfortunately it doesn’t yet have wide retail distribution (although I have seen new retail packaging, so let's hope for the best), but you can find it online or at Whole Foods.
  • Vegan butter: As with cheese, there are a lot of vegan alternatives to conventional butter; however, most of them don’t taste, melt, or cook like the real stuff. I’ve found that Earth Balance is indistinguishable from conventional butter. I use the whipped organic soy butter every time butter is called for.


5-6 slices of vegan smoked ham
1 link of vegan sausage
vegan cheese
2 loaves of pocket-less pita bread
about how many pickles, sliced lengthwise
olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Paprika, to taste
Orange peel, to taste
Mustard, to taste
Earth Balance whipped organic soy butter

n.b. the amount of vegan cheese, pickles, & soy butter will depend largely upon the size of the bread as well as your personal tastes. The amount of olive oil will depend upon the thickness of the slices of ham

Serves two.

  1. Dry the vegan ham slices between paper towels. The brand from May Wah is pretty moist.

  2. Create the mojo sauce: mince the garlic cloves and place them in a flat-bottomed dish along with oil, cayenne pepper, paprika, and orange peel to taste. You don’t want the mojo to be too spicy. There’s a lot of different flavors and textures in a Cuban sandwich, and too much heat from peppers would take away from its unique charm. Mix well and place the ham slices in the dish,rotating them to evenly distribute the mojo.

  3. Slice a sausage link down the middle and then make long, thin slices.

  4. Put a non-stick frying pan (with the lid) on the stovetop on high. Lightly butter one side of the pita bread. Place the ham slices on the non-buttered side and cover those with the sausage slices.

  5. Place the pickle slices on top of the sausages and top those with the vegan cheese. Add mustard to taste. Place the other loaf of pita bread on top and lightly butter it.

  6. Place the sandwich in the frying pan. Drip any leftover mojo into the pan. Cover with the lid. After a couple minutes, flip the sandwich with a spatula. Cover again with the lid and let the sandwich fry for another couple of minutes.
  7. Slice and serve. This bad boy serves two. You could be greedy and eat it all by yourself, but I recommend sharing with a friend or saving the other half for another meal.