April 10, 2014

Lessons learned at Seattle Vegfest - preserved lemons


There's always a moment when Vegfest looms, when I wonder why I go. I don't buy very many packaged, convenience foods, and most of the stuff I taste at events like this is quickly forgotten. Why spend a whole day tasting a ton of food I'll probably never eat again? Why, indeed. Probably because it's fun, and who can resist free samples by the zillion? Since Vegfest was March 29-30, and I really have forgotten about most of the sampled food, instead of giving you a blow-by-blow of what I ate, I'll tell you about a couple of things that stood out, and about what I took away from the cooking demos — including how to make preserved lemons!

Remnants of some of our haul. (I really like the Raw Revolution and the coconut water.)

This was the first year since moving to Seattle that we attended Seattle Vegfest without volunteering for a four-hour shift. The first surprising thing we noticed about being ordinary attendees, was the ridiculously long line to get in when the doors opened at 10 a.m. on Sunday — volunteers just walk right in, no waiting necessary. At first I was miffed by the hoards, but then I realized that it's a good thing when a vegetarian festival draws big crowds.

Because we had the whole day free, we were able to attend all the cooking demos we wanted to see, as well as leisurely check out the samples — all 500 of them. We ate a LOT of samples, and I actually remember at least two of them. The Harbor Creek Farms cranberry horseradish was a surprise hit, and next time I'm at Vegan Haven, our all-vegan store, I'm going to buy a jar. I also tried Neat, and much to my surprise, I liked it a lot. I don't know if I'll buy it, but I recommend it as a plant-based meat that has decent ingredients and tastes really good. It's true I ate way too many So Delicious ice cream products, but you all know how irresistible they are.


While we were roaming around stuffing ourselves, we ran into Jill, the delightful co-owner of Someday Farm Vegan B&B on Whidbey Island. My husband and I spent an idyllic weekend at Jill's establishment (You can read about it here and  here) back in August, 2013. She was a very unobtrusive host, and we barely saw her except when she was delivering unbelievable breakfasts to our door, so I was surprised that she recognized us instantly. I was also taken aback when I realized she was wearing one of my what do vegan's eat t-shirt designs! I really hope to visit the B&B again, soon.

We attended three cooking demos, the first of which was Indian cooking by Sunita Shastri, author of Indian Vegetarian Delights, and founder of Meghana Foods. Sunita specializes in South Indian cuisine, so I was especially interested in what she was going to cook. She made an spicy bean dish, Dal Makhani, and Quinoa Upma, both of which looked really good until she added a wad of butter to one, and a glob of ghee to the other. Everyone who sampled the dishes seemed to enjoy them. I have a copy of the recipes to try at home, so at some point I'll get to taste them.

My version of Miyoko's dish, with Beyond Meat and bok choy.


Next we attended a presentation by Miyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheese, with whom you are probably all familiar. Miyoko's cheese demo was on Saturday, so we missed it, but I really wanted to see her Japanese cooking demo on Sunday. Miyoko has two other, earlier cookbooks, The Now and Zen Epicure: Gourmet Recipes for the Enlightened Palate, and Japanese Cooking: Contemporary and Traditional, and I am a big fan, especially of the latter book. (I've reviewed it here.) Miyoko entered the stage dressed in a kimono, speaking in animated Japanese, complete with singing. She spoke in Japanese for several minutes, as we all watched, rapt, before flinging off the kimono with a laugh, and continuing in English. She told a story about her favorite childhood comfort food, which she had veganized for Japanese Cooking, and said she was going to show us how to make it. It's called Oyako Donburi, or Rice Bowl With Chicken and Egg. The literal translation is pretty unpleasant, so we'll stick with the chicken and egg. For the chicken, Miyoko used seitan, which made the dish too gluteny for me, but I was psyched to make a GF version when I got home. I finally got up the courage to try Beyond Meat chicken strips (had a coupon for a free box), and added some bok choy for a little green. I have to say, it really was comfort food — I've made it again since then, and will probably continue to make it. I found a link to the recipe for you.



Our last chef presentation was by Alan Roettinger, who cooked a dish from one of his cookbooks, Extraordinary Vegan. He made Quick Spicy Slaw, and Avocado Relish With Preserved Lemon, both of which were indeed, extraordinary. The second dish contained preserved lemon, which he taught us how to make. It's so easy, that even I am willing to do it. In fact, I made a jar for myself, and just made a second jar as a housewarming gift for a friend. The preserved lemons may sound  exotic, but easy to do, and not too expensive. For the gift I bought a 26-ounce Weck canning jar, a cool kitchen towel to use as a wrapping, and a bag of organic lemons. The jar and towel are from Crate and Barrel and cost $3.95, and $4.95, and the organic lemons were $3.99/bag at Whole Foods. (I used organic lemons because the peel is used in cooking.) The most expensive thing was probably the coarse gray Celtic sea salt I used because I had a bag in the cupboard, but any kosher-style coarse salt will do. My cleverness and time are priceless, of course. There was a larger, slightly cooler jar I was considering, but I chose the Weck because of the wide mouth, and the fact that unlike the other jar, I could grab it with one hand. The Weck canning jars are pretty great- looking, and make nice containers for a food-based gifts.

 

Now, as your reward for reading this far (or for skipping to the bottom, as the case may be), here's a video of Alan Roettinger teaching how to make preserved lemons. He neglects to mention that you should totally clean the jar, lid, utensils, cutting board, etc., before beginning. I washed the jar for my lemons in hot, soapy water, but I boiled everything for the gift jar. (Not the lemons, of course.) There are lots of Internet instructions to be found on the topic, and I read quite a few. Basically you wash the lemons, trim the ends and any ugly spots, slice them lengthwise into quarters stopping within an inch of the bottom, stuff each one with a tablespoon of coarse salt, and add them to a jar, pressing them down as you go. Some say to leave the jar in a cool spot, some say to refrigerate it, and one actually said to keep the jar in a warm spot. Although I left my jars on the counter for the first two days, they are spending the month required to complete the project in the fridge. I can't wait to try my exotic lemons. When you make yours, be sure to push the lemons down — even the first one in the bottom of the jar. They need to be squashed a bit so they fit closely together, and so they release their juices.

Have you made preserved lemons? Where did you keep the jar while the lemons fermented?

28 comments:

  1. Oh wow! Looks like you had a great time at the VegFest and loads of free stuffs. I love the So Delicious ice cream too until I started having an upset tummy for a while, I don't know if it's the carrageenan, heard so many not-so-good stuff about it. I usually make preserve lemons every now and then and you've just reminded me that I have half a jar left in the fridge! I had totally forgotten about it. That was a nice informational read. And I love your tees btw. :)

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    1. We did have a good time tasting samples until we just couldn't eat any more. As for carrageenan, I usually try to avoid it. I was eating almond milk bars that didn't have carrageenan, though they did have guar gum. The preserved lemons will be my first — hope I remember to use them! Thanks for the tee comment. :)

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  2. Glad to hear you had a delicious time at VegFest up in Seattle Andrea! Thanks for giving us a try and posting that AMAZING looking photo!

    Can't wait to see what more deliciousness you've got in store for 2014!

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    1. Who can resist all the tasty Vegfest samples? I'm so glad I attended Miyoko's demo — her Japanese cuisine is so simple but so delicious, and the Beyond meat was the perfect addition.

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  3. Sounds like you picked up some good tips, but poo poo on the butter and ghee. That would have made me so cranky at a vegfest!!

    I make Indian lemon pickle when it gets hot here in August. It's basically just lemons, salt, oil, and spices, and I live them outside in the sun for two weeks, shaking them every day. I have some in the fridge that's over two years old. I think as long as you use enough salt and or oil to preserve them, there's not a problem with spoilage.

    xo
    kittee

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    1. It made me cranky, but I try to keep an open mind and allow that a large number of the attendees are not even vegetarian, let alone vegan, and it's a start. Still, cranky ...

      I've made all kinds of pickles and fermented cheese, etc., and have never gotten sick, so I don't know why I suddenly panicked at the thought of leaving the lemons out. Maybe I'll go get them now and put 'em back on the counter. Thanks!

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  4. Sounds like a great vegfest...I'm hoping to attend the one in Johnstown, PA this summer. I've made preserved lemons before using this recipe: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-preserved-lemons-110714
    It does say to let them sit out 2-3 days, and I did without any problems. Used a wide-mouth quart-sized mason jar and have about 6 lemons total. The only thing I've used them in so far is hummus and I think it's why mine always turns out so well! I do suggest rinsing off some of the super salty brine before using though.

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    1. I've always wanted to attend the Vegetarian Summerfest in Johnstown, but I've never managed to do it. Maybe some day I will. Thanks for the lemon link. I read it and decided to put my lemons back into the fridge. In the fridge, out of the fridge — wish I could make up my mind one way or the other. :)

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  5. Oh man I am so lazy when it comes to stuff like this but I may try it!!!
    So jealous that you went to SVF, I really want to go to more vegfests.

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    1. I hear you about the lemons — I can't believe I did it because I usually need instant gratification, and a month is a long time to wait. But, it really was so easy, and kind of fun, so if I like the results I'm sure I'll do it again. I even bought the perfect wide-mouth mason jar for $.50 at an estate sale today.

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  6. I always think those sorts of Veg expos sound fun, even with the food I wouldn't usually eat or buy, but the thing that turns me off the most is those insane crowds.
    I can't say I've ever preserved lemons, but an ex has made limoncello... the waiting is the hardest part, as Tom Petty says..

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    1. I'm not a big fan of crowds and tend to avoid them but somehow vegfest seems manageable to me. I wasn't upset. Waiting a month for the lemons seems like a long time, but it will give me a chance to think about what to do with them, since I don't have a clue.

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  7. Looks like so much fun. I love preserved lemons but usually buy them – out of laziness ;) I wish Philly had a veg fest.

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    1. It's surprising that Philly doesn't have one — is there a vegetarian society there? It's a lot of work to put it on, though, so I can understand why no one has put one on.

      The preserved lemons were ridiculously easy to make. If I can do it, anyone can. No one can be lazier than I am.

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  8. Mmmm...preserved lemons! I've done this once, but it's been years. I should snatch up some myer lemons while they're still at the store and preserve myself some!

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    1. I just used regular lemons, though I know meyer lemons are the preferred choice in some recipes. I never seem to see organic meyer lemons, and since the skin plays a big roll here, I wanted to use organic lemons.

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  9. Sounds like a good day out. I've managed to make preserved lemons once and it wasn't wholly successful, but yours looks like it's kicking butt already. I love Japanese Cooking - such a good book.

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    1. I'm wondering what went wrong with your lemons — maybe there's more to it than I realize. I hope mine continue to do what they are supposed to!

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  10. Thanks, Andrea; you have an uncanny way of making the complicated sound doable.

    This was my first year volunteering at the NYC Vegfest and I was actually grateful to have a sanctuary behind the table to escape the hungry crowds.

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    1. I never lie. If I say it's easy, it is. Really.

      Being behind a table at Vegfest has its advantages, but escaping the hungry hoards isn't one of them, if you are giving out food. I need to fin a table where leafletting is the job.

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  11. I am so intrigued by the idea of preserved lemons, but I have no idea what I'd use them for. Do you have plans for yours?

    This year was my first time at VegFest and it was lots of fun, but yes, also exhausting with the crowds. Was happy to be surrounded by my people, though!

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    1. To be perfectly honest, I don't have anything specific in mind for the lemons. I'm just going to add them to whatever dish I think might go well with a lemony-salty burst of flavor. I may look for a Moroccan recipe or will dig up the recipes from a Middle Eastern cooking class I took. Lemon seems to pair well with so many things.

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  12. It sounds like your Vegfest had great demonstrations! I'm jealous that you got to see Miyoko demonstrate. She's incredible, and I'm absolutely making the Oyako Donburi. Thank you for the link!

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    1. I was sorry to miss the demos on Saturday, but we didn't have time to go both days. I hope you like the oyako donburi as much as I did. I even used the "egg" recipe on top of a different soup and really enjoyed it again. Make sure to cook the tofu enough or it will be pasty. :)

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  13. I tried to get tho the fest last year, timed it to be the less crowd time and everything and still almost had an anxiety attack. too many people and noise for me

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    1. I think Sunday is a quieter day, and late in the afternoon also has fewer people, but yeah, it's a crowd scene. I usually avoid crowds, but vegfest doesn't upset me as much as some things.

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    2. Aw sorry to hear that, Richa! I don't like crowded places either or being taken by a group of people that would say, hey, it's rika, come join us, or take a picture with me or us!

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  14. What an amazing recap on VegFest, that sounds like a fun event to attend! I used to eat oyakodon before I became a vegan, I bet that is easy to veganize with “tofu” or make “veggie omelet” and I would definitely use BeyondMeat to replace the ‘chiken.’ I love BeyondMeat, especially their BeyondBeef beefy crumbles, they are so good! I’ve never made preserved lemons before, but I would love to make them!

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