Sam of Becks and Posh came up with a challenging and really fun theme for the 19th edition of Is My Blog Burning?: Vegan - make an amazing dinner without using any animal products. It's not as easy as it sounds. Vegetarian is relatively easy; but vegan requires thinking. It's so easy to slip.
I blew it.
I was doing great through the second course. But for the third course, I made an unrecoverable boo-boo rendering this meal less-than-vegan.
Wendy, Jesse and I had cobbled together some interesting ideas when I was in San Francisco, but two of the four dishes we came up with required some intense preparation and time sorta ran out so I had to revamp the menu. On the way to the grocery store, I called my mom and she went through a litany of dishes off the top of her head and within 15 minutes, I had a menu and a grocery list. The menu was equal parts Wendy, Jesse, Mom and Heidi of 101 Cookbooks. Heidi had inspired me when she mentioned a dish she was in the process of making; and when I asked Mom about vegan dishes, she suggested the same dish. This was the final menu:
Jicama & Basil Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce
Vegan Banh Xeo ("Sizzling Rice Crepe")
Bun Xao (Vermicelli Noodle Stir Fry)
Sweet Tofu with Ginger Caramel Sauce
I stopped by the Vietnamese grocery store because I needed vermicelli for the stir fry and a few other items. Perusing through the fridge, I noticed some fresh lo mein noodles -- hard to come by in these parts, so I picked up a bag. Then I went looking for jicama. Do you know how hard it is to describe to the clueless grocer what jicama is when you don't even know what it looks like? Thank God for identifying stickers on fruits and vegetables.
When I got home, Hubby asked me if I needed help (earning major brownie points), so I asked him to prep the veggies. As he was cutting up vegetables for the stir fry, Hubby suddenly paused and said, "Is this a vegetarian meal?"
Another pause. "Oh God! Is this a vegan dinner?!"
Uh oh. Busted.
"YesbutpleasedonttellJason." It came out in a rush.
"Oh God," he said again, ignoring the Second Commandment. But I can understand: his last vegan experience hadn't been a fun one exactly.
Jenn & Jason arrived and I began making the Jicama and Basil rolls, serving appetizers on the fly at the kitchen counter.
The second course is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes and the one inspired by Heidi: banh xeo, also known as Sizzling Rice Crepe. It's a rice flour crepe (distinctly yellow from the addition of turmeric) made with non-glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and water, folded over a savory shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, scallions and mung bean mixture, and served with a tangy fish sauce vinaigrette. Omitting the shrimp and pork, I made a version using tofu, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and scallions (I forgot the mung beans in my mental fog). It came out quite delicious although the crepes weren't as crispy as I would have preferred. Instead of the fish sauce vinaigrette, I made a chili-hoisin-coconut milk sauce which went perfectly with the crepes, providing it with a nice punch of spicy sweetness.
The third course was to be a vermicelli vegetable stir fry using clear vermicelli noodles and a gorgeous mix of vegetables including cauliflower, sugar snap peas, black mushrooms, carrots, celery and onions, tossed with a sesame soy sauce. I went to finish the stir fry by adding the noodles and mushrooms. And therein lies the Big Mistake. Remember the lo mein noodles? Well, I reached past the cooked vermicelli, absentmindedly grabbed the lo mein, and tossed it in with the veggies. I brought it out to the table, served everyone and proceeded to eat happily.
About halfway through my dish, I suddenly stopped and blurted, "Oh no." I couldn't believe it. I'd been so careful. I had made substitutions left and right. But I had failed. "These are egg noodles."
"It's still vegetarian," Jenn said.
"Yes, but for my purposes, it's not..."
Jason was eyeing me. "Was this a vegetarian dinner?"
Me: "Uh, yeah."
Hubby (simultaneously): "More like vegan, actually. Except for the egg noodles." Then, ever the life preserver: "She told us not to tell you."
Ack! Apparently "In sickness and in health, for better or for worse," is up for grabs when your 6'1 buddy has just discovered that your wife tried to pull a culinary fast one.
Jason: "I knew that was tofu in the last dish! I kept thinking, 'That looks like tofu! I know it's tofu!'" Casting a meaningful glance at his wife, "It's not like I don't have tofu in my fridge once a week."
Having flubbed the third course, I knew there was no way to disguise the dessert for being anything other than what it was: tofu with a ginger caramel. Hubby refused to eat it, citing texture issues. A news flash for me, not unlike the Lent episode because really, the man has no texture issues. I didn't even try to pass one to Jason now that my cover was blown. Plus, he's not a dessert guy. Jenn and I ate instead.
At the end of the meal:
Me: "Did you like it? My feelings won't be hurt if you didn't."
Jason: "I liked it."
Maybe the more telling sign is that I'm alive. Partial success at the very least. I was so bummed about the egg noodles. I mean, the vermicelli was there and ready to go! So I don't think I could claim this was a vegan meal. This really was an awesome IMBB; I wish I could've done it justice. Ah well. I'm just going to have to do this again.
I wonder who I can invite for dinner...
Jicama & Basil Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce
1/2 medium sized jicama, peeled and shredded, about 8 ounces
1 large bunch Vietnamese cinnamon basil (rau que)
1 cup clear vermicelli noodles
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (plus additional for sauce)
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
lettuce leaves, washed, dried, cut in half
Using a box grater, shred the peeled jicama. Blanch in boiling water about 2 minutes; drain, towel dry, and set aside.
Refill water in the saucepan (should be large enough to dip the rice paper) and return to a gentle boil on medium high heat. Remove from heat immediately. Dip the rice paper into the hot water quickly. Lay the softened rice paper on a cutting board and set one of the lettuce halves on the bottom third of the rice paper. Top with a handful of vermicelli noodes, the cinnamon basil, a mound of jicama, and some crushed peanuts. Fold the sides in, then fold up the bottom, and roll up tightly.
To make the dip, whisk together 1/4 cup hoisin and 3 T red chili sauce, and add 2-3 drops of sesame oil. Top with more crushed peanuts.