Wednesday, October 22, 2008
My Most Hated of All Loaves
Ah, meatloaf. I truly did loathe the loaf as a kid, and we ate a lot of it. A pound of ground beef mixed up with packaged bread crumbs and a raw egg, smothered in Heinz and left to gel in the oven. And yet I have fond memories as my mom's meatloaf technique improved. I remember sitting on the stool at bar of our kitchen, watching her dice up green peppers from the garden and portion out mozzerella for the mix. I would inevitably grab a pinch of the cheese and pair it with the tangy, citrusy pepper for a secret snack as she cooked. The ketchup never left the equation.
The subject of meatloaf came up at work today. A group of us could not figure out why a restaurant (including ours) would feature it on a menu, and what would prompt any right-minded customer to order it. We further mused on how meatloaf is simply an economical way for a working-class family to feed the masses - certainly that was the case in my childhood. Funny how all those cupboard ingredients can bond together to make a meal.
That made me nostalgic for my mom, and how she managed to feed the six of us, maybe without a lot of taste, but with much intent and necessity. In these lean, uncertain times, I think vegans and carnivores alike would do well to put their pantries to the test and see what meals lurk on those shelves, just waiting to be made. With that, I give you my first real, uninterpreted vegan recipe: Vegan Meatloaf. These are all goodies that I had on hand - w00t! The cooked lentils give of a nutty, spicy aroma, and when squished together with the vegetable saute, bring about the squishy texture of meatloaf that, despite the ick factor, I used to love watch my mom squeeze through her fingers
1 cup dry lentils
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 bag frozen spinach, thawed and drained (moisture pressed out)
3 slices whole wheat bread, toasted and ripped into tiny pieces (2 cups bread crumbs)
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 nutritional yeast
a few leaves of basil, chopped (or 1/2 t dried)
a few parsley sprigs, chopped
pinch of cayenne pepper
generous grinding of pepper and a bit of sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 F.
To cook lentils, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and return to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes and allow to cool.
Add a splash of olive oil to a medium saute pan and warm over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add the garlic, carrot, celery and pepper and cook until softened and fragrant, about another 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Take a quarter cup of the frozen spinach and, in a small bowl, add the baking powder. Puree with an immersion blender (or use a food processor) until gooey. You're looking for a mixture with the consistency of a raw egg - you may need to add a bit of water and a splash of olive oil to achieve this effect.
In a large bowl, combine the veggie saute, breadcrumbs, spinach-egg replacer, remaining frozen spinach, herbs, salt, pepper, cayenne, and the lentils. Now the fun part - mix with your hands, squeezing until the lentils are mush and mixed well with the veggies. Spray a standard-sized loaf pan with non-stick spray and add the mixture, tapping the bottom on a surface to make sure it's all settled. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden-brown and slightly crusty on top. Allow to cool ten minutes before slicing.