Week One: Inspiration Week
This week is all about using different things as your inspiration for great food.
After three days of India-inspired eats, I’m moving north for my next source of inspiration! I’m about a month away from a weeklong solo trip to Estonia and Finland, and needless to say, I’m ready to eat all the vegan things in Tallinn and Helsinki. I’m particularly excited about my visit to Estonia; when Amey blogged about Tallinn last year, the destination rocketed up on my travel bucket list. And now I’m going!
In anticipation of my trip, I cooked up a few Estonian dishes from a blogger who knows her stuff: Sandra Vungi, writer of the aptly named Vegan Sandra blog and author of multiple cookbooks in both English and Estonian (including the fun-sounding Vegan Dinner Party cookbook). Sandra lives in south Estonia, and her recipes are often inspired by regional dishes she grew up with — giving me the perfect opportunity for me to try some veganized Estonian dishes!
I loved the idea of including pearl barley in mashed potatoes! What a great way to add texture and protein. And making these vegan Estonian mashed potatoes couldn’t be simpler: You add pearl barley, halved taters, and onions to a stockpot and boil them all together at the same time before mashing them. Sandra recommends topping them with fried onions and eggplant (and maybe some sunflower sour cream), but I didn’t have an eggplant on hand so I opted to keep things simple with just the fried onion. I did make the sour cream, but I think the flavor wasn’t quite right: Sandra recommends raw sunflower seeds, but I didn’t see any at the bulk section of Wegmans so I decided to try it with roasted seeds instead. And then, right after I printed out the price sticker for my haul, I found the raw seeds. D’oh. Still, I love the idea of using sunflower seeds instead of, say, cashews! Totally brilliant idea, especially if you have someone with a nut allergy in the family.
I paired the mashed potatoes with shashlik, a dish that’s totally new to me. Shashlik is typically meat-based, but Sandra uses soy cutlets instead, chopping them into strips after rehydrating them. I didn’t have any soy cutlets on hand but DID have a bag of soy curls, which seemed like a perfect substitution! After a good rehydrating, you squeeze them out really, really well, then sauté them with lots of onions and some simple flavorings (soy sauce and apple cider vinegar). I really liked this preparation — you could play with this soy curl vegan shashlik recipe to mimic other meaty dishes. I did find that the liquid mixture didn’t get absorbed evenly, so some of my curls were nice and flavorful while others were pretty plain. Next time I’ll be careful to add the liquids more equitably. (I apologize for the horrendous photo — I was hot and hungry and irritated, and the lighting was crappy, and I was impatient!)
If you’re thinking that this meal sounds awfully heavy for late summer, you’re right. In fact, I made this on a super hot, 95˚F day! D’oh. Thank goodness for central air conditioning… and for cool cucumbers from the farmers market. I couldn’t resist adding a little of my beloved Tajín to a chopped cuke for a simple summer side salad. Not so Estonian, but so delicious.
So, the verdict on my Estonian vegan dinner? Yum! I can’t wait to get to Tallinn and try more veganized Estonian food next month.
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