We’ve got vegans coming for Thanksgiving! Not to worry, we’ve got it covered, thanks to Sonya and Michael Tardif. They’re the owners and cooks at Taste of Eden Vegan Café in Norway, Maine.
Jen Boggs, aka my editorial accomplice, asked Sonya to share some vegan cooking tips, explain their cooking philosophy and break down one of the ingredients in the neat loaf recipe.
What is your approach or philosophy to food and health/wellness?
I am a fourth generation vegetarian. Four of my great-grandparents became vegetarian in their early twenties and the habit was passed down through the generations. I became vegan at age 15. Michael became vegetarian and then vegan as an adult.
We believe that animals should be treated more compassionately and that the methods of modern day animal agriculture have made animal products much less healthy than they were 100 years ago.
Our first approach to dietary selection, though, is our faith. You have probably heard of the Blue Zones where many are living 100 plus years. One Blue Zone is Loma Linda, CA because of the large community of Seventh-day Adventists living there.
The University at Loma Linda has done extensive health studies and found that the average lifespan of Seventh-day Adventists is seven years longer that the average lifespan of the general population. This can be attributed to, among other things, the fact that many people of this faith eat a plant based diet.
We are of this faith. Personally, we believe that the diet originally provided for us by our Creator was plant-based and that this was and is the ideal food for mankind.
We also believe that it is our responsibility to care for our bodies the best we can, which includes paying attention to the food we eat. To a large degree, what we feed our bodies can cause many preventable diseases. What we feed our bodies can, in many cases, also heal us.
There is a huge blessing in the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains available for our nourishment and for our enjoyment. We wish to share that blessing and the knowledge of how to enjoy these foods and the better health that comes with them.
Do you have any pro-tips for home cooks trying vegan cooking for the first time?
My husband always says that “everyone is vegan. It’s just that some people still eat meat with their vegetables.” Meaning everyone already eats vegan foods. Leave out the animal products and you are cooking vegan. Enjoy trying new things, but don’t get discouraged if you don’t like a dish. The first time I tried tofu I spit it out because the cook didn’t flavor it well. For years I thought tofu was yucky because of that experience. Then a friend who was a great cook made us some scrambled tofu and I started using her recipe to cook tofu every week.
The number one question by people who are thinking about going vegan is “Where do you get your protein?” We answer this question with a question. “Where did the cow get her protein?” Do you think it is better to get your food firsthand from the plant or secondhand after the cow has digested it? The largest and strongest animals that walk the earth today are plant-based eaters.
Millet is in your neat loaf recipe. What is millet? Do you have any advice for cooking with it?
Millet is a grain that is gluten-free. It is the small round seed that you see in birdseed. It is a staple grain in India and Africa and can be used the same as rice or quinoa. Just use one cup of millet and four cups of water and cook for twenty minutes. Here is a link that tells a little about it: The benefits of millet.
Can the millet in your neat loaf recipe be substituted with anything else?
You can use any grain in place of the millet if you don’t have it. Rice, buckwheat, or quinoa also work well. But I really recommend giving the millet a try. It is so yummy.
Any final vegan words of wisdom?
Don’t be discouraged about the cost of ingredients. Most are staples that will last you a number of meals. You will find you are saving money. If you are thinking of going plant-based make your changes a little at a time. It is easy to switch out the milk in a recipe with any of the alternative beverages available today. Omit the meat, and add nuts or beans. Get to know your seasonings. If you are not a great cook, get to know a good vegan cook and learn from him or her. Come visit us at Taste of Eden Vegan Café ! We have been teaching vegan cooking and healthful living for 20 years. Classes are free and we can help you veganize your favorite recipes.
As I mentioned, we’ve got vegans coming for Thanksgiving and we’ll also be feeding several carnivores. We’re used to it and once we got over our initial vegan panic several years ago (OMG, what will serve them if they can’t eat turkey??), providing a variety of food options hasn’t been an issue.
We still have turkey and usually, tofurkey is also on the menu. I made a lentil loaf last year and this year I’ll make the neat loaf. We’ll have lots of delicious vegetables and of course, there will be pie. I’m looking for the perfect vegan pumpkin pie recipe. Do you have one to share? I may have to ask Sonya. Here’s her recipe for vegan neat loaf. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving! What’s on your menu?
Holiday Vegan Neat Loaf
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- 4 cups cooked millet
- 1½ cups chopped walnuts
- 1 can of kidney beans, mashed
- 1 c rolled oats
- 2 onions, minced
- 2 cups celery, minced
- 1¾ cups water
- ½ tsp rosemary
- 1 Tbsp onion powder
- 1 Tbsp parsley
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp sage
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp basil
Place all ingredients in a large bowl, and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a baking pan, and bake at 350-degrees for about an hour. Serve with gravy or tomato sauce.
- ½ cup raw cashews
- 2½ cup hot water
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp poultry seasoning
- ¼ tsp celery seed
Blend all ingredients in the blender until completely smooth. Pour into a small saucepan. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wire whip until thickened.
If you’re a visual person, Mike and Sonya shot this how-to video so you can see how they make the neat loaf, which they also call a holiday roast. And if you’d rather stay out of the kitchen, they’re happy to make it for you.
Bonus recipe from Sonya!
About that cashew gravy … chop up some mushrooms and onions, sauté and mix with the gravy. Pour it over a pound of frozen green beans and bake for the most amazing green bean casserole you’ve ever tasted!