Since I’m vegan and both of my parents are also vegan, many times people assume that I was raised that way. If anyone watches South Park, I imagine they think of us as that vegan family whose kids went to school every day in life preservers.
Actually, though, our foray into veganism and plant-based eating was actually much more recent, and as a kid, I remember very many non-vegan meals being part of our weeknight repertoire — roasted chicken, grilled flank steak, and baked macaroni and cheese come to mind.
But while my childhood diet memories are a far cry from what we’re eating today, I think it’s fair to say that what we were eating was nevertheless not the typical Standard American Diet of meat, processed foods and starches. My parents did a good job of introducing my palate to various cuisines at a young age and making sure vegetables were part of every meal. They still tell people the story of when I was asked in kindergarten what my favorite food was, and while other students named pizza or hot dogs, I proudly declared that my favorite food was “squid with black bean sauce”. I also distinctly recall my mom making tofu stir-fry many nights before tofu was even “a thing” (and before Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods even existed in our state). And I can’t remember a time when my mom’s well-loved vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook was not tattered, worn and splattered with food; a favorite was the “enchanted broccoli forest”, which always drew stares of awe any time my brother or I had friends over. Recently, I went to a wedding of a childhood friend, who informed me that the first time he had ever seen asparagus was when he came over for dinner and my mom was making it.
Perhaps one of the most impressive and non-traditional dinners I recall as a child was my mom’s chicken biryani, which rivaled any restaurant version I’ve had. Hers was spicy and flavorful, speckled with cardamom pods and golden raisins. And, as is usually the case, I don’t think I will ever be able to make something that competes with her version. So I didn’t try.
This quinoa biryani bake is not quite “traditional”, but it evokes the flavors of a biryani while providing a well-rounded, easy two-pot meal. I love the idea of baking quinoa with other ingredients — it comes out so pretty and all you have to do is fluff it up and serve.
This is the kind of meal my family eats now. Whole grains. Lots of veggies. No animal proteins. No oil. Now all I need is a good vegan, savory yogurt — “raita” — recipe to serve with this. How good would that be?
Quinoa Vegetable Biryani Bake:
1 cup white quinoa, uncooked, well rinsed and drained
2 cups chopped cauliflower florets
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup plus 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
1 cup fresh tomato, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt (if using regular vegetable broth, reduce salt to taste)
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup raisins (regular or golden)
1 cup toasted cashews (toast on a dry skillet for about 7 minutes over medium-high heat until fragrant and browned)
Chopped cilantro for serving (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Add cauliflower, onion, carrot, garlic, ginger and 1/3 cup vegetable broth to a large saute pan or Dutch Oven and saute over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until onion becomes translucent. Add quinoa, remaining vegetable broth, tomato, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt. Stir together. Heat everything over medium-high heat for another minute.
3. Turn off heat and carefully pour quinoa mixture into a large, preferably 9×13″ baking dish. Cover. Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for about 35-40 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.
4. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients except cilantro. Cover and let sit for another 5 minutes before serving. Serve topped with chopped cilantro, if desired.