Vegan Cooking Based on Taste, Not Ideology

Vegan cooking often makes the mistake of attempting to recreate classic meals minus the key ingredients. That’s not a problem with these delicious dishes.

Dan Peretz

The main difference between Maya and myself is in the way that food comes to us. For Maya, it first makes its way to the body, and from there goes on to affect her mood and feelings. For me, the food first encounters the soul – the memories and excitements, wishes and contentments, and only then does what it does to the body. This is a significant difference that affects not just the way we shop or cook, but also the way we eat our meals.

Maya Ben-Zvi, 32, is a naturopath and talented cook, who spends most of her days in her lovely home in Nataf working with food. She rises very early; chops, seasons, preserves and cooks the food for herself and the people who take part in her workshops or come to her for treatment. She was a vegetarian since age 5, and two years ago also stopped eating any animal products whatsoever. Still, unlike other vegans I’ve met, her connection with food is, above all, through the body – based on taste, not ideology.

She is adept at detailing the ills of the food industry, the damage done to the vast areas used for feeding livestock and showing her concern for animal welfare. Her main worry, though, is the source of the food that appears on her table: the soil in which it grew; the farmers who were involved in growing it; the harvesters and packers; the truck drivers who transported the crates; the owner of the grocery store on the road down to Abu Ghosh. Food that was grown by your neighbor tastes better, she says.

Perhaps one day when the battles subside and the zealots sober up, the farmers, cooks, shepherds and chicken breeders will sit down with those who eat from the field and from the orchard, carnivores and vegetarians, and together compose the delicious and just manifest for the food that is put on our tables.

The manifest could start by saying that a person must sustain himself and also enjoy life, and that the flavor of food is the flavor of life itself – and that without it there is no human civilization. Perhaps they will write that we all must learn about our food’s journey from seed to plate, from animal pen to pot, to get to know it personally and give thanks for getting to taste it when it is still fresh and clean and moist with dew. Perhaps Maya will sit at that table and be the one who presents it to us.

Flaky yeast dough 
(with olive oil)

Maya’s flaky dough cracks open more than dough made with butter, but it is also pliable and airy due to the yeast she adds. The olive oil gives it a lighter feel, and one could certainly substitute other types of flour – whole wheat, spelt or rye – for part of the flour. The dough can also be kneaded by hand without a food processor. If you first let it rest in the refrigerator it will be easier to work with, but this is optional.

Flaky dough sticks. Photo by Dan Peretz

Ingredients

1 tbsp. salt

2 cups (280 gr.) flour

1 tsp. dry yeast or 1/2 cube fresh yeast

1/2 cup (120 ml.) tepid water

1 cup (240 ml.) fine virgin olive oil

Preparation

In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of flour with 1/2 cup of water and the yeast, and set aside for half an hour until it begins to gently bubble because of the yeast. Place the rest of the flour in the bowl of a food processor with a steel blade, add the salt and the mixture. Mix in short bursts until a grainy mixture is obtained. Now drizzle in the olive oil while mixing, until the dough adheres into large, damp lumps. Be careful not to mix too much. Remove the dough from the food processor, smooth it all together, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Flaky dough sticks with dried tomatoes and black olives

The flaky dough can have all kinds of fresh ingredients and seasonings added to it. The following recipe includes olives and dried tomatoes, but feel free to improvise with other ingredients.

Ingredients

Flaky dough (see above)

1/2 cup dried tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted Tassos olives

1 tsp. fresh oregano or 
hyssop leaves

Preparation

Chop the tomatoes and 
olives together and combine with the seasonings. Knead together with the dough, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out half of the dough on baking paper to a thickness of 1/2 cm. Cut the rolled-out dough into long strips that are 1 1/2 cm. wide, place in a flat pan lined with baking paper and shape into twists. Place in a preheated 210 degree Celsius oven for 20 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven, let cool and store in a sealed container.

Burekas with mangold and hummus

These pastries are reminiscent of the Iraqi hummus sambusak. I prefer baking them to frying, as in the original recipe, and the mangold (chard) adds a nice tartness.

Preparing burekas. Photo by Dan Peretz

Ingredients

1 onion

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 bunches mangold, about 25 leaves

2 garlic cloves

1 cup Hadas chickpeas, boiled and drained

1/2 tsp. cumin

Juice of 1/2 lemon or 2 tsp. pomegranate syrup

Sea salt

Coarsely ground black 
pepper

Flaky dough (see first 
recipe)

Preparation

Chop the onion and sauté in olive oil in a wide skillet until golden. Rinse the mangold leaves, trim off the white stalks and use just the green part. Add the damp green leaves to the pot, cover and sauté over a low flame for about 15 minutes, until the leaves shrink in volume and their color darkens. Chop the garlic and add together with the chickpeas, cumin, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir and continue cooking until all the liquid evaporates. Remove from the fire and let cool.

Roll out the dough on baking paper to a 1/2-cm. thickness. Cut out 8-cm. circles, fill each one with a spoonful of the filling, fold in two and pinch the edges closed. Arrange on baking paper and bake in a preheated 210-degree Celsius oven for 20 minutes, until golden. Serve warm.

Root vegetable and mushroom pizza

The thing about cooking solely with vegan ingredients is that often there is an attempt to recreate classic dishes minus significant ingredients – such as pizza without cheese, or shakshuka without eggs. Perhaps the problem in this particular case is just the name, because this celery and arugula pastry is simply 
wonderful.

Root vegetable and mushroom pizza Photo by Dan Peretz

Ingredients

1 celery root

1/2 cup olive oil

1 bunch arugula

2 garlic cloves

Flaky dough (see first 
recipe)

4 large portobello mushrooms

Grated peel of 1 lemon

Sea salt

Preparation

Peel the celery root and then use the peeler to cut into thin sheets. Place the celery slices in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and add the arugula and garlic. Cover with olive oil, mix and set aside for an hour.

Divide the dough in two and roll out each half to a 1/2-cm. thickness on a pan lined with baking paper. Slice the mushrooms and spread them over the dough. Drain the celery pieces from the olive oil and arrange them on the pizzas, along with the arugula and garlic. Sprinkle the lemon zest on top and bake in a preheated 210-degree Celsius oven for 20 minutes, until the edges of the dough turn golden brown.