Before I became a vegan, my favorite food was chicken. In particular, two of my weaknesses were fried chicken and Buffalo wings. When I was a child, my mother would make the most delicious fried chicken. It required several wet paper towels because our hands would get so greasy. Whenever we went out to eat, I ordered fried chicken. Even if everyone else was getting ice cream sundaes, I wanted fried chicken. My father used to tease me I ate so much chicken that one day I would sprout feathers. Wow, is it any wonder I ended up with a weight problem? Years later, my mother developed her own oven-baked “fried” chicken, which tasted even better and was less fattening. We called it her “secret recipe chicken” so obviously, I can’t tell you about it 🙂
When I was in medical school and living in Manhattan, I was introduced to the concept of appetizers. Not that we didn’t have appetizers in the Bronx but mainly that meant antipasto. In NYC, I discovered stuffed potato skins, mozzarella sticks, nachos, and Buffalo wings. I can still remember the first time I ate Buffalo wings. A classmate took me to a pizza place where they apparently made the best wings and you could watch them being prepared. Looking back, you would think being in medical school and watching animal flesh being coated in butter and then deep-friend might have triggered some alarm bells in me but nutrition was not a topic covered in medical school and I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. My food issues were far from being addressed back then.
Anyway, I became obsessed with Buffalo wings. Any place I went to eat, I had to order them, even if we ordered other appetizers. I joked about how I wanted to write a Zagat-type book, reviewing Buffalo wings all over New York and the country. For me, the perfect meal would have consisted of an appetizer of Buffalo wings followed by a huge bucket of fried chicken. Eventually, that type of behavior might have led to CPR for dessert.
My love for eating chicken kept my denial of the suffering of chickens at bay. One day my denial was challenged when I was walking to the train on my way to work. The street I had to walk on meant passing a live poultry warehouse and I hated seeing the chickens crowded in those tiny cages, knowing they were headed towards their death – for me and my favorite meals – so I usually walked across the street. On this particular day, a chicken got loose and ran out into the street where a car ran over its wing. A worker from the poultry factory came out to the street, picked up the chicken by the broken wing and threw it forcefully back into the warehouse. I cried so hard, trying to imagine the pain that bird was in and how cruel that worker had been. Of course I also realized that the wing he was mishandling was no different than the wings I liked to eat. I knew that I was being a hypocrite and by the end of the day, my denial was back in place, fueled by my eating addiction.
I am so grateful that I learned about the suffering of animals and that compassion finally displaced my desire for foods created from cruelty. I read many vegetarian starter guides from PETA, Vegan Outreach and Compassion Over Killing. I watched the video, “Meet Your Meat” which brought me to tears and I vowed never to be part of that cruelty again. Realizing that it was still hypocritical to not eat chicken but consume eggs which leads to the suffering and deaths of other chickens (the same applies to not eating beef but eating dairy which leads to what I personally feel is the worst suffering – the separation of baby calves from their mothers, the veal industry, the artificial insemination, exploitation and death of cows), there was no choice but for me to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Becoming a vegan was the best decision I ever made.
So did I have to “sacrifice” my favorite foods for compassion? No!! I can still have the flavors that I loved so much. Of course, I can’t have them very often because, vegan or not, they are still fattening and I still have weight to lose. But it’s nice to know that when the craving strikes, I can still have cruelty-free versions of my favorite foods.
If we are eating out in NYC, Curly’s Vegetarian Lunch makes delicious vegan buffalo wings. They are sensational! I have also learned to make my own buffalo wings and my own version of fried “chicken.” Then I was reading some Rachael Ray recipes and saw how she made a buffalo-flavored version of chicken-fried steak. That sounded like something I had to try – in a vegan version, of course. The result? OMG! It is so delicious; it is like having buffalo wings and fried chicken in one dish but without the cruelty. This is indulgent so it has to remain a once-in-a-blue-moon treat for me. Enjoy but stay away from the scale for a day or two after.
Note: if you cut the seitan into smaller pieces, you could have seitan Buffalo wings.
“Chicken-Fried” Seitan Steak with Buffalo Vinaigrette
½-cup vegetable oil
¼-cup hot sauce (or more, to taste)
2 tsp. agave nectar
4 cups thinly sliced celery
2 cups finely chopped carrots
2 cups finely chopped bell peppers
2 Tbs. flaxseed, ground
1/3 cup non-dairy milk
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
Four seitan cutlets (I prefer homemade)
½ cup crumbled vegan blue cheese
In a bowl, combine ¼-cup oil, 3 tablespoons hot sauce and the agave nectar. Add the celery, carrots, bell pepper and toss to coat. Set aside.
In a shallow bowl, whisk together the flaxseed, milk and remaining 1 tablespoon of hot sauce (if you like things really spicy, like I do, add more). In another shallow bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal (you could use just one or the other), salt and pepper to taste.
Working with 1 seitan cutlet at a time, coat each with the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess, then dip in the milk mixture, then in the seasoned flour again.
In a heavy skillet, heat the remaining ¼-cup oil over medium-high heat. Fry the seitan steaks until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes on each side. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of the skillet and how many you are making.
Divide the celery salad among 4 plates, reserving any excess vinaigrette. Top with the seitan steaks and sprinkle with vegan blue cheese and remaining vinaigrette.
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.