The first time I went to North Carolina I had two things on my mind: getting
married and eating BBQ (and not necessarily in that order). Tom and I were eloping. It was just the two of us and our dog Benny, who was our Best Man.
There were only a few months between our getting engaged and hitting the road, so I hit the Internet hard. We didn’t know anyone in North Carolina so everything had to be arranged blindly – the site for the ceremony, the Rabbi, the photographers, the music, the decorations, even the cake which we decorated ourselves including making our own topper.
I ordered my wedding dress online from a plus-size store and I hated it. Even though I had lost a significant amount of weight by that time, I was still obese. When we got the pictures back, I cropped them all so I could only be seen from the bust down, afraid that people would think I was 16 months pregnant and it had been a shotgun wedding.
Scared silly from watching a season of Bridezillas, I expected everything to go wrong but the weather was beautiful, everyone showed up early and was so friendly and helpful (the photographer even helped me place the rose petals along the path that would be my aisle). My vows to Tom brought tears to the Rabbi’s eyes, we lit a candle and said a special prayer for Poochie who was always supposed to be my Flower Girl and Benny, held in Tom’s arms, slept throughout most of the ceremony (I had visions of the scene from The Brady Bunch pilot episode where Tiger chases Fluffy and the whole wedding is thrown into turmoil).
I learned two lessons that October: 1) it was possible to plan a beautiful wedding completely online and on a very tight budget and 2) I don’t like Carolina BBQ sauce. When I wasn’t watching Bridezillas, I was watching The Travel Channel and Food Network and because it was summer, they were focusing on BBQ. I wasn’t even a vegetarian yet (that was unknowingly in my future) and I was looking forward to having some real Southern food. As it turned out, I didn’t like the vinegar-based sauce but I found out I loved grits and fried green tomatoes.
Fast-forward one year and Tom and I were back on the road to spend our first wedding anniversary (and 5th anniversary of being together) in Wilmington where we had gotten married. Our marital status was different but so was our “dietary status;” we had been vegetarians for 3 months and were working on transitioning to Vegans.
We packed tempeh sandwiches, fruit, and nuts and avoided all the drive-thrus. Before we left, I researched all the veg places in Wilmington and was pleased to find that there was a good variety of restaurants and specialty stores available to us. We ate at Double Happiness, an Asian restaurant with mock meats, and at Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn, where they offered tofu and vegetables all cooked on a separate grill. We shopped at Lovey’s Natural Foods and Cafe (I miss you Lovey’s) and Tidal Creek, an organic co-op.
When a booking problem led us to spend a couple of nights in a more remote place, we looked through the gazillion take-out menus in the kitchen only to find that the few vegetarian options that existed were all deep-fried and unhealthy. Then we found a menu for a place called Mellow Mushroom and their food seemed somewhat healthier (sprouts were involved). However, as I read through the menu, the only sandwich that seemed a good option was the “Portobello and Cheese Hoagie – a grilled Portobello mushroom cap big enough to fit on your head basted by garlic butter accompanied by artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and Feta. Garnished with sprouts.”
The problem was I didn’t like mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes or Feta cheese. I wasn’t crazy about sprouts either. Other than that, it sounded like the thing I’d dislike least so that’s what I ordered.
Well, it turned out that this sandwich tasted like the vegetarian version of a Philly Cheese Steak. Grilled Portobello mushrooms were incredible and meaty. Artichoke hearts were creamy like mayonnaise. The sun-dried tomatoes added tang and texture. I still didn’t like Feta but that was ok. The hoagie was delicious.
When I got home, I knew I had to replicate this sandwich but I needed to make two big changes: 1) I needed to Veganize it and 2) I needed to Weight Watcherize it. So I switched out a lot of ingredients and added many more vegetables. The results were soooo good that the dish has become a regular for us. Sometimes we eat it on bread, usually ciabatta, but when I’m trying to cut carbs and calories, we eat it sans bread with salad. I don’t have a grill so I sauté the mushrooms and make this a one-pot dish. I even love feta cheese now, Vegan of course, made by Sunergia (which you can buy online).
It’s a good thing Tom and I got married or I’d never know about this amazing combination of flavors. The next time we go to North Carolina, it will be as Vegans and we won’t be able to order that same sandwich but that’s ok. My Vegan version is even better and will be a favorite of ours ‘til death to us part.
4 big Portobello mushroom caps, sliced (or not sliced, if grilling)
1 onion, sliced thinly
4-6 garlic gloves, minced
½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
4-5 pieces sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
1 can artichoke hearts (in water), drained and quartered
A handful of fresh spinach leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. Vegan Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. liquid smoke
3 Tbs. nutritional yeast
½ package Vegan feta cheese (optional)
Parsley for garnish (optional)
For gravy (optional):
1 Tbs. Vegan buttery spread or margarine
1 Tbs. whole-wheat pastry flour (or other type for gluten-free)
1 cup vegetable broth
Heat a large, deep sauté pan with olive oil on medium heat. Add the mushroom slices and let them cook without moving them to ensure they get dark and well-done. Then flip them to cook the other side. (If you grill the mushroom caps, let cool, then slice them and add to pan).
After the mushrooms have shrunken and look dark and juicy, add the onions to the pan and let cook until onions are slightly browned. Add bell peppers, garlic, zucchini and squash. Let cook until vegetables soften a bit.
Add sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and spices. Mix well and let cook about 3 minutes. There should be juices in the pan from the mushrooms and vegetables. If the pan is dry, add more oil or vegetable broth. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke and nutritional yeast and let cook about 3 minutes.
If you are making gravy, add the Vegan spread to the pan and let it melt. Sprinkle the whole-wheat pastry flour into the pan and mix it through well, letting it cook until you can’t see the flour any more. Add the vegetable broth and mix it well. Let it cook on low heat until the gravy thickens. If you want more gravy, add more broth. Add the spinach at the last minute so it just has time to wilt.
If you are making sandwiches, I would suggest toasting ciabatta bread with olive oil and garlic. Open the bread, add the mushroom entrée and top with Vegan feta cheese. Gravy can be spooned on top or served au jus.
For the dish, just ladle the mushrooms and vegetables on a dish and top with Vegan feta cheese. If you can’t find Vegan feta cheese, Vegan mozzarella would be delicious as well. If you’re really going for the lowest calories, serve the dish without the gravy. It will still be juicy and the taste of the mushrooms will be intensified. Garnish with parsley and serve.
This post is dedicated to me – on my 2nd Veggiversary!!
There’s a Mellow Mushroom not too far from where I live. I think what you ordered is different, but I get the Portobello mushroom made like a pizza. The vegan cheese (they have vegan cheese now), spinach, mushrooms, and all of the other good stuff is added to the top of the mushroom. It’s great!
I am so proud of you! You’ve done so much (and I’m lucky to enjoy the results of your inventiveness!).