What makes a dish a local specialty? I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over that question since I returned home from a hectic, nerve-wracking (to this introvert), and ultimately exhilarating trip to Portland and Vida Vegan Con last week. (Big confession: I took almost no photos. See the end of this post for links to some people who did.)
My daughter E and I spent five solid days eating in incredible vegan restaurants that ranged from fast-food (Buffalo wings and All Hail Kale at Veggie Grill) to gourmet (gnocchi and beet tartare at Portobello Vegan Trattoria), but by the end it was a simple bowl of quinoa, kale, tempeh, and sauce–Canteen’s Portland Bowl–that made the biggest impression on me. I’m still not sure whether it was the quality of the tempeh or the way it was prepared, but it was the best I’d ever had–flavorful, tender, and lacking that sharp, bitter taste that tempeh can have. I was left wondering what made this delicious bowl of food specific to Portland, and if I were to make a bowl based on my adopted hometown, Jackson, Mississippi, what would it contain? So I came home with a mission–to make The Jackson Bowl.
You know how when you move to a new area, there are things the locals know–shared history, customs, local dishes–that are entirely new to you, but which they expect you to know (and often won’t bother explaining to you)? When I moved to Jackson, I was thrown into a world of confusion when I’d ask about the salad dressing in a restaurant and be told “Comeback Sauce.” No one could quite explain to me what it was, and it took an internet search to tell me that it’s a mayonnaise and ketchup-based sauce similar to a spicy Thousand Island dressing or a remoulade sauce. Since it obviously wasn’t vegan, I never sampled it in the local restaurants, but online recipes gave me a pretty good idea of what it would taste like. I knew that the sauce in my Jackson Bowl would have to be vegan Comeback Sauce.
Making a vegan Comeback Sauce could be so easy: Just mix a cup of vegan mayo with quarter cups of ketchup and Heinz chili sauce and add some seasonings. But that’s too many processed ingredients for my taste, so I went back to basics on everything, substituting silken tofu and cashews for the mayo and tomato puree and seasonings for the ketchup/chili sauce. And whether or not it tastes like non-vegan comeback sauce, this recipe is a keeper if you like spicy as much as I do. Before you even get to the kick of the red pepper and mustard, the raw onion and garlic give it a real bite. In Jackson it’s served with seafood or as a salad dressing, but you can dip your falafel, “crab” cakes, or sweet potato fries in it or spread it on sandwiches. Or make The Jackson Bowl!
- 1/2 12-ounce package Mori-Nu silken tofu
- 1/2 cup tomato puree
- 1/4 cup raw cashews
- 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons golden raisins
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- Place all ingredients into a high-speed blender and blend until completely smooth. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend.
- Stir before using, adding a little water if sauce is too thick. Excellent as a dipping sauce or salad dressing. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
If there’s such a thing as Jackson cuisine, I think it would have to be a combination of country home cooking and soul food–field peas, greens, barbecue, and corn bread–heavily influenced by New Orleans’ Creole and Cajun dishes. You’ll find gumbos and red beans and rice on a lot of local menus, though they are never vegan. I chose red beans and rice for my Jackson bowl because it’s one of the few local specialties that can easily be made vegan. And I topped it with sweet potato “croutons” in honor of the Sweet Potato Queens series of books and parade, another local tradition that I learned about only after moving here but which, like Comeback Sauce, gives this area its own spicy, quirky flavor.
- 3 cups cooked red beans, seasoned as below, or prepared Easy Red Beans or Real Louisiana Red Beans
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce (or wheat-free tamari)
- 1 generous pinch smoked salt (optional)
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 1 bunch kale (about 12 ounces), removed from stems and chopped or other chopped greens
- 2 cups cooked brown rice or other grain
- 8 tablespoons Vegan Comeback Sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped pecans or walnuts
- Red Beans: Start with already-prepared Easy Red Beans or season your own red beans by sauteing 1 diced onion, 2 chopped ribs of celery, 1/2 diced bell pepper, and 3-4 cloves minced garlic until onion is softened. Add the cooked beans, a little water, and 1 to 2 teaspoons (or more to taste) of Cajun or Creole seasoning. Simmer for at least 20 minutes to allow flavors to combine.
- Sweet Potato Croutons: Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine maple syrup, soy sauce, and smoked salt in a large bowl. Add diced sweet potato and toss to coat. Spread on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until tender and just beginning to brown, stirring once.
- Kale or Other Greens: Steam until tender. Or, in a large covered wok or deep skillet, sauté a small, sliced onion until translucent and add a couple cloves garlic, kale, and about 1/4 cup water. Cover and steam, stirring once or twice, until the kale is tender, about 4 minutes.
- Build a Bowl: Place 1/2 cup cooked grain on the bottom of each bowl and top with 1/2 cup red beans. Add a healthy layer of greens, some Comeback Sauce, and another 1/4 cup of red beans. Top with sweet potato croutons, more sauce, and a sprinkling of chopped pecans or walnuts. Enjoy!
Vida Vegan Con
If you’re curious about the incredible vegan love-fest that was Vida Vegan Con 2013, check out these bloggers who weren’t so nervous that they actually forgot to take photos:
- Portland: Everything Came up Roses, by Maria at Plant-Based Slow Motion Miracle
- Vida Vegan Con 2013: The Food, The People, The Fun! at Dreena Burton’s Plant-Powered Kitchen
- My Ideal Day in Vegan Portland & Vegan Celebrity Sightings by Carrie on Vegan
- Vida Vegan Con 2013 Details and Swag at Low Fat Vegan Chef
- VidaVeganCon: I am STUFFED by Vegan Eats and Treats
- I Went to Vida Vegan Con in Portland by Andrea’s Easy Vegan Cooking
- Vida Vegan Con 2013 by The Veracious Vegan
- I Broke My Swagger and Other News at Cake Maker to the Stars
- Vida Vegan Con 2013 Part 1 at Bonzai Aphrodite
- Vida Vegan Con 2013 by Luminous Vegans
- #VVC2013: Meet & Greet. And Eat by Choosing Raw (with photo of the Portland Bowl!)
- Vida Vegan Con: An Epic Recap at Diet, Dessert and Dogs
- Vida Vegan Con 2013: A Love Letter at Cadry’s Kitchen
And so many more! If I left you out, please add a link to your post in the comments below.
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