Even before going vegan, I missed diner food. When I think of diner food, I recall sliding into squeaky Naugahyde booths, with Formica tables and table juke-boxes of chrome and glass. I remember tasting mom’s omelet and eating perfectly grilled grilled-cheese sandwiches at the lunch counter at Van Slyke’s Pharmacy, spinning around on the rotating stools while waitresses who knew our names would pat our heads and call us “sweetheart”. It makes me think of hanging out late at night with my college friends at the Campus Restaurant in Oberlin after a movie or a concert. Or more late nights at the Doghouse in Seattle, eating fries while Dick Dickerson’s cheesy organ music drifted in from the adjacent lounge. Or eating burgers and rice pudding at any number of nameless (to me) Greek diners in NYC while visiting my sister. Diner food may incorporate flavors from all over the world, but it is nonetheless quintessentially American. It’s the food of fun, and comfort, and to an expat, tastes more like home than eating at home.
So I was really looking forward to this week’s cookbook challenge: Vegan Diner by Julie Hasson. It was one of the first vegan cookbooks I bought, and yet I had never made any of the recipes. It’s a beautiful book! Glossy and well-laid out, filled with fantastic photos, and a wonderful design evocative of a diner menu. When I started looking through the recipes I wanted to try, I found I couldn’t narrow it down to three. Instead, I planned a whole week’s worth of menus – too many to write about in one blog post – so I’ll have three posts about the cookbook: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
Breakfast for dinner is one of my favorite things in the world (and harks back to eating greasy diner breakfasts in the middle of the night), so I was really excited to try some of the breakfast foods in the book. It’s been ages since I had sausage patties, so I decided to venture into the world of seitan-making (a first for me, since I’ve been too intimidated to try using vital wheat gluten) and make the Herbed Breakfast Sausage Patties. These are now my favorite thing ever. Not only were they a breeze to make (mix dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, form patties, steam, refrigerate overnight), but even when just mixing the ingredients, my mouth was watering from the amazing aroma wafting up and me from the bowl. Julie Hasson has figured out the perfect combination of herbs and spices for a breakfast patty.
The patties browned really nicely in the pan, and the texture was flawless. They made a great accompaniment for My Big Fat Greek Scramble. Every vegan cookbook worth its (black) salt includes a tofu scramble recipe (dessert cookbooks excluded, of course) and they’re all slightly different. This colorful scramble filled with spinach and red pepper and Kalamata olives did not disappoint. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe exactly, and it was almost perfect. The only thing I did differently the second time was to substitute some kala namak for the sea salt to enhance the egginess of the dish.
Separately, the scramble and the sausage patties are both things I would make again, but together they are an absolute winner. Perfect Breakfast for Dinner fare!
So much for the savory. Diner breakfasts also bring sweet things to mind. So I decided to have a go at a sweet breakfast treat, the Blueberry Nutmeg Muffins. This also allowed me to broaden my vegan cooking horizons by baking with flax meal (often used as an egg substitute) for the very first time. And again, it was so easy and went so much more smoothly than I expected. Julie Hasson has truly fool-proofed these recipes if a relatively inexperienced chef/baker like myself gets results like these right off the bat. These muffins rose perfectly, had a wonderful crumb, and again, the flavor combinations were impeccable. I brought some in to work on Sunday, and they were all gone by the afternoon. I even got compliments about them from the omni foodie in the group! Needless to say, I left a few for myself at home, but these are now long gone. The sweet spiciness of the nutmeg and the tartness of the blueberries complement each other really nicely in this recipe. I’m looking forward to trying more of the baked goods in here!
Next up: Lunch!