I've always been fascinated with the discipline of being a vegan. It's doubtful I'll ever make the decision to be one myself, but I admire those who have. I especially appreciate those who choose to do so quietly, which is why I invited my good friend, fellow music enthusiast and Westword contributor Kyle Smith over for dinner the other night. He's one of the least-preachy vegans I've ever met, but I'd never really talked to him about why he chooses not to eat anything from an animal, and I figured cooking a vegan meal for him would be the perfect opportunity to do so.
That afternoon, I called Kyle to ask if there was anything specific that he was in the mood for. He told me one of his favorite things to eat was roasted vegetables, so I headed over to In Season, where some wonderfully bright-green Brussels sprouts had just arrived from Grant Family Farms. I grabbed a handful, as well as some quinoa, for protein's sake (the grain is a complete source of it), figuring I'd roast the sprouts, toast the quinoa and make a quick dressing for both.
I'd already made a weekend beer run and decided to serve Odell Brewing's Mountain Standard; a double-black IPA they've released in four-packs for Daylight Savings. I had bought it because I was intrigued by the style (home-brews aside, I can't say I've had a black IPA), and because it was brewed with locally grown hops from the Western Slope. I assumed something roasty and strong would pair well with roasted Brussels sprouts.
And without knowing it, I had already answered one of my questions about being a vegan. It's not at all difficult to cook within the guidelines. In fact, I've been cooking with meat so often that I forgot how easy and cheap it is not to. I served the sprouts-and-quinoa salad to Kyle, a worthy judge, and was pleased to see him satisfied.
"This is great!" he exclaimed. "You know, some of my favorite vegetables these days were my least favorite growing up. I think that's because they were frozen, and shitty."
I share this sentiment wholeheartedly. Fresh Brussels sprouts are the quintessential proof that quality local produce can easily remedy childish prejudice. These sprouts, from Grant Family Farms, were satisfying and sweet, juicy and firm.
Conversations between Kyle and me always tend toward music, mainly because that's how we bonded originally. He has a wealth of knowledge on the subject, and since my own musical tastes have become fairly stagnant over the years, I'm vicariously interested in hearing about what he's been listening to.
"Honestly, these days, most of what I listen to is underground metal," he admitted, much to my surprise. "I don't like the rock-and-roll element, mind you; the texture is part of it, but basically, it's just really exciting. Like, holy shit, that is really fucking impressive. A lot of it is rooted in simplicity, and through that, there's a ton of versatility."
While I can't say I enjoy the genre myself, I do understand why it appealed to him, and it prompted me to ask why he chose to simplify his own life by being a vegan. "It's a choice. I don't want to sound pretentious, but I believe it's an ethically correct one. Not to put down the eating of animals, but I disagree with domestication, the idea of control. It's a commitment I made when I moved away from home and had to start feeding myself. Coincidentally, the limitations of it forced me to not be lazy. It made me learn how to cook for myself."
We happily ate the salad, killed the four-pack and then some, all while listening to tunes Kyle had brought over, namely Crystal Stilts, a "psychedelic-sixties-thing" he wrote about earlier this year and thought I might like (he was right). And while we enjoyed the Mountain Standard, both with the food and on its own, we were a bit let down in its lack of hop character. It's somewhat ironically named, in that it's not a standard style at all; it drinks more like an imperial brown ale than an India pale ale. It's extremely drinkable, though, given its 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, but it would have been nice to taste more of the Colorado hops.
And even though the chances of me embracing veganism are about as high as those of catching me at the latest metal show, I'll always enjoy the company of, and cooking for, a humble vegan.
Here's the recipe:
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1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved Salt and pepper to taste Olive oil 2 tablespoons honey 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 1 clove garlic, minced 1 cup quinoa 2 cups water
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 2. Toss Brussels sprouts in olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread onto a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Remove and let cool. 3. In a large non-stick skillet, toast the quinoa over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes; add two cups of water, bring to a boil, cover and cook for 15 minutes. 4. While sprouts cook, whisk 3 tablespoons of olive oil, soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of honey, a pinch of salt and pepper and garlic until thoroughly combined. 5. In a separate bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, and a pinch of salt and pepper until thoroughly combined. 6. Toss the sprouts in soy garlic dressing and the quinoa in balsamic dressing and serve.