Stir Fry (Vegetarian)

Featured Image: Martin Cathrae, Stir Fry Action

James Peavy

Dr. Rose

ENGL 1101

23 July 2018

Sustainability Cookbook Introduction

For as long as I can remember, my mother has been vegetarian. I can’t ever recall a time where she has ever eaten meat. Because of this exposure to vegetarian cooking, I have traditionally been fine with eating vegetarian foods. Some of my favorite foods have been cooked with meat alternatives like tofu, paneer, and seitan. I have always found myself liking meat alternatives better than the actual thing, one reason being the ease of preparing meat alternatives. This tradition of using meat substitutes, common in the East, runs in my family, and because of this, I chose a vegan stir fry. Originally, I thought that this would be hard to make more sustainable, because it is a generally healthy meal that would be easy to make with minimal access to fresh ingredients, but after some research, I found that even my healthy vegan recipe could be made more sustainable that it already was.

First, I will list the ingredients: tofu, soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce, cashews, sugar,

rice wine, vegetable oil, chili, broccoli, and carrots. Each of these ingredients seem, at first glance, to be easy enough to find, if not a fair bit exotic to the average American. Despite that, even in a larger chain like Publix, some of these ingredients were difficult to find a variety of, for example, the tofu was only one of about 4 brands. On top of the difficulty in finding tofu, I couldn’t even find vegetarian oyster sauce. Looking at my recipe through the lens of sustainability, much of it can’t be replaced without changing the recipe, except for the tofu and sugar, both of which are somewhat expensive and can be replaced by better, healthier alternatives.

Tofu is naturally a soy-based product, and it is a very acquired taste. This makes it lack wider appeal which when looking at social sustainability, must be changed, and it makes it a mono-culture. While one of these problems can be dealt with, the issue of social sustainability and acceptableness, mono-culture is much harder to solve when creating a vegetarian dish, which requires almost exclusively soybeans. The easy solution to this issue would be a substitute that resembles what it is supposed to replace, chicken, beef, and pork. This product is called seitan, which is a great substitute for tofu because it is vegan and feels much like a good piece of chicken or beef might feel. The issue with this replacement is the average price of tofu compared to seitan. At a chain such as Walmart, Nasoya® Organic Extra Firm Tofu will run you about 18 cents an ounce compared to Pacific Foods Organic Seitan which will run you around 30 cents per ounce, a roughly 67% increase in price. In that case, 

economic feasibility and sustainability come into question, but there is a very simple solution, make your own seitan. This is easily done with little effort besides making sure it sits for an hour during the final step, and with some easily obtainable ingredients: vital wheat gluten, soy sauce, and water. When making seitan this way, the average price is reduced from the massive 30 cents per ounce, to a measly 12 cents per ounce. This ‘going back’ and creating a major portion of your meal fits into what Michael Pollan describes as his, “Perfect Meal, not because it turned out so well… but because this labor and though-intensive dinner… gave me the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to eat in full consciousness of everything involved in feeding myself.” (9) This is still not truly what I am advocating for in my recipe, but it does illustrate an important point about understanding what is in our food. The ability to create seitan, even using store bought ingredients, both saves money and educates the creator about what really goes into that package of seitan, much like how hunting for your food educates the hunter about what really goes into the preparation of that part of a meal. This acknowledgement of what goes into our food helps to solve, in its own little way, Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore Dilemma.”

In addition to the replacement of tofu by seitan, the next ingredient we must look at in our

quest to make a meal more sustainable and healthier is sugar. Sugar can be replaced with something as simple as regular honey. Honey requires some diligence to cook with and is a bit sweeter than regular white sugar. This replacement is perfect, because after some minor adjustments, it is simple to use and cook with. Traditional white sugar is made through a process that takes out the molasses from the sugar crystals, which gives rise to sugar’s white color. This process is long and heavily mechanized, so one of the best ways to increase the sustainability of the recipe is to completely cut out sugar usage, and instead use honey, which can be harvested individually or bought in a store. Honey and sugar are also usable for a long time and won’t need to be constantly purchased.

Through these simple changes and fixes to some of the ingredients in the recipe and some minor changes in the directions, my stir fry can be created simply and economically. The recipe can also be made healthy through the addition of vegetables, and the sauce can also be made to be spicier through the addition of some chili paste or oil. The flexibility of the recipe also makes it more sustainable, because you can easily adapt it to almost any season by taking ingredients that are out of season and adding in ingredients that are in season. This combination of accessibility, through the ease of replacement of certain ingredients, and cost, the most expensive part of the recipe being the sauces, make this dish sustainable for an individual purchasing it at a store or using home-grown ingredients. The status of it as vegetarian makes it the best for the environment by giving the eater more energy compared to the cost of maintaining livestock or other meat-based products, making it also sustainable for the environment. This individual and environmental sustainability, finally, show that when looking through your food through the lens of a detective, you can solve the “Omnivore Dilemma.”

Works Cited

“밀고기.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 July 2018, ko.wikipedia.org/wiki/밀고기.

Daria-Yakovleva. “Free Image on Pixabay – Honey, Yellow, Beekeeper, Nature.” Family Love Rainbow · Free Vector Graphic on Pixabay, 7 Jan. 2017, pixabay.com/en/honey-yellow-beekeeper-nature-1958464/.

“How We Make Sugar.” Historical Timeline – American Crystal Sugar Companywww.crystalsugar.com/sugar-processing/sugar-from-sugar-beets/.

Melanie, et al. “Pacific Foods Organic Seitan, Original, 12-Ounces.” Walmart.com, Walmart, 9 Aug. 2017, www.walmart.com/ip/Pacific-Foods-Organic-Seitan-Original-12-Ounces/125831739.

“Nasoya® Organic Extra Firm Tofu 14 Oz. Tray.” Walmart.com, Walmart, www.walmart.com/ip/Nasoya-Organic-Extra-Firm-Tofu-14-oz-Tray/10898817.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivores Dilemma a Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Books, 2016.

“Vegetarian on the Cheap.” How I Converted to Seitan!, 24 Sept. 2008, vegetarianonthecheap.blogspot.com/2008/09/how-i-converted-to-seitan.html.

Young, Dr. Lisa. “Fighting Breast Cancer One Colorful Vegetable at a Time: a Tribute to My Grandmother.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 6 Nov. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fighting-breast-cancer-one-colorful-vegetable-at-a_us_59fd08dee4b05e3e1f0a0133.

Ingredients:

Tofu (1 package)

1 1/2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce

2 Tablespoon Oyster Sauce

1/3 Cashew

1 Tablespoon Sugar

1 Tablespoon Chinese Rice Wine

2 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil

4 Dried Chili

2 Broccoli

2 Carrots

Directions:

  1. (optional) prepare some rice to go with the stir fry, start early because it may take a while
  2. Prepare the carrots, broccoli, and tofu, cutting the carrots into about quarter inch circles, washing off the broccoli and carrots, and cut the tofu into 1-inch by 1-inch cubes (make sure to dry out the tofu by pressing the giant block)
  3. Put the vegetable oil into the pan / wok and let it heat up, after it heats up, place the broccoli and carrots into the pan and let them heat up
  4. Place the Rice Wine, Oyster Sauce, Soy Sauce, and Sugar into the pan / wok, stir the vegetables and sauce to make sure it spreads evenly
  5. Add in the dry chilis, cashews, and tofu
  6. Wait until the tofu browns a bit or until the broccoli starts to shrivel, then set the stove to the lowest setting and serve on top of rice or by itself

Revised Ingredients:

Seitan (However much you need)

1 1/2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce

2 Tablespoons Vegetarian Oyster Sauce

1/3 Cup of Cashews

3/4 Tablespoons Pure Honey

1 Tablespoons Rice Wine

2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil

4 Dried Chilis

2 Broccoli

2 Carrots

Revised Directions:

  1. Make the seitan according to the recipe at: http://vegetarianonthecheap.blogspot.com/2008/09/how-i-converted-to-seitan.html
  2. (optional) prepare some rice to go with the stir fry, start early because it may take a while
  3. Prepare the carrots, broccoli, and seitan, cutting the carrots into about quarter inch circles, washing off the broccoli and carrots, and cut the seitan into cubes or strips
  4. Put the vegetable oil into the pan / wok and let it heat up, after it heats up, place the broccoli and carrots into the pan and let them heat up
  5. Place the rice wine, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and honey into the pan / wok, stir the vegetables and sauce to make sure it spreads evenly
  6. Add in the dry chilis, cashews, and tofu
  7. Wait until the tofu browns a bit or until the broccoli starts to shrivel, then set the stove to the lowest setting and serve on top of rice or by itself