It’s 5:42 AM. I’m sitting at my kitchen table, wrapped like a human burrito in my favorite blanket, sipping a cup of coffee, listening to the rain fall, and getting ready to write about this incredible vegan pizza I made the other day. This whole situation is pretty ideal.
The two years I spent as a vegan feel (two years ago) feel like ages ago. So much has changed since then. Occasionally, someone asks about that experience - why did you do it? What was it like? Did you enjoy it? And you stopped because…? I’m happy to answer those questions, and I look back on that time with a smile because I enjoyed most of it - learning about production of meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, adjusting my cooking methods and adopting new ones, baking with vegan alternatives, and trying tasty vegan restaurants. There were, however, some moments that I didn’t enjoy, and we’ll get to those, too.
I went vegetarian during my freshman year of college because I started working at a vegan café and just felt called to try a meatless diet. At the time, vegan sounded way too far out of my comfort zone, so I included dairy, fish, and eggs. This was also at the time when my eating disorder was just coming down from an all-time high (or low? whatever - the point is I was in a bad place with food and my body), so my restrictions were my restrictions and no one was going to mess with them. I maintained the vegetarian diet for about six months until a friend really started talking to me about veganism. She wasn’t pushy or pressuring, just wanting to educate me. So, for a week, I tried the vegan diet and dove into information and research on animal cruelty, environmental issues, and health risks associated with consuming animal products. In the blink of an eye (or what felt like that, at least), I went vegan.
My parents supported my decision and did a fantastic job at hiding their concerns. We’ve talked about this now and they told me how worried they were, but back then, I couldn’t sense that from them at all. If I had, I might have changed my mind, but who knows. I was pretty stubborn (still am), especially when it came to food.
For the next year and a half, I loved being vegan. Every second. And no, I’m not kidding. I can’t really pinpoint what it was that I loved so much, but I know I just felt good physically. My digestion was fantastic and we will leave that at that. My energy levels were higher than ever, which I needed to work 20 hours a week and go to school full-time. Because I was so busy, I didn’t really have time to go out to eat with friends, so I cooked most of my meals at home and I think that also played a significant role in how comfortable I felt being vegan at the time. I hadn’t yet run into any challenging food situations.
As I approached my two-year vegan anniversary - vegan-iversary? is that weird? - things changed. The tight restrictions I held around food became more and more apparent. I quit my job to focus on school, so I had some more time to spend with friends, and we often went out to eat. Inevitably, the challenging food situations presented themselves. I was the one at the table asking for vegan options, and if there weren’t any, then I was either eating a salad (read: a bowl of lettuce and veggies and maybe some bread on the side because everything else on the salad was taken off to make it vegan) or nothing at all. Sure, there are some delicious vegan-friendly restaurants in my area, but I find that most college-age young adults prefer pizza and barbecue and breakfast burritos and burgers over those more trendy vegan-friendly spots.
Thoughts of transitioning into a non-vegan diet crossed my mind a few times, but a couple things quickly pushed them out: 1) fear of feeling physically worse and changing my body (the rigid food and exercise restrictions kept me at a size I was too afraid to change), and 2) fear of backlash from the blog - all my readers knew I was vegan and I received so much affirmation from them, and basically built Hungry Haley as a vegan.
A couple of months passed and the thoughts kept popping into my mind, so I let them stay and considered what a non-vegan diet would be like - how might I feel? would anything about me change? would the restrictions and awkward social food situations still be a thing? So many components influenced my decision to transition to a non-vegan diet, the main ones being: 1) social food situations - I wanted to enjoy as much as possible every moment with my friends and my vegan diet felt too restrictive for me in those precious moments sharing food with loved ones, 2) my health - my eating disorder became more apparent and I realized how much of time was tied to my restrictive vegan diet, so I had no choice but to let that go, and 3) a love for all food - cooking and baking are my two biggest passions and I wanted to experiment more in the kitchen with all foods.
So, that’s my story. I still eat vegan meals quite often, and I’ve found that I sometimes prefer these over non-vegan meals. What I wanted most was a diet free of restrictions. I wanted to eat vegan when I wanted to eat vegan, and to enjoy meat, dairy, fish, eggs, etc. when I wanted to. I am by no means claiming that the vegan diet was my eating disorder and that if someone is vegan, he/she has an eating disorder. The diet can be restrictive, and in my situation at the time, I needed to let go of restrictions. And I’m incredibly happy I did.
Whether you’re vegan or non-vegan or purple or green or whatever you are, I made a pizza for you and it’s absolutely delicious! You, as the cook, will know it’s vegan, but your friends/family/guests might just have no idea. My encouragement here is to get in the kitchen, buy some ingredients you might not usually, and whip up a tasty, creative pizza!
For the “sausage”:
1 8-oz. block tempeh
2 tbsp. avocado oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped red onion (about 1/8th of a medium red onion)
1 pinch sea salt
1-2 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
For the crispy broccolini:
2 cups chopped broccoli (I used the top half of the stalk)
2 tbsp. avocado oil
1 pinch sea salt
For the vegan white sauce:
1 cup cashews, soaked in hot water for at least one hour
1/2 cup almond or soy milk
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
3 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. nutritional yeast
For the pizzas:
2 whole-wheat naan flatbreads from California Lavash
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Fresh chopped basil
Begin by cooking the tempeh. Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 2 tbsp. avocado oil. Let this heat for about a minute, and then crumble the tempeh into the skillet. Cook for about 5-6 minutes, and then add the red onion and garlic and cover. Drizzle the tamari or soy sauce into the skillet, stir, and continue cooking this for another 5 minutes. When the tempeh is crisp with some charred pieces, turn off the heat and cover. Set aside.
Prepare the white sauce. Drain and rinse the cashews, and then place them in a high-powered blender with the almond milk, white wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Blend on high until smooth, then add the garlic, nutritional yeast, and sea salt and blend again until smooth. Transfer to a mason jar with a lid and set aside.
Transfer the tempeh to a bowl and heat the skillet again for the broccolini. Add 2 tbsp. avocado oil and let this heat up for a minute. Toss the broccolini into the skillet, cover, and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until it becomes a vibrant green color and is slightly tender. Uncover, sprinkle with sea salt, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. When it is lightly charred, turn off the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the white sauce onto each naan flatbread - as much as you’d like. Then, distribute the tempeh “sausage” over the top followed by the broccolini. Transfer the flatbreads to the baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until warm to the touch.
Remove them from the oven and garnish with crushed red pepper flakes and fresh chopped basil. Serve immediately, and store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days.
This post is sponsored by California Lavash - all opinions and statements are my own. Thanks for supporting my blog!