Saturday, March 1, 2014

On Making “Cauliflower Wings” and My Thoughts on Imitation Food

"Imitation cannot go above its model." - Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Last night I made “imitation wings.” I signed up for this gluten-free food box subscription (Groupon: the Achilles heel of the adventurous but cheap) and one of the foods came with a recipe for cauliflower wings. It sounded fun and it meshed well with my quest to eat more vegetarian. Plus, I have a lot of cauliflower in my fridge which is teetering dangerously on the edge of going to that big white cabbage in the sky.
 So, I thought, hey, why not? I followed the recipe--it was pretty good--but I found myself feeling disappointed. My spouse scarfed it down, confused, as usually, by my mixed emotions. “What?” he asked. “These are awesome!”

But I just didn’t like something about them, and I couldn’t figure out what. The sauce was decent, they were cooked just right, and the dip was filled with oniony goodness. I should have been thrilled with a successful new recipe. But something was wrong.

Then I realized it.

They weren’t chicken wings.

I was expecting to eat chicken wings.

The search for more vegan/vegetarian recipes has brought me back to a food trend that I’d almost forgotten about: imitation everything. You see, this ain’t my first imitation rodeo. I went through this trend when I went gluten-free.

When I first was diagnosed with celiac, I tried to make imitation everything. Imitation gluten-free bread, imitation cake, imitation pancakes, imitation, imitation, imitation. Some recipes were successful, some sucked more than Edward on Bella’s face.

But I learned something very quickly: making “fake” versions of the foods I loved would never taste exactly the same, and trying over and over was frustrating. It usually led to me missing those foods that I couldn’t replicate even more.

I realized that if I was going to make a huge dietary adjustment, my food based happiness was going to stem from learning to embrace the foods I could eat. I think this is true for vegan/vegetarian eating as well.

Imitation meat. Imitation protein crumbles. Imitation cheese. Seriously, have you tried imitation cheese? I’m going to follow the old truism here--if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

I’m tired of seeing fruits, veggies, and legumes that are smashed, shaped, and forced into trying to taste like something they’re not in the name of imitation. All these foods have natural flavors that should be celebrated, not hidden to try to create something artificial. After all, embracing and enhancing the natural flavors of your ingredients is what makes for the greatest recipes.

That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent imitation foods and recipes out there. In fact, I know there are, and I certainly appreciate them. The world would be a much bleaker place without gluten-free brownies. But I’m just saying, if you make a piece of cauliflower and cover it in BBQ sauce and expect it to taste exactly like a chicken wing, you’re likely to be disappointed. But if you embrace it as cauliflower, you can really appreciate what you’re eating. 

Instead of trying to make an “imitation wing,” why not try to make the best damn BBQ cauliflower out there?