(The recipe for my vegan chicken and dumplings appears below while hyperlinks to other recipes appear throughout this blog entry.)
Soups, Sides and Sonnets: Our MLK Celebration was a delightful, Sunday afternoon spent with family, close friends, neighbors, colleagues and new-acquaintances- turned-instant-friends. Guests arrived with smiles, hugs, flowers, wine, dessert, gifts and hearty appetites.
They mixed and mingled while everything was being set up. When all was ready, we gathered in the living room where I welcomed and thanked everyone for sharing part of their long weekend with me and my daughters for I consider it a gift that, of all the places they could be on this special weekend, they chose to spend it with us. I then poured libation, a ritual by which the connection between the ancestors, the living and not-yet-born is acknowledged by pouring liquid into earth (a plant in our case) and calling out the names of those who have come/gone before us, those upon whose shoulders we stand. Though our home was filled with guests from diverse racial, ethnic, regional, and religious backgrounds–African American (from Yonkers, Memphis, San Diego, Cleveland, Mississippi and Indiana), Italian, Irish, Caribbean, Latina, Christian, Catholic, and Jewish—libation is a ritual that all could participate in. And so we called out names of loved ones in gratitude and reverence and the tone was set for a beautiful fellowship over ethnic soups and sides to match, including my vegan chipotle tortilla soup with black/bean corn quesadillas, Italian butternut squash soup seasoned with fresh sage and rosemary and accompanied by mini pizzas topped with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and red onion; African American “chicken” and dumplings (see my vegan version below) with collard green wontons and hot sauce for dipping; and Indian red lentil soup, aka dal, served with delicious potato and pea samosas and mango chutney. Vegan versions of these dishes were created with Earth Balance vegan buttery spread in place of ghee in the Indian dishes, almond milk instead of heavy cream in the squash soup, vegan, cheddar style shreds by Daiya in the quesadillas, and seitan for the chicken in the dumpling soup.
The idea was that guests would get a cup and a saucer, try a soup, get some sides, rinse out the same cup and try another soup, until they’d tried all of the soups and sides. Most tried at least two soups and all of the sides. The tureen containing the mock chicken and dumplings emptied out first while the platter of samosas was the first to disappear. Like any culinary artist, I consider it the ultimate compliment that no sides were left by the time I got around to eating, and none were left on plates or thrown in the trash. (But I will remember to set aside some for myself the next time.)
In between cups of soup and saucers of sides, we had a powerful open mic session. Some guests read poems of their own about the places they come from, about loving relationships between fathers and sons, about faith, and even about pop legend Michael Jackson and the peace communicated through his music. Others read poems by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes and passages from the book The Warmth of Other Suns by scholar Isabelle Wilkerson, which takes its title from a poem by Hughes, a discovery that one of our guests divinely made while flipping through a collection of Hughes’s poetry. Kids even joined in with poems about hope and their favorite story by Dr. Seuss. One of our close family friends even performed what he likes to call “holy comedy” because, as he joked on his way to the mic, “I love Jesus, but I like to laugh too.” All in all, the afternoon turned into much more than I imagined, and, though I am thoroughly exhausted from cleaning, setting up, and cooking, I’m more overjoyed at the peace, light, and joy that a group of people, many of whom were strangers to one another, can create.
I will revel in that energy for a little while longer as I go (re)make some sides to go with the left over soups. I’m thinking more samosas and quesadillas. Maybe I’ll invite some folks who didn’t make it yesterday for Soups and Sides, Part II. I might even sing a song while the dough is tenderizing since the mic is still in the living room and no one is here. (To see photos from Soups, Sides and Sonnets click here.)
Vita’s Vegan “Chicken” and Dumplings
If you want the dumplings to thoroughly absorb the various seasonings called for in the recipe, prepare this dish at least one day ahead of when it will be served. It will taste even better the day after it is prepared.
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of baking soda
1/4 cup chilled Earth Balance Vegan Butter
6 Tablespoons ice water
2 18oz packs of West Soy Seitan
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery including the leaves, coarsely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper plus more to taste
1 bay leaf
5 sage leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary sprigs
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Directions for preparing dumplings:
Sift flour, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Add Earth Balance Vegan Butter and using clean hands massage the flour and butter together until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water and stir just until dough forms. Add more water if the ingredients do not hold together. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 1/8 inch thick rectangle. Cut rectangle into 2 x 2 inch squares or bigger if you’d like.
Directions for preparing the broth:
Chop seitan into bite size pieces.
Using a pestle and mortar, pound fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme or coarsely chop them if you don’t have a pestle and mortar.
In a large pot, sauté onion, celery, and garlic along with the pounded herbs. Add chopped seitan.
Add two quarts water, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Uncover and toss in your dumplings.
Add water as needed.
Taste and add more salt, pepper, or herbs to taste.
Serve by the cup or bowl full.