How to Eat Vegan on A Norwegian Cruise Ship

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If you’re gearing up for a cruise ship vacation, or even just toying with the idea, you’re probably thinking “There’s no way I can eat vegan on an all-you-can-eat cruise extravaganza.” And while that may be true, you can most definitely eat vegan when sober. Here’s how I did it:

1. These ships are typically equipped with about 20+ restaurants. Seek out the ethnic ones like Japanese (ours had its very own version of a knife-tossing, action-packed Benihana), Chinese and Indian (and at the buffets, steer clear of the never-ending options of carved meats and look for the abundance of international stations). Even the Italian spots should be able to dole out a simple pasta with veggies and olive oil or pasta with tomato sauce and freshly cracked black pepper.

Dinner at Benihana-knockoff:photo (2)

 Makeshift-dinner plate round two created from some international buffet stations like Indian and Japanese:photo 5

2. Explore the high seas in comfort by raiding the breakfast buffet for mini boxes of vegan-friendly cereal and fruit. Snack on them throughout the day to keep you fueled between meals.  Craving a bagel for breakfast? I regret to inform you, tofu cream cheese won’t be on any of the 29389283 decks. Instead DIY a boring bagel with the friendly help of a toaster, capers, onions, tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar and whatever other vegan-friendly options your heart desires.

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3. Just ask! You’ve spent lord knows how much money to be there (and don’t forget that $12 service fee per day per person. Thanks for the heads up, guys) so don’t be shy about speaking up to your waiter. See an eggplant dish on the dinner menu that looks intriguing but is doused in mozzarella? See if they can make you a special version sans cheese. See a salad that looks delectable but is topped off with slivers of tuna? Just ask if they can leave off the fish from yours.

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4. Anchors and…condiments away! Befriend toppings and sauces. Seriously. With the help of sriracha and toppings from the grill station like caramelized onions, mushrooms and horseradish, you can turn any blah meal into something quite tasty.  Yes, sometimes you have to think a bit creatively to make a full vegan meal in the main dining hall but its totally doable. At buffet style meals, I often utilized various stations to make a meal come together that otherwise wouldn’t stand on its own (i.e., for the pasta pictured below, I got ziti with tomato sauce, onions and mushrooms from the pasta area, and then headed over to the salad bar for flavor-boosters like olives and peppers and protein doses from chickpeas and peas. Then over to the pizza bar for red chile pepper flakes. Done!)

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5. Don’t get drunk and raid the soft serve machine. You’ll thank me later. But don’t worry about getting drunk and bingeing on veggie burgers loaded with guacamole, horseradish, jalapenos, spicy mustard, onions and waffle fries. It’ll make those $9 Dirty Shirley’s (it’s a thing! I thought I brilliantly reinvented this childhood favorite into a booze-infused libation myself but alcoholic Shirley Temples are a thing, who knew?!)

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Food Blog Hero Q&A with Holy Cow Vegan: Vegan Indian Food You Didn’t Know You Crave

The real title of this blog should be “Food Blog Hero Q&A with Holy Cow Vegan: Vegan Indian Food You Didn’t Know You Crave…But Must Tackle Immediately.”

Recently, I was lucky enough to pick the brain of one of my favorite food bloggers, Vaishali of Holy Cow Vegan. Her tantalizing vegan recipes (many of them Indian) run the spectrum from signature Bombay street food, Misal (If you’re not familiar, heck, even if you are, run, don’t walk) to banana coffee cake with chocolate streusel (both pictured below, courtesy of author). Her blog makes pulling off seemingly-complicated dishes approachable and fun, and her recipes never fail to introduce me to a brilliant flavor-pairing (zucchini for dessert, who knew?) or clever ways to spike a dish with not-your-average-spice-rack spices.

Misal

Banana Coffee Cake

Banana Chocolate Coffee Cake

1. What’s your favorite vegetable to cook with and why? Is there a secret-weapon veggie you use to slip into salads or soups or entrees that makes it super special? 

“I love cooking with most vegetables, but mushrooms are definitely one of my favorites. Although they’ve not been part of traditional Indian cooking, mushrooms go with virtually anything — I’ve tried them in curries, dals, sabzis (Indian side dishes) and even stuffed them in a paratha. I also love how mushrooms of all kinds contribute rich textures to vegan cooking. And they’re super-good for you, which is a huge bonus.”

2. What are your tips for ordering vegan Indian food when out? It can get tricky sometime! Is non-vegan? Any tips for decoding a menu or how to ask a waiter to make a non-vegan dish (say a stew made with ghee or dairy) vegan-friendly? Any vegan desserts on menus when eating out?

“I am not one of those vegans who will quiz a waiter about every last ingredient, especially when I am eating out with friends. The reason is that I don’t want to make a vegan lifestyle appear ridiculously unattainable to others. I usually ask the waiter if there is any ghee or cream in a vegetarian dish like a dal and if they say no, I will eat it. You might not always get dishes like dals and stews made to order because the ghee is part of the base when the dish is cooked, but with breads you have a little more leeway, since they will most often make them fresh for you and the ghee, in most cases, goes on the bread at the very end. It’s a little tough to get vegan Indian desserts in restaurants since Indian sweets are almost always milk-based, but jalebis are an option, if available. They are swirly yellow sweets made of chickpea flour and dunked in sugar syrup. They are delicious.”

3. What’s your favorite vegan Indian dish that anyone can (and should!) add to their repertoire of dinner options?

“Most vegans are really into dals when it comes to Indian foods, but I’d encourage them to try more curries made with vegetables and often a coconut and spice base, like My Dad’s Not-Mutton Mushroom Curry. While dals are wonderful for adding protein into your meal, curries like this one really perk up the taste buds and are a great introduction to the rich, varied cuisine of India.”

4. What advice would you offer to aspiring food bloggers?

“I’d advise them to blog with love. There are a zillion food blogs out there today, each one better looking than the next and SEO’d to the eyeballs, but when I think of great food blogging I always hark back to the early days when bloggers wrote about foods they cooked at home for the people they loved and why they created them, rather than just cook and post the hottest thing on Google Trends. I might be old-fashioned, but I think blogs that really engage you and have a personality are the ones that pull in and retain a loyal following. And here’s one more piece of advice: Check your grammar before you hit “publish.” 🙂 You don’t have to be a great writer, but there’s nothing as off-putting as a post with spelling and grammatical errors.”

*proofreads three times*

If I had to pick, Vaishali’s grain dishes are probably some of my favorites, and she’s been kind enough to let me share the photo of one of my favorites, Tawa Pulao. A serious treat for your senses and time-saver on weeknights. Get the recipe here.

Tawa Pulao

9 Genius Tricks for Ordering Chinese Take-out

You know those nights when you don’t want to cook? Yeah, I don’t really either. But on those rare nights where nothing will hit the spot quite like greasy Chinese food, here are some simple but brilliant tips for keeping it vegan.

1. Scallion pancakes. Enough said.

2. Ask what’s in their brown sauce or garlic sauce. Both can have oyster sauce or other animal products.

3. If the other sauces aren’t vegan friendly, here’s a simple swap: Ask for the “clear sauce” instead. This simple corn-starch based sauce (sometimes studded with scallions) is vegan.

4. A great entree option (that’s super healthy too) is mixed steamed veggies with brown rice and clear sauce (on the side, if you like). Extra hungry? Have tofu added (some menus already have this included) for some filling protein.

5. Sharing with multiple folks? If they’re getting tasty vegan options like baby eggplant, veggie trios, stir-fried crispy tofu with chile and cumin, braised assorted fresh mushrooms, mixed veggies and tofu, etc. (hungry yet?) ask for the sauce on the side, you can avoid those that aren’t vegan. And things like cold sesame peanut noodles, veggie dumplings, etc. you don’t have to worry about asking the sauce issue because it either comes on the side or is vegan.

6. Ask if they have any vegan soups. (or vegetarian, I’ve never heard of a Chinese restaurant that adds dairy to soups, or uses any kind of dairy for that matter. When was the last time you heard of chicken Teriyaki with melted cheese?)

7. Ask if they can omit egg from your veggie fried rice.

8. Don’t stress too much. If you accidentally ingest an ounce of brown sauce with animal products in it or inadvertently have a bite of something glazed with fish sauce, don’t sweat it. You want to show people how simple and delicious it is to be vegan, so don’t get too caught up in “rules” and worrying if your tofu was grilled on the same hot top as salmon was. You’ll drive yourself crazy, and your missing the bigger picture of kind and conscious eating.

9. Get your takeout out of those sad looking containers and into pretty bowls. Not only does this make for a happier looking meal, but it’ll help with portion control (ever notice how massive those Tupperwares are filled?) Nothing spells sad and pathetic pig out fest list eating your way through 2/3rds of your main course and that dinky white paper rice box and then figuring “Screw it, I’m almost done, I might as well finish it all.” And then your significant other being mad at you because they find you passed out in the bed five minutes later.

3 Things They Won’t Tell You About Giving Up Cheese

Whoever invented the expression “cold turkey” got it totally wrong. Cold turkey? Pfffft. More like “cold cheese.” Giving up turkey when you go vegan is nothing compared to the difficulty in abandoning that six-letter word that plagues vegans like five-years old in a psych lab are tempted by marshmallows. Maybe I speak only for myself, but when you’re recently vegan and it’s 1:00am on a vodka-fueled Saturday night, you’re not craving a burger. Or steak. Or even spaghetti and meatballs. You’re thinking about gooey mac and cheese. Salivating over the thought of an extra-cheesy slice of pizza. And then salvation arrives in the form of a crispy grilled cheese with thick slabs of tomato wedged between its oozing slices of American and a takeout container of cheese fries and overly-sweetened ketchup.

Then you wake up the next day, feeling a tinge of guilt and flip open a copy of Rachael Ray to distract you, only to have it open to a riff of two favorite cheesy delights: eggplant Parmesan and grilled cheese.

 1. Replicate “cheesiness” with umami.
This savory taste, now known as the “fifth flavor,” is found naturally in a variety of foods. Try adding briny olives, tomato paste, mushrooms or soy sauce to dishes that the old you would have doused in cheese to get that similar fix. It’s amazing what a smudge of hummus (I’m obssessed with Tribe‘s Cocktail Time limited edition horseradishy delicious flavor) on a sandwich can also do. Also, I put umami-rich balsamic vinegar on everything. EVERYTHING (everything bagel with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil? Sure! Rice cakes with balsamic vinegar? Sign me up! Pasta spirals tossed with balsamic and tomatoes? Yes, please).

2.  Put nutritional yeast on everything.
No, it won’t replace cheese, but it will make you miss it less. I swear by my “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Parm Sauce” (here’s my super simple recipe). If I’m making pasta and in a pinch, I sprinkle a combination of nutritional yeast and GO Veggie! vegan parm with tomato sauce and merrily continue on my cheese-free but still indulgent way.

3. You’d be surprised what restaurants can do for you.
…And how good your former go-to dishes still taste. See a cheese-reliant item on the menu you’d love to have? Just ask to hold the cheese and if they can load up on extra veggies or whatever else you like in its place. You’d be amazed how good wood-fired pizza with fresh tomato sauce, basil and mushrooms (or whatever your favorite toppings are) tastes. Don’t be afraid to asks! Any awesome chef will view your requests as a fun culinary challenge, and not a “goddamn this nitpicky crazy vegan eater.” And if they do? Tweet up a storm to let them know you’re ticked. (Mario Batali himself responded to me on Twitter once when I was upset by my service at Otto’s, true story).

P.S. The Vegan Buffalo Bites (made from cauliflower!) with “Blue Cheese” Dressing on 86Lemons beats that crummy bottled stuff any day.

The 3 Things That Surprised Me Most About Going Vegan

Nope, it wasn’t my boyfriend rolling his eyes at me. Or having to explain for the billionth time to someone that getting protein is easy (Coulda predicted that one too). Or that, yes, I know, I’m taking a B12 supplement, so don’t worry. So maybe I couldn’t have told you that I’d be eating a lot more of 86 Lemons’ Chickpea Ratatouille. But read on for the three real whammies that I discovered after making the plunge.

1. “Vegetarian” options at Chinese restaurants aren’t safe.

By now, I’m well versed in all the junk that gets thrown into seemingly innocuous dishes. But pre-vegan days, I thought, “Hey! Cheese and dairy are nowhere to be found on the menus of Asian restaurants. As long as I order veggies/tofu dishes, I’m totally safe. Hello Takeout!” Wrong. Turns out, a lot of sauces use fish or meat products and even items listed on a “Buddha’s delight” or “Vegetarian” section of a menu aren’t safe even if animal products aren’t named in the description. I’ve searched the internet high and low to try and figure out what exactly the standard recipe is for “brown sauce,” only to discover that it varies tremendously. After doing some informal surveys on my own at my go-to takeout joints, I discovered one uses chicken stock as the base for it’s brown sauce (and it’s white sauce too!), another is “vegetarian!” until you pry a bit and learn their definition of vegetarian means no pork and it actually contains oyster sauce, and a third is corn starch and water based, and totally vegetarian friendly. So ask, ask, ask away. And when in doubt. Order no sauce and get extra soy sauce on the side. P.S. Half the fun of take out/delivery is eating pre-made food in the comfort of your own home, so surely you could splurge for a $4 bottle of vegan teriyaki or other condiment of choice and just order your dishes sauce free and BYOS to the dinner table.

2. I have to worry about Blood Mary’s.

If you know me, you know that there’s one drink I crave breakfast, noon and nightcap: that savory blend of tomato juice, spice, enough olives to justify having to add it to your weight watchers point list and a (few) splash (es) of vodka. Sadly, Worcestershire sauce is typically made with anchovies, so it’s not on the “safe list” (I’ll trade accidentally vegan Oreos or Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Flavored Tortilla Chips to get Worcestershire sauce on that list any day). So what’s a BM-aficionado to do? Sling a bottle of Annie’s Organic Vegan Worcestershire Sauce in your purse to have on call for a brunch spot near you.

3. …But I don’t have to worry about everything.

Okay, so confession: I don’t actually walk around with Worcestershire Sauce in my purse (Though Annie’s is darn good). And I don’t even double check with my waiter at buzzy Manhattan liquor dens to ensure they’re using the vegan kind (A little voice in my head likes to cajole me by whispering “C’mon Perri, this is Manhattan, of course this trendy spot knows to pick one without anchovies. I mean, they’re charging me $1112 a glass, they must be splurging for the organic vegan version…”) And I’m okay with that. I used to think going vegan was an all or nothing type thing. No animal products. None. Ever. But the more you learn, the more you realize how that’s pretty much impossible. And striving for a compassionate lifestyle that mitigates as much animal suffering as possible is better than driving yourself insane and spending all day obsessing over your food choices. Get worked up all you want about your veggie stir fry being tossed in the same wok as a pork dish that came before it and is left unwashed (trust me, it happens), but at the end of the day, the .000000003%  animal contamination it’s resulted in on your meal is probably better than the additional animal suffering that would result from washing that wok with a tallow-laced soap that led to more demand for cattle slaughter.