My girlfriend is on a diet in which she does not eat animal products, grains, salt, sugar or oil. People often have the same reaction that I first had, which is, "So what do you eat?" The answer is: fruit, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds. She feels great.
Because we share the same house and a mutual interest in cooking, I've started to eat and cook somewhat within the framework of her diet. I'll be the first to admit that it's exceptionally hard not to fall back on what I've always done, which is to keep my olive oil, salt and an array of sweeteners close at hand. The idea of cooking without these ingredients was almost unthinkable.
Even more unthinkable was that I might actually enjoy my food without salt, sugar and oil. But I decided to give it a shot, first because I like cooking for my girlfriend and second because I was intrigued by the challenge. Could I cook without relying on ingredients I believed necessary to tie my recipes together?
What's happened is that I've renewed my appreciation for using high-quality ingredients to make a recipe shine. And working without oil, salt and sugar has led me to use them better when I choose to.
It's not always possible simply to omit these ingredients and end up with something edible. It's less a matter of substitution in existing recipes than of complete reinvention.
To experiment with a salt-less, oil-less, sugar-less vegan dish, I put together a black bean salad with tropical fruits and cilantro-mango puree dressing. One specialty shop in Madison that called out to me was Vom Fass, a European-style purveyor of bulk vinegars, oils and liqueurs. I chatted with Jacob Schenk at Vom Fass, and he steered me toward the Waldburg Balsam mango vinegar. I was sold in one flavor-packed spoonful.
Although I'm not giving up oils, salt and sugar, I urge you to take a step away from these ingredients - even temporarily - as an experiment. If you are what you eat, as much as it pains me to say it, I'd rather be beans than bacon.
Blackened Rainbow Black Bean Salad
- 1/2 mango
- 2 bunches cilantro
- 3/4 cup mango vinegar
- juice of 2 limes
Put all ingredients in blender and pulse until pureed. Set aside.
- 1 ripe plantain
- 1 sweet potato
- 1-1/2 mangos
- 3 avocados
- 1 papaya
- 1 red onion
- 6 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
Dice the sweet potato and plantains; cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until blackened and cooked through (about 10-15 minutes; steaming or microwaving are two other options). Add small amounts of water as needed to keep from sticking.
Dice avocado, papaya and red onion. Add to a large bowl with black beans. Stir in plantains and sweet potato and toss with dressing. Chill before serving. Serves 10-12.