Smackdown: Disappointment

pie, cropped

I am left uninspired. And hungry.


Thus, I will share with you what Brian said after eating this vegan “Shepherdess” pie from the Veganomicon, a dish for which I had really high hopes: “I wish that I could throw this up so it wouldn’t be in my body any more.” Then he realized that if he threw it up he might have to taste it again on the way back up, so he changed his mind.

I think he was being a little hyperbolic, especially when he started making the fake upchuck noises. I mean, really.

I’ve happily eaten fake meat products in the past, during my stint as a vegetarian, so it seemed like tempeh in mushroom gravy topped with mashed potatoes had real potential. I’d never worked directly with tempeh, but am a ridiculous sucker for anything involving the word “gravy,” so this seemed like a good idea. Let the record show, however, that Brian thought this was a terrible idea to begin with and I forged ahead with this dish over his strenuous objections. Because I don’t care about what my loved ones think.

tempeh, again

I’m not going to deny that the tempeh, a soy-based food product that stands in for the meat in this vegan version of Shepherd’s pie, had a decidedly strange texture. Kind of like a nut. A chewy nut. A chewy nut that tastes like brown rice. I crumbled it into a pan from the compressed block in which it comes, added some water and tamari – to add umami, I assume – and let it cook down.

I’m not going to get all down on the tempeh, because I’m sure it’s good in some applications and because last time I came down on tofu I incurred the wrath of the post-punk vegans. It’s not that I mind incurring wrath, I just don’t like to repeat the same trick twice. Let the post-punk vegans have their rest.

tempeh avec veg, 1tempeh avec veg, 2

I emptied the tempeh pan so I could saute the onion and garlic, then added the tempeh back along with mushrooms, thyme and coriander. If I had my druthers, I would have sauteed the mushrooms separately as well so they’d take on some color, but this was a Smackdown so I don’t have my druthers.

Some peas and corn later, I hit the pan with some veggie broth and flour to create a gravy. I’m not going to lie; things smelled pretty good at this point, and I still had hopes that things would turn out for the best (Brian was off-board as soon as he saw the tempeh).

In the meantime, I boiled up some yukon golds and mashed them with soy milk and grapeseed oil. Yum!

pie assembly

I spread the tempeh and mushroom mixture in the bottom of a casserole, spread the potatoes over the top and into the oven it went.

"Shepherdess" pie

I gotta say, this is fucking hard to write. I’m tired, I’m worried that my apartment is about to flood, and this wasn’t good. It just wasn’t. It looked like shepherd’s pie, and it did smell decent, but the texture of the tempeh was a barrier we couldn’t surmount.

If this had been an all-veggie dish, with more mushrooms and maybe some carrots instead of the tempeh, I think it would have been worlds better. There’s something to be said for the whole stop-trying-to-imitate-meat thing.

That being said, Brian still ate his portion and polished off what I couldn’t finish of mine, and this was definitely not as bad as the moussaka we tried from the same book. However, he did make me promise that we would never, ever cook anything out of this book again. I was going to promise with my fingers crossed behind my back because I’m still secretly convinced that there’s some good to be found in this book, but I did it because I’m not that much of an ass to my loved ones. And he did do all the dishes.

And now, the tempeh needs to make an exit, so let’s all cross our fingers that the toilets are flushable, shall we?

I apologize for this sub-par post. It reflects the meal it describes.

38 thoughts on “Smackdown: Disappointment

  1. I don’t do vegan because it feels so wrong not to have butter in my life. Also vegans don’t eat honey, so fuck that.

    I do like to cook Vegetarian though and love Molly Katzen, but I also strongly recommend “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” Deborah Madison would never suggest you make a tempeh shepherd’s pie.

  2. Yeah, I had high hopes for Veganomicon, too. I’ve tried about 7 recipes from it and with the exception of the Snobby Joes, they all went straight in the compost bin.

  3. I haven’t cooked much from the Veganomicon, but I will give credit to the Quinoa Cashew Pineapple stir fry thing. Prep-heavy, but fresh and good, and a nice change from my usual fried rice.

  4. I cook mostly vegetarian, and I would recommend using meatless ground instead of tempeh. You can usually find it in the frozen food section with the vegetarian burgers. It’s easy to work with, and generally is generally closer to the texture of actual meat. I also find that since tempeh isn’t really pretending to be beef, and meatless ground is pretending to be beef, it is easier to substitute flavor-wise.

  5. Look at it this way: You never have to eat that shit again. And bacon still loves you. And so do I, inasmuch as I love anything while I have this freaking cast on my arm and can’t cook (or do much else). I don’t even like my kid or my dog these days. (Blatant plea for sympathy…)

  6. I’m with Erin: the recipe crumble stuff is much better. I’ve fooled carnivores into thinking it’s ground beef. This fauxvetarian (I have bacon, butter, egg, stock, and cheese codicils) tried for 10 years to find ways to make tempeh edible and finally gave up. It sucks fish dangle.

  7. The only recipe from that book I’ve ever tried is the one for vegan cassoulet, although I tweak it to make it merely vegetarian cassoulet. Still not the ultimate cassoulet, of course, but if you are feeding vegetarians….

  8. Try the Quinoa Chickpea Pilaf and the Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Veganomicon; those are my favorite. There are a few tofu dishes I absolutely love, usually involving a lot of marinating and crispifying, but the Veganomicon is at its best when it’s not pretending to be non-vegan things (their Mac and Cheez is a great example).

  9. Having been with a vegetarian that hates fake meat or meat-like products for nearly a decade I learned to get creative since Shepherds Pie is one of my favourite things… I tend to use little cubes if tofu fried in butter since butter makes everything better. The tofu picks up a nice density from the frying and still provides a decent bite and the needed protien.

    Keeps my meat eating self happy, and the Huzbin likes it..

  10. Heh. Or bleurgh, depending.

    I don’t think tempeh’s going to be featuring in my life anytime soon. I’m so glad you found that out for me so that I didn’t have to. ;)

    Hope your plumbing’s fixed.

  11. I was “married” to a vegan for several years and I always felt that tempeh had some sort of unpleasant fermented aftertasted that made me gag. Whenever I had to cook dinner I NEVER used tempeh, especially after he assured me that it could pretty much sit in the fridge forever since “it’s fermented anyway”. Vom.
    Side note of evil- after he f**ked me over in several creative ways, I waited until he went out of town on business and used his perfectly seasoned, never-had-animal-products touch it cast iron skillet to cook up a huge breakfast of bacon, sausage, ham and eggs. then I just scraped out the bacon grease and re-seasoned it. He still uses it, to my knowledge.
    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Sorry your pie tasted like ass.

  12. Well ugh. Tempeh is da debil, never ever have I once liked it or anything it was in. In fact, I thought I hated Tamari for years because of all the people who try to drown the Tempeh in Tamari.

    Puttin’ kittens in the oven don’t make ’em biscuits.

  13. This post makes me feel much better about my disappointing tempeh experiences. My ex’s Indonesian family eat it fried and I used to love it, but sadly have never been able to make it in any way I can stomach since then…I thought it was just me…

  14. Admittedly, I’m not much of a cook, but I’ve never made anything with tempeh that didn’t end in tears.

  15. well, I have to say that every one of the Post Punk Kitchen recipes I have tried have been amazing. absolute keepers for my long term collection of recipes (especially her red lentil dal recipe). But i also will point out that I stay away from recipes involving fake meat as a rule. I dont eat much meat these days, but i dont replace the meat with fake meat—i just take more from the bounty of real things that grow and exist.

    i will also say that i believe that in spite of your history you anre now programmed to not like vegan meatless stuff anymore and you should just save yourself the disappojntment and avoid that high road…lol

    there are other ways to satisfy the vegetarians in your life…

  16. oh, and i will 3rd Erin and Solipsister: the ground stuff is way better. I’ve had the best luck with Quorn crumbles. They’re not soy based, but rather a mushroom/fungus based crumble. they’re not vegan as they contain some egg white. But each and everytime i have used this in vegetarian empanadas and sold them, i inevitably have people nervously bringing the turnover back to me saying that i’ve made a terrible mistake and sold them meat. when i assure them, it looks as if they have found god and buy like 4 more…LOL

  17. I think Veganomicon is about 50/50 on the recipes… I am either amazed or disgusted. Chickpea cutlets were foul. Almond quinoa muffins were super bland. But I also made amazing squash and black bean empanadas, blueberry corn pancakes, and roasted garlic navy bean soup… so I can’t rule out the book entirely. (I’m vegetarian and my husband is a southern carnivore with high cholesterol, so we make occasional forays in to the healthier cooking with this book).

  18. Dear Solipsister

    “It sucks fish dangle” is one of the awesomest things I’ve read on this here internet in weeks. Thank you. I’m not worthy to be in your electronic presence. You made me laugh heartily.


  19. Pretty sure this recipe would have worked out if you had used BeefNot instead–the geniuses at Saga knew what they were doing!

  20. Erica: just riffin’ on a fish dangle reference from a past Smackdown entry. Which also featured a repulsed rocket scientist, if I recall.

  21. You’re very brave to demonstrate tempeh so we won’t have to ever touch the stuff. You and your husband are true humanitarians to save us!

    I can’t be a vegan, because if there’s no butter, cheese, cream or yogurt involved, I’m not interested. I have made vegan chocolate cake, but it totally needed more cow.

  22. I’ve never made a vegetarian “pie” that hasn’t been a horrific pile of fibercarbpeaCRAP. I’m thinking specifically of the egg noodle and chickpea Vegetarian Times disaster of Thanksgiving ’09, known in my home as “The Great Wall of Carbs”.

    Also tempeh is a byproduct and I don’t eat byproducts. Also I’m with you on Veganomicon, which was a great-in-theory-but-gross-in-practice experience for us. Sorry for your fail, and I hope you did not flood again.

  23. Hmmm…I think the only way I could eat vegetarian would be to actually eat a vegetarian. I have never understood the whole fake meat thing. If you want meat eat meat. If you don’t want to eat meat, well, reincarnate as a cow or something (though do so in India so you are worshiped not Arizona where I will eat you with glee).

    That said, I am sorry your meal was not that great, but thank you for reaffirming my faith in tasty, tasty flesh.

  24. whoa, y’alls! the vegan smackdowns always generate so much convo!

    i still think there is some good to be found in this book, although if i use it again in the future it will be for a straight-up veggie dish and not a wannabe meat dish. but i will do it on a day when brian’s not around.

    ITA with everyone who suggested the crumbles instead of tempeh. i remember gladly having taco night with the crumbles during The Vegetarian Years.

    (and for those who are interested: no, there was no flooding.)

  25. Might I recommend that you use the book to prop up a piece of furniture that is missing a foot? Or perhaps as tinder to start a fire? Really, fake meat??? As I’ve said before, vegan food is an oxymoron. I have nothing against anyone who chooses not to eat meat, but honestly, are you happy with your choice if you feel the need to use fake meat? I love vegetables,when served as vegetables, and I love whole grains, but there really is a reason why we have those teeth known as canines; we are omnivores. If you’re giving up meat out of a need to not eat anything with a face, I respect that, and wish you well, but for me, I’ll just continue to eat everything in moderation.

  26. This is bringing back horrid flashbacks to the nastiest meal I ever made: eggplant, stuffed with zucchini, and doused with spicy velveeta. Excuse me, I need to hurl.

  27. Ooooh no, that is grimtastic. Tempeh is Teh Disgusting, + I speak as a carnivore who actually likes tofu. It’s the texture. Styrofoam packing peanuts. Hearing my dinner squeak as I chew it is not something I want (unless it’s halloumi, in which case, YES).

  28. Wow, this takes me back to my year as a vegan. Never was able to make tempeh edible either. I’ve always found that fake meats just pissed me off. If you’re going that way, either wait until you’re really stoned to eat, or…well, I can’t think of a good second option. I find that if I’m going to eat vegan, Japanese or Indian dishes work best. I’m also fond of Thai, although I find it hard to cook Thai without recourse to fish sauce and dried shrimp. Having said that, I need to go pull the spareribs out of the oven before the braising liquid reduces too much. Treat yourself to something that died screaming tomorrow!

  29. fake meat is weird and i can’t eat it because of the gluten. i love tempeh but i really think you need to marinate it or glaze it for it to work.

    moving on: vegan shepherd’s pie should be really easy, really cheap, and really delicious. i use a bunch of root veggies and then baked beans (heinz, in tomato sauce) and some extra-firm tofu (optional — the beans are more important). it makes for a really good base — with a fucklot of garlic and some braggs and a healthy dose of carmelized onions.

  30. I have been vegan for many years now and I do enjoy fake meat products with a few exceptions, I HATE the fake bacon and I have never been able to have tempeh work to my advantage. The people that have said the fake meat by the frozen stuff are right! It’s amazing. There is another book by them called Vegan with a Vengence and there is scrambled tofu in there. I use the fake sausage in it and I cannot tell you how many people I have gotten to eat vegan recipes after that.

  31. I’m with you on the tempeh; my wife likes it, but I’d rather leave it out, or use tofu, seitan or another mock-meat. But as for Veganomicon…I would give it another try. We’ve made at least 10 things from it so far, and only one has been bad. The rest have been excellent.

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