The Christmas Tamale Marathon (Vegan Hallacas)

Tis’ the season and yet again I’ve spaced on Christmas food.

The quest for the perfect vegan fruitcake didn’t happen and I’ve avoided most cookie making. I’ve eaten only one candy cane and didn’t even lift a carton of soy nog. But last night I went all in for down-to-the-twine tamale making, for perhaps one of the most labor intensive of them: hallacas (AH-yah-kahs), the traditional Venezuelan Christmas tamale. As I took the first bite of hallaca in what had to be well over a decade I had to stop, put the plate down, call my parents and tell them the impossible had been done; not only are these vegan, but I made them all by myself. For anyone that’s ever made tamales for the first time without a team of tamale assistants feels like you just ran the marathon with corn (or plantain) leaves on your feet, no small accomplishment.

I’d like to think that among the millions of Venezuelan cooks making hallacas tonight and over the next few weeks there are a few inspired chefs making meatless ones too. In the realm of recipe veganization this was a logical translation, considering the excellent seitan and vegetable broth options existing in vegan grocery land. When I offered up my recipe to my parents they thought I went overboard with the lavish ingredients (all those spices, so many vegetables) but really, if you’re going to spend half a day fussing with plantain leaves and tying bundles of twine why not go the extra inch or three? The most annoying part of any tamale making is the actually assembly itself, but with a little time and extra counter space it’s no different than frosting a few dozen of cupcakes or making a big batch of stuffing.

So what exactly is an hallaca? If you’re familiar with most Mexican-style tamales then these may look a different from what you’re used to but the concept is the same: a seasoned corn dough folded over moist filling that’s wrapped in leaves (here swaths of green plantain leaves), tied up and steamed. Well, traditional hallacas are boiled but I found steaming to be faster and neater. And what does an hallaca taste like? The cooked dough is dense and moist, not unlike a firm polenta. It’s tinted neon yellow-orange from the tropical seed annatto, used in this country commercially for tinting cheese and packaged foods but can be purchased for pennies at any ethnic grocery store. The filling is composed of a stew-like sauce called a “guiso” (GHEE-so), flavored with mellow vegetables and a sweet & tangy finish from wine and vinegar. There’s typically meat in the stew and here seitan comes to the rescue, but chopped mushrooms would be equally toothsome. So-called garnishes (really just more filling) are placed on top of the guiso stew before the dough is folded on top: typical meatless additions include olives, raisins, capers or almonds.

The plantain leaf wrapping is the hallmark of the hallaca, but in a pinch parchment paper or corn husks can be used. However they lack that subtle herbal/grassy aroma that the plantain leaves infuse into the hallacas. Look for frozen plantain leaves sold in 1 lb. packages in ethnic groceries. The ones I purchased are from Thailand, so be sure to explore Asian groceries for this crazy ingredient. You could get away with one pound of leaves for this recipe but I found it’s worth having that extra pound; these leaves are natural products and can irregularities that can make one a little crazy when trying to find the perfect leaf for wrapping an hallaca.

Will you be making hallacas tonight? Hallacas are a little unusual for the uninitiated, but tamale afficianados should take note. If you are just that kind of tamale adventure seeker, here’s a few tips:

• Make the guiso up to two days in advance. Trim plantain leaves to desired size and tightly wrap a few days ahead too.
• Extra workspace for tamales helps a bundle. Borrow a folding table and set up an extra work station, it’s helpful when unfolding huge plantain leaves.
• Assembled, uncooked hallacas can be stored in the fridge (in a tightly covered container) for three days. Reheat cooked tamales by re-steaming for 10-12 minutes or wrap in moist paper towels and microwave on high for about 3 minutes until center is hot.
• Try this speedy trick with the tamale dough: tightly fit a plastic bag over a small cutting board or dinner plate. Firmly and evenly press on top of the dough (that’s on top of the oiled leaf) and squish it around to flatten the dough to a 1/4 inch thick circle. It’s much faster than patting out the dough with your fingers.
• You’ll need about 1 1/2 lbs of masarepa flour, about 1 1/2 small bags.
• Annatto oil will stain everything it touches bright orange, so opt for old kitchen towels and save the vintage white lace tea towels for another day.

For more epic photojournalism of hallaca assembly, check out my Veganlatina Flickr set.

Hallacas Veganas
makes 18 large tamales

For assembling hallacas
Two 1lb packages frozen plantain leaves
kitchen twine for tying

Richly Flavored Stew (guiso)
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 oz seitan, diced into thin 1/4 thick pieces
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced small

1 large carrot, diced small
1lb leeks, ends trimmed and finely chopped (use green and white parts)

1/2 cup white wine or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetarian Woshestier sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Masa Dough:
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons annatto (achiote) seeds
6 1/2 to 7 cups harina pan Venezuelan/Colombian style masarepa (precooked corn) flour, yellow or white
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar or grated panela (raw brown sugar)
4 cups flavorful vegetable stock or vegetarian chicken-flavored broth

Garnish, optional:
2 roasted red peppers, drained and cut into 1/4 wide thick slices
20 Whole pimento stuffed olives
Roasted whole almonds or cashews, about 4 oz
thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup capers

1/2 cup dark raisins
Thaw frozen plantain leaves by leaving unopened packages on kitchen counter until soft and pliable. To prepare the plantain leaves, carefully unfold to avoid tearing, then use

use kitchen scissors to cut into rectangles about 10 x 12 inches. The leaves taper somewhat so you won’t have evenly shaped rectangles, and for some hallacas your best bet is to overlap two pieces to get a rectangle shape about that size. It’s also helpful to trim and discard the less pliable center stem from the leaves. After trimming leaves rinse with warm water and shake off excess water. Keep leaves covered with a damp kitchen towel or plastic until ready to use.

Make the guiso filling first. In a large pot over medium heat saute 1 tablespoon of olive oil and diced seitan for 5 minutes until lightly browned, remove seitan and set aside. Add remaining olive oil, garlic, bell pepper, carrot and leek and fry for 10 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Stir in wine to deglaze the vegetables, then add vinegar, drained diced tomato, thyme, oregano, cumin, cayenne and Woshestier sauce. Cook for another 10-12 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed, then with an handheld immersion blender briefly blend the ingredients to form a chunky sauce. Taste mixture and season with more vinegar, salt and black pepper if desired. If the mixture seems overly watery simmer for a few minutes more until mixture resembles a thick, moist puree. Remove from heat, stir in seitan and let cool while preparing dough.

In a mixing bowl combine 6 1/2 cups masarepa flour, salt and garlic powder and form a well in the center of the mixture. In a small saucepan combine vegetable oil and annatto seeds and bring mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes until oil turns dark red. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes, then pour mixture through a metal strainer and discard seeds. Set aside 1/4 cup of the oil and pour the remaining oil into the well of the masarepa flour. To the well add brown sugar and vegetable stock and stir with a wooden spoon to moisten flour, then use your hands to knead the dough; it should be moist yet firm like cold mashed potatoes and not overly sticky. If it’s too moist sift in remaining masarepa flour. Divide the dough into 18 equal pieces and using your palms roll into balls, lightly moistening your hands whenever the dough starts to stick. Place balls back in bowl and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Prepare the garnishes: have everything sliced and on a dish near your work surface. Set next to work surface trimmed plantain leaves, the set aside annatto oil and a pastry brush. Last but never least have ready a large pot for steaming with a deep steaming basket insert. Fill the pot with just enough water so that does not touch the bottom of the basket when it’s placed inside the pot.

To assemble an hallaca, place a leaf square (or two smaller pieces overlapping) on your work surface. Use a crumpled paper towel to wipe away any excess water and brush lightly with annatto oil. Put a dough ball directly in the center and press the dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. Top with 3 tablespoons of guiso filling, then a few strips of red pepper, 2-3 almonds, a stuffed olive, a few raisins, capers and an onion ring. Now grab two opposite ends of the plantain leaf square and fold them towards each other, firmly pressing together so that the edges of the dough fold over the filling (to make roughly a half-moon shape). Tightly fold over the leaf, then fold the remaining unfolded sides over the hallaca to form a small rectangular package. Use a long piece of kitchen twine and gently (don’t rip the leaves) tie up the hallaca like a little gift. Repeat with remaining dough, filling, garnish and plantain leaves. If you run out of plantain leaves parchment paper or even corn husks can be used in a pinch, just be sure to brush insides with a little oil if using paper.

Cover the steaming pot and bring water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Pack hallacas into steamer basket, standing upright. It’s okay to squeeze these in a little because they won’t expand much during steaming unlike many other styles of tamale. Cover the tamales with any leftover plantain leaves and tightly secure the lid on the pot. Steam for about 25-30 minutes, checking the water level in the pot frequently to make sure it doesn’t boil away and scorch the tamales. A tamale is done when the dough is completely cooked and has the consistency of firm polenta. To serve, place a hot hallaca on a dinner plate and clip away the twine but allow guests to unwrap the plantain leaf. I like to serve them in the leaf but some cooks unwrap the whole thing for their guests, to each his or her own. Perfect plain as is, or with a slice of avocado, some hot sauce, or a side of rice and beans for an extreme holiday spread.

Thanks for everything empanadas

The day before heading to Paris I woke up realizing even though I’m not having a traditional Thanksgiving there were all the elements of that once-a-year food smackdown in the fridge. Add a bag of cranberries, purchased on a whim for muffins or bread, I felt that I had to attempt some kind of holiday-ish cooking before becoming estranged from my kitchen for next two weeks.

And I wanted empanadas. The solution: empanadas stuffed with “faux” Thanksgiving leftovers, with a supporting cast of leeks and winter squash stuffed into pump, over-filled pastry pockets. And the cranberries? The classic fresh-cranberry relish spiked with smoked paprika makes for a hybrid cranberry-chutney chimichurri.

You’ll need roughly about 3 cups of filling for 12 plump empanadas, or more if you want really overstuffed treats. The basic idea is to have an element of soft sweetness (roasted squash or sweet potato), savory softness (stuffing), and a “prize” of a chunk of Brussels sprout or mushroom. Finely diced leftover meatless roast–Tofurky, veg sausage or ham–makes a tasty add-in to the stuffing mix. If your leftovers look a little dry moisten them up with a little vegetable broth; the savory mixture should be moist and sticky, but not soupy. You can either choose to layer the ingredients (my husband wasn’t a fan, reminded him of a meal just moved from the plate into the insides of an empanada, but I took that critique as mission accomplished) or gently fold the ingredients together for a uniform consistency.

I wish I had thought to bring these empanadas for snacking on the plane (blame the pre-flight jitters), but I bet your tofurkey that they would make a great weekend breakfast or hearty late night snack this post-Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving Leftover Empanadas with Cranberry Chimichurri

12 large empanadas

You’ll need roughly 3 cups of filling for 10 large empanadas. This can include a mix of chopped meatless holiday roast, stuffing, roasted veggies, sweet potatoes, you name it. I recommend a ratio of 2:1:1 roast (protein), stuffing, veggie.

This filling mimics that Thanksgiving leftover experience with hearty white beans and leeks, if you just want to skip T-day and head right for the glorious mashing of flavors wrapped in a tender wheat crust. A quick cranberry “chimichurri” relish is tart, sweet and subtly smoky companion to these little hand held meals.

12 six-inch rounds Whole Wheat Empanada Dough (prepare and chill dough before making filling) or any empanada dough from Viva Vegan!

1 large leek (about 1 lb), trimmed and carefully cleaned to remove grit

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

½ cup dry white wine or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon rubbed sage

One 14oz can white kidney (cannelini) beans, drained and rinsed

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups mashed, roasted butternut or winter squash. Lightly season with salt to taste. (just under 1 lb fresh squash)

12 Brussels sprouts, roasted until tender, lightly season with salt to taste

If desired: about ½ cup chopped meatless holiday roast, seitan, or vegan sausage

Soy creamer or almond milk for brushing

Chop leek in half then slice into ½ thick pieces. In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat, add leek, sauté until softened about 5 minutes then add garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in wine, thyme, cumin, sage and bring to a boil, then add beans. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until most of wine has been reduced. Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.

While mixture is cooling preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. If desired fold squash and chopped holiday meatless roast into beans, or don’t if you want a layered empanada. Brush a dough round lightly with soy creamer, add about 2 ½ tablespoons of filling total, either half bean/squash mix or separate layers and plunk a roasted Brussels sprout in the center. Fold over dough, crimp or braid, gently place on baking sheet and brush with more soy creamer. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden, turning baking sheet half way through for even browning. Let cool for a few minutes (filling will be piping hot!) and serve with cranberry chimichurri.

Cranberry Chimichurri Relish

makes about 2 cups relish

I use less than ¾ cup of sugar, but if you want it sweeter add up to 1 cup, tasting as you go.

12 oz fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon lime juice

grated zest from 1 orange

¾ -1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet or hot smoked paprika (obviously hot paprika will make this spicy, so go easy if not accustomed to using)

pinch allspice

Clean and dry cranberries. In a food processor bowl pulse all ingredients until a chunky relish forms, scrapping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Taste and season with more lime juice if desired. Store in a glass container tightly covered and let stand overnight or minimum 2 hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Wheat Empanada Dough

makes 12 large six inch diameter dough rounds

Tip: Drop a few ice cubes in the water for colder water that helps keep the gluten strands in the dough shorter. Shorter gluten equals more tender pastry. And tender pastry equals tender, more loving empanadas.

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

8 tablespoons chilled non-hydrogenated shortening

2 tablespoons chilled vegan margarine

3/4 cup or more cold water

In a food processor bowl pulse together flour, salt and baking soda for a few seconds. Slice shortening and margarine into 1/2 inch chunks, add to food processor and pulse. Pour flour/shortening mixture into a large bowl and stream in cold water while mixing with fingers. Continue adding just enough water until to form a soft and stretchy dough. Briefly knead a few times, separate into four balls and flatten each into a disc about an inch thick and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Handle the dough minimally to keep it from getting tough. Chill overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Tear 12 pieces of waxed paper about 7 inches wide. Lightly dust with flour rolling surface and a rolling pin. Roll one of the dough discs about 3/8th thick, stretching and pulling the dough a little if necessary. To keep dough from getting too tough use long rolling motions on dough, occasionally lifting the dough by the edges and turning it a little to ensure even thickness throughout. Using a 6-inch diameter bowl pressed into the dough as a guide to cut circles, take a small sharp paring knife and run it around the edge of the bowl to cut out circles. Or use a huge round cookie or biscuit cutter. Stack circles of dough on top of one another, using small squares of waxed paper or plastic wrap to separate each piece to keep from sticking. Chill dough scraps and repeat rolling and cutting with remaining dough disc. Gather up all the remaining dough scraps, re-roll only one more time and cut out as many circles as possible. Chill rounds while preparing the filling or store in the refrigerator for up to a week, tightly wrapped in plastic to keep from drying out. Keep chilled until ready to fill and bake.

I get my (Top Chef) Just Desserts: Battleship Cake

Cake, like love, can be a battlefield. And is always better with side of ice cream.

I’m drowning in a sea of end-of-the-season produce: carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, lettuce galore. But I haven’t let me lose focus on that other essential food group: dessert. An opportunity from vegan news bloggy Vegansaurus! set me straight into cakeland with the challenge of making a vegan adaptation of the winning dessert from previous episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts.

Read more for my grumblings about buttercream, the pleasures of sour cherries and get a fresh batch of epic dessert recipes.

Stuffed stuff: Cornbread stuffing, hello old friend

I’m missing Thanksgiving this year. That is I’ll be far away from family and most of my friends and most importantly my kitchen (Paris Vegan Day calls, but more on that when I get back). But that’s not so unusual: most of my Thanksgivings my whole life have involved getting in cars, buses, walking, hiking and most forms of locomotion. So when do I get to cook and eat exactly what I want? Typically just before or after T-Day, with just a modest selection of the big hits; cranberry sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts, a simple salad and stuffing. Gotta have stuffing, for if there’s nothing else about Thanksgiving cooking that arouses foodly passion for every eating persuasion it’s that comforting, carby mash.

Speaking of, make mine cornbread. Molded and baked into that perfect vehicle of a pre-cooked winter squash it’s a filling and gorgeous centerpiece on any vegan Thanksgiving table. This recipe is an old family favorite: being that Thanksgiving isn’t something either of my Venezuelan parents grew up with, it’s a holiday menu we cobbled together, without any established traditions. We made it up as we went along, picking and choosing from what recipes sounded best. I believe this particular cornbread stuffing is based off of an old James Beard recipe, perhaps from a Gourmet from the 80’s. Or maybe not, it’s been in regular rotation for so long it’s impossible to tell.

The original recipe had flourishes of scallions, red bell pepper, sausage–now vegan, of course–and toasted pecans that have remained untouched. This year I’ve enhanced it with more savory seasonings: fennel seed, celery seed (my fave), rubbed sage and chopped leek for that perfectly fall-like oniony kick. The homemade cornbread base really adds something special, so go ahead and make some, even if you choose to veganly modify a mix. Add a chopped red apple to the vegetable saute if you crave additional sweetness, or make it bold with spicy homemade or store-bought chipotle vegan sausage. I used succulent vegan beer brats by Tofurky this time with great, beery success. Cornbread stuffing fix achieved, I’ll try and post one or two more Thanksgiving-style recipes before I’m off across the pond next week.

Cornbread Scallion Pecan Stuffing
makes a boatload of stuffing, serves 6-8 stuffing hounds
1 hour, not including baking corn bread

Instead of stuffing into squash this stuffing is equally at home baked in a large 9 x 11 lasagna-type pan. It’s cooked already so the idea is to form a crusty, crunchy top.

1 recipe Cornbread for Stuffing, made at least 24 hours in advance
10 ounces vegan sausage (breakfast-style works well here)
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoon non-hydrogenated vegan margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, white and green parts separated and diced
1 large leek, green ends trimmed, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
5 oz lightly toasted pecans, chopped
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
2 1/2-3 cups vegetable broth

If stuffing in butternut squash: 3-4 lb squash, either 1 huge squash or several smaller, roasted*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a large 9 x 11 lasagna-type pan or place in pans roasted winter squash ready for stuffing.

In a very large mixing bowl crumble cornbread into small pieces. Dice vegan sausage into small pieces and over medium heat in a large saute with vegetable oil until lightly browned but not overly dry. Remove from pan and add to crumbled cornbread. Melt 2 tablespoons of margarine in the skillet and toasted fennel and celery seeds for 30 seconds, then add diced onion, white part scallions and leek. Stir occasionally and cook until onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in chopped red bell pepper, thyme, sage and cayenne pepper (adjust amount for heat…1/2 teaspoon makes a stuffing with a pleasant, slow burn for spicy food aficionados). Cook for another 5 minutes to soften pepper then add vegetables along with toasted pecans to cornbread mixture.

Heat 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth (I like to use “chicken” flavored veggie stock in this instance) in a small saucepan over low heat until hot, then stir in remaining 3 tablespoons of margarine to melt. Pour onto stuffing mixture and use a large wooden spoon to thoroughly, completely stir broth to completely moisten the bread. You’ll see what I mean by needing a really big bowl to make this stuffing by now! Stuffing should be very moist but not slopping wet: if too dry dribble in a little more broth at a time and keep stirring. Taste stuffing and adjust seasoning with black pepper and salt if desired. Pour stuffing into prepared pans or firmly pack into roasted squash, mounding and piling on the stuffing. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until top of stuffing is golden browned. Serve pipping hot!

Uncooked stuffing can be made up to two days in advance, just keep tightly covered and chilled prior to baking.

*Roasting squash for stuffing
For best results you’ll want to pre-cook winter squash prior to stuffing. It’s easy enough to do it the night before assembling the whole thing. In the case of butternut squash split in half, remove seeds, cover cut part with foil and place cut-side down on rimmed baking sheets. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven until it becomes tender enough to easy insert a knife through the skin, but no so tender it’s falling apart. For a large, thick squash that’s about 30-32 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Just prior to stuffing scoop out enough roasted flesh (use pureed in muffins) to leave a thick 1 1/2 inch shell (more or less) and rub cut part with a little olive oil and lightly sprinkle with sea salt.

Cornbread for Stuffing
makes one 9 x 11 pan of cornbread

I modified this from the much-made skillet cornbread recipe from Veganomicon. Baked in a 9 x 11 pan it’s certainly thinner but with more surface area it’s crustier and firmer, ideal for making stuffing. Bake it night before stuffing-time and let it sit, uncovered, on the counter to dry out and get a wee bit stale, the ideal texture for soaking up broth for a moist, fluffy stuffing. Tip: I prefer corn flour, a finely milled corn meal, for this finely textured kind of cornbread. But regular corn meal will do just fine here too (just avoid chunky polenta-style meal).

2 cups plain soy or almond milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups corn flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil

Line a 9 x 11 x 2 inch pan with parchment paper and lightly spray the sides with non-stick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large measuring cup stir together soy milk and apple cider vinegar. In a large mixing bowl combine corn flour, white whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Form a well in the center of the mixture and pour in soy milk and canola oil. Stir just enough to moisten the dry ingredients and pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for 22-24 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of bread comes out clean. Remove from oven and let pan cool on a wire rack. For stuffing let the bread sit out on the counter, uncovered, overnight before making into stuffing.

2010 year of the seitan tamale: Viva Vegan! is VegNew’s Cookbook of the Year

The cat’s been out of the bag for over a week now, so I’ll say it here. While attending the Boston Natural Expo East (helping a friend in the name of vegan research) I received a tweet from VegNew’s editors in San Francisco to call the next free moment. In between nibbling seaweed crackers, inhaling geranium scented air at the laboratory-style oxygen bar and foraging for vegan chocolate I broke free of this demanding schedule and got the exciting news.

Admittedly I was giddy. Viva Vegan! was quite the project when I first strapped myself in over 2 years ago and I was clueless as to what kind of response it would receive. I had no idea that the notion of meatless, dairy-free Latin cuisine would seem anything less than insane to avid cookbook readers and kitchen enthusiasts, not just the vegan population at large. Yet it has made an impression beyond anything expected. I’m happy and hopeful Viva Vegan! will continue to serve the palates of Latin-food lovers gone veggie, long time vegans and the adventurous veg-curious in the US and beyond.

Perhaps this post is the closest I can get to a virtual podium and speech? If so I’d like to warmly thanks Viva Vegan! recipe testers putting up with demands of learning the distinction between masa harina and masarepa, patting out endless pupusas and steaming enough seitan to heat a spa (next up, seitan saunas?). Thanks also to VegNews staff and readers for making an impact with a vibrant, modern magazine to spread the vegan way o’ life. And of course huge, papaya-sized thanks to readers of Viva Vegan! itself…I’m hoping your copy is crusted with bits of masa harina dough and post-it-notes as much as my own copy (and my kitchen sometimes too).

As they say in the distant vegan utopia of “Veganzuela”, Viva los Vegans!