Going vegan on Martha’s Vineyard

Islanders share recipes for animal-friendly foods, and big news from the Aquinnah dining scene.

A healthy vegan dinner. —Photo by Jeremy Dunham

During the summer months, visitors always reach out to me via social media, asking, Where can I go if I’m vegetarian/vegan? And every time, I’m stumped. As someone who loves her vegetables but also loves her meats, I rarely seek out vegetarian and vegan menus. At the restaurant where I work, vegans typically call ahead, and we prepare some special dishes. Other than that, I’m pretty much left dazed and confused on what to recommend. Taking it upon myself to learn more about the lifestyle and eating habits of a vegan, I sent out surveys, interviewed Islanders, and asked at every restaurant I visited: What’s vegan on this menu? Here are my findings.

First, let’s define what veganism is. The Vegan Society defines veganism as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. It’s not only about a vegan diet, but a vegan way of life.

“I have been vegan just over a year,” Alison Wilson of Vineyard Haven told me. “On Feb. 13, 2015, I watched the Netflix documentary ‘Vegucated.’ I had never thought about going vegan before, not even vegetarian. To be honest, I thought that being vegan was very weird, and a totally strange way of living. Then I saw the documentary and was immediately changed. Ever since then I’ve just adopted the lifestyle.”

Netflix and chill, you say? How about an inspiring Netflix documentary that changes the way we think, or eat? Other recommendations on Netflix include “Banishing of the Bees,” “Forks Over Knives,” “Food Matters,” “Cowspiracy,” and “Fast Food Nation.”

Some people can radically change their eating habits, like Alison did, while others decide to take the process a little more slowly. Whether for health reasons, moral and ethical reasons, or religious reasons, becoming a vegan is a very personal choice. Melaney West of Edgartown explains this a little. “I was a vegetarian for a while in high school when I first learned about factory farming. Over the past year, I have been practicing Buddhism, and eating meat came into conflict with that spiritual journey. I started to think, ‘How can I nourish my body and spirit with the flesh of an animal that knew nothing but unbelievable cruelty and suffering?’”

Health concerns are one of the reasons I’d never consider veganism for myself. Eating life promotes life, does it not? When considering what we are putting into our bodies, fresh food is at the top of the list. And when dining out, vegans find it harder and harder to find appealing options on restaurant menus on Island. Vegans said the few Island gems which cater to vegan diets include Little House and Scottish Bakehouse, with mentions of Rosewater’s Vegetable Chili, Henry’s Farmer’s Plate, and the Food Truck’s Falafel. Frankly, it remains a mystery to me that local restaurants haven’t embraced veganism a bit more and arrived at a solution to have something creative and vegan on their menu. Vegans are tired of pasta tossed with whatever vegetables restaurants have; they can only eat so many French fries.

That’s the main reason most of my interviewees preferred to cook at home. “I shop mostly at Cronig’s or Vineyard Grocer,” Ellen Gaskill of VIneyard Haven said. “I am not finding a plant-based diet more expensive; eating healthy, no matter if meat is involved, has always been more money, but it’s worth it to me.”

We can all agree with that: Rice, beans, and vegetables are not nearly as expensive as meat, dairy, and eggs.

One way to slowly experiment with veganism is by following the Meatless Monday movement. Started in 2003, it’s become a popular way to try out a vegetarian/vegan diet by consuming a plant-based diet one day a week. Not only will the health benefits leave you feeling nourished, but purchasing less meat is great for the earth and your wallet. To inspire you to dive into this healthy lifestyle, we’re sharing some recipes packed with bright flavors, colors, and textures.

Curried Potato, Apple, and Kale Soup

By Phyllis Williams of Vineyard Haven

1 large white onion, diced
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Golden Delicious apples
1 large bunch of kale, stems removed and diced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper sauce
1 Tbsp. curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Sauté onions and potatoes in oil in a large stockpot over medium heat for about 5 minutes until soft. Add all remaining ingredients except vinegar. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Blend half of soup in blender until smooth. Add back into the pot and remove from heat, and stir in vinegar. Serve warm.

Herbed Cauliflower Salad

By Jeremy Dunhan of Edgartown

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
ground cumin, to taste
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
½ cup Israeli couscous, cooked and chilled
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and chopped
¼ cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 425°. Toss the cauliflower with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes. On a separate tray, toss the sliced pepper with salt and oil and roast for the last 10-20 minutes of the cauliflower.

Boil the sliced shallot with red wine vinegar, ½ cup water, and a pinch of salt. When boiled, remove from heat and let sit in pickling liquid for at least 2 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.

Once cauliflower and peppers are roasted, toss together into a bowl and combine with couscous, cilantro, and almonds.

Note: Use the same bowl to toss vegetables with oil as you do to assemble the final dish for added flavor.

Kale Salad

By Jeremy Dunham of Edgartown

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 lemon, juiced
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
½ tsp. ground ginger
1/4 (+) hot pepper flakes
2 bunches of kale, washed, cut, and rinsed (or one bag of precut kale)
1 red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425°. Toss chickpeas in a large bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, garlic powder, ½ tsp. cumin, and salt and pepper, and lay on one side of a cookie sheet (Do not rinse bowl!) and toast in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Warning: Toasting chickpeas may pop like popcorn on the tray. Do not be afraid!

Add sliced peppers to bowl previously used for chickpeas, tossing with additional olive oil and salt. Add the sliced peppers to the other side of the cookie sheet for the last 20 minutes of total time, making sure to toss the peppers periodically, but insuring a good char.

Juice the lemon into a medium bowl with the red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, remaining cumin, ginger, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and whisk vigorously.

Add the vinaigrette and kale to a large bowl and massage the until the leaves are soft and glossy. The kale will take on a deeper green color. Add onions, roasted peppers, and toasted chickpeas to the kale and toss. Serve this on its own, with a side of basmati rice, or with fried tofu (or all of the above).

Looking to learn more about vegan cooking? Head to the Aquinnah library on March 10 at 5:30 pm, where Juli Vanderhoop will be guiding guests in a vegan cooking demonstration. “It’s something of interest to our community and Island, plus it’s a great place to meet new people,” Jennifer Burkin of the Aquinnah library said. When I chatted with Ms. Vanderhoop about the upcoming demo, I asked if she followed a vegan diet. She doesn’t, but she said, “it gives me an opportunity to serve people and get feedback and input.”

“Feedback for what?” I asked, to which Ms. Vanderhoop revealed that she’s opening an Orange Peel M.V. Cafe in Aquinnah, at the location of the former Faith’s Seafood Shack. The cafe will include very fresh and healthy foods, leaning toward Island produce and seafood, focusing on the steaming technique for healthier results, as well as Ms. Vanderhoop’s popular baked goods. It’s exciting for vegans and nonvegans alike, and we can’t wait to be the first to eat food from the Orange Peel M.V. Cafe opening this spring/summer.