Wednesday, June 21, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodies with Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment

 


How do you introduce the stylish, spirited duo that needs no introduction?
Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment, a.k.a., The Vegan Mos, burst on the scene with their popular blog in 2013 and have been making creating compassionate change in the world one delicious recipe at a time ever since. Ethan, who moonlights as a podiatric surgeon, and Michael, a “recovering” corporate lawyer and current office manager of Ethan’s bustling foot and ankle clinic in NYC, spend a huge amount of their time volunteering, coaching via their certification with the Main Street Vegan Academy, helping to guide charitable organizations, snuggling with their adorable dogs and creating the amazing recipes we love.

Most recently, Michael and Ethan collaborated on a great new cookbook,
NYC Vegan: Iconic Recipes for a Taste of the Big Apple, published by Vegan Heritage Press. NYC Vegan, chock full of vegan interpretations of the classic, globetrotting foods you will enjoy in NYC, is a way for anyone to enjoy the diversity of ethic cuisines, as well as the delicious comfort foods, available in the Big Apple. I highly recommend it. Full of gorgeous photos by Jackie Sobon and bursting with NYC lore, Michael and Ethan prove that we don’t have to give up the things we love when we go vegan. The recipes are written clearly and simply, and anyone with access to a decent grocery store should be able to recreate the dishes in their own kitchens. I love how very accessible the recipes are and how much affection for both NYC and veganism is stitched throughout the book. I am honored to feature Ethan Ciment and Michael Suchman as this week’s Vegan Foodies.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

Michael: I first started cooking when I was 7 years old and my mom asked me what I wanted for breakfast. When I told her I wanted pancakes she took out her New York Times cookbook, opened it to the pancake recipe and said, “Okay, here you go.” She supervised and I made pancakes. From there it was onto cookies, cakes, and brownies from boxed mixes. I was always helping my mom in the kitchen and learned the basics from her. Cooking was just something I always enjoyed.

Ethan: my earliest memories are of me cooking in the kitchen growing up with my mom and with my grandmothers. Being raised in a Jewish and kosher home, food was integral to all aspects of daily life and religious celebrations. As an adult, even after I realized that religious observance was not for me, the familiar flavors and recipes were still important connections to my childhood, which I enjoy to this day.


2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Michael: My diet growing up was the standard American diet. My mom was known to occasionally give us Devil Dogs and Pepsi for breakfast if we were short on time and we always had sugared cereals in the house. However, at dinner it was always a balanced meal. My favorite meal growing up was roast chicken, white rice and peas. Also brisket was served for almost every Jewish holiday. I have been able to created vegan version of both the roast chicken and the brisket. It is really all about the gravies. Once you have those, the rest is easy.

Ethan: I was raised in a kosher household so that meant two sets of everything and separating all meet foods from dairy. It also meant that every Friday night and Saturday (the Sabbath) there were meals that began with blessings over wine and Challah bread. I have extremely fond memories of coming home from synagogue on Saturday afternoons to a lunch of cholent a traditional Eastern European stew made with barley and beans. We would sop up all of the rich gravy with the Challah. For years, I assumed that this was just something I would no longer have/enjoy as a vegan. Eventually, I figured out an easy way to make a delicious vegan challenge that tastes indistinguishable from the one containing meet are used to eat. Using Nava Atlas's recipe for vegan Challah, I can now enjoy my childhood traditional Shabbat meal anytime I want.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Michael: I love to heat up the Gardein chick’n pieces from the Crispy Chick’n and then toss them in buffalo sauce and dip them into some homemade ranch dressing. Or if I want something a little lighter, avocado toast is perfect.

Ethan: We like to do batch cooking on weekends so we have lots of available beans and greens ready to go for lunches. One of my favorite to go quick meals is to grab a bean, a grain, and a green. Whether it's brown rice, quinoa or farro, I take a cup of cooked grains, toss in a cup of whatever beans we have around and load it up with some greens. Then I heat it up and top it with lots of hot sauce!


4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

Michael: I have already made my mom a vegan version of her favorite Brooklyn Blackout Cake thanks to a recipe from Fran Costigan’s Vegan Chocolate. So now I would love to make an Italian meal for Giada DeLaurentiis. Before I was vegan, I used to watch her all the time and make her recipes. I would love to show her that she can make the exact same dishes without using any animal products. 

Ethan: I would love to be able to cook a meal for my dear late grandmother, Regina. She remains one of the greatest cooks I have ever met and her cooking was always infused with love. She never lived to know that I was vegan or that I would be so passionate about helping other people become vegan and learn to cook and eat this way. I think she would marvel at my ability to take her recipes and adapt them to this compassionate, healthier and more forward-thinking way of eating.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

Michael: I think when people are first exploring vegan cooking and trying to make vegan version of nonvegan food, they get tripped up when finding substitutes for eggs. I learned that understanding the function of eggs in a recipe enabled me to find the best substitution. If eggs are for leavening, I like to use Ener-G egg replacer. If the eggs are for binding, I like using flax seeds.  

Ethan: I think the biggest mistake that people make when cooking vegan is they often over-complicate the whole thing. If you put the label "Vegan" on it, it's suddenly something new, challenging and potentially daunting. That's complete nonsense! I love to remind people that they've been eating vegan food since they were born. When you point out that simple things like butter, milk, eggs, etc... Nowadays have very simple one for one substitutions, it suddenly becomes a whole lot less daunting. 

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

Michael: Right now for me it is all about soy curls! I love them. They are so versatile and lend themselves to use in all kinds of dishes. I like to keep soy curls, pasta, tomato sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, beans, and rice on hand. With those, I can always come up with a meal if needed.

Ethan: For me, the ingredients that most excite me are the ones that are seasonal. As we are now in the summer, I picked up some amazing stone fruit at the store yesterday. Ripe nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries scream summer to me. I also picked up some watermelon, pineapple and mango and made our watermelon gazpacho, which is summer in a bowl, to me.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Michael: Chinese, Italian, and French.

Ethan: I share Michael's love for Chinese and Italian food. For me, Japanese, Ethiopian and Israeli food hold a very special place in my heart.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

Michael: Hands down, the number one person is my husband Ethan. He opened the door to veganism for me. Without him, I would likely have never made the decision to be vegan. A close second is JL Fields; she planted the seeds for our blog, Veganmos.com as well as the idea for doing a cookbook. I also give a lot of credit to Charlotte’s Web.  Both the book and the movie planted the idea of not animals to be killed for food when I was little, however, because of social conditioning (aka carnism) that thought was hidden in the deep recesses of my mind.

Ethan: Gosh, this is such a hard question to answer. There've been so many different people along the way who have turned me in different directions on this incredible journey. It started with Jeffrey Masson and his book, The Face on Your Plate, The Truth About Food. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and her incredible “Food for Thought” podcasts were an indispensable resource that both helped me hone my thinking about the issues and become a more effective communicator on animal issues. PETA and their "Meet Your Meat" and Mercy for Animals and their undercover videos really affected me deeply. Dr. Neal Barnard and the folks at PCRM really inspired me to step up and come out as a vegan doctor. Because of their example, I now routinely discuss plant-based nutrition with my patients. 

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Michael: The overall treatment and abuse of animals in food production. I think most people would say they are against animal cruelty and that killing animals is wrong. However, they fail to see that the animals on their plates were tortured and killed. If people really opened their minds to the reality of food production, they would have no choice but to go vegan.

Ethan: For me, the biggest issue is Factory Farming on all sides of that complex issue. First and foremost, the horrible existence of torture, exploitation and oppression we impose on the animals destined to become our food before brutally murdering them. Then, there is the often-overlooked issue of the humans in the system, charged with the brutal work of handling and killing these animals. They suffer enormously at the hands of the system where they, like the animals they kill, are horribly exploited. The environmental impact of raising and slaughtering the tens of billions of animals we do each year, cannot be understated. My attempt to bring awareness to these issues has led me to my work with Woodstock Farm Sanctuary where I serve on the Board of Directors. At Woodstock, like at so many other farm animals sanctuaries, we connect people with farm animal refugees, in order to promote veganism as the only alternative for a sustainable future.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…"

Michael: amazing and the key to a happy and prosperous future for everyone.

Ethan: life.

2 comments:

  1. Can't get my head around social media. I hope this goes through. I'm an orthodox female, what you'd call chareidi. I love both men's answers to the questions. Very "relatable". Hope to see more of both.

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