A Guide to Making Some of Your Favorite Arab Dishes Vegan
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
In recent years, the concept of a vegan (pronounced vee-gan) or plant-based diet has taken the United States by storm, and currently, it shows no signs of stopping. In March 2020, a study estimated that “nearly 3 percent of the population in the United States follows a vegan diet.” Surely, with those numbers, some of your Arab friends might identify as vegan, and thus, it is good to know how to prepare vegan Arab food. So, in all of that, you are probably wondering, “what foods make up the vegan diet and how does one take our favorite Arab dishes and prepare them according to the standards of the vegan diet?” Well, if that is you—no fear, this article will show a few tried-and-true methods in order to make Arab dishes vegan. So, let’s get started!
What is Veganism?
According to The Vegan Society which is the world’s oldest vegan organization founded in the United Kingdom in 1944, they classify veganism as this:
“Veganism is a philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans, and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
– The Vegan Society, https://www.vegansociety.com/
So, what does that actually mean especially when looking at the various foods and other products that are not made in any way, shape, or form from animals? Well, in general, vegans do not eat eggs and dairy products, fish, meats, and other items derived from animals with ingredients such as whey (a milk derivative), mayonnaise (due to it containing eggs), and sometimes foods such as honey. The issue over honey has become more of a debate in recent years because research has shown that harvesting honey sometimes helps rather than harms the bees, but there are others who believe that is not true, so the eating of honey is largely left up to personal choice.
Furthermore, there is also the idea of a ‘vegan lifestyle’ which relates to not using or purchasing products that are again derived in some way from animals. These include some examples such as to not buy leather and suede products, beauty products and vitamins made from animals, items that are tested on animals, and of course, not being abusive to animals.
So, what foods do actually make up the vegan diet then? These foods include “fruits, vegetables, legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils, nuts, seeds, bread, rice, pasta, dairy alternatives such as soy, almond, coconut, oat, hemp, flax, banana, macadamia, and hazelnut milk, [meat and fish alternatives], and vegetable oils.” Now, we can start our journey about how to make some of your favorite Arab foods vegan!
How to Make Some of Your Favorite Arab Dishes Vegan:
The Arab World has so many amazing foods and dishes that make up the beautiful array of its cuisine. In all actuality, the Arab World is very good for vegans because a lot of their most famous dishes are naturally vegan which is really interesting. These include falafel, hummus, Foul meddamas, Fattoush salad, Baba Ghanoush, and Tahini sauce if they do not contain mayonnaise, yogurt, or milk. However, in this article, I would like to show you some simple solutions to make some of our other favorite dishes vegan such as Chicken Shawarma, Knafeh, and Balaleet.
Chicken Shawarma, a favorite of the Arab World which is so delicious because of its intricate spices and cooking methods, but did you know it is very easy to make this one vegan?
So, starting off with Chicken Shawarma, how does one go about and make that dish vegan? Well, it is actually quite simple. In a Chicken Shawarma recipe, the only ingredient that needs changing is the chicken itself, and a vegan Arab chef can do that by using a chicken meat alternative. For a chicken alternative, there are many different brands one can choose from. Below, you can find some of the various favorites on the market today:
So, probably the major alteration that you might have to make when preparing vegan chicken shawarma is to accept that it will not be cooked on the traditional spit and sliced off it, but these alternatives taste very much like chicken. They are typically made out of proteins such as pea or soy protein, and then these alternatives are seasoned with spices such as poultry seasoning and other herbs to get that desired taste that is naturally in the meat.
So, you decide you want to make Knafeh as the centerpiece dessert for an upcoming party, but then you suddenly realize some of your Arab friends are vegan and do not eat cheese and various other things in the famous dish. What do you do when making a second Knafeh that is vegan? Well, again, your party is in luck because it is not that difficult to make this wonderful dish because of cheese and dairy alternatives available at even the most regular (non-specialty) grocery stores.
There are also some home-kitchen chef remedies you can use as butter substitutes such as mashed bananas, applesauce, nut butter, and pumpkin puree, among others, so there is always something to use if you cannot make it to the store in time to make that delicious Knafeh!
Perhaps, you are desiring a nice platter of Emirati Balaleet, but you were also wondering how to make it vegan? Well, just like Knafeh, it is much easier than one might think. We are blessed because wheat noodles, the numerous spices, and vegetable oil are vegan. Again, all we need are vegan alternatives for the butter and eggs. As stated above, there are many options for the butter alternative, and making ‘vegan eggs’ is not really all that hard either.
Here is a quick guide to the numerous egg substitutes and their measurements as well! How easy is that?!?!
These egg substitutes will assist any cook with their creations because they are so easy and taste very delicious. As a side note, the chickpea brine is considered one of the closest consistencies to regular eggs (you can reserve the liquid from your chickpeas after making hummus) so nothing goes to waste! How convenient!
So, in all reality, making a lot of your favorite Arab dishes vegan is not all that difficult if you know some of the tips and tricks relating to meat, dairy, and egg substitutes. And, of course to all the Arab cooks out there, no fear, when traversing the field of vegan cuisine you will almost always be able to find certain food items if some of your friends are vegan. There are many options coming to stores all the time to better the tastes, looks, and sensations of these alternatives, so it continues to get easier making vegan food. Enjoy your vegan journey going forward!
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