Being vegetarian as long as I have, I’ve run across many strange foods. I thought it would be fun to put them together on one list. Some of these you’ve heard about, others probably not.
Tempeh really does look like something nobody has any business actually eating. It’s bumpy and also has spots of what appears to be mold. That’s because fungus spores from Rhizopus oligosporus are added and they cover it with their mycelium, leaving behind a fermented soy cake. Yum, right?
Actually, it’s pretty tasty and perfectly safe to eat, although it takes some people a while to develop a taste for it. Look for it in the refrigerated tofu section usually in the produce aisle.
Seitan, pronounced SAY-tan, just like the red guy with horns, is made from wheat gluten. Basically, the starch in flour is rinsed away, leaving behind the gluten. When cooked correctly and seasoned, it becomes a nice stand-in for meat. You can find it packaged at natural food stores or learn how to make seitan yourself.
Nutritional yeast, or “nooch” as it’s affectionately called, is quite popular in vegan cooking. It brings a savory, cheesy taste to food, so it’s often used to make vegan cheeses. It’s a good source of vitamin B12, which is a concern for vegans. Here are 20 ways to use nutritional yeast.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste. It’s also made from rice, barley, or other grains. It’s a strange ingredient, but a healthy one. It’s important not to boil it or you will kill the beneficial microorganisms.
It’s great for when you’re feeling a bit under the weather or you’ve indulged a little too much the night before. My amazing Lemongrass-Ginger Miso Soup is one of the greatest restorative tonics known to humankind. Hmmm, will the FDA allow me to make that claim?
It isn’t always vegetarian, though. There are many different ways to make it, so it’s a good idea to read the label. Or you could get adventurous and make your own kimchi.
Mochi comes to us from Japan. It’s made from glutinous rice, which is pounded into a paste and then shaped.
It’s commonly made into sweets, either confections or ice cream. But it can also be found in soup. Look for it refrigerated at natural food stores.
It comes in flakes or powder form and is found in the Asian food section or even with the nutritional supplements. You’ll want to take care that you’re using what the recipe calls for. You can’t substitute flakes for an equal amount of powder. The Japanese call it kanten.
Haggis is a Scottish delicacy made by cooking sheep’s organs (more specifically, the heart, liver, and lungs) with oatmeal, fat, and spices and then stuffing the concoction into sausage casings. (Traditionally, it’s actually stuffed in the animal’s stomach.)
So how on earth do you make that vegetarian? By substituting veggies, nuts, and lentils for the meat, of course.
The smell has been compared to rotten onions, vomit, raw sewage, and sweaty gym socks. All together in one neat package—yum! It’s a delicacy that requires a certain level of sophistication to appreciate fully, of course.
Apparently, if you can get past the odor the taste is quite good. Some experts even say to hold your nose the first time you eat it!
Casu marzu is also known as maggot cheese. It’s so fermented that it’s actually beginning to decompose and is so soft that it’s turning to liquid. At this stage it contains live insect larvae.
Even better, the larvae are prone to jumping when disturbed and they can leap in the air about 6 inches. Watch your eyes when dipping a cracker in for another scoop! Some folks eat the larvae and some don’t.
As far as I’m concerned they can have all the casu marzu that they want because I’m not going anywhere near the stuff!
Casu marzu image courtesy of Wikimedia author Shardan at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Shardan.