I rarely look back at my omnivore days with any wistfulness. I was overweight much of the time and unhappy about it. I was unhealthy and a bit bogged down by both the knowledge that I needed to eat “better” and the resulting confusion of how to accomplish that. When I went vegan, so many of my hang-ups about food and health dissipated. Cutting out entire food groups simplified my life in many ways. It has also alienated me at times, too. Our culture is so centered around food. Every major event, holiday, and celebration is held amidst an appropriate assortment of food, most of it not vegan-friendly. When food is a major part of how you relate to friends and family, it can seem like you’re severing a tie you once had with those people when you don’t partake in the same fare.

I grew up in Massachusetts. My East Coast family loves to vacation on Cape Cod and eat at The Lobster Pot in Provincetown. They attend fish fries at the American Legion. They dip steamers (clams) into bowls of melted butter. They argue over where to get the best lobster roll in town. I grew up loving seafood. It really is the one food that I miss — haddock and scallops in particular. Now, living in the Midwest, I’d be hard-pressed to find good seafood anyway. But when I go out to visit, I feel a twinge of remorse. It’s as though I’ll never truly be back because I can’t even eat the foods that remind me of home.

So when my parents, who also live in Illinois now, came to stay with us this past weekend, I decided to put my culinary clam-diggers and lobster bib on to create a New England Feast. My mom makes a really great clam chowder with bacon and corn and juicy clams. This veganized version hits the spot for me though. Chewy seitan fills in for the clams, and there’s no need to worry about the sand (a common hazard of real clams).

These super-easy crabless cakes taste just like the real deal. They’re flavored with lemon pepper, smoked paprika, and nori seaweed. They’re served with homemade tartar sauce and a squeeze of lemon. I’m definitely not missing any crustacean innards.

No seafood meal is complete without the chips! These broiled fries are going to be your go-to side from now on. I didn’t add the recipe here, but you have to have coleslaw too. It’s super easy though: shred some green cabbage, mix Vegenaise with a bit of apple cider vinegar and almond milk to get it to dressing consistency, mix it with the cabbage, salt and pepper it, voilà!

Hope you enjoy a taste of New England with these recipes inspired by my homeland. I can almost smell the salt air now!

New England “Clam” Chowder

A slightly modified version of a recipe found on Végétetalien à Paris

3 sheets nori seaweed
1 cup vital wheat gluten
4 T nutritional yeast
4 red potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, diced
2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Liquid smoke
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 T Earth Balance
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups almond milk
1 cup tahini
Salt
¼ tsp pepper

Boil 4 cups of water with 1 tsp salt and 1 sheet of nori for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, strain out nori, and set aside. This is your “clam” juice.

Tear remaining 2 sheets of nori into confetti-sized pieces (this would be a good job for that person who always half-heartedly asks if he/she can help you in the kitchen, fully expecting you to refuse). Combine vital wheat gluten and 1 sheet torn up nori in a bowl (set last nori sheet aside for later). Mix in 1 cup of water and knead dough for a bit.

If they’re still around, enlist your sous-chef to tear tiny clam-size bits from the dough and place them on a plate, being careful to not let them touch. Boil 4 cups of water with 1 tsp salt and 4 T nutritional yeast. Throw your “clam” strips into the water, turn heat to medium, and cover. Keep simmering until most of the water has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.

In a large soup pot, sauté onions in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Throw in a few dashes of liquid smoke. Next, add carrot and celery, cook for a minute, then add potatoes and “clam” juice. Simmer until veggies are cooked.

For the roux, heat olive oil and Earth Balance in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until fully incorporated. Whisk in broth, almond milk, and tahini. Heat over medium heat until it thickens, stirring periodically.

Once hot, add the roux to the soup pot with the cooked veggies. Throw in the clam strips, remaining torn up sheet of nori, pepper, and several more dashes of liquid smoke. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Once it’s hot, it’s ready to serve. It would be great with oyster crackers!

Liz’s Crabless Cakes

2 cups garbanzo beans
2 cups northern beans
2 T fresh parsley
1 T chives
3 T soy sauce
Panko crumbs as needed, about a 1/2 cup
Half an onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T olive oil, plus more for frying
½ tsp lemon pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
Half a sheet of nori torn into tiny pieces

Sauté onions in 1 T olive oil until translucent, add garlic, cook 1 minute. Set aside. 

Drain and rinse beans, mash in bowl with parsley, chives, soy sauce, and sautéed onion and garlic. Add lemon pepper and paprika and nori. Add about a ½ cup panko crumbs, mix and, if mixture is still too moist, add more. Shape patties from mixture and fry in sauté pan in 1 to 2 T oil until golden on both sides. Serve with Lemony Tartar Sauce.

Lemony Tartar Sauce

½ cup vegan mayo (Vegenaise)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 T chives
1 green onion, diced
2–3 T diced dill pickles
1 T mustard
½ tsp lemon pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Broiled Fries

For years I struggled to make my homemade fries similar to the crispy creations you get with the deep-fry method. And for years I endured the soggy limp potatoes I ended up with. But not anymore! These are golden, crispy, and crunchy. The secret? Broiling!

Potatoes (duh), how many? I guesstimate 2 potatoes per person, but 3 to 4 wouldn’t be pushing it. Yes, they’re that good.

Garlic powder
Onion powder
Salt
Paprika
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 450˚.

Scrub potatoes clean. Get organic and forget about peeling. Cut potatoes into whatever style you want — I like a thick steak fry myself. Toss potatoes in a large bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil and then start sprinkling on the spices. My go-to favorites are listed, but feel free to spice your spuds as you see fit.

Place coated fries in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper (I have found parchment paper to be a must with the baking pans I have; there is metaphorically nothing worse than having your gorgeous fries turn into hash browns from stickage).

Bake for 5 minutes. Set oven to broil. After ten minutes, turn fries over, and broil another 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the fries towards the end; if they’re thinly cut, they may cook faster. Scoop the golden beauties onto your plate and splash a generous helping of malt vinegar on top — it’s the New England way.