I'm a reluctant vegan. In fact, I'm even a reluctant vegetarian. I have heard all the arguments for the benefits of vegetarian living, and I understand why vegans refuse to exploit animals, but let me tell you a little story that may illustrate where I'm coming from.
Each year, despite no longer practicing the Catholicism I was raised with, I do something for Lent. Give up coffee, or Diet Coke. Resolve to do a good deed per day. That kind of idea. It's my version of a New Year's resolution, except I only have to follow it for 40 days. After all, there's only so much goodness and fortitude you can expect from a fallen-away sinner like me.
Anyway, one year, my Lenten fast was to give up meat for the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter. I did fine for the first couple of weeks, and even enjoyed cooking up vegetarian options. I felt smugly happy that I wasn't having anything with a face killed on my behalf. By the time Lent was over, however, I was literally having dreams about pork chops. On Easter Sunday that year, I think all I ate was meat in one form or another. And I resolved never, ever to give up meat for Lent again. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
All this as prelude to the other day when My Beloved and I made another foray into the city to meet with our kitchen architect and went out for lunch together afterward. Being in the mood for Mexican food and being in the part of the city that has a plethora of Mexican restaurants, we used his smart phone to locate a restaurant in the Mission that just seemed a little more thoughtful about its menu than the others, Gracias Madre.
Seated in the restaurant and reading the menu in detail, it dawned on me that this was a vegan restaurant and I confirmed that with our server, a very nice young woman with multiple earrings, a boyish haircut, and a small tattoo.
Now, had you said to me, "I know this great little vegan place in the Mission - wanna go?" I have to admit, I'd have refused for all the reasons outlined above. The only other vegan place I have eaten was still trying to fool you into thinking there was meat on the menu by adding textured soy to many of its dishes and, frankly, I wasn't fooled.
At Gracias Madre, however, they make no pretense to be anything but vegan, with the exception small sins like calling their white sauce made from cashews "crema" and making quesadillas that contain no actual cheese. Never mind, the food was simply splendid. We shared the guacamole appetizer, which came with warm corn tortillas rather than chips. The tortillas were delicious all by themselves - I don't know how they were made, but I'd happily have made a meal of them alone.
For our main course, we each ordered the quesadillas de calabaza stuffed with a combination of chunky butternut squash mash and caramelized onions, and topped with a mildly tangy green sauce, striped with the "crema" and garnished with toasted seeds and fresh cilantro. The filling was surprisingly spicy, but not unpleasantly so, and the whole dish just sang of freshness and comfort and thoughtfulness.
As we walked back to our car, I remarked about how I'd likely have avoided Gracias Madre if I had not landed there by accident. Clearly, I need to open up and be more receptive to vegetarian and even vegan options. If they can be as tasty and satisfying as this lunch was, I've been missing a treat by being a reluctant vegan.