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I don't know about you, but I grew up with parents who were firm believers in the hearty strength of roast beef, bacon and fish dinners. The two lovebirds were also naturalists who loved nature. As a small child, I was allowed to enjoy village life in a rural hamlet of Great Britain (a hamlet is a village populated by less than 500 inhabitants). Almost every weekend, my Mummy and Daddy drove us to the forests, lakes, beaches and rural farms. We children delighted in stopping by a small farm pond, for example. As often as possible, we would take bags of bread and would enjoy feeding the little darlings, who were especially memorable during the spring; behind each mother duck a fluffy trail of exquisite ducklings quibbled excitedly, aware that other youngsters were adoring them from afar.
Springtime in Great Britain- not a year went by without a ritual visit to the "sticky bud" farm place, where a huge set of Horse Chestnuts leafed from sticky, brown new buds, producing hundreds of glorious cones of white flowers on stately, umbrella shaped trees. Under these sticky buds, we knew we would witness them, the gamboling and darting of brand new lambies, who tugged milk from Mother Sheep, whose fluffy white wool appeared in the sunshine to be as exquisite as any angels' wings. How we two sisters loved the sticky bud farm, and its gentle, wooly inhabitants!
One of those spring days (and I was eight years old at the time) my logical processes took over where trust and acceptance had guided my experience with Mum and the good food she prepared for us. "Mum", I remember asking very nervously..."are these little lambs used for the lamb roast?" When my parents answered that this was the case, I was horrified. I decided that I did not want to eat meat, because I loved lambs so much. I had been taught to love and appreciate all of Gods' creatures, and this teaching was not just for my parents' obvious heart for the natural kingdom, no, our schoolteachers taught that a reverence for nature had to guide our actions on earth. As well, hymns in church (like "All Things Bright and Beautiful") or the sermons all pointed toward a genteel, utopian existence that begged earthlings to shed no blood, wield no weapons and to cherish the brilliancy and overwhelming beauty of planet earth.
My Mom could only think of boiled or fried eggs to replace the protein I refused to consume, and in a year, I had grown unfond of egg to the point where the tempting smell of bacon appealed to my senses. I began to eat meat products again, although I would not eat lamb.
I have always moaned away about the lack of imagination (or courtesy) shown toward vegetarians or vegans by chefs of various restaurants. I don't know anyone who can wax enthusiastic about chinese vegetables year after year. After a while it isn't a treat, and too many of the Chinese chefs add too many harsh and large stalks of broccoli to their stir fried veggies. I prefer my own stir fried vegetables from home, unless there is expensive Szechuan (northern Chinese) cuisine in front of me. Anyway, I do get bored and I wish there were 10 developed vegan or vegetarian dishes available on every menu, rather than the usual: blah salad choices, macaroni, omelette or vegetable soup. I once spent the bulk of my visit to a steak house writing down 25 vegetarian dish ideas on their paper tablecloth, because I felt that so many visitors to Canada or immigrants have been dishonoured and frightened by the emphasis on meat in the commercial food world. There are, of course, people who are vegans for holy religious purposes. 'Meatless Friday' is traditonally a meatless day for economic (or religious) purpose,and has been since World War Two.
You see, I miss those family dinners that allowed for flavour, texture and economy - the pies, tarts, turnovers or rissoles of my early youth. Every winter, some dinner would include tourtière and baked beans,
with fried slices of leftover roast potatos from the big dinner from the day before, perhaps. This year, my husband kept buying quite reasonable meat tourtières (under four dollars!) and I got jealous. Yes, jealous!!
I realized that I wanted nice little slices of pie with veggies just like his. Why hadn't I thought of this before? I had used veggie soya "ground round" for sphagetti sauce, shepherds' pie or chili for 15 years or more, but I had never thought I could go ahead and make a veggie tourtière. My reason for ignoring the possibility was simple. I had once had Quebec vegetarian tourtière from an alternative bakery in Aylmer, Quebec. Thinking that I could never duplicate the amazing taste of a pastry chefs' secret recipes, I had just never tried to make a vegetarian tourtière.
vintage U.S. government wartime sign: image by s. risk
A Quebec tourtière is sometimes made with several ground meats, and has very little spice in it. Mainly, the meats are savoury and comfortably baked into a great and thrilling shorted crust. Mmmm!!! When I had enjoyed the vegetarian version I had read on the product description that this was a combination of something with millet. I decided to try it.
I cooked a small amount of millet (lush in itself as a dish) and in the meantime, sautéed half a package of vegetarian ground round (textured like minced beef) in a small amount of oil. For my first try I whizzed an onion in a blender, and gently sautéed the purée along with the ground round. After adding the onion, the millet was folded into the cooking filling. To this I added thyme, kosher salt and black pepper, plus about a cup and a half of hot water with two tablespoons of a wonderful vegetarian bouillon (made by spice epicure). This particular bouillon is flavoured with (believe it or not) apricots, and I felt the fruit was a tremendously wholesome addition. Apricots help to protect you from cancer, especially lung cancer.
I sautéed my ingredients for a good twenty minutes, until the moisture was almost wholly absorbed. I had made a pie crust recipe to which I added an egg yolk. Really, my hard pastry recipe would not do for a luxurious Quebec tourtière!!
Baking time is similar to any recipe for pastry crust.
My result was so good that even my husband (a confirmed meat potato and pizza maniac) did not notice the difference when he ate one of my vegetarian pies by mistake. Now that's success!
I have since used several variations on the theme for tourtière. One particularly good idea was to add two splashed of Allens' 11 vegetable juice to the sautéeing mixture. It was very rich and tasty, also more reminiscent of the famous Quebec tourtière taste.
When I started this article, I knew that some people would be turned off by the egg in my pastry recipe. I only eat about two eggs per month, but some hold that I am torturing chickens in cages. I buy free range brown chicken eggs, but no- it is killing potential fluffy baby chickens, in their opinion. So, I researched the net for a vegan egg substitute. Many postings showed that a lot of people wanted texture, colour, taste and similar qualities for baking. Amongst the qualities mention was made of fluffiness in baked products.
To date, I have not tried these subs, but I will. Until then, if you use egg subs the pastry for a tourtière is better with something to make it seem more like shortbread. It should crisp but melt in your mouth,along with the moist, deeply delicious combination of soya mince and millet. Careful, you might end up eating too much pie! It really is a luxury and I hope that you will enjoy not just the taste but the economy of creating on eof these. From less than five dollars worth of ingredients you will enjoy many servings, amounting to 8 entrées for less than a dollar. This is unbeatably a good idea for vegan or vegetarian cuisine.
Instead of vegetarian bouillon use two good dashes of Allens or V8 vegetable juice when you are sautéeing the filling.This deepens and enhances the juicy flavour of the pie filling. You can use gravy maker, Oxo, or vegetarian "beef" flavour bouillon to experiment with different depths of flavouring. Onion need not be puréed in the blender. You can just sautée finely chopped onion for the same pleasant taste. If you want to deepen the taste, try heating water and bouillon with herbs on a low setting for 15 minutes first, then adding this to the ground round, millet and onion. After the pie is cooled you can spread a paper doily on top of its crust, and gently dust icing sugar into a fine lace pattern (if you want to get fancy)
Of course, the traditional herb blend for Quebec tourtière is:
Bleagh- they use pork! Not my fave at all. I instead love my vegetarian tourtière. It's still comfort food. It's still Canadian. Why, I'll top that pie with some boiled maple syrup and honey for a glaze! Why not? Yum!
Bye for now!