I made chia pudding tonight. Chia pudding, at least the way I make it, is a combination of chia seeds, plant-based milk, vanilla, and agave. I have often thought this dish to be special, and tonight it struck me why I think so. To me, chia pudding is like an art piece with a simple elegance. To accomplish this kind of work you have to know when to stop, and the creator of chia pudding stopped at a crucial point: when the seeds became gelatinous. Now, gelatinous chia seeds are also used to replace eggs in baking recipes, but chia seeds are versatile in their ability, with a few more ingredients, to be their own delicacy.
Utilizing the properties of different ingredients is what cooking is all about. To go one step further, it is my opinion that the best dishes highlight the natural characteristics of ingredients. While this is often the case when cooking with animal products, I don’t know that this same principle is always applied to plant-based or vegan cooking.
With animal products and processed foods dominating American cuisine, it is my impression that there is a lack of understanding, and by extension an underappreciation, of the best properties of plants. Since I began eating plant-based I have done my fair share of substituting ingredients in recipes, but it has always seemed odd to me. When I do this I am attempting to replicate a dish I can no longer eat. Often the appeal of the dish is the very reason I began eating plant-based. I don’t want my food to merely be “the altered version.” I want it to stand on its own. Many of my favorite dishes are entirely new constructs. Just like the use of animal products has developed over time, I imagine that as more chefs begin to challenge themselves to cook plant-based, and cook plant-based food more often, that new, delicious recipes will be developed.
I think it is challenging but entirely rewarding to play up the properties of natural ingredients. We should think beyond the scope of merely substituting ingredients such as milk, eggs, and butter that are integral to the American cooking experience. Rather I am curious to continue experimenting with new ingredients, and discover combinations that highlight plants’ natural qualities.