Kay Gabriel is a brilliant, smutty poet who also happens to be excellent at taking the kind of Instagram pictures of her vegan food (as well as her outfits) that garner a much-deserved 👀. We chatted about keeping vegan while also keeping kosher for Passover, just in time for this weekend.
GABRIEL: I’m a vegan and a baker and my omnivorous boyfriend once said that “nothing I’ve cooked for him has tasted vegan” and that’s one of the nicest things anybody’s said about my cooking
Cause, like, I understand the fuck out of that complaint. I think a lot of vegan baking feels pretty ascetic, like somehow this thing that should be pleasant and social feels like a restrained indulgence or like eating your vegetables or, like, oh there’s a vegan at the party I guess we should get a pack of Oreos
I guess my stake in vegan baking is it can be enticing and satisfying and, with knowing a little bit about the chemistry of what you’re making, not even that hard
JARBOE: “Technically vegan Oreos” it’s true, it’s true
Does that make cooking + baking vegan for Passover like a double challenge with double pride in the results?
GABRIEL: Yes! The pride is a major bonus!! like did you see mom I hurdled the fuck out of that seder
JARBOE: I appreciate Passover as someone who has had or accommodated many diets because at least with my in laws there is a spirit of sportsmanship about trying to cook and do without a normal / mundane / expected ingredient and that’s what I’ve always enjoyed about creativity anyway
GABRIEL: It’s definitely an extra challenge: specifically, if you’re keeping kosher for passover, you’re not baking with wheat flour (or rye/spelt/barley/oats), and you’re already substituting the other major ingredients that add structure and texture to baked goods—eggs and dairy, basically
Like you say, the cool thing about passover is /everybody/ has to make these kinds of very intentional, trying, amusing choices about ingredients that, if you have certain dietary restrictions or needs, you have to contend with all the time
JARBOE: Does developing recipes feel like developing secrets/power with only the results to be shared? Or is it definitely about sharing both the method and the food? It occurs to me to ask or fish around that topic because you’re a poet and writing for publication feels like a tension between secrets and sharing
GABRIEL: Oh, I definitely share method, probably with too much enthusiasm
hahaha it does, but I think the nice thing about baking is it becomes so much less daunting the more you know about the kind of arcane things a recipe is instructing you to do
Totally, like—it’s one thing to know that aquafaba (the protein-rich liquid that you get after you preserve white beans or chickpeas) will produce a meringue-like structure if you beat air into it, and another to know that, like, that happens because it’s got nearly the same protein-to-water ratio as egg whites, and that’s what helps it trap air and become stiff
Ah, so! if you don’t eat kitniyot, chickpeas and other legumes are basically out
most vegans who keep kosher for passover do eat kitniyot, because otherwise you’ve lost, like, chickpeas and beans and soy and a lot of sources of nutrients in addition to not eating eggs, dairy, and meat
And I firmly feel that everybody should observe in the way that feels right for them; on my end I feel like pesach is a celebration and I’m not gonna just have vegetables and matzo for a week, which would be among other things a colossal pain in the ass
JARBOE: Haha yes. The bitterest herb of all is bad matzo??
GABRIEL: oh my GOD yeah
Okay well—so the past few people I’ve dated have all been goyim, and it always happens on passover that they’ll ask to try the matzo. Invariably they say something like “that isn’t so bad” and I have to be, like, it’s the bread of AFFLICTION you’re not supposed to LIKE it
JARBOE: I love the holidays about suffering
GABRIEL: I like the holidays about suffering too. Passover is definitely that good mix of hurting yourself for G-d a little and also the very pro-social celebration that you get at a seder
do you wanna start with breakfast? I have so many thoughts about vegan k4p breakfast!
JARBOE: Yes. I have just microwaved my coffee and am ready to talk breakfast now more than ever
GABRIEL: perfect, that reminds me to get another cup
I’ll preface this by saying I’m a consummate breakfast-lover, a total shill for the breakfast table and all its foods. Like, who isn’t! But breakfast during pesach is obv a challenge under normal circumstances—no toast, cereal, granola, oatmeal, not a single bagel—and all the more so if you don’t eat eggs, cheese, yoghurt, that kind of thing
My go-to breakfast is actually a vegan matzo brei. If your readers aren’t familiar, regular matzo brei is a piece of matzo soaked in egg for a couple minutes and fried on a stove. I remember when I was a kid my parents called it french toast for passover, but that’s not totally right: the proportion of egg to cracker and the softness of the matzo makes it more like soft, creamy scrambled eggs. Actually I was trying to explain matzo brei to my roommate and she said it sounded like Jewish chilaquiles, and that’s a pretty accurate and appetizing way to think about it
So to a vegan matzo brei, I cut out the egg and replace with about a third of a cup of unsweetened almond milk per sheet of matzo, toss with some salt and pepper and plenty of fresh herbs (rosemary’s great, or fresh chives), leave it to soften for a couple minutes and throw it in a pan till most of the liquid’s absorbed or boiled off and the brei has a creamy, somewhat spongy texture
It’s the perfect complement to, say, some avocado slices, chopped spring onion, seared tomatoes, a bit of hot sauce, it’s crazy how satisfying it tastes actually
actually after talking to my roommate I wanna try the vegan brei with, like, salsa or mole and some beans, I bet it’d go like [chef’s kiss]
JARBOE: I’m always, always ready to add salsa.
Tomatoes? Genius. Peppers? WOW. Nightshades are killing it.
GABRIEL: yes!! so sharp and so bright
The other thing I do for a vegan k4p breakfast is lean into the tubers and legumes
(this won’t fly if you don’t eat beans and lentils etc. over passover, but as I say, I do)
Lately I’ve been leaning into some pretty crunchy stuff, soaking beans overnight and soft-boiling them up in bulk—blackeyed peas are especially good for it, partly cause they’re so small it’s easy to get them to a creamy, even texture, and then you can save the cooking liquid (which turns, like, sort of grey-purple) and use it for gently steaming vegetables or whatever—anyways I think they make a pretty phenomenal savory breakfast
JARBOE: I think they’re Okay this year (family is Conservative Ashkenazi and their rabbi was like Beans Are Fine so beans are fine now haha)
GABRIEL: oh right, I think that was a major decision that happened recently
I am a bean juice enthusiast!
Like, when you’re boiling up your blackeyed peas or cannelini or whatever, the water left over—and there’ll be plenty of it—is full of salt and protein and flavour
and the other thing is that you’ll have washed the beans and soaked them overnight, so the water that you’ve boiled them in is definitely clean and edible
the general principle here is leave them to soak before you go to bed, drain, then let em go for 25-40 minutes at a gentle simmer with plenty of salt in there and you’ll be left with gadzooks of beans and then this powerhouse cooking stock that you can keep in your fridge for, you know, 5 days or so
JARBOE: “Jackin the bean stock.”
GABRIEL: Sounds like the title of a crash pad vid from, like, 2011
I’m into it
In terms of turning that into breakfast: I like to dice up a potato, scatter with a bit of vegetable oil, salt pepper and lately some za’atar—sesames and thyme and potatoes go so well together, somehow—and leave it in the oven for around 20 minutes at 425 to crisp up (you could also do that on the stovetop but I find it’s significantly crispier in the oven, dries out more); and meanwhile on the stove, dicing up some dried chiles, letting them temper with like 1/2 tsp cumin seeds in medium-hot oil on the stove for a couple minutes, and then throwing in a cup of blackeyed peas and some of the reserved cooking liquid (the jacked bean juice?) and squeezing a lemon or two in there and letting it boil down, in the last few minutes you rip up some leafy greens and throw them in too, combine in a bowl with the potatoes and maybe some flaxseed and a drizzle of hot sauce
(obv that’s a somewhat involved leisurely weekend breakfast!)
the result is pretty magnificent though, the peas get all creamy and tangy from the lemon, the greens will still have a bit of chew to them while adding some rich colour to the bowl, and then there’s the sharp crisp from the russet potatoes
I’m always excited when I can make a vegan meal sound appetizing to non-vegans!!
JARBOE: There’s a very hot + fast + spices/herbs approach here that appeals to me very much as someone who likes flavors such as “burnt” and “wondering how humans even decided to eat that part of the plant”
Crisp and aggressively spiced is my favorite vegan/veg approach to comfort food
So this is so great.
GABRIEL: I’m a weirdo who will, like, chew raw mustard seeds and snack on lemon rinds—I don’t recommend that one, it’s my food version of chewing my nails—but I sympathize!
And it is pretty fast, 25 minutes including prep and everything and easy to scale
JARBOE: I’m definitely going to try this one because it sounds like it scales well for a group too.
Always important for a holiday.
Getting enough cuts of meat or dozens of eggs is a thing that can go wrong real fast during holidays and vegan cooking really does have the price and scale appeal there IME!
GABRIEL: yes!! and, you know, I’ve put that down for breakfast but I think you could easily scale it up and serve it as a very homey, comfort vegan part of a seder
or just, you’ve got family or friends visiting and need to keep em happy, hah
JARBOE: People can get kinda weird about “vegan food” being “more expensive” and I usually shut up because I don’t wanna derail someone being frustrated with what’s probably a food desert issue where they live, or watching their corner market become a gourmet grocer, but I am a penny-first cook and thought I would mention it here at least
I mean, there’s no question that veganism gets branded as, like, a lifestyle choice for the leisured and wealthy, and also no question that for a lot of people it’s just so many indices of gentrification
and for what it’s worth, you know, I fucking hate that, not to derail this into a philosophical conversation about veganism but for so many people it really is a socially acceptable mode of upscale restriction dieting
so I appreciate the negative associations!
just to price out that meal though, it’s probably $2.50 for a 1-lb bag of blackeyed peas, and then it’s some russet potatoes (maybe $1/pound?) and greens and then the lemons and spices, pretty simple stuff, I’d say you could feed 6 people for around a $15 grocery store run
JARBOE: TBH I started this column pretty much because trans people sure do have a lot of eating disorders and money troubles and instead of a thinkpiece I just wanted to talk to more of us about food
GABRIEL: yes, absolutely
and I love that so much!
as, like, a tran in ED recovery, one of the things consistently that helps me eat is talking about food and getting excited about it, it’s very pro-social and a way to be with friends and to do good things for them and for myself too
just to get very real for a second there!!
beans and greens and lemons aside, I do have another extremely seder-oriented vegan entree I can share
GABRIEL: so this is basically my version of the, you know, humble leek and potato soup—stepped up enough to be a palatable addition to a seder, but again pretty easy to make in bulk for a crowd; my version is basically to make it redolent of fresh ginger and chiles (once again) and lime and coconut
I find that somehow—well, for now, anyways—it’s always still pretty cold in March, April when passover comes around, and I find that I want something warm and satisfying like a soup in all that spring chill
I start off with a sizeable chunk of fresh ginger—it’s really hard to overdo it, I’d say about an inch of ginger per potato you put in there—diced finely, tempered for a couple minutes in some medium-low vegetable oil on the stove; add in a clove or two of garlic, to taste, it helps to make the meal aromatic but it’s really not the star here so it shouldn’t overwhelm—then plenty of leeks, washed well and thinly sliced, they’ll cook down a lot so again hard to overdo it; then throw in your potatoes, washed and diced, I do 2 potatoes to serve 4 so use that as your ratio, plus some vegetable stock and a 14-oz can of coconut milk
oh, and a couple of fresh green chiles, sliced lengthwise
the leeks should be, like, 3/4 cooked down and getting translucent and sweet before you throw in the liquid
then basically cook until the potatoes are done—you’ll want to salt the fuck out of the water—and finish with some lime zest and then juice of a few fresh limes, to taste, right at the end for a real tangy punch; and if you wanna make it somewhat more fancy you can get sliced dried coconut and toast it very lightly as a garnish, and some cilantro—that’s kind of a bitter herb, right, it’s very passover
JARBOE: Hahaha depends on if you have that soap gene or not I suppose.
GABRIEL: oh right yeah!
anyways that one I actually served at a seder last year and I think it was a hit! you get the heat from the chiles and ginger and the tang from the lime and the kind of pleasant soft sweetness of leek and potato and don’t have your vegan guests feeling like they’re left out in the brisketless cold
JARBOE: Sometimes you open the door for Elijah and it sets off the thermostat! Very important to have soup.
GABRIEL: definitely that