Cooking Vegan with Liquid Liquid

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Cooking vegan delights at the New York home of Liquid Liquid’s Sal Principato.

New York has no shortage of concept restaurants, culinary experts, and celebrity chefs. But how many of those Michelin-star chasers will invite you into their house and cook you a healthy vegetarian meal? DJ and musician Sal Principato, percussionist and vocalist of the famed No Wave group Liquid Liquid, extends that kind of courtesy to anyone looking for a vegetarian or vegan cooking class, a home-cooked meal, and company.

“It’s social—a relaxation technique and a healing technique in a way,” says Principato about preparing a good meal. “I kind of look at food as a way to counteract all the other wear and tear you put on your body.”

Principato started hosting these informal events, called Go Gather, this past winter. Guests pay $15 a head to learn some of Principato’s kitchen secrets, including how to make Nigerian bean cake and vegetarian pizza. The latter is made with almond cheese, and Sal claims it’s so good that it stacks up to a slice of NY-tstyle street pizza. He’ll guide visitors through a few steps and often broaden the context of the lesson, explaining where he purchased certain ingredients and why he uses them. He’ll have some wine, perhaps make an espresso, and wax poetic about food. “I believe, to a certain extent, that music and food are the highest extensions of a culture,” says the 30-year vegetarian. “Ultimately, cooking is more like an art in a way, and if you have a feel for it, you’ll be good at it,” he says. “I could take a tin can and cover it in animal fat and salt and make it taste good. But to make vegetables and legumes taste good and sing, that’s an art.”

To set up a group class with Sal Principato in New York, email him.

Sal’s Basic Tofu
This is how I prepare tofu prior to using it with any dish or recipe. Always use firm tofu as opposed to silken or soft. Dice the tofu in medium-sized irregular chunks. Heat up one part sesame oil and two parts canola oil (should make a small puddle of oil) in a wok or pan. Take two or three whole cloves of garlic and cook them in the oil until they’re fairly brown, almost burnt (you will discard them later). Add tofu and stir to coat it with oil. Cook over a medium-high flame and stir often, until the moisture evaporates from the tofu and it starts to turn a yellowish color (approximately eight minutes). Discard garlic. Add a few splashes of soy sauce and stir until it caramelizes on the tofu. The tofu should really resemble grilled chicken chunks (yikes!).

Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry with Miso Sauce
1 block extra-firm tofu
2 medium carrot sticks, julienned
6 chopped mushrooms
1 cup chopped broccoli
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1-2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 small diced onion
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon blonde miso paste
1 tablespoon arrowroot
hot peppers (optional)
soy sauce

1. Prepare tofu according to the recipe above.

2. There should be some leftover oil from preparing the tofu in the saucepan. Sauté the vegetables over medium-high flame one at a time starting with the carrots and ending with the mushrooms. After cooking each vegetable, set it aside with the tofu.

3. Add olive oil to the empty pan. Heat oil and then add ginger, then garlic, then onions (and hot peppers). Cook until onions wilt. Then add a heaping tablespoon of miso. Slowly add arrowroot to thicken the sauce, adding more if necessary.

4. Add the tofu and veggies to the pan and mix well.

Vegan Macaroni & Cheese
2 cups unflavored soy milk
2 cups vegetable stock
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
Olive oil
1 teaspoon of mustard
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon arrowroot or any other cornstarch-like thickener
1 tablespoon of whole-wheat flour
1 cup of yellow nutritional yeast
1 pound of whole wheat elbow pasta
Whole white onion, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. In a blender, combine unflavored soy milk, vegetable stock, garlic, a few splashes of olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper, arrowroot, flour and yeast. Blend and pulverize thoroughly. You can add a slight amount of turmeric for color. Pour contents in a pan or pot and heat on a low flame, stirring constantly, until it thickens to a cheese sauce consistency.

3. Cook a pound of whole wheat elbow pasta until its al dente and set aside. In a saucepan, sauteé the onion in oil olive until soft, then add 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs and cook until slightly brown.

4. Combine pasta and “cheese” sauce and pour into a baking pan. Top mixture with the onion and breadcrumb mixture and then cover with tin foil. Bake for about 20 minutes then remove tin foil. Bake until top is golden brown (approximately 15 minutes)