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Possibilities abound with vegan fast food

Last week I read an article by Mark Bittman in The New York Times Magazine that dealt with the possibility of fast, cheap and healthy food. Bittman feels that the country as a whole is shifting toward a desire for something that is cheap, fast (for airport excursions, etc.) and made with healthful ingredients. On a recent cross-country trip, Bittman attempted to eat vegan. He quickly tired of Subway’s veggie delight sandwich. The best alternative he found was the “fresco” burrito at Taco Bell. This burrito replaced dairy and meat products with pico de gallo, cost under $3, and came in at about 350 calories.
Bittman is optimistic about “a new category of fast food restaurant whose practices should be even closer to sustainable and whose meals should be reasonably healthful and good-tasting and inexpensive. (Maybe not McDonald’s-inexpensive, but under $10.) This new category is, or will be, Good Fast Food.” In hopes of progress toward Good Fast Food, Bittman shares his own recipes for a black bean burger, sweet potato fries, and even a vegan shake. You can find links to the recipes in the link to Bittman’s article above.
While I have yet to try the vegan shake, I did make the burger and fries this weekend and they are awesome. I encourage you to try the shake! Don’t be freaked out by putting tofu into your dessert. Tofu is essentially flavorless, so don’t worry about your shake tasting like Pad Thai.
I did run into a couple of troublesome things about the burger and fries, though. I was unable to find any kind of dried mushrooms at Safeway, let alone porcini mushrooms. If you can’t find porcini, any kind of dried mushroom will make a fine substitute. I wouldn’t recommend substituting fresh mushrooms, because that’s a whole different animal.
Without the mushrooms there is a bit less bulk to your burger product, but it is easily solved by adding a bit more oatmeal to the mix (this is also not as weird as it sounds). Also, don’t worry if you don’t have a food processor. I used a potato masher to mix my bean and oatmeal concoction and it turned out great. If you are using a food processor or blender, be careful not to purée your ingredients, you want some texture in your burger.
If you’re really into mushrooms, you should definitely sauté some onions and mushrooms to go on top of your burger. Simply slice up your veggies and put them in a hot pan with about four tablespoons of butter or vegetable oil. Let them sit untouched until browned, then toss them so the other sides will brown as well.
One issue I had with both the burger and the fries was that neither of them came out as crispy as I would have liked. If you enjoy more crispiness, I would recommend making both your burger and your fries on the thinner side, which will allow them to cook through more easily.
Happy eating! Let me know how those shakes turn out.

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