Written by: Ashley Hlebinsky
If you read the title of this blog, you may be thinking, “What the Hell?” But bear with me.
I love food…like A LOT. Most people don’t believe me because I’m 5 foot and 110lbs, but ask anyone who knows me, literally all I do is eat or talk about what I’m going to eat. So, it’s pretty good that I also like to cook. Other than drinking whiskey, it’s my only hobby. As a result, my favorite part of the hunt other than the chase itself, is the harvest.
As I learned more about hunting and conservation – before getting into it myself – I was surprised that many of the people who taught me most about game meat and using all parts of the animal were my 'hippy' friends. One friend who used to work in the gun industry was a self-professed 'hippy' from Washington state who saw hunting as an extension of being one with nature and the ultimate food to table experience. She thought more “hipsters” should consider getting their hands dirty if they truly believe in knowing from where their meat comes.
I had my first real experience eating various harvested animals in Argentina. I tried dove poppers, black buck, red stag and even viscacha; if you don’t know what that is, neither did I. When I asked the owner of the Safari what it was, he smiled and wished my husband and I a good night. I spent the rest of the night trying to, one, get the women who worked in the lodge and didn’t speak any English to tell me (mostly they just laughed), and two, using my spotty internet service to figure out how to spell it so I could find out. Are you familiar with Rodents of Unusual Size? Yeah, it’s kind of like that mated with a rabbit. All in all, it was delicious, and taught me that anything could be turned into a delicacy. Except bacon in Argentina – they ruin that for any self-respecting American.
So, it’s safe to say I relish in finding and creating new recipes in which to eat the hundreds of pounds of meat in my freezer. However, about two years ago I was thrown a curve ball. After developing stomach issues, I learned that I was both lactose intolerant and had an egg allergy. To give you an idea of how much I loved dairy, I lost 15 pounds in a month from just cutting it out of my diet. I still ate burgers and fries, just no cheese. Because of these food allergies, it suddenly made finding recipes for game meat that didn’t include dairy or eggs quite difficult because naturally, if you like steak, you also like butter and cream.
As a result, I had to figure out how to modify and create my own recipes. After one day when I ordered off the vegan menu at a restaurant and asked for a side sirloin, I jokingly started calling my diet: Vegan with a side of meat. And you know what? I really don’t miss the cheese and eggs so much – except Caesar salad. I have found interesting substitutes for cheese, from lactose free cheddars to various cashew based “cheeses.” And before you scoff, I make a homemade elk lasagna with cashew tofu ricotta that my husband says tastes better than real cheese. I have fooled unsuspecting people who think it is ricotta. My diet has also forced me to try foods that this recovering “meat and potatoes woman” never would have growing up. I’m slowly but surely uploading these “recipes” to a website for other hunters who may or may not gas out an entire room after indulging in a cheese board, and I'll start including some of those options right here. If you don’t have these food allergies, you can always sub the real thing back in, but I’ll let you do the work for a change.
Some Popular Substitutes I use:
Almond milk. For something creamier, I use canned coconut milk. If you don’t want that strong coconut flavor, I cook it for a while, and it dissipates.
Some people with lactose intolerance can handle butter. Other options are ghee – this is butter without the lactose essentially. If you’ve had drawn butter with lobster or crab, you’ve had ghee. It has a high smoke point, so I tend to use this for steaks anyways when searing or cooking because it won’t burn as easily. Or Margarine aka Vegan Butter.
Sometimes I can get away with canned coconut milk, but again you have to deal with the flavor. Another good substitute is Cashew Cream. For one cup, take a cup of cashews and place them in a pot with water. Heat until boiled and then turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain the cashews and blend with 1 cup of water until smooth. I’ve used this in sauces and bisques. The only downside is a day or two later, it can be a bit grittier because of the cashews.
Cheddar Cheese - Because I’m just lactose intolerant, I use Cabot Creamery cheddars and pepper jacks. If you look at the label, it says 0 grams of lactose. Some Boar’s Head cheeses are lactose free as well.
Goat, Sheep and Buffalo Cheese – Some people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate non-cow cheeses. You can test this out. If you can tolerate them, goat cheese can be used to add the tang kind of like cream cheese or sour cream. Pecorino cheese is usually sheep’s cheese and can be swapped out for parmesan. And I use buffalo mozzarella when I can find it in lieu of regular mozzarella or vegan mozzarella.
Parmesan Cheese: ¾ c. cashews, 3 tbsp of Nutritional Yeast (usually in spice aisle), ¼ tsp garlic powder, and ¾ tsp salt (Minimalist Baker)
Ricotta: 16 oz package firm tofu patted dry, ½ c. nutritional yeast, 3tp lemon juice, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. dried basil, 1 tsp. oregano, ½ tsp. garlic blended together.
If you want something stretchier in vegan cheese, Tapioca flour is really good. Tapioca flour and arrow root can be used as a thickener if some things don’t have the heartiness without cream.
Bob’s Red Mill for baking. Just Egg to substitute for an egg wash on a pie or eggs in a meatloaf or meatball recipe.
There are so many options out there depending on where you live. Check labels; make sure it is right for you.
If you want to see some of the ways I work around dietary restriction, check out my Instagram @historyinheels or go to my website: www.veganwithasideofmeat.com