It took just one documentary about animal agriculture to convince Ashley Hankins-Marchetti to become vegan. The documentary, “Cowspiracy,” raises the argument that livestock are harmful to the environment. Although there is still a lot of debate over the issue, Hankins-Marchetti’s mind was made up. No more meat for her.
After watching the movie, she and her wife, Ashlee Marchetti, removed all the meat and animal products from the fridge in their cozy home, just west of Highway 99. They gave it away to neighbors. Gone was the milk, butter and veal shanks that they specially ordered from a local butcher shop.
“People thought we were crazy for not eating meat anymore,” Hankins-Marchetti said. “As an animal lover and someone who cares about the environment, I wanted to change how we eat.”
That was nearly a year and a half ago, and Hankins-Marchetti remains a diehard vegan with a new passion: blogging about her vegan lifestyle.
An avid home cook, she created Eatfigsnotpigs.com, where she shares her recipes with thousands of followers. Describing her cooking style as vegan comfort food, she’s garnered the attention of websites like Foodgawker.com, a curated photo gallery showcasing photos and recipes from food bloggers around the world. Several of her recipes have been published on the site. Her work also appears on Thefeedfeed.com a social-media community of cooks.
Her blog averages about 1,000 hits a day, and her Instagram page, @eat–figs–not–pigs, has more than 1,300 followers. On the page, you will find delicious-looking dishes like vegan chilaquiles, chili habanero cauliflower wings and stuffed pasilla peppers filled with quinoa and soyrizo.
Marchetti said some of her favorite recipes are the Mexican ones. There is a recipe for vegan menudo that uses snow fungus mushrooms, instead of tripe.
“It even looks like tripe and is a little chewy,” Marchetti said. “It works.”
Hankins-Marchetti said her goal with the blog is to show others that being vegan doesn’t mean giving up on great-tasting food.
“Both Ashlee and I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, and what we have learned is that with just a little extra effort, you can create some amazing meals,” Hankins-Marchetti said.
Marchetti, a culinary school graduate, said the fun part of adopting a new cooking style is discovering new uses for everyday ingredients like cashews. When soaked and put in a blender, the nuts take on a creamy texture that is perfect as a base for sauces, including their Caesar dressing.
Hankins-Marchetti’s street-style tacos will satisfy even the most devoted taco fanatic. She substitutes carne asada with textured vegetable protein, or TVP. The soy-based product comes dry and is soaked, well seasoned and then fried into crispy chunks. She packs the TVP into a warm corn tortilla and tops it with cilantro, lettuce, onion, a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of the spicy habanero pesto. Each flavorful bite leaves you wanting more.
Friends and family of the couple have been wowed by their vegan cooking and are urging them to do more. For now, neither is going to quit their day jobs. She is still going to college and works as a server at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Marchetti also works at BJ’s and is a bartender.
Food experts and chefs say they’ve seen an uptick in people opting out of eating meat or animal products for a combination of reasons, including animal welfare, environmental and health reasons. Restaurants are also responding to the trend by offering more vegetarian, vegan and plant-based options.
“Emerging research continues to support the importance of including more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts/seeds, whole grains in our diets to both help increase nutrient quality of our diet, but also to help prevent the development of certain chronic diseases,” said Kim Tirapelle, a registered dietitian in the bariatric department at Kaiser Permanente Clovis Medical Office. “A plant-based diet is also found to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable for the long term than relying on animal sources.”
Vegan street-style tacos with habanero pesto
Shredded cabbage or lettuce
Lemon for garnish
Corn or flour tortillas (extra small “street style” tortillas)
1/4 cup vegetable oil, for frying
2 cups TSP (textured soy protein) or Soy Curls (can be purchased in the Mexican food aisle or at Whole Foods)
1 3/4 cups boiling water
2 “Not Chikn” bouillon cubes (If you can’t find these, you can use vegetarian chicken stock or vegetable stock in place of the water and bouillon cubes)
2 teaspoons ground oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce, optional
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro
1/4 cup vegan Parmesan shreds (use Follow Your Heart vegan shreds)
2-3 habanero peppers, deveined of all seeds
6-8 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Pink Himalayan salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
To make habanero pesto, mix all ingredients in a food processor and blend on high for about a minute. Store, covered in the refrigerator until ready to be used.
For the tacos, first rehydrate the textured soy protein. In a large bowl, add dry TSP. In a small saucepan on high heat, add water and bouillon cubes or vegetable stock. Once boiling, add to TSP mixture and set it aside to rehydrate for about 10-15 minutes. Add seasonings (oregano, cumin, vegan Worcestershire, liquid smoke) and stir to combine.
In a frying pan on medium high heat, add oil. Once oil is hot, fry rehydrated TSP, stirring constantly until browned and crispy, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer cooked soy curls to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with warm tortillas and garnish with lettuce, habanero pesto, cilantro and lemon.