Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Over 20 years ago, Hawaiian Electric sponsored a “healthy recipe” contest that featured a mixed plate of prizes including a three-day trip to the Big Island with accommodations at the King Kamehameha Hotel. Because Hawaiian Electric was still airing its weekly “Electric Kitchen” show (it ceased production a few years later, in 2005), the grand prize winner would also be featured in an episode, to demonstrate making the winning dish on television. And as luck would have it, I won the grand prize with my vegetarian chili lentil loaf!

However, about a week before the winner was announced, “Electric Kitchen“ had approached me about creating healthy side dishes for their Thanksgiving episode. So later when it was announced that I won the recipe contest, they asked me if I could graciously allow the runner-up to appear on the recipe contest episode, since the two episodes were to run on successive weeks. I agreed — even if I saw no reason viewers wouldn’t want to watch me, like The Rock in the WWE Friday Night Smackdown, strut my stuff on TV for two weeks in a row … okay, maybe I was more like “The Pebble.“

Why Vegan?

Back in 1997, my sister lived with Mom and was still a strict vegan, including what she wore (no leather goods). I say “still” since she’s since converted back to carnivore ways including flavoring her bacon with food. But back then, we had to create vegan dishes, especially during the holidays, since my sister didn’t cook a lot. Since I didn’t have a lot of time to create Thanksgiving side-dish recipes for the “Electric Kitchen” program, I just demonstrated what was cooked at the Tatsumoto household.

Vegan Dressing

It is dressing when cooked on its own, but if you place this vegan stuffing into the cavity of a turkey, it’s not vegan once those drippings infuse the stuffing. Plus I’m not a fan of stuffing like Ms. S is, since it gets a little too wet for my tastes, and since I learned a long time ago that stuffing the cavity of a large turkey simply invites in that unwanted Thanksgiving guest, “Sal Monella.” So even if I make regular dressing with real pork sausage, I still cook it on the stovetop by itself.

Along with the usual cubes of dried bread (yes, I purchase bags of dried, cubed bread, because if you cube your own fresh bread and it’s not dry enough, that leads to dressing mushiness) I add the usual onions, celery and chestnuts along with fresh minced rosemary and sage. The only difference is the sausage and stock are MorningStar sausage which crumbles nicely like real pork sausage and vegetable stock in place of chicken stock. And other than being a vegan side dish, the only noticeable difference is the dressing doesn’t feel as “oily” in the mouth due to a lack of pork fat. Since Sis moved to the Valley Isle, I haven’t made this dressing for a while; actually, I prefer a mochi rice-based dressing with lup cheong, shiitake, takenoko, water chestnuts and chestnuts spiced with Chinese five-spice powder, shoyu and hoisin sauce sprinkled liberally with chopped fresh cilantro. But I still like bread-based dressing —  though not served as-is, but rather, placed in a waffle maker to crisp the outer layer (which you should try). I purchased an electric waffle maker specifically for this application, after viewing it on the television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” though I now also place Tater Tots and other non-waffle goodies in it.

Vegetable gratin (see recipe at hawaiianelectric.com/recipes/find-a-recipe/vegetable-gratin).

Vegetable Gratin

I also created a vegetable gratin that wasn’t redolent of artery-clogging cream and cheeses but was instead dressed in a light vinaigrette as simply a warm, colorful salad. The gratin was lightly sprinkled with cheese — albeit a vegan cheese substitute — but once again, since Sis doesn’t reside in Käne‘ohe anymore, I now use real grated Parmigiano for its umami qualities and technically, with just cheese, the dish still qualifies as vegetarian, just not vegan.

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

For my last side dish on “Electric Kitchen,” I created a fresh cranberry sauce — instead of the usual canned-cranberry sauce, complete with the perfect mold of the can. It was a basic recipe I found in cooking bible “The Joy of Cooking” and consisted of water, sugar, fresh cranberries and orange juice. However, since then we found a recipe that also adds diced pears, honey, cinnamon and star anise, we’ve never made any other recipe for cranberry sauce.

I searched the internet, especially YouTube, for a clip of my appearance on the “Electric Kitchen.” But it’s probably so old, Hawaiian Electric has only the original reel-to-reel version. Not to relive my glory days, but it’s probably one of the last vestiges to prove that I once had a full head of black hair that’s now been sadly reduced to freckled scalp. But you can go to the Hawaiian Electric website and re-create these recipes for vegan or vegetarian family members this Thanksgiving (hawaiianelectric.com/recipes).

Vegetarian chili lentil loaf. (Photos by Ryan

And for posterity’s sake, I’ll include my winning healthy recipe for vegetarian chili lentil loaf, which I usually stuff into whole-wheat pita pockets or crumble over diced lettuce and tomatoes with salsa on multi-grain rice for my own vegetarian version of the classic Okinawan taco rice.

Vegetarian Chili Lentil Loaf

1 cup dried lentils

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 can (15 oz.) reduced-sodium kidney beans, drained

1 can (15 oz.) reduced-sodium black beans, drained

1 can (4 oz.) roasted green chilies, drained

1 can (4 oz.) chopped olives, drained

1 medium tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons salt-free chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon dried cilantro leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

3 egg whites

1 to 1 and ½ cup quick oats

I’ve changed the award-winning recipe by adding more lentils and a 2nd can of beans, black beans. Rinse lentils and cook according to package directions; drain well. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. In a small skillet, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mash kidney beans into a coarse paste and lightly smash black beans. Add the cooked lentils, onion and garlic mixture, green chilies, olives, tomato, seasonings, and egg whites; mix well. Stir in oats until mixture has the consistency of uncooked meatloaf. Press into prepared pan. Be aware that as a vegan loaf, it crumbles easier than a loaf made with animal protein. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).


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