Meet A Vegan: Chef Mani Mania

This weekend, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Mani Mania, a professional pastry chef and hardcore vegan. Her company, of the same name, aspires to liberate people’s mind, body and soul from unhealthful living through the promotion of a plant-based, vegan diet. Read her interview below, and visit her site at http://www.chefmanimania.com.

What makes you unique/different/special?

Ello, Maniacs! I am Chef Mani Mania, an award-winning vegan pastry chef. I have been classically trained at the world renowned Le Cordon Bleu and am certified by the American Culinary Federation. To boil it down, what makes me unique is I am an overflowing bottle of mania.

How has your life experiences shaped who you are as a vegan today?

The health of my loved ones as well as my personal health has had the biggest impact on who I am as a vegan today. For example:

  • I constantly understand how my body reacts to certain foods. I am one of those vegans that RUN from beans unless sprouted.
  • I read food labels and research other toxic ingredients (besides animal derived ingredients).
  • I am learning to grow my own food slowly but surely.
  • I lessen my carbon footprint by biking, public transportation, and shop as locally as possible.
  • I am a more giving person since becoming vegetarian/vegan and experiencing life-threatening encounters. Whether it is through food, service, inspiration, or knowledge, it brings me indescribable joy to help people liberate their minds, bodies, and souls.

Essentially, I am a more conscious and awakened hue-man.

Chef Mani Mania

How did your parents react when you changed to a plant-based vegan diet?

My parents are Hardcore Vegans as well. We started our vegan journey together and having been keeping each strong ever since. It is invaluable to have supportive family/team.

 How do you deal with being social as a vegan?

Great question! With two jobs and a business, the most socializing I manage is when food blogging in my community and social media (if that counts).

What advice would you give to young vegans (vegans just starting out)?

First and foremost, congratulations and welcome! My advice is to practice the art of willpower, seek knowledge, and have an everlasting reason why you are vegan. With those components, you will be able to embrace the lifestyle without much discouragement and adversity from within and out.

McVeggie?

I went on a road trip with a friend from Florida to North Carolina. The drive was excruciating. July heat rendered the A.C. useless. I wavered between fits of sleepiness and irritability.

And I was hungry.

At the nest rest-stop, I surveyed the restaurants’ the menu items in vain. There was nothing for me to eat. I finally settled on a small cup of hummus and chips in the fridge aisle.

My friend and I returned to the car, and I dove into my hummus and chips. I watched my friend wolf down her burger and fries with a tinge of annoyance. Why couldn’t I have as many options as her? And why did it seem like I was always eating snacks and sides?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m the farthest thing from a restaurant queen. Ninety percent of the food I eat I cook myself. It’s so much easier to control what’s in your food that way. But, being social and eating on the go is more of a challenge–even as an experienced vegan. Sometimes I want the luxury of just picking something up.

When Pizza Hut and McDonald’s released vegan options on their menus this week, I felt smug annoyance. What took so long? Unsurprisingly, many plant-based dieters did not share my same sentiments.

Many decried the move as just another corporate-greed fueled money-grab. McDonald’s, considered the slaughterhouse of all restaurants, was especially mocked for its foray into vegan foods.

Much of the criticism is warranted. Traditional restaurants cashing in on the trend of veganism raises specific moral questions. Veganism is more than a food option; it’s about making healthier choices that support all animal life—including your own, which makes the idea of vegan junk food paradoxical. Moreover, the general stance of these restaurants is counter much of what veganism espouses. Of course, the long-term answer would be opening and supporting restaurants that are entirely vegan, but those options are few and far between. For a person stuck in the middle of the grease and bacon South, what options do they have in the meantime?

Pizza Hut and McDonald’s are far from perfect, but the same could be said of many of the restaurants we frequent. Offering new vegan additions is a step in the right direction in a long history of wrongs. Plus, these quick-serve vegan meals are attractive to struggling new vegans and those who are curious.

People have opined for years about how veganism is the luxury for the upper-middle class, so offering cheap, filling vegan meals can combat this notion. Newer vegans trying to wean themselves off of meat may find more accessible vegan options helpful. And older vegans, like myself, may just like the luxury of picking up a warm meal for my next road trip. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if these small steps can help encourage someone on the fence, I’m all for it.

Tofu Lasagna

If you’re a 90s kid like me, you grew up watching cartoons like Garfield. Adorably lazy and the quintessential couch potato, the rotund cat’s favorite meal was lasagna. When I would beg my mom to make the meal, she would tease me that I would end up like Garfield if I don’t stop.
I still love lasagna, but, these days I prefer the cruelty-free rendition of the meal. A savory mix of garlic hummus and tofu makes up the ‘meat’ of this dish. Check the recipe below:
INGREDIENTS
For the lasagna:
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 1 tbsp safflower oil
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 12oz pkg frozen spinach
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 jar of marinara sauce
For the tofu ricotta:
  • 2 packs of super firm tofu
  • 10oz tub of garlic hummus (or 1 big cup)
  • ½ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp dry parsley
  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp garlic flakes
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles and cook about 9 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add zucchini, mushrooms, salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add spinach and peas and sauté for another 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
  3. Place drained tofu in a large bowl. Mash with potato masher. Add hummus, nutritional yeast, parsley, oregano salt, and garlic powder. Continue to mash and mix until mixture is smooth and ingredients are distributed through-out.
  4. Place one cup of marinara in the bottom of a 9x13in baking dish. Top with 4 noodles (3 lengthwise and 1 widthwise to cover the gap at the end). Next add half of the tofu mixture and half of the spinach mixture. Top with sauce. Repeat with more noodles, tofu mixture, and spinach mixture. Then top last layer of noodles and sauce; sprinkle with nutritional yeast.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Creamy No-Cheese Mac

  • 8 oz small pasta shells
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp turmeric (optional for yellow coloring)
  • 3 tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper
  • 1/4 cup lemon pepper Panko flakes
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 cup Daiya cheddar style cheese shreds

 

Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain thoroughly when done.

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Prepare the cheese sauce while oven is warming.

In a small pot, melt the vegan butter.

When melted, add salt, pepper and nutritional yeast. Whisk in almond milk product.

Add Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds and cook over low/medium heat for 2-3 minutes, whisking frequently.

Add turmeric and stir.

Stir in the macaroni and mix together.

Place macaroni and cheese sauce into an 8×8 casserole dish. Top with bread crumbs and paprika.

Bake for 15 minutes uncovered, or until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown.

Remove from oven and top with vegan Parmesan just before serving.

Baked Garlic Tofu

This healthy tofu meal is full of flavor and is to sure to be a hit even among your meat-eating friends. The key to firm tofu is to buy the super firm variety at your local grocer or to soak in hot salt water for twenty minutes.

  • 1 package tofu*
  • 2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar 
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • sliced scallions and soy sauce to garnish

 

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss extra firm/pressed tofu in the cornstarch and arrange the tofu on a baking sheet Bake for 30-45 minutes – flipping half-way through. 

While tofu is cooking, start the garlic sauce. In a small frying pan, heat up agave nectar soy and garlic over medium heat until bubbly and thick. Season with freshly ground pepper, if you choose. 

Remove the tofu from the oven. Coat and toss in the sauce. Garnish with sliced scallions and drizzle with soy sauce. Best eaten fresh! 

Chocolate Fudge Cake

For the cake:
    • 1 and ½ cups whole-wheat flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 2/3 cup sugar
    • 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/3 cup coconut oil
    • 2 tsp white vinegar
    • ¾ cup cold water
For the mousse:
  • 1 package silken or firm tofu (such as 12.3 oz Mori-Nu or Mori-Nu lite)
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • scant 1/8 tsp salt
  • 8 to 10 oz chocolate chips (a little over 1 and 1/3c or more)
  • melted dark chocolate to drizzle on top