Friends, not food

Dishes like grilled sardines and pork sausages are very popular in the Algarve. But an increasing number of people prefer to let the animals live and eat something else instead. And yes, there’s more to being vegetarian or vegan than nibbling on a carrot stick. Enjoy the Algarve talks to Melanie Pascual, owner of vegan restaurant Mel & Limão, about becoming aware of what happens in the food industry, how to make a vegan feijoada, and cuddling cows.

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2017

It’s not some kind of diet, she doesn’t suffer from any allergies and she definitely doesn’t do it to be fashionable or trendy. The Spanish-Portuguese Melanie Pascual (35) is a vegan because she likes animals, period.

Melanie explains: “When driving through Spain and Portugal in the summer holidays as a kid, we used to come across trucks that were loaded full of pigs and cows. I always wanted to pet these animals. Then my parents explained that these beasts weren’t meant for cuddling, but that they’d become food instead. Something clicked inside of me and from then on I decided to become a vegetarian.”

Not completely, as at first Melanie’s parents encouraged her to eat meat or fish at least once a week. “They never forced me to consume something that was recognisable as an animal though, such as a chicken leg or a whole fish, it was more things like pizza with tuna on top or spaghetti Bolognese.” Aged 15, she was allowed to stop eating meat altogether, although she’d still consume dairy products like eggs and cheese when outside her house. Melanie: “I didn’t always want to be the picky one when having dinner with a group of friends. I grew up in Germany, a country known for its schnitzel, bratwurst and sausages. Back when I was young, being vegan, and even just being vegetarian, was considered something for freaks and hippies!”

Meanwhile it’s become more mainstream, and also in the Algarve there’s an increasing demand for food that isn’t made from animals. “That has to do with the amount of information that’s available nowadays,” states Melanie. She explains: “A lot of people tell me they eat less meat because of movies like Cowspiracy. There’s more awareness about what happens in the food industry, like live male chicks that are thrown in the shredder; people realise that animals aren’t treated well.” In Portugal, animal welfare has especially improved in the last few years, with a new law entering into force in May. Melanie: “Before, animals were considered belongings, like a bicycle. Unfortunately there are still European countries where they are viewed this way.”

Melanie’s boyfriend turned vegetarian after he watched dogs being slaughtered for food in rural Vietnam. “That this happens is horrible of course, but what’s the difference with what we do here in Europe?” Melanie asks. “Like your pet dog or cat, cows and pigs also feel pain, joy and shame. Why consume one animal and not another? Pigs are actually more intelligent than dogs. We can’t go making decisions on whether or not to eat something based only on intelligence though, otherwise we could fry Donald Trump,” she jokes. Serious again: “Sometimes people don’t realise what’s on their plate. They call it ‘veal steak’, but forget they’re actually eating a baby cow.”

Where vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish, vegans take it a bit further and don’t consume any products of animal origin. Melanie, who even takes care to not wear leather shoes, belongs to the latter category. The reason for this lifestyle choice? “The dairy industry is just as bad as the meat industry. I hate it when people say ‘it’s a milk-cow’. I always reply ‘No, it’s a cow, she only produces milk because she has had a baby which was taken away from her after a few days’.” Needless to say, when ordering a galão in Mel & Limão, Melanie’s Faro-based restaurant, it’ll be made with soy milk.

Melanie started Mel & Limão 1.5 years ago, to show people being vegan doesn’t automatically mean you only eat salads. Instead, the menu also includes lots of cakes (Enjoy the Algarve recommends the apple & pear one!), sandwiches, stews, lasagne, empañadas and various tapas. All 100% vegan. In fact, the only non-vegan item in the entire restaurant is a bottle of Medronho, which won’t be restocked when it’s finished. (It’s non-vegan as the liquor is sweetened with honey, which is made by bees. Yes, that’s how strict they are). “A traditional Portuguese main meal often means rice, meat and egg, and a lot of people are afraid to experiment,” says Melanie. “But cooking vegan isn’t difficult at all. I know what I’m talking about: refusing to eat meat as a kid meant I did practically all the cooking at home.”

Also when travelling, which Melanie did before running a restaurant, she didn’t encounter any real food issues. “India was heaven with the all spices and lentil-based dishes. In New Zealand and Australia I never had any troubles either. I did eat a lot of French fries in South America, but they had lots of lovely mangos there as well.” Photos of these travels cover one wall of Mel & Limão. On another wall hang drawings made by Melanie’s boyfriend, inspired by George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. The living room vibe of the restaurant is increased by the many books which can be read as well as be purchased. Proceeds of the book sales go to the Portuguese animal welfare organisation CIAA, whereas flyers on the counter show local dogs that can be adopted. Because Melanie doesn’t differentiate between cow or dog, pig or cat. She wants to improve life for all animals.

 

Recipes by Mel

 

Try cooking vegan

Yes, you can bake a yummy cake without eggs and yes, feijoada, the famous Portuguese bean stew, also tastes really good with tofu or seitan instead of pork and beef. Melanie shares two of her favourite vegan recipes. Enjoy!

Apple-cinnamon upside-down cake

Cover a baking tray with baking paper. Coat the bottom of this tray with some margarine and spread one spoon sugar (optional: plus some ground almonds) out on top of the margarine. Peel, core, cut and slice 5 apples and spread the apple strips out on the tray. Add some cane sugar which will caramelise when baking and pull into the apples. Preheat the oven to 175ºC.

In a large bowl, mix 200g all-purpose flour, 100g oats, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and 150g granulated cane sugar. In another bowl, whisk 160ml vegetable milk (soy / rice / oat / spelt / almond, depending on your preference) with 100ml canola oil (instead of the canola oil, you could also use 120g vegetable margarine). Pour this mixture into the flour-mix and stir with a large spoon or kitchen machine. Don’t overmix. If the batter is too thick, add some more milk. (It should have a thick and creamy consistence, but not too liquid because the apples will release moisture as they bake).

Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool down for 10-20 minutes, then flip onto a plate and peel off the baking paper. Serve & enjoy!

 

Vegan feijoada

Important: when using fresh beans, soak them in water 12 hours before cooking (and change this water halfway through).

Chop up 5 garlic gloves and 1 large onion and fry them in a large saucepan with about a tablespoon of oil. Drain the water from 500g feijao mantega (butter beans), rinse them and add to the pan as soon as the onion and garlic are golden-brown. Mix well. Add so much water to the pan that the beans are completely covered and the water level is about 3cm higher than the top of the beans. Put in 2 bay leaves and cover, letting it cook on high heat.

In the meantime, prepare 250 g firm smoked tofu or seitan by cutting it into small cubes. Add them to a bowl with a mix of curry powder, paprika powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper and some wine. Add a bit of water and let the tofu or seitan absorb the seasoning.

Wash and chop 1 large carrot, 2 sweet potatoes, half a cabbage and 1 small pumpkin in medium sized pieces. Do the same with 1 big red pepper and 3 tomatoes, but make the pieces a bit smaller.

Keep an eye on the beans as they’ll need more water to cook. Be careful not to let them burn; whenever the water shrinks to about the same level as the beans, add more. After 30 minutes of cooking on high fire with the lid on (having added water during that time) put in the carrots, and after another 15 minutes add the potatoes, cabbage and pumpkin. Grill the seasoned tofu or seitan in another pan.

After about 50 minutes taste to see if the beans are getting soft and season with salt, black pepper and other powdered spices like cumin and paprika. When the beans are completely soft, add the peppers and tomatoes. Lower the heat, add the tofu or seitan cubes and let the broth thicken for a bit. When it has thickened enough, turn off the heat, stir, add some fresh parsley or coriander and serve with rice. Enjoy!

 

 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2017

Posted in Features.