Sunday, November 8, 2009

WTF is Gardein?

The last time I visited my folks, my mom busted out the Mexican torta she learned about on her own, after harnessing the yin and yang of local print media and the Word Wide Web. This time, she introduced me to Gardein, the "garden protein," which she learned about on Oprah.

I was immediately suspicious of the stuff, largely because I had never heard of it (I'm the vegan in the family for chrissakes), but also because I couldn't believe that Oprah was pushing a thoroughly vegan product to every white American woman over the age of 55. So I did a little Googling and clicked through the gratuitous Flash pages on and determined that, sure enough, the stuff was legit. So when my mom asked me if she should make the chick'n scallopini recipe featured on the show, I consented. (Now, a lot of vegan bloggers would have taken the reins at this point, dutifully making the dish for their mothers. But, as I've said before, I'm lazy. And my mom claims to love cooking for me, so it's win-win.)

So off we went to the closest Whole Foods to procure the ingredients, packing enough food, water, blankets, and ammunition to ensure a safe journey. When we finally made it to the store we were met with two obstacles: they had a small selection of Gardein's broad product line, which didn't include the "chick'n fillets" nor the "scallopini" described in the recipe; and they didn't have udon noodle cakes, whatever those are. So we got the "santa fe good stuff" and regular udon noodles, hoping for the best.

The best turned out pretty good. My mom put four piles of udon noodles into separate ramekins after cooking them, to give them a cake-like shape that held together pretty well in the pan. The stuffing in the "santa fe good stuff" did clash with the Asian tone of the recipe, but it was easy to forgive. The texture of the Gardein was disturbingly close to what I remember of actual chicken, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Surprisingly, the most delicious part of the recipe was the pea shoots. Frickin' delicous.

While I feel that this product came out of nowhere on a rocket-fueled marketing sled, I'm pleased that its sights are set on the mainstream; I can see it giving a lot of on-the-fence omnivores the motivation they need to eat less meat. I'm certainly not in the crossover market that Gardein is targeting, so its similarity to the "real thing" isn't a selling point for me. Nonetheless, I'll gladly try their other flavors, if for no other reason than to expand my options for easy protein. Thanks again, Mom.

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