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Culinary Spotlight: The Midwest Vegan – A Growing Population

Photos by Hillary Ehlen and Nolan Schmidt

Eric WatsonI feel an overwhelming obligation to start this column by stating that “I EAT MEAT!”

With that said, I love to cook for vegans. Unfortunately, that’s not always the wisest way for me to spend my time in the kitchen, considering that most folks in our region are far from being vegan.

As a business owner in the FM area, I realize that the vast majority of our clientele would prefer to eat meat based items rather than plant-based. Regardless, I believe that the vegan consumer is one that is not only growing in population but will not be slowing down anytime in the near future. So, as a business owner, I see a long-term financial gain in incorporating a plant-based concept into my business model.

This topic has a way of becoming political very quickly. I prefer not to go down the road of whether or not a plant-based diet will save the world. Instead, I prefer to have a discussion of physical and mental well-being that can come from a reduction of meat consumption. I believe that a middle of the road compromise of meat and plant consumption (AKA moderation) is key.

There are so many creative ways to prepare vegetables and grains and many natural approaches and techniques. I would prefer not to cater to the vegan patron who, for some reason, always wants their plant-based foods to resemble meat. If this can be done in a natural way, great. If not, I’d rather not cook it.

Cauliflower is a great example of a vegetable that is being used in place of meat items. It has the proper texture that allows it to stand in for dishes such as fried chicken. A country style flour dredging with a buttermilk substitute (coconut milk, cashew cream, thickened soy milk, etc.) can give cauliflower a look and mouthfeel that gives your palate a textured dining experience that can rival a carnivorous meal.

I will always enjoy meat-based dishes. Classic cooking is part of who I am and always will be. Moving forward, however, I cannot ignore the growing mass of “would be” vegan patrons who are begging restaurants to accommodate them. It may take some time but eventually more restaurants, like mine, will be offering up a wider selection of plant-based options. This is American capitalism. Therefore, it’s a matter of ensuring that restaurant owners ultimately see some financial prospect in doing so.

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Learn more mouth-watering recipes from Eric Watson by clicking here.

Country Fried Cauliflower with Sweet Corn & Pepper Chowchow

Serves 4



  • ½ cup Fresh Corn Kernels
  • 1 ea. Red Bell Pepper, medium diced
  • ½ ea. Red Onion, medium diced
  • 2 ea. Celery Ribs, medium diced
  • ½ cup Green Cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 ¾ cup Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Dry Mustard
  • ½ tsp. Tumeric
  • ½ tsp. Fresh Ginger, minced
  • ¼ tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. Chili Flakes


  • In a large mixing bowl combine corn, bell peppers, onions, celery and cabbage. Sprinkle mixture with ¼ cup kosher salt. Mix well and refrigerate mixture overnight. The next day remove vegetable mixture from refrigerator and drain excess water. Place mixture in a medium to large sized saucepan and add remaining ingredients. Cook on medium heat. Simmer until liquid is thickened, approx. 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Spread mixture on a baking sheet and allow to cool. Refrigerate until needed.

For the Cauliflower


  • 8 ea. Cauliflower Florets, medium-sized
  • ½ cup Flour, all-purpose
  • 1 can Coconut Milk


  • Heat a deep fryer to 365 degrees. Place florets in the flour and roll around to completely cover the cauliflower. Place the flour dredged florets in the coconut milk and roll around until completely covered. Remove florets from coconut milk and place in flour again. Very gently roll the florets around until completely covered in flour. The florets should look a little gloppy. Place the florets immediately into the deep fryer and fry until golden brown.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve while hot with chowchow and any other desired accompaniments.

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Written by Eric Watson

Eric Watson is a monthly contributor for Fargo Monthly. He is the owner
of Rustica and Mosaic Foods in Fargo, and is also the founder and president of the Fargo branch of the American Culinary Federation.

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