EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for Kamila’s new column, beginning June 4 in the Wednesday Food & Dining section.
Former Press Herald Natural Foodie columnist Avery Yale Kamila was already a vegetarian before she left Maine for college. As a student of environmental science at Syracuse University in New York, she learned about factory farming and “how horrifying that all is.” She read United Reports that said the animal livestock industry generates more pollution than the global transportation industry. She read more deeply and was aghast to learn about huge, polluting lagoons of manure on hog farms; the amount of grain used to feed cows instead of hungry people; the inhumane treatment of egg-laying chickens; and the labor violations at some factory farms. Kamila’s indignation eventually converted her from a vegetarian to a vegan diet, a common trajectory, she said. Although the granddaughter of a dairy farmer, she has now been a vegan for 23 years, as is her 14-month-old son. (She describes her husband as a “de facto semi-vegetarian.”)
Today, with a thriving local food movement, Mainers who want to eat meat or dairy have many good options, she concedes. “I think if you want to eat meat, that’s an admirable way to go – local, small-scale, maybe hunted, an animal that has had as natural a life as possible.” But for her, even if an animal is humanely raised, humanely treated and humanely harvested, and all in ways that don’t harm the environment, “I’ve seen animal slaughter and I’m not OK with that. It doesn’t sit right with me.”
Beyond that, Kamila feels healthier on a vegan diet, better and lighter. For her Cashew Corn Cakes, she uses local cornmeal from Songbird Farm, “great cornmeal,” she said. At this time of year, she often serves them with sautéed nettles, but any green is good. “Right now, there are such amazing things all over the farmers market.”
CASHEW CORN CAKES
Kamila likes to serve the corn cakes with sautéed greens and Thai red chili dipping sauce.
Yield: 6 cakes about the size of your palm
2 cups whole cashews
About 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal, plus extra for coating
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Puree the cashews with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a food processor. Add more oil if necessary to yield smooth, creamy nut butter.
In a large skillet, warm a little olive oil until shimmering and sauté the onion in it over low heat until translucent, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring 1½ cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Slowly add the 1 cup cornmeal, stirring constantly until it becomes thick. When the cornmeal holds together when scooped out of the pan, it’s done, about 10 minutes or fewer.
Add the sautéed onion, cashew butter, ginger, salt and pepper to the cornmeal. Mix well.
Add a little more oil to the same skillet you used to sauté the onions and heat until shimmering over medium-high heat. Use your hands to form the dough into 6 patties. Spread out the extra cornmeal on a plate. Dip each cake in the cornmeal and then slip it into the oiled pan. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. To serve, sprinkle with cilantro.