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Interview with Vegan MacGyver – Ted Lai

Black bean sweet potato tacos with red cabbage salad

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This week, we welcome Ted Lai aka Vegan MacGyver. Following the interview, Ted shares his famous red cabbage salad recipe, which can be enjoyed on its own, as a condiment on virtually anything, or as we chose to demonstrate, on his black bean sweet potato tacos.

From humble beginnings as a four-year-old making peanut butter and pickle sandwiches to his current work starting a food business and sharing food with friends, family, and at special events, Ted has always understood the power of food in life. A vegan father of a plant-based family, Ted is best known on social media as @WokWildside but also hosts the @VeganMacGyver show through YouTube (on the VeganFoodShare channel) and FaceBook (on the Vegan Outreach page) where he creates meals in a hotel room with minimal equipment and ingredients. You can find his small-batch Seitan and vegan cheese business, Plant Alchemy, through Instagram and Twitter via @EatPlantAlchemy.

How did you get started with vegan cooking?

I’ve always loved cooking… since I was a child. We went vegan 13+ years ago, so that was the start of the vegan cooking. The impetus to go vegan was because I was already vegetarian but vegan curious. Our younger daughter was allergic to dairy and eggs, so I decided to go vegan with her when she was about 3 so that she wouldn’t feel awkward. As the cook of the family, we all went that way. A year later, after some hiccups, we saw some real health advantages and were all good with it… but that’s a story for another time.

What is the story behind how Vegan MacGyver got started?

Our younger daughter, Genevieve, used to play ice hockey at a high level, and we found ourselves traveling almost every month for a tournament. I was also traveling most weeks for work. I love cooking, and I really miss home cooked meals when we’re on the road. Cooking things also can save money over eating out, so we began to think of ways to prepare food in the hotel room. It started with cold sandwiches and salads, but we always wondered if we could do more, so we began thinking of creative ways to cook with the tools we had. As we began experimenting, we starting making more and more creative meals, and I began to call this style of cooking with an iron, a hot water pot, ice bucket, and a hair dryer “Vegan MacGyver.” This was right around the time as the 15 Second Chef competition sponsored by Beyond Meat. Asher Brown of Pollution TV and Al from VeganFoodShare both loved the videos and envisioned a YouTube series showcasing what we dreamed up… The Vegan MacGyver Show was born!

Share with us a situation where your MacGyver skills saved the day.

There are so many instances of this. The most significant was when the 15 Second Chef competition was being held. This was something I really wanted to enter, and I had so many ideas for a dish… as well as creative ways to edit the highlights to 15 seconds. However, I was traveling pretty much non-stop and had no time in my kitchen to do this. So I decided to try out my Vegan MacGyver skills in a very public way. I not only completed the challenge, but my entry was chosen as one of the five finalists. All in all, it was a great experience, and I would not have been able to enter had it not been for my Vegan MacGyver skills.

What is your favorite vegan-friendly city to visit? (or top 3, if you prefer)

Thanks for giving me the option of three! There are a lot of great veg-friendly cities out there. I’d have to list Austin, Portland, and New York as my top choices. They all have a variety of vegan options that range from the healthy to the decadent. Portland tends to be a little heavier on the comfort food end while Austin definitely has more southwest influence with some comfort foods. New York City is as eclectic as it gets, and you can find any type of food pretty easily, but it’s a little pricey at times.

 

You are in a hotel room and have tofu, hot sauce, rolled oats, and beets.  You have $10 to buy more ingredients from the convenience store across the street. Go!

I love this! It’s like an episode of Chopped®! I’m assuming the convenience store is well-stocked… if it’s a 7-Eleven, I’ll have to rethink this. So I think I’d get some different spices, probably cumin, coriander, and chili powder. I’d also get some fresh greens like baby kale or spinach, some Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, nutritional yeast, ground flax seed, vegetable broth, and a jar of other sauce… maybe BBQ.

Here’s what I’d do…

  1. Create savory overnight oats with vegetable broth, but use less water so it doesn’t get too mushy. In the morning, add nooch and flax till it’s more cake like. Wrap in parchment and iron these to create cheesy oatcakes… making sure to hold the iron so it doesn’t flatten the cakes.
  2. Put bottles of sauces in ice bucket and pour water (heated by the coffee pot) over them and cover to heat up.
  3. Drain tofu, slice into four pieces (or more) along its width, mix spices together and put on a plate borrowed from hotel, and dredge or sprinkle the spices on the cut tofu.
  4. Wrap tofu in parchment and sear with iron. You can just put the iron on top and do other things.
  5. I’m assuming the beets are cooked already because I have yet to find a good way to peel hard veggies. With this assumption, I’d cut in ½” cubes with either a knife or dental floss.
  6. Put spinach in parchment and iron for a minute to wilt.
  7. Put BBQ sauce in a cup and mix in hot sauce to taste.
  8. On the Plate, put wilted spinach, add diced beets, and add some liquid aminos to season. Put an oat cake on the other side of the plate and top with generous spoon or two of sauce. Top with tofu steaks propped on the cake at an angle and add more sauce or other garnishes.
  9. Enjoy!

 

What is your one must have cooking item when on the road and how do you use it?

The actual cooking ingredients vary depending on what I can find that’s local and seasonal… or sometimes is just available if I’m in an area that’s not vegan friendly. However, the one piece of equipment I can’t do without is parchment paper. I get a lot of comments about the hygiene (or lack thereof) of what I’m creating. It’s a pretty funny situation because I think people don’t realize I’m using parchment paper to protect the food and equipment. This is what I use to help me iron, prepare ingredients, and more!

Your use of a iron is super creative and effective! What is one of your other favorite go-to tools and how would you use it?

Although all the tools (coffee maker, ice bucket, and hair dryer) have been important for different reasons, the one thing that I always get a kick out of using is dental floss. I use a few plastic knives that I carry around and clean between uses. However, when it comes to cutting things cleanly, I use dental floss. It’s great for cheese, polenta rounds, and anything that’s sticky or softer. Plastic knives often have a bezel, do not have sharp enough teeth, or are too thick… so dental floss to the rescue! Just make sure you have some vegan-friendly, non-minty brand. I use a non-waxed brand.

Tell us about a MacGyver adventure gone wrong.

Quinoa. The bane of my Vegan MacGyver life. I love quinoa, and want to use it for an episode. I thought that pouring boiled water from the coffee pot over it would be enough if it’s covered, but it isn’t. Cooking quinoa requires constant heating… so I had uncooked warm, wet quinoa. I ended up having to change out the water and re-heat over and over. It really never came out perfectly. I’m currently experimenting with soaking quinoa overnight in hot water, drain, then add boiling water again to see if I can make it come out… but it’s tricky. Quinoa mush isn’t the goal either.

What is the best thing about having a family of vegan foodie instagrammers?

We actually love to hang out together. Having a family of vegan foodies means that when we go out, we can eat a variety of dishes and share. It’s always family style eating for us! And the fact that some of them have active instagram accounts means that if I miss a shot of my own food, they often have captured it… this is especially true when I’m cooking at home.

 

What are some of your favorite cookbooks or blogs?

This is like the favorite veg-friendly cities question. There are so many places for inspiration in food as well as vegan topics. I love the work of Hot for Food, Vegan Yack Attack, Fettle Vegan, Jason Wrobel, The Sexy Vegan, EcoVeganGal… so many others. I do tell people all the time that if I have to recommend one cookbook to have it’s Vegan Bowl Attack or Vegan Brunch.

 

Are you working on any projects we can look forward to seeing in the future?

I’m testing and creating more episodes of Vegan MacGyver of course. Our work is both on YouTube under the VeganFoodShare channel and on FaceBook with Vegan Outreach. I’m mulling over writing a Vegan MacGyver cookbook. I have an outline, but no time to do it. The most exciting thing is that I’m working on starting a small-batch seitan and vegan cheese business called Plant Alchemy! There’s nothing like that here in Southern California. Updates can be found on Instagram and Twitter @EatPlantAlchemy.

 

 

 

 Black bean sweet potato tacos with red cabbage salad

 

Red Cabbage Salad

Servings: 4

Black bean sweet potato tacos are just one way to enjoy this red cabbage salad.  For the tacos, simply heat up the black beans with cumin powder, coriander powder, chili powder, cayenne, and lime to taste.  Add cooked sweet potato and serve on tortillas with red cabbage salad, avocado, and other toppings as desired.

Ted’s note: The type of cabbage, red wine vinegar, and marinating time will affect the shade of purple or pink.

Ingredients

  • 1 head of red cabbage shredded (sliced thinly… no more than a ¼ inch thick)
    Dressing
  • ⅛ of a medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ⅔ C. red wine vinegar
  • ¼ C. canola oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. seasoning salt (lemon pepper, shish kabob seasoning, etc.)
  • ¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Preparation

  1. Put all the dressing ingredients into a blender and blend on high until the dressing is emulsified and no onion or garlic chunks remain.
  2. Pour dressing over the shredded cabbage.
  3. Mix well and let marinate for 6-8 hours in the refrigerator, mixing every hour or so.
  4. Enjoy! It will be good in the refrigerator for a little over a week (if you have any left).

Tip: If you have a leakproof container, that will fit all the cabbage, then it makes things easier. You can put all cabbage and finished dressing into the leakproof container and shake the whole thing instead of mixing by hand. Shake every hour or so and let marinate in refrigerator for 6-8 hours.

 

 

Have any comments or questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

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