Feeling adventurous? How about vegetarian SPAM?

The Moon Festival arises from Chinese legend, and recently it was celebrated by many Asian cultures.

Also, by my own decidedly non-Asian family. Since my youngest daughter was small, we would sit under the roundest, fullest September harvest moon, eat mooncakes (available this time of year at Asian bakeries or markets), drink tea, and tell some good ol' moon stories.

Certainly our version was not traditional, but it was fun.

Last fall I had an opportunity to celebrate the Moon Festival in a completely different way. It coincided with a breakfast fundraiser that I regularly attend and sometimes cook for (Café SELMA in Ann Arbor, supporting local farmers).

I and my fellow chef, who happens to be Vietnamese, decided to mark the occasion with a genuine Asian breakfast.

Except what exactly is a genuine Asian breakfast?

We settled on a menu that was a bit ironic and all in fun: SPAM. Yes, kiddies, before there was junk email, this was the name of a processed ham product that has become legendary in its own way.

And for some reason, has also become a popular food item in many Asian cultures.

So Chris and I decided to make SPAM and eggs - she, a homemade variety using naturally raised Michigan pork, and - for our special non-meat eating friends - I made a vegetarian version.

Little did we know how popular this breakfast would be. We received abundant accolades for our SPAM, and my requests for the vegetarian SPAM recipe exceeded any other recipe I've ever made. (That's a good thing, isn't it?)

Vegetarian SPAM

Adapted from a Hamilton Loaf recipe by Dorothy Jane Mills

Ingredients:

1 1/2 + 1/4 cups apple cider, divided

1 bay leaves

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp marjoram

1/2 tsp ginger

1 T Better than Bouillon vegetarian bouillon base

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp pepper

1 cup ground meat substitute (such as Boca crumbles) or white beans, canned, or cooked overnight if fresh (I used dried, cooked beans)

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped apple

1/4 cup chopped celery

1 T oil

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes or good quality chopped canned tomatoes

1 cup Panko breadcrumbs - whole wheat, white, or mixed

2 eggs

2 T plus 1 T honey, divided

1 T horseradish

1 tin tomato paste

1 T butter

1 T ketchup

Topping/Garnish

1 T butter

1 T ketchup

1 T honey

1/4 cup apple cider

1 T cornstarch

Preparation:

First toast the walnuts.

In a preheated 350 oven, toast the walnuts on a cookie sheet for about 5-6 minutes. Remove, cool, and chop. Leave oven on at 350.

Next make the marinade for the fake ground beef or beans.

(a) If you are using fake ground beef:

Boil 1 1/2 cups apple cider with 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp each thyme and marjoram, l/2 t ginger, 1 T bouillon base, 1 tsp onion powder, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Pour this hot marinade over 1 cup fake beef and chopped walnuts, and set aside for 15 minutes.

(b) If you are using beans:

Process 2/3 of the beans briefly on pulse to chop them a bit. Mix the chopped beans with the whole beans for varied texture. Add the chopped walnuts. With the bean-walnut mix, add 1 tsp each thyme and marjoram, l/2 t ginger, 1 T bouillon base, 1 tsp onion powder, and 1/2 tsp pepper.

Boil the 1 1/2 cups apple cider with 1 bay leaf. SLOWLY pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of this hot marinade over the beans/walnuts mixture until you have the consistency of wet ground beef, or taco meat. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Next make the binding mixture.

Combine 1/2 C finely chopped onion, 1/2 C chopped apple, and 2 T chopped celery.

Saute for 5 minutes in 1 T oil. Set aside.

Add the 1 C fresh tomatoes, diced, or the chopped canned tomatoes.

Add two eggs, 2 T honey, 1 T horseradish, and a small (5 1/2 oz.) tin of tomato paste. Mix well.

Add the 1 C breadcrumbs and stir again.

Now put everything together.

After removing and discarding the bay leaf, add the marinated fake beef or bean mixture to the binding mixture. Stir well.

Make the glaze.

Dissolve 1 T cornstarch with 1/4 C water. Then melt 1 T butter, mix with 1 T ketchup, 1 T honey, and 1/4 C apple cider. Heat through and then thicken slightly the cornstarch/water mixture.

Assemble the loaf.

Pack the mixture into an oiled loaf-shaped baker about 4 1/2 inches by 8 1/2 inches and about 4 inches deep.

Shape the loaf so that it's higher in the middle.

Top with the glaze and the reserved apple slices for garnish.

Bake.

Place on a cookie sheet or tin and bake in your heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, until it begins to turn a golden brown.

Serve.

Remove your vegetarian SPAM from oven and let it sit on the stovetop, covered with foil, for 15 minutes before you loosen it at the sides and slip it onto an oval serving dish.

Serving/Accompaniments

At SELMA we let it sit overnight with a heavy rock on the loaf to compress it, and we unmolded it the next morning, then sliced it and gently heated the slices in the oven to serve with a fried egg.

Or you could serve this as a dinner. A homemade cranberry sauce, or a simple tomato sauce with the same herbs as in the mixture, would be a good accompaniment as might a chutney.

Scalloped potatoes would also be a good accompaniment to vegetarian SPAM, with a salad, asparagus or other seasonal vegetables.

This meal serves four people comfortably.

Vegan Option

This recipe could easily be made vegan by using Earth Balance for butter, maple syrup or cane sugar for the honey, and an appropriate binding agent for the eggs.

Vegan mashed potatoes may work well.

There you have it - easy as can be! Won't your friends be impressed when you serve them an authentic Asian meal at your very own Moon Festival party?

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

He can be reached at: nroumel@nachtlaw.com

Published: Thu, Sep 22, 2011

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