Fresno food blogger takes vegan food to a new level

Ashley Hankins-Marchetti, left, and Ashlee Marchetti, right, create plant-based food for their blog titled Eat Figs Not Pigs. Shown left to right is Caesar salad with cashew-based dressing, pano battered fried artichokes, and street-style tacos with textured soy proten for filling. (Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/TNS)
Caption
Ashley Hankins-Marchetti, left, and Ashlee Marchetti, right, create plant-based food for their blog titled Eat Figs Not Pigs. Shown left to right is Caesar salad with cashew-based dressing, pano battered fried artichokes, and street-style tacos with textured soy proten for filling. (Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/TNS)

Credit: ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

Credit: ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

It took just one documentary about animal agriculture to convince Ashley Hankins-Marchetti to become vegan. The documentary, “Cowspiracy,” raises the argument that livestock are harmful to the environment. Although there is still a lot of debate over the issue, Hankins-Marchetti’s mind was made up. No more meat for her.

After watching the movie, she and her wife, Ashlee Marchetti, removed all the meat and animal products from the fridge in their cozy home, just west of Highway 99. They gave it away to neighbors. Gone was the milk, butter and veal shanks that they specially ordered from a local butcher shop.

“People thought we were crazy for not eating meat anymore,” Hankins-Marchetti says. “As an animal lover and someone who cares about the environment, I wanted to change how we eat.”

That was nearly a year and a half ago and Hankins-Marchetti remains a diehard vegan with a new passion: blogging about her vegan lifestyle.

An avid home cook, she created www.eatfigsnotpigs.com where she shares her recipes with thousands of followers. Describing her cooking style as vegan comfort food, she's garnered the attention of websites like www.foodgawker.com, a curated photo gallery showcasing photos and recipes from food bloggers around the world. Several of her recipes have been published on the site. Her work also appears on www.thefeedfeed.com

Her blog averages about 1,000 hits a day and her Instagram page, @eat_figs_not_pigs, has more than 1,300 followers. On the page, you will find delicious-looking dishes like vegan chilaquiles, chili habanero cauliflower wings and stuffed pasilla peppers filled with quinoa and soyrizo.

Marchetti says some of her favorite recipes are the Mexican food ones. There is a recipe for vegan menudo that uses snow fungus mushrooms, instead of tripe.

“It even looks like tripe and is a little chewy,” Marchetti says. “It works.”

Hankins-Marchetti says her goal with the blog is to show others that being vegan doesn’t mean giving up on great-tasting food.

“Both Ashlee and I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen and what we have learned is that with just a little extra effort you can create some amazing meals,” Hankins-Marchetti said.

Recently, the couple made one of their favorite meals, deep fried artichoke hearts with a garlic-dill aioli, Caesar salad and street tacos with all the fixings, plus their own version of Casa de Tamales spicy habanero pesto.

Marchetti, a culinary school graduate, said the fun part of adopting a new cooking style is discovering new uses for everyday ingredients like cashews. When soaked and put in a blender, the nuts take on a creamy texture that is perfect as the base for sauces, including their Caesar dressing.

Hankins-Marchetti’s street-style tacos will satisfy even the most devoted taco fanatic. She substitutes carne asada with textured vegetable protein, or TVP. The soy-based product comes dry and is soaked, well seasoned and then fried into crispy chunks. She packs the TVP into a warm corn tortilla and tops it with cilantro, lettuce, onion, a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of the spicy habanero pesto. Each flavorful bite leaves you wanting more.

Friends and family of the couple have been wowed by their vegan cooking and are urging them to do more. Start a meal service, open a restaurant, or maybe a food truck, they say. All in good time, Hankins-Marchetti says. For now, neither is going to quit their day jobs. She is still going to college and works as a server at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Marchetti also works at BJ’s and is a bartender.

“I would love to someday make a career out of this because it has become a real passion of mine,” Hankins-Marchetti says. “And I know there are others out there looking for more options.”

Food experts and chefs say they’ve seen an uptick in people opting out of eating meat or animal products for a combination of reasons, including animal welfare, environmental and health reasons. Restaurants are also responding to the trend by offering more vegetarian, vegan and plant-based options.

“Emerging research continues to support the importance of including more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts/seeds, whole grains in our diets to both help increase nutrient quality of our diet, but also to help prevent the development of certain chronic diseases,” says Kim Tirapelle, a registered dietitian in the bariatric department at Kaiser Permanente Clovis Medical Office. “A plant-based diet is also found to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable for the long term than relying on animal sources.”

Tirapelle says a plant-based diet is generally understood as incorporating the main components of your diet from fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts/seeds, whole grains. It also emphasizes fewer processed foods and more whole foods. A plant-based diet can allow for some consumption of animal proteins but on a limited basis, while vegan does not and a vegetarian can exclude meat but still eat eggs and dairy

McKinzie Klein, executive chef at Max’s Bistro & Bar in Fresno, says her customers are increasingly looking for more vegan and vegetarian options. To satisfy the demand, she created an appetizer called Kung Pao Cauliflower. The dish combines roasted cauliflower, a spicy sauce, peanuts, scallions, Sichuan peppers and wonton chips. If the dish does well, she may also serve it as an entree.

“Over the next few years, there will be a lot of trial and error in restaurants over how far to push these dishes and how much meat to keep on the menu,” Klein says. “It will be different.”

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VEGAN STREET STYLE TACOS WITH HABANERO PESTO

By Ashley Hankins-Marchetti

Tacos

Shredded cabbage or lettuce

Corn or flour tortillas (I purchased the extra small ‘street style’ tortillas)

1/4 cup vegetable oil, for frying

2 cups tsp or Soy Curls (textured soy protein, which we purchase at our local grocery store in the Mexican food aisle or at Whole Foods)

1 3/4 cups boiling water

2 “Not Chikn” bouillon cubes (If you can’t find these, you can use vegetarian chicken stock or vegetable stock in place of the water and bouillon cubes)

2 teaspoons ground oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce, optional

1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional

Habanero Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil

1/4 cup pine nuts

4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro

1/4 cup vegan Parmesan shreds (we used Follow Your Heart vegan shreds)

2-3 habanero peppers, deveined of all seeds

6-8 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon Pink Himalayan salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

To make Habanero Pesto, mix all ingredients in a food processor and blend on high for about a minute. Store, covered in the refrigerator until ready to be used.

For the tacos, you must first rehydrate the tsp. In a large bowl, add dry tsp. In a small saucepan on high heat, add water and bouillon cubes OR vegetable stock. Once boiling, add to tsp mixture, set it aside to rehydrate for about 10-15 minutes. Add seasonings (oregano, cumin, liquid smoke, vegan Worcestershire) and stir to combine.

In a frying pan on medium high heat, add oil. Once oil is hot, fry rehydrated tsp, stirring constantly until browned and crispy, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer cooked soy curls to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with warm tortillas and garnish with lettuce, habanero pesto cilantro, and lemon.

VEGAN PORTOBELLO BURGERS WITH BASIL PESTO AIOLI AND SUN-DRIED TOMATO MAYONNAISE

By Ashley Hankins-Marchetti

Basil pesto aioli

2 ounces fresh basil

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup pine nuts

4-5 cloves fresh garlic

1/4 cup vegan Parmesan (store bought or homemade)

Salt and pepper to taste

Sun dried tomato mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, finely minced

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Burgers

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 white buns (free of dairy or eggs)

4 Portobello mushroom caps, cleaned

2 cups arugula

Roasted red peppers (canned or roasted yourself)

Vegan Gouda cheese (we used Follow Your Heart brand)

1 medium onion

1-2 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Basil pesto aioli (recipe above)

Sun dried tomato mayonnaise (recipe above)

Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, combine all ingredients for basil pesto aioli, blend and set aside. Combine ingredients for sun-dried tomato mayonnaise and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a cast iron skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil on medium high heat. Add a slice of onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes per side. Set aside. Add additional 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and sear mushroom caps for about 2-3 minutes per side. Top mushrooms with two slices each of vegan Gouda cheese. Place skillet and mushrooms in oven and allow to cook another 7 minutes. While mushrooms finish cooking, toss your arugula in sherry. Remove mushrooms from oven and begin building your burgers.

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