On the same day that the State Fair of Texas closes, the Veggie State Fair of Texas grabs a little of the spotlight, taking over Reverchon Park in Dallas this Sunday. And just as visitors who come to see Big Tex are also there to try such deep-fried contest-winners as jambalaya and bacon cinnamon rolls, meat-and-dairy-decliners get to partake in the Third Annual Vegan Cooking Awards.
As Teresa Gubbins of CultureMap Austin noted, Veggie State Fair of Texas founder and DallasVegan.com‘s James Scott “was inspired to create the competition after witnessing all the hoopla over the State Fair of Texas’ annual Big Tex Choice Awards.”
Like the Big Tex Choice Awards, there is one honor for Best Tasting and one for Most Creative, though judging from the entries, the latter category might be as much about creating successful food alternatives as coming up with something truly wacky.
Below, the seven deep-fried contenders, with the Veggie State Fair’s own descriptions in italics. (Warning: Liberal “use” of “air quotes” ahead.) Surprisingly—or perhaps not—there’s no sign of mock bacon anywhere.
Fried Reuben fritters:
A savory combination of chopped corned “beef” seitan, sauerkraut, and rich cashew Swiss “cheese”, rolled into a ball, coated in rye breadcrumbs, and fried to golden perfection. Speared with a deli dill pickle chip and served with vegan Russian dressing and spicy brown mustard.
Not unlike the Reuben eggroll, which is already a food. The funny thing about seitan corned “beef” is that what’s really missing from the stuff, at least according to one popular recipe, is not the beef, but the slow-cure/brine to make it truly corned.
Fried Frito chili pie:
A spicy vegan chili made with seitan, simmered with onions, tomatoes, garlic, chile powder, cumin, and paprika, dipped in a beer batter and coated with crushed corn chips. Served with a side of Fritos. This is a true Texas-style chili which means: no beans!
Fried Frito pie has already won a Big Tex Choice Award, so you can’t say this is over-the-top creative, but we like it in this category just on stubborn principle, i.e., chili that is sin carne is by definition not “true Texas-style chili,” and yet, they still respect the “no-beans” rule for Texas fauxthenticity.
Mushrooms are marinated in tamari, then sliced into thin, squid-like ribbons and flash-fried until crisp on the outside and tender within. They’re sprinkled with a fiery spice mix that includes red pepper flakes and dried seaweed, and served with a vegan aioli.
If it really tastes—or more importantly, chews—like squid, bravo. And since, technically, the word “aioli” is Provencal for “garlic and oil,” you can’t say that there has to be an egg yolk in it.
Fried banana bread:
Vegan banana bread made with fresh mashed bananas is cut into bite-size squares, then fashioned into a “sandwich” with a sweet cream filling. They’re dipped in a sweet batter, and fried until the outside is crunchy and hot. Topped with a dollop of whipped “cream.”
Basically this is deep-fried banana bread French Toast, or a “churro.” We can get past the fake cream part, with or without air quotes. But it’s hard to imagine this one without real egg in the batter.
Fried tiramisu cheesecake:
This vegan twist on the Italian dessert is a little bit cheesecake, a little bit cake ball, and a lot scrumptious. Hand-made ladyfingers are soaked in Amaretto and espresso, then rolled together with chunks of Tofutti cream cheesecake. The balls are enrobed in a pancake batter, deep fried, then drizzled with raspberry puree.
Vegan or otherwise, this just sounds like dessert overkill, but then, we thought the Big Tex fried bacon cinnamon roll sounded like a bit too much as well, so what do we know?
Fried “chicken” nuggets:
Seitan is cut into chicken-tender strips, dusted with a hot spice mix and rolled in a thick batter, then plunged into the deep-fryer until golden. The fried-chicken-like strips are served with a tangy mustard dipping sauce on the side.
This one’s gonna have to win on taste, ’cause chicken-imitation goals aside, it’s no more creative than if Big Tex had entries for plain hush puppies or french fries.
In this case, the J stands not for jam but for jalapeno in this attention-grabbing novelty.
Sorry. We’re gonna have to interrupt. The “J” in “PB&J” stands for JELLY. Let’s not get too precious, Dallas vegans. We’ve already got the Morning News‘ Leslie Brenner hating on queso for that. But we digress…
A fresh jalapeno is hollowed out and stuffed with a filling of peanut butter and mashed bananas. The jalapeno gets dipped in cornbread batter and fried until crunchy, then drizzled with chocolate syrup. Is it sweet or is it savory? The judges will have to decide.
So, it’s part jalapeno popper, part homage to State Fair frymaster Abel Gonzalez‘s classic fried peanut butter and jelly and banana sandwich. Plus chocolate. Sold!