For those of you who have been following along at home, you have probably realized by deduction or my outright confession that I am a vegetarian. I don’t talk about it much these days; it’s a fact of life that, for me, seems almost as mundane as the color of my eyes or my penchant for peanut butter. Most days, it’s just not that remarkable, especially when you consider that grocery stores are stocked full of all the essentials for a happy vegetarian: fresh produce, canned beans and vegetables, an ample supply of Ghirardelli chocolate, and high-quality oils, vinegars, and spices. I love being a vegetarian, as long as there are plenty of chickpeas.
But then there are times when I’m reminded that it’s tough to be a vegetarian. Even in as hip a food town as Chicago, I have eaten way too many mediocre vegetable sandwiches, limp vegetables and tasteless cheese piled onto soggy bread. Servers in snooty restaurants are puzzled and unhelpful when I inquire about the vegetarian options. And even though I try to stick to my principles, on more than one occasion I have found myself at a work function, choosing between the tasty chicken salad sandwich, the disappointing mushroom sandwich, and skipping lunch altogether. I am a tiny bit ashamed to admit that the chicken salad sandwich usually wins this battle. It’s for this reason, and for Cajun food, that I tell myself that I am 99% vegetarian. That 1% gives me just enough wiggle room so as not to lose my cool when frustrating situtations arise. It turns out the rest of the world is still eating meat and plenty of it!
And yet there are vegetarians among us who adopt even stricter standards than mine. There are vegans among us, people who consciously avoid all animal-derived products, including meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, and honey. I love vegans for lots of reasons. I love their fierce, take-no-prisoners attitude toward food and eating. I love their discipline and the communities they create around vegan cooking. I love that I can eat anything that comes out of a vegan kitchen, knowing it doesn’t contain chicken stock or any other hidden source of animal. But most of all, I love their cookies. Bring on the vegan cookies!
I’ve written about vegan cookies before, and while that basic vegan sugar cookie was tasty with a subtle, sweet flavor, I think it’s got nothing on a good peanut butter cookie. Peanut butter, and nut butters in general, lends itself easily to vegan cookies because it helps to emulsify and bind everything together, functions normally served by butter and eggs in other cookie recipes. And with their nutty richness, nut butters are function with flavor.
One reason to love the vegan peanut butter cookie I bring you today is that it doesn’t require “vegan butter,” or a vegan source of fat that is intended as a butter substitute. While I have used vegan butter in the past, including in those sugar cookies, I have mixed feelings about these butters. My quibble is not one of taste but rather of quality. I try to eat whole foods as much as possible, and I worry that vegan butters are made of oils that are processed and manipulated in ways that decrease their nutritional quality. Now, I know when we’re talking about cookies, we are not talking about health foods, but still. I have my doubts, so I put vegan butter into the same category as fake meats like those addictively tasty Boca Chik’n Patties (or, as my friend Josh calls them, crack patties): occasional treats, not everyday staples. On the other hand, I refuse to let a day go by without eating peanut butter. I won’t be denied. And these cookies are just slightly more complicated that spooning peanut butter straight from jar to mouth. In fact, you can and should help yourself to some peanut butter while preheating the oven, so no excuses: it’s time to get baking!
Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from this recipe in Vegetarian Times, May 2005
Makes about 18-24 cookies
This recipe came to me courtesy of that old vegetarian standby, Vegetarian Times, but it needed a little work. Namely, it needed a bit more flour and oatmeal, and it needed chocolate. For what is a peanut butter cookie without chocolate? A sad, sad thing indeed. My awesome friend Josh worked out the flour/oatmeal additions (thanks, Josh!) and the chocolate chips were a no-brainer. These cookies are delightfully cakey, sweet, and nutty, with pockets of chocolate melting in your mouth. I like the flavor that whole-wheat flour gives these cookies; it adds to their slightly rustic quality.
I’m delighted to enter these cookies into The Great Peanut Butter Exhibition, hosted by Nick over at The Peanut Butter Boy. This cookie competition is my kind of contest, since the real reward is a plethora of brand-new peanut butter cookie recipes, all gathered into one convenient cyperspace location. I’m not very competitive any more (my high-school valedictorian days are over, people!), but it’s hard to resist a contest in which peanut butter and sugar are the real players.
½ c. natural peanut butter, crunchy or creamy, well-stirred
½ c. apple juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
¼ c. brown sugar or other granulated sugar
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
½ c. + 2 tbsp. whole-wheat flour plus a bit extra if batter is too wet
¼ c. oatmeal
¾ tsp. baking soda
¼ - ½ c. vegan chocolate chips (Two notes here: 1) Use more or fewer chocolate chips, depending on how chocolatey you’d like your cookies to be. 2) I like Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips, which are vegan, but currently they are made on equipment that handles milk-containing products, so they might not be good choice if you have a food allergy. Use your good judgment.)
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two baking sheets lightly with cooking spray. Set them aside.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, apple juice concentrate, sugar, and vanilla. In a second bowl, mix together the flour, oatmeal, and baking soda. Mix the flour mixture into the peanut butter mixture. The batter will be fairly thick and wet here. If it seems too wet to you, add a bit of flour, no more than a tablespoon at a time.
3) Fold the chocolate chips into the batter. Using two “eating” teaspoons (as opposed to measuring teaspoons), measure the dough by spoonful and use the empty spoon to drop it onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving two inches or so around each cookie.
4) Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes per sheet, or until the edges are light brown. Remove sheets from the oven and let cookies cool on the sheets for a few minutes. Use a pancake-flipper to transfer the cookies to wire cooling racks. These cookies are delicate, especially when they are hot, so handle them with a light touch. And remember what my mom taught me: broken cookies have no calories. So there.