Modern vegetarianism as an organized movement, oddly enough, derives historically not from the self-flagellating liberal middle class with whom many associate it today, but rather, from nineteenth-century working-class radicals in England’s industrialized north. The first official vegetarian society (apart from the short-lived and awkwardly named British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food) was founded in 1847 by activists in Salford, England. The movement took off, and by 1914, there was a vegetarian society in nearly every country of Europe. Hell, in 1908, there was even an International Union of Vegetarian Esperantists, who advocated vegetarianism and … Esperanto. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Anyway, back to the lentil cakes: By the early 1900s, and well before the founding of the Vegan Society in 1944, several members of the UK Vegetarian Society had already begun questioning the ethics of egg and dairy consumption. From this discussion was born the first vegan cookbook, although the word vegan itself had not yet been coined: In the year 1910 appeared the cookbook No Animal Food by Rupert H. Wheldon, who, after filling almost half the volume with preachy advocacy for a diet completely free of animal products, finally got around to providing a few recipes. After the fold is my updated version of Wheldon’s original recipe for lentil cakes.
Wheldon’s recipe calls for Grape Nuts, but the bourgie health-food store where I was assembling my ingredients didn’t have any, so I found the Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal a respectable substitute (and for me, locally produced, too). Grape Nuts, though, I’m sure will work just as well. Also, the original called for frying in “Nutter,” which apparently was a nut-based butter substitute, but any vegan-friendly margarine ought to do.
- 1 1/4 cup red lentils
- 3 3/4 cups water
- 3/4 cup Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted whole grain cereal
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp vegetarian brown gravy mix
- 2 1/2- 3 cups fine bread crumbs
- Non-hydrogenated vegan margarine for frying
Add lentils and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are soft, about twenty minutes. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, and add bread crumbs until the mixture forms a stiff paste.
Form the paste into patties, about three or four inches in diameter. Melt a teaspoon or so of margarine in a non-stick frying pan and fry the patties until golden brown, two or three at a time, adding more margarine between each batch. Use a spatula to press down on the patties as they cook to ensure even browning.
You can use the rest of your packet o’ gravy powder to whip up some gravy to go with. Makes about 10-12 lentil cakes.