One of the many bonuses about living in Florida is that strawberry season is in February/March. Plant City is known throughout the Sunshine State as the place to get strawberries. I went to this small town with three goals: to buy fresh strawberries, find a cowboy hat and to try the vegan options they would have at the fair this year.
I parked in the YMCA parking lot for just $10. This meant that I walked by all the “farm animals”. After purchasing my $10 entrance ticket, I decided to go into the halls to bear witness to what was happening inside. I saw cows of various sizes tied to metal barriers/fences. One calf was crying out for (most likely) her mom and kept looking around for her. It was heartbreaking to see her in such distress. In another hall, I witnessed steers being paraded around in some sort of show while people gawked at their bodies and judged their worth solely on what they can provide humans. The worst part of this experience I think was knowing where each of these precious souls would end up – on a truck, in a slaughterhouse and on someone’s plate.
I was much happier to visit a hall with local plants that children had grown from seed. They all stood so proudly out in front of the flowers, bushes and trees they had planted.
It was neat to walk around the festival. There were rides, games and all kinds of vendors selling wares both related and unrelated to strawberries. You could rent costumes and get your picture taken like back in the Old West, you could buy strawberry earrings and you could peruse homemade crafts, wooden tools, jacuzzis and so much more. I guess it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine yourself sipping champagne and nibbling on strawberries in a giant outdoor bathtub with jets.
And as you can imagine, The Florida Strawberry Festival included many booths serving a plethora of food choices. Sadly, the vast majority of options involved animals parts and/or their secretions, so that was a hard pass. But, I kept my eye out for the few promised vegan options. I found a stand serving virgin strawberry daiquiris with Dole Whip, a soft serve that was surprisingly created by Disney and is reportedly vegan now. A quick online search confirmed this great news.
I came across a booth selling popcorn, including strawberry flavored. I was told that the popcorn contained no animal products and that it was cooked in soy oil.
And then, just around the corner from the popcorn place, I found what I was searching for: the Seasoned Green food truck! It was so nice to see an entire truck dedicated to vegan food amidst the overwhelming abundance of non-vegan options.
My biggest problem was figuring out what to order. I finally decided on the buffalo cauliflower mac and cheeze crunch wrap. I absolutely loved my meal. It was full of such great flavors and just when my palette said goodbye to one flavor, another would take its place. It was nothing short of phenomenal.
My girlfriend, Chrissy, ordered the applewood smoked jackfruit sliders. She had never had jackfruit before so was eager to try it. She found the jackfruit flavor overpowering, but was happy to have tried it. Next time, she will try the vegan chilli cheeze fries or the jerk chik’n mac and cheeze crunch wrap.
Like most people who attended the festival, we drove over to Parkesdale Farm Store and picked up a full flat of fresh strawberries for $20. It’s a great place to stock up on other fresh produce as well, which we did.
Savory Strawberry Recipes
On the ride home, my curiosity of savory vegan strawberry dishes was piqued. At home, my internet search revealed quite a variety of ideas. So, in addition to making banana strawberry shakes in the morning and snacking on fresh strawberries in the evening, I decided to have a go at some of the savory strawberry recipes I had found online.
The first dish I made was strawberry gazpacho from Forks Over Knives. The ingredients were very basic and very near to traditional gazpacho. This savory strawberry dish was made simply by blending the ingredients, and I loved the opportunity to utilize the Vitamix that mysteriously ended up at my doorstep one day (Amazon said I could keep it!) I let the mixture chill overnight in the fridge and was very excited to try it for lunch the following day. I loved it! I found that this was the right amounts of each ingredient and the flavors had mixed quite well while chilling. No one flavor overpowered another. I would absolutely make this recipe again.
The next dish I made was strawberry salsa from Jessica in the Kitchen. Again, I made this dish at night and let the flavors marry overnight in the fridge. This very simple dish included the standard ingredients of a salsa fresca: tomato, onion, jalepeño, and cilantro. The next day, I made tacos with refried pinto beans topped with my strawberry salsa. It was nothing short of fantastic!
This recipe very much piqued my interest. They had me at pasta. One of the ingredients was crystallized ginger, something I had previously only used to help with nausea on turbulent flights. It was not an easy ingredient to find but luckily I already had some in my fridge. I also omitted the lemon yoghurt from the recipe altogether; Publix was out of lemon vegan yoghurt (and besides I’ve been trying to cut back on saturated fat lately). I hoped that this omission would still yield a delicious result. I absolutely loved this dish. My girlfriend did too. This became my favorite of the dishes I had made thus far, so much so that I made it a second time. (I had also forgotten to take a picture of it the first time around.)
I was struck by the simplicity of this recipe as well as the combination of ingredients. The jicama in particular added a crunch to this fruit salad. Not only did this dish look beautiful (rather patriotic in fact), but it tasted great. I do recommend adding the optional agave nectar because otherwise the fresh lime can overpower the dish. I added some of the salad to my oatmeal and it was a fantastic way to start the day!
Having never cooked with farro, I was eager to try this recipe from The Whole Serving. The recipe was straight forward and seemed easy…until I got to the maple glaze. This was seemingly simple with only two ingredients: maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. The stars were obviously not aligned for me that day because not one, but two attempts did not yield the desired result. And, it left my stove a sticky mess that took quite a while to clean up. (Whatever you do, do NOT let your pan boil over. I highly recommend a larger pan than you need in order to assure this doesn’t happen.) But the good news is that I enjoyed this hearty salad even without the maple glaze. The flavors blended quite well together.
The final recipe I tried included avocado boats. I was super curious about the combination of savory chickpeas (spiced with chili powder, garlic powder and cumin) with the sweet strawberry salsa. This dish turned out to be one of my favorites. The creaminess of of the perfectly ripe avocado added texture variety to this light meal. And I must say that this recipe certainly won in my book as the most pleasing to the eye with its vibrant colors.
If I had more time, I would have also tried making strawberry basil pizza. Such an interesting concept! Strawberry season will come to a close all too quickly and I already find myself looking forward to next year.