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Meatless Monday: The Sexy Vegan -- The Vegan Dude Abides

"It was the environmental, social, ethical part that kept me vegan. Aside from feeling awesome, another being didn't have to die this horrible death for me to survive -- this just makes sense."
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The Sexy Vegan is not Food Network fab, he's not buff, he's a dude. He makes dude food. Jalapeno poppers. Barbecued ribz. Spaghetti and balls. Pizza. It's manly. And it's plant-based.

Not too long ago, the Sexy Vegan (real name Brian Patton) was an overweight, junk food-addicted Trekkie. Now, he's a vegan vid sensation and author of the new cookbook, The Sexy Vegan Cookbook (clever title).

Seven years ago, Patton was a self-taught cook cheffing at a cafe. The cafe wasn't vegan and at the time, neither was he. He was "260 pounds. I was a big, round, blubbery guy. I smoked and drank all the time. Not that I don't drink any more, but back then, it was all the time."

Meanwhile, some friends opened Vegin' Out, a vegan food delivery service. On his day off, Patton would come over with a couple of bags of fast food, chow down, then help prepare "all this awesome, healthy food." These guys were his friends, they cut him some slack. But even in his burger-and-fries haze, Patton realized something was wrong. "I'd look at these people being healthy, but I'm drinking a 32-ounce soda, burger, fries. I thought I could only get better by getting vegan."

His plan: go meatless for a month, get in shape, "then I'll go back to eating steaks and all the stuff I love."

Turns out he liked being vegan. "I started for health," he says. "It was the environmental, social, ethical part that kept me vegan. Aside from feeling awesome, another being didn't have to die this horrible death for me to survive -- this just makes sense."

Patton gave up his addiction to fast food burgers and tacos but indulged in another addiction -- video. Not porn. He was hooked on cooking shows. He watched them, he taped them, he couldn't help himself. "It's all cookie cutter -- every show looks the same. It's like food porn -- people aren't going to make those dishes really," he says. "I wanted to do things people actually make, present it in a way that makes sense and is not intimidating."

So with the Sexy Vegan as a joke alter ego, he posted some vegan cooking vids with modest production values on YouTube. He developed a fan base. They love his recipes. They love his dude 'tude." "I throw in a dick joke -- people like that."

But beneath the naughty patter and the plant-based pizza demos lurks a guy with a serious mission. "I'd wanted to do something of value, something that affects people positively, but I didn't know what that was. Cooking at the restaurant wasn't enough -- it felt frivolous in some ways. When I found veganism, I found the value," says Patton, now Vegin' Out's executive chef. "It's my job, I get paid for it, but I'm promoting a healthy environment, healthy people, I can do good stuff and whatever." And he does it with his balls.

"My Balls" -- the Sexy Vegan's signature meatless meatballs recipe -- "serves the world. It shows the world a better ball, a ball that can have a lot of flavor and also a lot of nutrition, without hurting any animal or doing bad things in the environment," says Patton. "Eat 'em in pairs."

This summer, the Sexy Vegan is marrying the woman he refers to in his book as the Girlfriend, and he's going to look his sexy best. To make wedding weight, he's specializing in eating salad -- not frothy salads that leave you feeling virtuous but famished, but Sexy Vegan salads, like Curry Fried Tofu.

"You need variety," he says. "You should not deny yourself stuff -- you'll get bored. Have a piece of chicken fried seitan but surround it with broccoli or kale or something that compliments it. Have balance on your plate. "

Patton is still a Trekkie, a pizza fan and a dude, but he's something more, too. "I feel better now. I'm more of a complete person. When I became vegan, this puzzle came together -- that contributes to anyone's sexiness. When they understand themselves, feel good in their body, they put good feelings out into the world," says Patton. "That's what makes someone sexy."

My Balls

from The Sexy Vegan Cookbook by Brian Patton

Here they are! For the whole planet to behold ... My Balls! You can place them atop a pile of spaghetti or line them up in a hoagie roll, smother them with tomato sauce and your favorite vegan cheese, and bake for a killer ball-parm sando.

4 ounces tempeh
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to lube the baking sheet and coat the balls
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Using a steamer basket, steam the tempeh for 25 minutes to soften it. Then let it cool.

In a food processor, combine the walnuts, nutritional yeast, parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, garlic, onion, Worcestershire, tomato paste, tamari, water, and oil, and process until you have a semi-moist meal.

In a bowl, crumble the steamed tempeh with your hands until there are no big chunks left. Then add the mixture from the food processor to the bowl, plus a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, and mash it all together with your hands. You will now be able to form this mass into little balls. Make them just a bit smaller than beer-pong balls (depending on when and where you went to college, you may know them as Ping-Pong balls), about 12 inches in diameter.

Lube up a baking sheet with the oil, lay the balls on it, coat them with a little more oil, and bake for 30 minutes. My balls are now ready for consumption.

Makes 10 to 12 balls.