Recipe: Aria and Merle’s Vegan Spring Roll

How a meat eater and a ‘vegan icon’ make their modern romance work.

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Dating can be tough at the best of times; between the cacophony of social media and dating apps, the pitfalls of modern romance have never been more confusing.


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Imagine for a moment navigating said minefield – climbing the vast Everest of 21st century love and somehow finding “the one”. Imagine having the courage to ask them out – probably through the pale whites of a phone screen. For dinner – at a dimly lit bistro in a trendy part of town with a good Yelp score.

After suffering an afternoon of nerves and pondering the implications of wardrobe, you go to a restaurant and find yourself face to face with the subject of your budding affection. You make a harmless traffic joke before diving into the QR-based menu – apparently the duck is to die for.

After a pregnant break, your date says the 2 1/2 words that will forever change the trajectory of your relationship: “I’m vegan.”

It was reality for Aria Inthavonga content creator for BuzzFeed based in Los Angeles who joined the company in 2017. It was there that he met Merle O’Nealvegan and host of popular plant-based programs on BuzzFeed and her own personal YouTube channel, including: “Viral Vegan Substitutes” and “Merle’s Macabre Menu.”

After appearing onscreen together in various BuzzFeed videos, Inthavong and O’Neal became the subject of an intense internet “ship”. The comment section of their videos was quickly flooded with speculation and analysis regarding the young creators’ chemistry.

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Merle remembers witnessing the frame-by-frame breakdown of everything “Merlia,” from eye contact to body language.


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“To be honest, I wasn’t very excited about it at first because I didn’t know what my feelings for Aria were and I felt a lot of pressure at the time,” O’Neal said.

This didn’t bode well for Inthavong’s romantic prospects.

“I was worried the pressure would get to her and block any potential romance,” Inthavong said. Yet somehow, through hell and high view counts, the young couple ended up in this dimly lit restaurant in the city’s hipster neighborhood.

For Inthavong, a then avid meat eater, the daunting reality of dating a vegan set in. Was he really ready to submit to a life of greens and gloop?

“Before Merle, I actually never thought I could date someone plant-based just because meat dishes were a big part of my food growing up and I was suspicious not only that I couldn’t sharing them, but also potentially being forced not to eat more,” Inthavong says.

Sharing food is an integral part of modern courtship, but there’s usually a one-way flow of traffic when it comes to the sharing ritual between vegans and non-vegans.

For Inthavong, the fear was that he could be judged for eating meat, encouraged or even expected to eat plant-based foods, or become completely vegan. This fear was only exacerbated by the fact that by this point O’Neal had risen to prominence in the herbal community through her YouTube series in which she discusses fantastic herbal facsimiles. carnivorous classics. Think chicken nuggets with jackfruit, squid with coconut meat, and pulled pork with banana peel.


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The content is whimsical and inventive and even earned O’Neal a nomination for VegNews’ “Best Vegan YouTuber” award.

The success of said series doesn’t come cheaply, however, as Inthavong states, “Sometimes there are people in the audience who are surprised to learn that I’m not vegan like Merle, which adds a bit of guilt.”

But despite her status as a vegan icon, O’Neal argues that the key to any relationship, in any era, is balance. In fact, a recurring theme in Merle’s videos is that a diet that includes meat is not inherently or morally wrong.

“I have set myself the goal of breaking the stereotype of the ‘judge-vegan’ because, in reality, veganism is not an accessible or even affordable diet for everyone. My only hope is to be able to offer dishes based on of plants that someone would choose with as much eagerness as they would choose a dish of meat.

And regarding his relationship with Inthavong, “Yeah, I didn’t traumatize him with all the vegan documentaries I made myself watch when I started…but there’s still time!”

Merle O'Neal, left, and Aria Inthavong.
Merle O’Neal, left, and Aria Inthavong. Photo by Merle O’Neal and Aria Inthavon

Over the past few months, Inthavong has really enjoyed plant-based eating. But that was a conclusion he had to come to on his own.

“I think Merle’s patient and flexible approach was really great in opening my eyes to the world of plant-based eating,” notes Inthavong, “because a more aggressive approach might have dissuade it completely.”

Instead, Inthavong embraced greens and gloop. In fact, one of the most popular recipes on O’Neal’s personal channel actually belongs to Inthavong.


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“The vegan spring roll I made for her at the very beginning of our relationship on a whim! It’s a fresh, light, healthy dish that’s wonderfully flavorful,” says O’Neal.

This certainly had an impact on the couple as this dish now holds significant emotional value for them.

“I can’t help but wonder if any part of Aria regrets ever making the spring rolls for me because I just want them every weekend now,” O’Neal says. “I love telling people that it was Aria who introduced me to my favorite tofu marinade!”

In our culture, food has always been synonymous with love, and so in the spirit of food and love, we present to you their Vegan Spring Roll:

Aria and Merle's vegan spring rolls.
Aria and Merle’s vegan spring rolls. Photo by Merle Shane O’Neal

Aria and Merle’s Vegan Spring Roll

454 g (16 oz) or 1 block of firm or extra firm tofu

100 g (3.5 oz) vermicelli

6 sheets of Rose brand rice paper (round)

1 sliced ​​avocado

1 jumbo carrot, finely julienned

10-15 mint leaves

1-2 sprigs of chopped green onions (for garnish)

Marinated tofu

1 C. 2 tbsp (15 ml) sriracha (or more to taste)

2 tbsp. (30 ml) soy sauce

1 C. 1 tbsp (15ml) extra virgin olive oil

peanut sauce

1/4 cup (60 mL) peanut butter

1 C. (15 ml) rice vinegar or 1 lime

2 tbsp. (30 ml) soy sauce

Sriracha to taste

1 C. (15 ml) garlic

1 C. (15 ml) ginger

Baste to desired consistency

Begin by removing excess water from the block of tofu with a paper towel. Cut the block in half, then again into rectangles and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Two tablespoons of soy sauce. A tablespoon of sriracha (or more according to your taste). Make sure the tofu blocks are completely covered in the marinade.


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Place the tofu on a baking sheet. Add marinade freely to the tofu blocks. Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake the tofu for 10 minutes. Turn the tofu over, distribute the rest of the marinade and bake for another 10 minutes.

Cut the cooked tofu into thin strips.

Dip the rice paper in hot water. Place the desired toppings (be careful not to be too greedy), wrap in cling film and roll up.

Makes 5-6 spring rolls.

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