Vegan in Florence, Part 3

Don’t miss your chance to win a jar of body butter and a tube of lip butter from the all-natural and vegan cosmetic company Ellovi! Enter Farmers Market Vegan’s latest giveaway by Wednesday, April 2.

Well, dear readers, my adventures in Florence, Italy have come to a close, but I still have one more round of vegan Italian cuisine to share with you all. The last few days of my trip included day trips to the nearby towns of Siena and Fiesole, both of which boast magnificent churches and stunning views of the Italian countryside; a dinner party with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin; and a theater jaunt to see the previously on-Broadway show Stomp. And of course…tons of tasty vegan noms. Here are a couple culinary highlights from my final days in Florence:

Il Vegetariano

Via delle Ruote 30r, Florence, Italy 50129

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

I first discovered this 30-some-year-old staple of Florence’s vegetarian scene three years ago when I spent the summer with my aunt, and eagerly returned to introduce this popular, all-organic eatery to my travel companion Gabe. Luckily, from that summer I gleaned the experiential know-how about how Il Vegetariano works, so that I could lead Gabe along in the process. You see, Il Vegetariano’s set-up differs from that of a traditional sit-down restaurant, functioning in a more cafeteria-style manner. Upon entering the restaurant, the diner proceeds past the two dining rooms to greet the kind bespectacled man behind the ordering counter, seated beside a colorful blackboard that lists the daily-rotating menu of small plates, salad bar, entrees, and desserts. The diner puts their order in at the counter, pays, picks up a tray, and stands in the line in front of the salad bar/dessert counter to wait for another kind balding man to grab a freshly made plate from the kitchen, and/or to choose from an array of raw and cooked vegetables to enjoy in a salad. Finally, the diner can choose a seat in one of two mahogany-clad dining rooms with exposed brick walls, or on a covered patio just behind the restaurant.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

During our visit, Gabe and I opted to enjoy the warm weather and took a seat on the patio. Peckish after meandering around the city all morning, we dove into our bowls of immensely savory brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes, cauliflower, and parsley. Herbaceous and full-bodied, the pilaf’s flavor showcased just how complex simple vegetables and grains can taste. Of course, considering that Il Vegetariano describes their wide dessert selection as their specialty, Gabe and I simply had to sample a slice of a crumbly tart jam-packed with succulent pears and apricots. Certainly no complaints there, especially when my entire meal cost less than 10 euro.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Gelateria Perche No!

Via dei Tavolini 19r, Florence, Italy 50122

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Gabe once again serves as my restaurant model.

Venturing out for gelato after enjoying lunch at home became a favorite ritual of mine and Gabe’s during the latter portion of our stay in Florence. While we most often headed to Festival del Gelato due to its close proximity to our apartment, Gabe and I opted on one occasion to sample another of Florence’s famous gelaterias, founded in 1939 and known as Perche No! (aka “why not!”). Upon first entering the small shop, I noticed and hugely appreciated that the gelateria had separated its non-dairy gelatos into a separate cooler, making ordering much simpler for myself and others who avoid dairy. On the day that we visited, Perche No!’s non-dairy flavors included banana, dark chocolate, pear, soy-based hazelnut, soy-based vanilla, strawberry, lemon, and raspberry. Funnily enough, Gabe and I both chose the soy hazelnut and raspberry to satisfy our daily gelato quota. While both gelatos held the exact flavor essence of their respective fruit and nut bases, the soy hazelnut proved less creamy than the rice-based hazelnut that we often enjoyed at Festival (strange, considering that rice milk tends to hold a much thinner texture than soy milk!). Regardless, Perche No! boasts some darn tasty gelato.

The "senza latte" (without milk) case at Perche No!

The “senza latte” (without milk) case at Perche No!

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Miso di Riso

Borgo degli Albizi 54r, Florence, Italy, 50122

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A couple of weeks before arriving in Florence, my mother emailed me to express her excitement that she had discovered a newly opened vegetarian restaurant called Miso di Riso (translated to rice miso) along the main pedestrian street in her neighborhood. As such, I made it a point to accompany my mother to lunch at the eatery during one of my final days in Florence. Brightly lit, filled with verdant potted plants, and boasting a plethora of vibrantly colored décor, Miso di Riso provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere in which to enjoy some macrobiotic-inspired vegan noms.

After ordering, my mother and I check out the dessert case to find such tantalizing creations as two mixed berry tarts, as well one with a semolina crust and chocolate ganache filling. While we opted to head to Festival del Gelato for dessert after our meal, Miso di Riso’s bakery selection definitely impressed me.

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Soon after we had sufficiently ogled at the dessert case, my mother and I received our plates. I chose to sample a savory tart of cauliflower and seaweed with a remarkably flavorful crust, accompanied by a meltingly tender pile of curried cabbage and a lightly dressed salad of gorgeous greens and shaved carrots. As for my mother, she opted for the tofu burger, complete with vegan mayonnaise and coupled with a colorful sauté of mixed vegetables, as well as a salad similar to mine. While both my mother and I “mm”-ed with delight at the features of our plate (the tart and burger) as well as at the impeccably fresh salads, the vegetable side dishes left us unimpressed—though tasty, they struck us as dishes easily made by any home cook. This new restaurant has a great base (and space!) on which to build, but it definitely requires improvement.

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Le Fate

Borgo Allegri 9r, Florence, Italy 50122

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About seven minutes before my mother, Gabe, and I planned to leave to see Stomp, my mother decided to call the restaurant at which we wanted to have dinner, only to find that they had no open tables for the night. Scrambling to find another eatery for the evening, we soon recalled another newly opened vegetarian restaurant that we had passed by on one of our evening passeggiare (walks), called Le Fate (translated to “the fairies”). With moments to spare, we secured a reservation and ran out the door to the theater.

That scramble for another restaurant resulted in one of the best gastronomic decisions of my trip, as the meal that my family and I enjoyed at Le Fate will live on in the Seiter family memory for years to come. True to its name, Le Fate boasts a rather enchanting dining room and a mystical menu: the four appetizers find inspiration in the four elements (earth, water, wind, and fire), while each of the entrees corresponds to one of the twelve astrological signs. Upon noticing the struggles of our English-speaking family to decipher the Italian menu, our charismatic waiter called the chef out of the kitchen to explain in detail every dish—VIP treatment, eh?

As a pre-meal amuse bouche, we each received a small crostini of house-made whole-grain bread spread with what I took to be an artichoke pate, served upon a leaf of soft and lemony sorrel. For an appetizer, the table opted to share a platter of house-made vegan cheeses and fruit compotes. Though I couldn’t discern the exact flavors of each of the cheeses, I could tell by the textures that two of them certainly featured agar-agar seaweed as a binder, while the other two seemed to be aged nut spread-type cheeses. Unfortunately, the latter two lacked the creaminess integral to satisfying cheese, though their flavors proved intensely complex. I have absolutely no complaints about the sweet and expertly spiced compotes, however.

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While I found the vegan cheeses a tad lacking, there was absolutely nothing subpar about any of our entrees. Indeed, every bite (both of my own dish and stolen from the plates of others) offered a new flavor and mouthfeel, providing for a hugely interesting and astronomically delicious meal.

The only diner of our party to order the dish that corresponded to their actual astrological sign, I chose the Vergine (Virgo) plate as soon as I heard the chef say “dates,” “fennel,” and “homemade basil tofu.” The bowl of homemade noodles coated in a creamy, succulent sauce of dates and caramelized fennel that I enjoyed that night still enters my dreams. Providing textural contrast to the silky pasta were leaves of bitter radicchio spread with house-made basil tofu and topped with orange segments and toasted hazelnuts. An inspired dish.

My mother opted for the Gemelli (Gemini) plate, which featured a bowl of fluffy-on-the-inside-crusty-on-the-outside biscuits in three savory varieties, accompanied by a number of spread and toppings: a mild golden chutney of onions and apples, a rainbow-colored salad of minced peppers, a fluffy and cloud-white vegan mayonnaise, oil-marinated heirloom white beans, and quenelles of smooth hummus. Um, wow.

Finally, both Gabe and my father chose the Capricorno (Capricorn) plate: creamy black lentil soup topped with a puree of white root vegetables, served alongside perfectly round balls of falafel with carrot-tamarind spread, and rounded out by a salad of mixed greens and ripe berries. Need I say more?

Though we all found ourselves too full to enjoy dessert, we did end the meal quite enjoyably by speaking with the bubbly owner of the restaurant—a longtime vegan and astronomer who gave us each our horoscopes before leaving. Le Fate’s inviting atmosphere, it’s enormously hospitable waitstaff, and its inspired and tantalizing culinary creations have earned a top spot on my list of most memorable travel restaurants, and I can hardly wait to return during my next trip to Italy (crossing my fingers that it’s soon!).

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Though I probably experienced one of the more perfect spring breaks of my entire life during the past two weeks, I’m happy to find myself back at school and among the community of my on-campus vegan living cooperative. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the spring on Farmers Market Vegan!

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 2

Welcome, dear readers, to round two of my special post series for the month of March: “Farmers Market Vegan Goes to Italy”! My last post, reaching you from the art-filled city of Florence, offered you a taste (pun very much intended) of the first of my vegan adventures during my two-week stay in Italy; check it out to fulfill your daily quota of quaint cafes, traditional Neapolitan pizzas, and dairy-free gelato.

In the days following my last post, I and my travel companion Gabe have continued our slow and steady touring of the city, journeying to Piazzale Michelangelo, an elevated square in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city (and the trek up the steep winding roads to the Piazzale will also take your breath away).

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In addition to the sightseeing above and the restaurant exploration below, I also discovered a storefront of the vegan cosmetic company LUSH, which practices ethical product sourcing and actively combats animal testing. Further evidence of a growing consciousness of animal rights in Italy!

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Of course, Gabe and I have also continued our survey of Florence’s vegan scene. Our second round of culinary gems include:

Mercato Sant’Ambrogio

Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, Florence, Italy 50121

Touted as Florence’s second-best open-air market (close behind the Mercato Centrale), Mercato Sant’Ambrogio offers a colorful bounty of fresh produce alongside artisanal bread, marinated jarred veggies, and other goods. Open everyday except Sunday, the market is located just around the corner from my parents’ apartment, and my mother and I pay it a visit on most mornings (in much of Europe, grocery shopping happens on a daily rather than weekly basis like in the U.S.). Spring has arrived here earlier than in the States (not too excited about returning to a snowy New York in a couple of days), and the market accordingly boasts piles of green goodies like artichokes, fava beans, delicate greens, and Romanesco cauliflower alongside early fruits like strawberries and pears. Much of the produce has made appearances in the dinners that I and my mother have cooked at my parents’ apartment, including steamed artichokes served with vegan aioli; platters of roasted veggies; crisp and simple salads; and breakfast bowls of fresh fruit, granola, and hazelnut milk.

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From top right: globe artichokes, zucchini with blossoms, Romanesco cauliflower, enoki mushrooms, mixed lettuce, and fava beans.

La Raccolta

Via Giacomo Leopardi, 2r, Florence, Italy 50121

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The La Raccolta storefront.

The La Raccolta dining room.

The La Raccolta dining room.

A natural foods store complete with non-dairy milks of every ilk, ancient grain bread, dried seaweeds, and a well-stocked bulk section comprises the front of La Raccolta, while through a doorway in the back you’ll find a macrobiotic restaurant in an inviting dining room with walls lined with brightly colored art of various African animals. Along with the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, the grocery section of La Raccolta has provided an almost-daily destination for me while in Florence, fulfilling all of my soy yogurt, non-dairy milk, granola, and apple cider vinegar needs. Due to the pretty steep prices of La Raccolta’s restaurant, however, I’ve only dined there once during this particular stay in Florence—but boy, do I always enjoy my meal there.

Vegan items make up the vast majority of La Raccolta’s impressive menu, complete with whole-grain pasta dishes, seitan scallopini, and macrobiotic-style vegetable dishes accompanied by lip-smacking sauces. Despite such an extensive menu, however, I’ve ordered the same dish on all three of my past visits to La Raccolta (I first ventured there three summers ago when I lived with my aunt for three months): the mixed platter. This substantial plate is composed of 7-10 separate preparations of roasted, steamed, and sautéed veggies embellished with creamy sauces, accompanied by fresh raw salads and more hearty grain and bean dishes. On the platter pictured below, I found (from the top of the plate and working clockwise) a gingery sauté of cabbage and carrots; herb-roasted potatoes; a crisp salad of lettuce and shaved carrots in olive oil and vinegar; a delicately flavored mash of fava beans; parsley-packed orechiette (ear-shaped pasta) with broccoli in a creamy sauce; herb-roasted kabocha squash; steamed purple cabbage in a bright yellow-orange sauce; and steamed broccoli and green cabbage in a tahini sauce. All so simple, yet so lovingly prepared and bursting with freshness.

After such a pleasant savory experience, I couldn’t help but sample one of La Raccolta’s many vegan dolci (desserts): a multi-layered pastry similar to phyllo dough stuffed with almond cream and topped with caramelized pears (known in Italy as mille foglie, or “cake of one thousand sheets”). A transcendental experience.

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Festival del Gelato

Via del Corso, 75r, Florence, Italy

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Gabe and I have made a point of enjoying una coppa of gelato once per day, for no afternoon ritual can beat reveling in creamy, artisanally prepared yumminess that tastes exactly of the real fruit, nut, or other edible that comprises its flavor. One of Florence’s most popular gelaterias, Festival del Gelato finds itself right next to the Duomo, one of Florence’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition to a number of fruit-based gelatos that contain no dairy (including mango, strawberry, and lemon), Festival boasts two rice milk-based gelatos (cappuccino and nocciolia, aka hazelnut), neither of which, as an added bonus, contain sugar! Surprisingly, Festival’s rice milk gelatos prove creamier than those based in soy milk that I’ve enjoyed at other gelaterias, though their fruit-based gelatos tend to harbor an ever-so-slightly more diluted fruit flavor than other gelatos I’ve sampled. I feel like the spectacle of their neon lights make up for this disappointment, though.

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That’s all for this round of vegan Florentine extravaganzas! Look out for my next post on eating vegan in Florence.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 1

Don’t miss your chance to win a prize pack—including free product coupons, a t-shirt, and a vintage-style metal lunchbox—from Tofurky! Be sure to enter Farmers Market Vegan’s latest giveaway by Friday, March 22.

Buongiorno from Florence! As I mentioned in my recent post regarding the connections between eating disorders and digestive complications, you, dear readers, can expect a number of posts relaying my adventures in Florence, Italy during the upcoming weeks. My parents have subletted an apartment here until late April—joining my aunt, a longtime resident of the city—and have graciously invited me to spend my college’s spring break in the art capital of Italy.

In the days leading up to my departure, I encountered many inquiries from friends concerning the availability of vegan food in Florence. To their surprise, I informed them that navigating Italy as a vegan proves incredibly easy—moreso, probably, than navigating many areas of the U.S. For example, a vegan in Italy can always find an animal-free pasta dish, even if that comprises of a simple bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce (it’ll be the best damn spaghetti and tomato sauce you’ve ever had, too). A vegan in Italy can always order pizza with tons of veggies and no cheese. A vegan in Italy can always enjoy gelato, since all fruit-based gelatos contain no dairy or eggs. A vegan in Italy can gorge themselves on every type of bread imaginable. A vegan in Italy can always find the freshest of vegetables—grilled, marinated, tossed in green salads, and served with plenty of olive oil. A vegan in Italy can always find olives. What more could you need?

Gabe's first true gelato experience!

Gabe’s first true gelato experience! Mmm, vegan blackberry and rice-based hazelnut.

In addition to the inherently vegan aspects of Italian cuisine, I’ve also noticed a proliferation of uniquely vegan goods and restaurants in Florence. I know of four well-stocked natural foods stores, all of which boast soy/almond/rice/hazelnut milks, soy yogurt, marinated tofu, seitan, vegan mayonnaise, and animal-free pastries. Five all-vegetarian restaurants have done successful business for at least the past four years, one of which has enjoyed a cult following since 1981. Hole-in-the-wall panini shops have begun advertising vegan sandwiches on their outdoor menu displays. Waiters understand the word “vegan” rather than having to interpret my horribly pronounced “Che sono qui senza latte ni carne?” (“Is there anything here without milk or meat?”). Yes, eating animal-free in Florence poses no difficulty for your average vegan traveler.

During the first couple days of our two-week stay in my parents’ Florentine apartment, my travel companion Gabe and I acclimated ourselves to the city in the most effective and enjoyable manner possible: trekking on foot through the cobbled streets. On most of our excursions, we simply stepped out of the apartment and started walking, map in hand but with no plan. The familiarity of Florence and ability to navigate it surprised me; I hadn’t visited the city since the summer of 2011, yet I remembered the streets, shops, and neighborhoods that I’ve known sporadically since infancy. Our walking adventures led us through the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (the outdoor produce market near my parents’ apartment), to grocery shop at La Raccolta (my favorite natural foods store and macrobiotic restaurant), across the Ponte Vecchio and to the arsty Oltrarno neighborhood (which literally translates to “the other side of the river”), through the Palazzo Pitti and its Giardino di Boboli (the palace-turned-museum and adjoining gardens), and of course through all of the piazzas that form the basis of Florence’s street layout. A more structured adventure took us through the home of Michaelangelo’s family—known as Casa Buonarotti—led by my talented art historian of an aunt.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo's house.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo’s house.

Needless to say, throughout our meanderings, Gabe and I reveled in the artful simplicity of Italian cuisine. Below are a couple of favorite eating experiences from our first days in Florence:

Le Vespe Café

Via Ghibellina 76R, Florence, Italy 50125

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This adorable café, clad in painted Florentine tiles and aqua-blue décor, provided haven for my parents when the WiFi in their apartment died for a week. Offering free internet access alongside a selection of organic and vegan-friendly baked goods, smoothies, juices, sandwiches, and salads, Le Vespe Café provides an ideal homey atmosphere in which to while away the hours with spring break schoolwork. Gabe and I have spent a number of our afternoons working in the café, but have only enjoyed a bit of edible fare, including a berry smoothie and a cardamom-cinnamon spiced latte known as Indian Kofi. I hope to return to Le Vespe during the lunch hour to sample their tofu scramble, homemade veggie burger, tofu salad, and vegan red velvet cupcakes.

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Il Pizzaiuolo

Via de Macci 113R, Florence, Italy 50122

My parents stumbled upon this unassuming, wood-fired pizzeria on the first night of their three-month stay in Florence, only to find out later from my aunt that the Florentines regard its pizza as the highest quality pies in the whole city. On the third night of my visit, Gabe and I joined my parents, my aunt, and my 11-year-old cousin to experience the traditional Neopolitan pizza that the city of Florence (apparently) raves about. Though not a vegan establishment in any sense of the word, Il Pizzaiuolo does offer a number of animal-free pasta dishes (one of which my father enjoyed that consisted of spaghetti, tomato-basil sauce, and capers) and veggie-loaded pizzas. Two pizzas on the menu—the Marinara with tomato sauce, oregano, and olive oil; and the Boscaiola with tomato sauce, mushrooms, artichokes, oregano, and basil—are vegan as-is, while even more pizzas lend themselves well to veganization. For example, I opted for the Vegetariana with tomato sauce, eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers and requested no mozzarella cheese, which the waitress happily obliged. Indeed, the Florentines have judged Il Pizzaiuolo correctly—the tender yet crunchy crust, charred flavor from the wood-fired oven, sweet tomato sauce, and succulent veggies all serve to render Il Pizzaiuolo’s namesake items mouthwateringly delicious.

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Vegetariana pizza with eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and arugula.

Bosciaola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

Boscaiola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

5 e Cinque

Piazza della Passera 1, Florence, Italy 50125

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I frequented the all-vegetarian 5 e Cinque during the summer that I lived with my aunt in Florence three years ago, and excitedly returned with Gabe for lunch while in the city’s Oltrarno neighborhood. Sporting not but five tables (hence the name) in a brightly lit dining room on a small piazza, 5 e Cinque serves a selection of artisanal yet unpretentious vegetarian dishes (many of which are vegan-friendly) and specializes in the thin, crunchy-on-the-outside-creamy-on-the-inside chickpea flour pancakes known in Italy as cecina (and in France as socca). During our lunchtime visit, Gabe and I both started off with a slice each of cecina, hot out of the oven and brought to our table almost immediately after we ordered. While we waited for our entrees, Gabe and I munched on some soft, salted bread for which we didn’t even get charged (Italians have a habit of bringing to your table supposedly free items like water then adding them to the bill without telling you). To follow, I licked clean a pilaf of farro (an ancient wheat berry) and spicy broccoli served over a succulent puree of winter squash, while Gabe reveled in a steamy bowl of curried vegetables served with a scoop of couscous. Impressively delicious and surprisingly inexpensive, 5 e Cinque holds a special place in my heart.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Ahh, Italian bread...

Ahh, Italian bread…

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

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Curried veggies with couscous.

Gelateria della Passera

Piazza della Passera 15, Florence, Italy 50125

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Just across the piazza from 5 e Cinque resides a tiny gelateria that offers house-made, artisinally prepared gelatos of unique flavors. To boot, they feature a blackboard of that day’s available flavors, separated into those con latte (with milk) and those senza latte (without milk, vegan, yay!). On any given day, their vegan selections include a number of fruit-based gelatos (that taste like the essence of fruit packaged in a creamy dessert) as well as at least one almond milk-based gelato. On this particular visit to Gelateria della Passera, I opted to try the pera (pear) and carezza (almond milk base with chamomile) flavors; the former boasted tiny flecks of pear skin while the latter held an intense flavor of marzipan. Divine.

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Stay tuned for my next post of Florentine adventures!

Until next time, Ali.

Tofurky Review & Giveaway

This giveaway has closed!

Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all vegan meat companies is Turtle Island Foods—the 34-year-old, family owned and independent, organic maker of Tofurky. Though maybe the butt of jokes from uncles teasing their vegan nieces and nephews at the Thanksgiving table, various Tofurky products have held their own as hearty, flavorful, and innovative animal-free meats for a good long while. Beyond the traditional holiday roasts that catapulted Tofurky to meatless fame, products that boast the Tofurky name include sandwich-style deli slices of every flavor imaginable, hot dogs and sausages, taco-style crumbles, pot pies and quiches, pizzas, marinated tempeh, and even hot pockets. This company most impressively gives truth to the claim that any food on the face of the planet can be veganized. Even better, the main ingredients found in Tofurky products include vital wheat gluten (the base of seitan), tofu (big surprise there), spices, and other minimally processed, nourishing ingredients.

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With all of this in mind, I was absolutely thrilled to receive a request from the lovely folks at Turtle Island Foods to review their Tofurky products. After our email correspondence, an absolutely ginormous package stuffed with various Tofurky products arrived at my doorstep. We’re talking multiple boxes of every type of deli slice, marinated tempeh, and gourmet-style sausages. Luckily—seeing as I would have had to eat Tofurky for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in order to finish off all of it—I live in a vegan co-op of 21 ravenous students, all more than happy to partake in the Tofurky goodness.

 And partake they did! On a cold winter evening, one of my housemates and I teamed up to cook for the whole house a huge dinner that featured the Tofurky I was sent to review. The menu included:

–A sandwich bar of deli slices in oven-roasted, peppered, hickory smokes, bologna, Italian, and roast beef styles; Vegenaise; mustard; lettuce; tomatoes, and Ezekiel bread.

 

–A spicy jambalaya inspired by this recipe, featuring the artisan Tofurky Andouille sausages and the smoky maple bacon marinated tempeh.

 

–A sweet sauté of bell peppers, caramelized onions, and artisan Tofurky chick’n and apple sausages.

 

–A tangy coleslaw of green cabbage, shredded carrots, and scallions with a dressing of olive oil, Dijon mustard, tahini, balsamic vinegar, and agave (one of my housemates professed that this coleslaw was the best he had ever tasted!).

 

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Mind you, even though the co-op in which I live purchases only vegan products as a house, only six of us in the house actually lead vegan lifestyles. Nonetheless, I received nothing but rave reviews of our Tofurky dinner from each and every one of my housemates. They scarfed down the jambalaya and sausage sauté, leaving absolutely none for leftovers and “mmm”-ing through every bit. Even meat-eaters remarked that the dishes proved immensely satisfying, pleasingly textural, and hugely flavorful. Though the dishes made with Tofurky sausages undoubtedly won the night, my housemates also expressed their enthusiasm toward the deli slices. Indeed, one of my most food-particular housemates noted that the bologna-style deli slices harbored exactly the same flavor and texture as animal-based bologna. The only qualm I received regarding the deli slices concerned their slight dryness—though the juicy tomatoes and spreadable condiments at the sandwich bar certainly mitigated that. If any of my housemates held views of Tofurky similar to those of the aforementioned dubious uncle before the dinner, they most definitely found such views shattered after tasting the fabulousness of the products.

 

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Surprisingly, our grand dinner didn’t use up all of the Tofurky that the generous folks at Turtle Island sent me. You can bet that much fine sandwich-making ensued in the week following our dinner, including my favorite: the tempeh reuben. A magnificent mess of toasted Ezekiel bread, vegan red Russian dressing (using the 2nd version on this page), tangy sauerkraut, crisp lettuce, juicy tomato, and of course smoky maple bacon marinated Tofurky tempeh, this sandwich provides a soul-satisfying way to highlight Tofurky’s fabulous tempeh products.

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And now, dear readers, I’m ecstatic to provide one of you with the chance to sample Tofurky’s impressive product line! One of you who enters the giveaway at the links at the top and bottom of this post will win a prize pack including the following: –Four coupons for one FREE Tofurky product. –Tons of Tofurky coupon booklets. –One vintage-style metal Tofurky lunchbox. –One Tofurky t-shirt.

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The giveaway will end at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 21, and I will announce the winner on Sunday, March 23. Apologies to my international readers, but you must reside within the U.S. in order to enter this giveaway.

Good luck to all!

This giveaway has closed!

Until next time, Ali.

I was not paid to run this giveaway, though I was provided with free product samples. All opinions are completely my own.

Review & GIVEAWAY! of The Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk & Cookbook

This giveaway has closed. Congratulations to Amanda Thomas!

I’m elated, dear readers, to host Farmers Market Vegan’s second giveaway—an exciting one, indeed. One lucky reader will receive a copy of The Vegg Cookbook: Egg-Free Cooking Uncaged, as well as two packets of The Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk. Click the above link or the link at the bottom of the post to enter to win these top-notch prizes. The giveaway will close at 12:00 a.m. EST on Tuesday, January 21, and I will announce the winners later than day.

Photo credit to Vegan Cuts.

Photo credit to Vegan Cuts.

I first encountered The Vegg this past summer while interning with the animal advocacy non-profit Compassion Over Killing, who provided much support and promotion for the 2012 launch of the vegan egg yolk. (The below opinions of The Vegg, however, are completely my own and not in any way influenced by my work with COK). While I sold many a packet of The Vegg to enthusiastic patrons of the events at which COK tabled this summer, I didn’t have the chance to experiment with it myself until Vegg developer Rocky Shepheard contacted me about reviewing his cookbook on the ol’ blog. Needless to say, I responded with an earnest “yes,” and here I am today, writing this post, regaling the wonders of The Vegg, right now at this very moment…you get the picture.

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Longtime vegan and animal rights activist Rocky Shepheard began tinkering with a recipe for a vegan egg yolk in 2010 after reading an April Fool’s Day article about a commercially available vegan fried egg. Two years later, Rocky had transformed a joke into a reality and introduced The Vegg onto the market, giving the over 280 million egg-laying hens in the U.S.—most of whom spend their lives intensively confined inside barren wire cages—something to cluck about. With the appearance, texture, taste, and even smell of a chicken’s egg, The Vegg provides a cruelty-free replacement in any traditionally egg-based recipe—French toast, omelets, hollandaise, crème brulee, breaded and fried foods, you name it. While The Vegg cannot provide the functional properties of eggs in baking, it can enhance any sweet (or savory!) treat with a rich, surprisingly accurate eggy flavor. Hesitant at first to try The Vegg based upon my assumption that it contained questionable ingredients, I happily discovered that The Vegg comprises of nothing more than fortified nutritional yeast (get yer B12 here, kids!), seaweed-derived sodium alginate, and black salt (which imbues The Vegg with its characteristic eggy aroma and flavor). An egg yolk free of cholesterol, gluten, soy, GMOs, and animal suffering? Yes, please.

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Released the year following the launch of The Vegg, The Vegg Cookbook features nearly 70 vegan recipes from Rocky, Sandy Defino, and food-blogging fans of The Vegg that highlight the versatility of the vegan egg yolk. Divided into three sections—Morning Medleys, The Main Dish, and Sweet Satisfaction—the cookbook features such tantalizing recipes as The World’s Best (and Most Realistic) Vegan Fried Egg, Tangerine French Toast, Vegg Tempura, Artichoke-Tomato Quiche, Mom’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Banana Cream Meringue Pie, and more. For my foray into the world of The Vegg Cookbook, I chose to sample one recipe from each section of the book.

One important requirement for successful use of The Vegg in all recipes, however, involves blending the powdered vegan egg yolk with either water or plant-based milk (depending on your recipe) in a mini blender or food processor, since blending by hand will yield less-than-smooth results. I own a mini food processor that works quite nicely for The Vegg, though I’m sure a spice grinder would also do the trick. During the blending, you’ll begin to freak out about the eggy aroma emanating from your blending apparatus. Upon my first blending endeavor, I sprinted into the living room to fetch my father, forcing him to stick his nose into my mini food processor. He agreed as to the accuracy of the smell…though perhaps without my same level of enthusiasm.

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Photo credit to Veganoo.

I first tried out the Crème Brulee, submitted by none other than Erin Wysocarski of the fabulous vegan blog Olives for Dinner. The recipe involves combining a blended Vegg-water mixture with coconut milk, sugar (I used maple sugar), and vanilla, then simmering the mixture with agar powder to impart a gel-like consistency. While my use of maple sugar didn’t produce the satisfying crackly crust akin to crème brulees, the finished dessert otherwise proved immensely successful. Creamy, eggy, and just sweet enough with an oh-so decadent mouthfeel, the crème brulees had my parents raving for days after licking their ramekins clean.

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Venturing into the cookbook’s savory territory, I whipped up the Vietnamese Pancakes with Veggies & Herbs, courtesy of Nancy Montuori Stein of Ordinary Vegan. The thin, crepe-like pancakes contain rice flour, a blended Vegg, turmeric, and coconut milk, providing a bright yellow, satisfyingly squishy wrapper for the brightly flavored shredded veggies and herbs inside. Topped with a spicy-sweet dipping sauce, this recipe yielded a gorgeously hued dinner with a flavor-packed punch, though the egginess of The Vegg didn’t come through in the pancakes as much as I would have liked.

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My Vegg Cookbook review endeavors ended with a version of the Scrambled Tofu from Helen Rossiter of Lots of Nice Things. The original recipe seemed to me as a template of sorts, containing only a blended Vegg, tofu, and scallions sautéed together. To spice up the dish, I borrowed the seasonings from Janet’s Dillicious Tofu Scramble and added shredded brussels sprouts and shiitake mushrooms to the mix, serving the scramble alongside a pile of roasted potatoes. I’m uncertain if I added a touch too much turmeric or if I failed to adequately cook the blended Vegg into the dish, but something seemed off both flavor- and texture-wise in the finished dish. Probably due to my mistake, the shortcomings of the tofu scramble should in no way dissuade you from the merits of this cookbook (but should perhaps dissuade you from using a heavy hand with turmeric…).

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With half of a packet of The Vegg still left after my experiments, I’m excited to try out some more recipes from the cookbook. However, I’m even more excited for you to familiarize yourself with The Vegg and its cookbook! For your chance to do so, be sure to click on the link either below or at the top of the post and enter the giveaway by 12:00 a.m. EST on Tuesday, January 21. Happy Vegg-ing!

***NOTE: This giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.***

This post is submitted to Healthy Vegan Fridays and Wellness Weekend.

This giveaway has closed. Congratulations to Amanda Thomas!

Actively Hoping and The Everyday Salad

A couple evenings ago, I invited an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long while over to my house for dinner. Given that a large portion of both of our college studies concern the social and environmental states of our world, we found much to discuss. Well into our dinner conversation regarding social and political change, my friend presented the notion of introducing “ethics overseers” onto the decision-making teams of corporations and political institutions, so as to prevent such entities from taking harmful actions in the name of material gain. Acknowledging that such overseers would undoubtedly harbor very different sets of ethics, my friend believed that their presence would at least introduce some moral guidance to normally questionable institutions. I found (still find) this idea interesting, but worry that it might serve as a band-aid solution to an underlying culture that conditions its members to prioritize the accumulation of wealth over the advancement of a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable society. In the long term, I would much rather see the grassroots cultivation of a widespread lifestyle of social responsibility and symbiosis with the earth, rather than a bunch of philosophers raising their eyebrows and shaking their heads at the suit-and-tie folks across the mahogany table.

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I completely understand that the former development will not come to fruition for a long time, probably not in my lifetime. But I don’t want to allow the distance of such a necessary occurrence to hinder the work that I do everyday in the hopes of one day achieving it. My friend called this mindset “idealistic.” I call it imperative for maintaining my sanity. If I didn’t let the hope of a better future guide my present actions, I would have long ago devolved into a puddle of depression. I would probably not be vegan. I would probably not be writing this blog post right now. I probably would have thought, “What’s the point? The world’s never going to change.” Through both my individual actions and those taken collectively with others who believe in an improved tomorrow, I maintain hope, I find the strength to continue, I envision the world in which I yearn for future generations to live. In opposition to such active hope (a term from Joanna Macy’s book of the same name that I’ve found hugely inspiring) lies stagnancy. If one does not believe in the possibility for change, the likelihood that they will think or behave in a progressive manner significantly decreases. But surely nothing will change if everyone thought, “What’s the use?”. Change comes from united groups of driven individuals who actively hope for positive social, political, environmental, any reform.

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Professor of political science and sociology Frances Fox Piven writes in her book Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America of the effectiveness of grassroots social movements in initiating significant reforms to the American political and cultural system. First highlighting the brokenness of American democracy with its inequality-ridden and corrupt electoral system, Piven insists that “there have nevertheless been periods of egalitarian reform in American political history,” and that such periods occur when “ordinary people exercise power [...] mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed” (16, 1). Piven evinces her claims with the abolition movement’s success in bringing the issue of slavery to the forefront of political discussion, and later in instigating the enactment of national civil rights legislation; as well as with the labor movement’s success in prompting the expansion of social welfare programs in the 1930s and 1960s. Further, Piven asserts that “disruptive movements are responsible for the truly brilliant moments of reform in American history [because] [...] when the movements decline, there are few new reforms, and those won at the peak of movement power are often rolled back” (111). Consider, for example, the fact that the welfare programs launched in the 1930s languished until a new period of protest in the 1960s forced their reenactment, or the fact that as the abolition movement waned in the mid-1870s, institutionalized white supremacy reemerged with a vengeance.

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As Piven displays, we cannot remain inactive toward the urgent issues facing our society and our world, for substantial change has historically always and only come from below. While one could never describe actively hoping for change as easy or comfortable, it has proven on multiple occasions effective in the long run. Not only do sustained efforts toward a better future eventually transform hope into widespread reality, they also profoundly impact the lives of the individuals participating in such efforts. As Joanna Macy affirms, “[a] powerful mental shift takes place when we stop telling ourselves why something can’t happen,” such that we “step[...] into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying” (171, 4). I personally experienced such transformations when I stopped telling myself that my worth as a person depended upon my bodily appearance and ability to closely monitor my eating habits, and discovered in veganism a passion so deeply in and outside of myself that it directed and largely continues to direct the trajectory of my life (read more about my personal story of eating disorder recovery here on Our Hen House). As I mentioned above, I would not have recovered from such a dismal state had veganism not inspired in me the hope onto which I latched.

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So I encourage you to actively hope. I encourage you to employ your own personal skills in working toward the change you’d like to see realized. I encourage you to remind yourself that change takes time, and that though you may not see immediate results, as long as you and others continue on the path of intentional and conscious being, change will happen.

In the meantime, we all need a boatful of nutrients to sustain all that active hoping and active doing in which we engage every day! Along with my morning green smoothie, the salad below appears in my meal repertoire on a daily basis, whether tossed in a bowl in the comfort of my own kitchen or shaken up in a Tupperware while I’m on-the-go. Packed with leafy greens, raw veggies, seaweed, plant-based proteins, and healthy fats, this salad serves as a powerhouse of nourishment—both physically and now, for me, mentally, as my daily salad ritual provides a grounding moment midday. Enjoy.

The Everyday Salad—Low Sodium.

Serves 1.

Ingredients:

2 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
1 handful of alfalfa sprouts
A couple sprigs of fresh herbs, chopped (dill is my favorite here)
Sprinkling of dulse seaweed flakes (about 1-2 tbsp)
About 1 cup of raw veggies, chopped (carrots, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, etc.)
1/2 cup whole grain (quinoa, brown rice, millet, etc.)
1/2 cup beans (chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, etc.)
1/4 cup nuts or seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, walnuts, etc.) OR 1/2 an avocado, diced
4-7 tbsp Liquid Gold Dressing (I like mine dressed pretty heavily)
1 generous scoop of sauerkraut or other fermented veggies

In a large bowl, layer the salad greens through nuts/avocado. Drizzle the dressing on top, then toss well to combine. Place the sauerkraut on top. Serve.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend and Recipe Wednesdays.

Until next time, Ali.

Works Cited

Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012. Print.

Piven, Frances Fox. Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Print.

Vedge Cookbook Review + Spanish Roasted Brassicas Recipe

As I mentioned in my last blog post regarding development and consumerism, I find myself feeling quite uncomfortable during the holiday season—a time of family, love, generosity, and unity that our modern Western culture has overshadowed with greed, overconsumption, material accumulation, and Black Friday casualties. These disconcerting cultural tendencies, magnified during the holidays, bolster my urge to live simply, with minimal possessions and producing minimal waste. My view of living simply, though, does not necessarily mean living without gifts—indeed, they can provide a heartwarming medium through which to foster community and relationships—but rather prompts a rethinking of gifts and gift-giving.

My discomfort with our current mainstream notion of gifts stems from the attitude surrounding them. As a child, I judged the quality of my Christmas by the number of presents I received, even having the nerve to cheekily ask my mother, “That’s it?” if I felt dissatisfied. But would I ever feel satisfied if the importance of gift-giving lied in accumulating as much as possible? Could I ever escape the power that possessions wielded over me if the absence of the latest Apple product in my Christmas haul inspired in me resentment toward my mother?

Gifts with which I can feel comfortable stem not from the desire to own the latest technological gadgets, nor from a false need to surround oneself with “stuff,” but from a genuine feeling of love and gratitude between both of the gift-givers, and between them and the earth. In the dire state of our world, we must imbue all of our actions with a consciousness of alleviating our impact on the planet, and gift-giving proves no different. In my view, loving and earth-friendly gifts include those that the recipient can put to good use, and those that generate little to no waste. For example, the bulk of my Christmas list comprised of donations to various organizations such as Our Hen House, and Kindle cookbooks, which require minimal resources to produce as opposed to print books, and which I use every day.

But literally…every day. Not an exaggeration in the least. Because I view the act of providing non-vegans with flavorful, hearty, and unique food as integral to animal activism, I constantly look to my collection of virtual cookbooks for inspiration in such endeavors. I also view my cookbooks as helpful in honing the skills necessary for my ideal career path—one that creates a livelihood out of the aforementioned activism. Thanks to my dear mother, the latest additions to this Kindle cookbook collection include Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby; Vegan Secret Supper by Merida Anderson; Dirt Candy: A Cookbook by Amanda Cohen; Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry; Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon; and The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook by Jere and Emilee Gettle.

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So that the section of my brain devoted to culinary creativity would not explode from all of the tantalizing recipes within the pages of these six cookbooks, I decided to limit my kitchen experimentation first to recipes from Vedge, since it comes from the masterminds behind my favorite restaurant. Featuring 100 recipes from the Vedge menu tweaked minimally to suit the home kitchen, Vedge perfectly reflects the sophistication, beauty, and locally sourced/seasonal philosophy of the highly acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant. Organized in a manner similar to that of the restaurant menu, Vedge starts off with “Small Bites and Small Plates” such as olives, salads, and light vegetable dishes; moves on to “Soups and Stews” that span from brothy pho to creamy parsnip-chestnut bisque; includes a “Dirt List” with preparations that maximally highlight seasonal and specialty varieties of vegetables; offers heartier “Plates” that hire beans, lentils, and grains as backup singers to the superstar veggies; appeals to the baker in all of us with creative fruit-based desserts (can you say Strawberry Sorrel Bread Pudding?) and unpretentious breads; and finishes with unique cocktails.

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Since Christmas, I’ve had the pleasure of making and eating four of the book’s recipes, two of which my mother and I first enjoyed at the Vedge restaurant itself. The Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce constituted the appetizer of my family’s two-course Christmas dinner, though I used a homemade silken tofu mayonnaise instead of the Vegenaise recommended for use in the recipe (many of the recipes in Vedge call for vegan mayo, and Rich and Kate recommend Vegenaise. However, I found that homemade mayo provides a quality substitute in the recipes for those of us who like to avoid prepackaged products). A dish just as tasty as that we remembered from our visit to the restaurant, the smoky, just-charred sprouts with the tangy mustard sauce created a winning combination. My mother also noted that the texture of the shaved sprouts harbored so much substance that she almost mistook them for pasta. I have a feeling that we will be making this dish often.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

The night after Christmas, Vedge once again graced our plates with Celery Root Fritters and Remoulade (a pseudo-play on crab cakes and tartar sauce). Fostering an intense love of the knobbly, underused root, I found myself immediately taken by its double use in the recipe: once, roasted with onions, mashed, formed into patties, coated with chickpea flour and Old Bay seasoning, and pan-fried; twice, grated, blanched, and combined with vegan mayo, capers, dill, mustard, shallots and tarragon to create a tartar sauce-like spread, the taste of which you’ll never want to leave your tongue. I only wish that the recipe had specified to squeeze the excess moisture out of the grated celery root after blanching it, for the remoulade turned out a bit waterier than I would have preferred. All in all, though, a fabulous dish (the veggies you see in front of the fritters comprise a simple sauté of brussels sprouts and sunchokes, not featured in the cookbook).

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Celery Root Fritters & Remoulade; Brussels Sprout-Sunchoke Saute.

To please the ethnic food-loving palate of my best friend Maddie, whom I invited over for dinner one night, I played with Vedge’s Squash Empanadas with Green Romesco—homemade dough encasing a mash of squash roasted with coriander and cumin, accompanied by a bright yet deeply flavored sauce of roasted green peppers, garlic, cilantro, and toasted almonds. I substituted spelt flour and coconut oil for the all-purpose flour and vegan butter/shortening called for in the recipe, yielding flaky, toothsome results. However, the saltiness of the dough proved a bit much for my saltily sensitive palate, and I would probably omit the salt altogether as I usually do if I decide to recreate the dish. The other qualm I have with the recipe comes from the amount of roasting time specified. The recipe calls for roasting the squash at 400°F for 8-12 minutes and the peppers for 6-8 minutes, yet with small-diced veggies and an oven that errs on the side of too hot, the veggies required about double the time specified to adequately cook (I experienced the same problem with the celery root in the fritter recipe above). If you find yourself with the Vedge cookbook, I would recommend planning on roasting the veggies in any recipe for longer than specified, and to plan the cooking of your meals accordingly. Recipe technicalities aside, the dish proved crowd-pleasing and flavorfully stunning. I served it alongside a recipe of my own creation for Spanish Roasted Brassicas (recipe below).

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Finally, I tried my hand at another recipe with which my mother and I fell in love while dining at Vedge: Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade. Between bites of the soup, my mother and I could not help but exclaim, “This tastes exactly like bouillabaisse. But there can’t be fish in it…dear goodness, I hope there’s not fish in it…”. Rest assured, the folks at Vedge had not decided to renounce their morals in a single dish, but they sure created a memorable gastronomic experience for my mother and I. The soup features simmered cauliflower crushed to a rice-like consistency surrounded by a tomatoey broth spiked with white wine and Old Bay seasoning, complimented by a gremolata-like topping of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. My version of the recipe increased the amount of rice called for and added chickpeas for substance, substituted brown jasmine rice for white, and (sadly) omitted the veryveryveryveryvvery pricey saffron. While I quite enjoyed the texture of the soup, I found its flavor a bit lacking, and I doubt that this unfortunate occurrence owes itself completely to the omission of the saffron. Unfortunately, this particular dish might be best left in the hands of the Vedge team (or in the hands of someone with some damn saffron…).

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Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade

Tomorrow, I plan to experiment with Vedge’s Soba Bowl with Shiitake Dashi and Market Greens (a dish that authors Rich and Kate purport to enjoy every morning for breakfast with their son, Rio), adding a bit of pan-fried tempeh for some good old-fashioned protein. Beyond this surely warming and grounding soup, recipes I’d still like to try from the Vedge cookbook include a dish of peeled-open, marinated, and grilled portobello stems known as anticuchos; the Napa Cabbage Funky Kimchi Stew; the Warm Ramp Hummus; and the Whole Roasted Carrots with Black Lentils and Green Harissa.

If you enjoying playing around in the kitchen with involved recipes that feature the best produce the earth has to offer, then I would highly recommend picking up a (digital!) copy of the Vedge cookbook. With that, I shall leave you, dear readers, with the simple, Spanish-inspired dish I created to accompany the empanadas featured above. Enjoy.

Spanish Roasted Brassicas—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat.

Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:

1 small/medium head cauliflower, chopped into smallish florets
2 small/1 medium head broccoli, chopped into smallish florets
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and broccoli florets with the oil, paprika, and sherry vinegar to coat.

Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the brassicas are tender and golden-brown. Serve.

Until next time, Ali.

I’M BACK!…With Za’atar Eggplant Rounds on Chickpea-Cauliflower Puree

Nearly three weeks ago, I alerted you, dear readers, to my hiatus from the blogosphere (as well as to my Thanksgiving shenanigans in NYC), necessary to turn in quality final semester assignments on time. I’m thrilled to say that four essays, a group project, a book review, and a flight from New York to Wisconsin later, and I’m back to blogging business! Since experimenting in the kitchen comprises one of my favorite activities to which to devote time while home in Madison, and since I published my last official recipe—yikes!—over a month ago as part of the Virtual Vegan Potluck, what better way to rekindle my relationship with the ol’ blog than with a new recipe?

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This Middle Eastern-inspired recipe grew out of two dishes that have long lived on my 41-page “Recipes to Try” Word document: this Cauliflower Puree with Roasted Chickpeas from Love and Lemons, and this Grilled Eggplant with Herbed Quinoa from The Sprouted Kitchen. Taking the puree from the former dish, I increased the chickpea-to-cauliflower ratio while substituting the rosemary for za’atar so as to match the flavoring of the eggplant in the latter dish, which I broiled instead of grilled (curse my lack of a grill pan). To the hybridized version of the two dishes I added a fresh, simple salad to brighten the dish. Colorful, succulent, smooth, crisp, and oh-so well seasoned, this dish harbors enough textural contrast and complementing flavors to inspire tingling on anyone’s palate.

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One last note before I relieve you of recipe suspense: I have failed to find za’atar seasoning in any of my local grocery stores, including Whole Foods and my beloved Willy Street Co-op. Thus, I finally took matter into my own hands and mixed together my own. It took up all of three minutes of my time and probably saved me about $5.00. You can find the recipe I used at the bottom of this post.

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Za’atar Eggplant Rounds on Chickpea-Cauliflower PureeSoy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium

Serves 1-2.

Ingredients:

1/2 small head of cauliflower (about 1 1/2 cups), broken into small florets
2 tbsp melted coconut oil, divided
1/2 small clove garlic, smashed
3/4 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 tbsp za’tar (see end of post for homemade za’atar spice mix)
1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1 medium eggplant, sliced into rounds
Sea salt for sprinkling
Melted coconut oil for brushing

Large handful of arugula
1/4-1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice

Za’atar for sprinkling

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the eggplant rounds into a colander, sprinkle liberally with sea salt, and toss to coat. Allow the salt to wick away the eggplant’s bitterness while you prepare the rest of the recipe. (Don’t worry; you’re going to wash the salt off later so all of that sodium won’t make its way into the final product).

Place the cauliflower florets in a medium bowl and toss them with 1 tbsp of the melted coconut oil. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until soft and browned in a couple of places. Once the cauliflower has finished roasting, set the oven to broil and place one oven rack on the top rung.

Let the cauliflower cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to the bowl of a food processor along with the remaining 1 tbsp of coconut oil, garlic, chickpeas, za’atar, and lemon juice. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Set aside.

Rinse the eggplant slices well to remove the salt. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of each eggplant slice with melted coconut oil, and place the slices on the same baking pan you used to roast the cauliflower. Broil the eggplant for 7-10 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown and very soft.

While you wait for the eggplant to broil, make the salad. Toss the arugula, cilantro, olive oil, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Set aside.

To plate, smear a layer of the puree on the bottom of a plate. Place the salad on top, then arrange the eggplant on top of the salad. Finish with a generous sprinkling of za’atar. Serve.

Homemade Za’atar Spice Mix

Makes about 1/3 cup.

Ingredients:

2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp marjoram
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp sumac or lemon zest

Directions:

In a small pan, toast the sesame seeds over medium-high heat until golden-brown and fragrant. Careful—they burn very easily if you don’t watch them closely.

Combine the toasted sesame seeds with the rest of the spices in a small bowl and use as desired.

Leftover za’atar can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend.

Until next time, Ali.

Thanksgiving Adventures in NYC 2013

Fair warning, dear readers—I’m planning a hibernation from the blogosphere from the moment I conclude this post until Saturday, December 21. As the end of the academic semester nears, my studies (read: mountain of essays) require my full attention, and the ol’ blog must fall by the wayside for a bit. Fear not, however, for December 21 marks the beginning of my winter break, during which I plan to return to my thrice-per-week posting routine of yore. Additionally, I’ve let go of a handful of extracurricular commitments for the spring semester, in part to allow for a sustained level of relatively high-frequency blogging. So bear with me for the next three weeks—the end of the academic tunnel shines bright!

Though I’m already anticipating winter break, I actually just returned to campus from a three-day Thanksgiving extravaganza in New York City, accompanied by my dear parents. Last November marked the onset of our family’s current Thanksgiving tradition of celebrating in NYC, and we enthusiastically did so again this year.

Deeply appreciating the irony of enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant whose culture lends absolutely no consideration to the problematic holiday, my parents and I returned to Korean vegan restaurant Hangawi for the second consecutive Thanksgiving. Seated on colorful pillows at sunken wooden tables while not wearing shoes, I reveled in my family’s redefinition of a holiday steeped in the slaughter of over 5 million turkeys, the impending blatant consumerism, and the violent colonialism of American settlers still present today. Instead, Thanksgiving for me now means reuniting with my beloved parents, exploring an ever-exhilarating city, and chowing down on sizzling stone bowls of crispy brown rice and succulent veggies.

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In the above collage encompassing our dinner at Hangawi, the top two photos on the right depict shared appetizers of a plate of tempura-fried kabocha squash, broccoli, eggplant, and carrots (aptly named “Fritters Galore“); and another of shiitake mushroom caps stuffed with what I believe to have been a mixture of sautéed tofu and herbs. Light, crispy, and served with a sweet dipping sauce, the fritters provided a delightful beginning to our meal, while the stuffed mushroom caps served as an intriguing dish bursting with umami flavors. For our entrees, all three of us ordered the sensory experience of a sizzling stone rice bowl—my own Organic Zen Stone Bowl contained crispy brown rice, juicy wilted mountain greens, toothsome mushrooms, and shredded zucchini and carrots in a mild dressing of chili paste. In between mouthfuls of hot rice, we snagged bites of spicy and sour kimchi from a communal plate. Too enamored by the savory portion of our meal to pass up dessert, my parents and I opted to split a slice of spiced soy cheesecake, garnished with slices of fresh persimmon. This cheesecake may constitute the most impressive edible that entered my mouth during my four days in NYC, and my father more than adequately reiterates this sentiment with the following quote: “This cheesecake is easily better than any dairy-based cheesecake I’ve ever had.” Coming from a man who has celebrated his birthday with a cheesecake every year since childhood, I’d call this quite the victory.

The next afternoon, after an enlivening yoga practice at the ideologically vegan studio of Jivamukti, I eagerly introduced my parents to my most recently discovered restaurant gem of M.O.B (check out my rave review of the establishment here). Though rather abbreviated from their dinner menu, M.O.B’s lunch menu still includes their impressive vegan charcuterie in the form of a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom-lentil burger loaded with “secret sauce,” Brooklyn Brine pickles, and cashew cheese on a fluffy sweet potato bun. My father, myself, and my good friend Gabe (a native Brooklynite who met up with my parents and I for lunch) each ordered the burger, while my mother opted for the daily M.O.B.—a flatbread in the shape of the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge heaped with sautéed kale and shiitake mushrooms, horseradish aioli, and shaved nut cheese. M.O.B. also offered a special that day of roasted brussels sprouts in paprika aioli, which my mother and I could not forgo.

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After bidding goodbye to Gabe, my parents and I trekked northward to Williamsburg to experience the unparalleled decadence of Dunwell Doughnuts. I had patronized Dunwell’s on multiple past NYC excursions with Gabe, and brimmed with excitement to introduce my parents to the unquestioned best doughnuts in NYC (not the best vegan doughnuts, mind you; the best doughnuts. Period). Positively captivated by the glass case of fluffy, glazed fried dough, my father ordered six doughnuts for the three of us to enjoy during our remaining few days in the city. My father’s obsession only grew upon first bite of a maple-glazed doughnut, and demanded that we snap multiple photos of our family at the shop to share with his siblings on Facebook (funnily enough, one of my father’s sisters married a man named Dunwell, which only furthered my father’s insistence on photo-taking). Along with the maple-glazed that my father first enjoyed, the varieties of our half-dozen doughnuts included chocolate-glazed with almonds, chocolate-glazed with coconut, and strawberry buttercream-frosted with coconut (otherwise known as the “Pink Lady).

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Plenty of walking around Williamsburg helped us work up another appetite, pointing us toward another favorite family restaurant of Angelica Kitchen for dinner. Forgoing appetizers (except for a small dish of kimchi. You can’t miss Angelica Kitchen’s pickles!) since we knew to expect gigantic entrée portions, my parents and I ordered our main dishes straightaway. My mother opted for the night’s special of a tomatoey lentil stew topped with roasted brussels sprouts and accompanied by steamed greens and pickled vegetables, while my father and I both ordered the “Dish a Dixie”—a new, southern-inspired addition to the menu consisting of grilled tempeh in barbeque sauce, a crispy coleslaw in a creamy almond dressing, steamed greens with maple-glazed pecans, and a generous wedge of maple cornbread with green chilis. While I adored the robust nuttiness of the tempeh (produced by an artisan company in Philadelphia), my father found the flavor too strong, and questioned whether one could truly call the sauce “barbeque,” since he thought that it lacked adequate tanginess. Even if the tempeh did not live up to its full potential, the cornbread—an absolutely perfect balance of moist, dense, fluffy, and bursting with corn flavor—certainly helped to redeem the dish, as did the surprisingly delicious coleslaw.

angelica kitchen

For our final full day in the city, my parents and I ventured to two restaurants that we had never before patronized: Peacefood Café for lunch and V-Note for dinner. I had heard glowing reviews of both eateries from multiple reliable sources, and found myself quite impressed with both. At Peacefood Café, I experienced a craving for a good ol’ salad, and opted to try the Asian Greens Salad—a mix of tender baby greens, crunchy jicama, shredded carrots, and diced tomatoes in a bright, tangy dressing of garlic, ginger, cilantro, ponzu, and sesame, all topped with thin strips of marinated baked tempeh. Paninis caught the eyes of both of my parents. My father—ever infatuated with seitan—ordered the Fried Seitan Medallion Panini with cashew cheese, arugula, tomatoes, and pesto, while my mother—ever infatuated with Mediterranean cuisine—ordered the Mediterranean Oven-Dried Vegetable Panini with cashew cheese, basil-spinach pesto, and tender broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. In between bites of our salads and sandwiches, we munched on a plate of Indian-spiced chickpea fries—crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside—with the creamiest aioli I’ve ever experienced (yes, I licked the aioli dipping bowl clean).

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Too satisfied from our entrees to consider dessert, we opted not to partake in the many offerings in the bakery case; though, considering the tantalizing variety of sweets, we certainly must return to Peacefood Café in the near future.

peacefood desserts

From upper left continuing clockwise: raw coconut cashew cheesecake topped with pistachios; gluten-free veggie biscuits and iced cinnamon rolls; banana bread; strawberry shortcakes; carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; peanut butter cheesecake (all vegan, of course!).

After lunch, my parents and I moseyed over to Broadway to catch a 3-hour matinee performance of my favorite Shakespeare play—Richard III—before heading to the upper east side for dinner at the vegan wine bar and bistro known as V-Note. V-Note’s atmosphere provides an immediate sense of comfort: cream-colored faux-leather benches line the mahogany walls, fluffy geometrically patterned pillows grace every seat, and candles burn brightly. Seated at the back-most table, my parents and I began scanning the extensive (yet not overwhelming), varied, and unique menu, complete with full sections of starters, salads, entrees, and sides. Though we could have easily created a meal simply by sharing a number of starters (as I’m sure many V-Note patrons do, given its purported status as a tapas-style restaurant), my parents and I decided to split one appetizer and each order entrees, my father seeking to also leave room for dessert.

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We began the meal with the Mushroom Calamari Fra Diavlo—herbed and breaded mushroom rings served with a tangy cocktail dipping sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Though lacking the hearty, “meaty” texture of many robust mushrooms (indeed, I thought the rings proved a bit soggy), the calamari harbored a satisfying slippery texture, a toothsome crunch from the breading, and an unctuous flavor, while I probably could have drank an entire glass of the homemade cocktail sauce. While I found the appetizer a tad lacking on the texture front, I forgot my slight discontent as soon as I took the first bite of my entrée, the Tofu “Salmon” with Mushroom Scallops—a slab of beet-marinated and grilled tofu topped with a dilled leek tartar sauce and shaved fennel over crispy black rice and tender broccolini, served alongside medallions of lobster mushrooms atop a white wine-mushroom reduction. To my immense surprise, the tofu reflected quite accurately the smoky flavor and flaky, charred texture of grilled salmon steaks, especially when coupled with the piquant tartar sauce. Seeing as salmon constitutes the only animal food for which I’ve ever experienced cravings of any sort, this dish left me duly contented (not to mention incredibly close to licking the plate).

As for my parents, Mom ordered the Creamy Three Mushroom Risotto—a mix of shiitake, trumpet, and cremini mushrooms studded with sweet peas in a Dijon mustard sauce—while seitan-loving Dad opted for the Seitan Cordon Bleu—breaded seitan cutlets served with dilled and truffled mashed potatoes, sautéed swiss chard, and a shiitake reduction. Needless to say, both of my folks sang the praises of their respective dishes.

Only my father had tummy space left for dessert, and excitedly partook in the Chocolate Ganache Cake—a three-tiered cube of creamy chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse served alongside a scoop of ice cream. Pure decadence.

While my parents and I had reservations for brunch at Candle 79 the next morning, we had to cancel due to complications to my travel plans because of the train derailment on the Metro-North railroad. Rest assured, I returned to school safely, though the events certainly shook both my parents as well as the greater Vassar community. My heart goes out to the families affected by the accident.

On that rather somber note, dear readers, I bid you farewell for the next three weeks! Wish me luck in scaling my mountain of schoolwork.

Until next time, Ali.

Catering Adventures: An Autumnal Menu for Fifteen

As the fall semester nears its conclusion, I find myself in the midst of a catering quasi-business. My position as co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) has developed to include (and I’m thrilled that it has) the responsibility of event-catering alongside speaker-coordinating, meeting-facilitating, campaign-organizing, and conference-planning. Indeed, in the past three months, I’ve provided quality vegan grub for two campus lectures hosted by VARC: the first delivered by the ubiquitous Carol J. Adams (author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, don’t-cha know), the second by thought-provoker extraordinaire James McWilliams (can you say vegan pizza buffet?).

Most excitingly, my burgeoning catering skills have begun to elicit requests from other student organizations to provide fabulous animal-free goodies for their events. Doing so works to cultivate my ideal role as an animal activist of opening individuals’ hearts and minds to veganism through bountiful, flavorful, satisfying, and creative plant-based foods. Not to mention, it offers me a legitimate excuse to devote my time and energy to experimenting with new recipes and cooking techniques…for a profit, no less.

My first non-VARC catering request came from the Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC), who planned to host a spoken-word poetry night with the two queer activist poets (and gluten-free vegans) Alok and Janani who comprise Darkmatter, and wanted to host a small dinner for the artists after the event (funny how many individuals who fight for other forms of social justice also lead a vegan lifestyle…). Check out a couple of Darkmatter’s powerful performances here.

Stipulating only that I not use any walnuts and include a kale salad, QCVC bestowed upon me full reign over the dinner menu, with a budget of “not ridiculously expensive.” Turning to my infamous 49-page “Recipes to Try” Word document, I formulated an autumn-inspired catering menu to satisfy the vegans in the group and wow the non-vegans.

The meal began with a succulent, creamy Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup, inspired by the Parsnip-Chestnut Bisque in the newly released (and positively magical) Vedge cookbook. With only olive oil, onions, parsnips, hazelnuts, coconut milk, salt, and pepper as ingredients, the soup highlighted the sweet, earthy flavor of the parsnips, accentuated further by the toasty richness of the hazelnuts. Though I would have loved to create the original soup recipe with chestnuts, the natural foods store I visited for catering ingredients did not carry them. Thus, I turned to nuts of a similar sweetness as chestnuts, and ended up immensely pleased with the modified soup’s final flavor. Served in a slow-cooker, the soup remained steaming hot throughout the entire dinner.

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To provide textural contrast to the smooth soup, I roasted up two trays of chickpeas coated in maple syrup and cinnamon, inspired by My Whole Food Life. Proteinous croutons, no?

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Next to the soup sat a big ol’ bowl of kale salad. Though I didn’t follow an exact recipe for the salad, I did draw inspiration from this salad featured on Choosing Raw. My method of salad creation follows: cut three bunches of lacinato kale into chiffonade; massaged said kale with the flesh of two avocados, two tablespoons of olive oil, four tablespoons of maple syrup, and two lemon’s worth of juice; stirred into the massaged kale one kabocha squash’s worth of roasted squash cubes and 1 1/2 cups of toasted pumpkin seeds. The resulting salad featured an amalgamation of flavors and textures, with the melt-on-your-tongue, succulent squash; the crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds; the rich, creamy avocado; the complexly sweet maple syrup; and the tanginly acidic lemon. Honestly, though, how could a dish that incorporates kabocha squash, maple syrup, kale, and avocado not inspire gastronomic nirvana?

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As per the request of my VARC co-president Katie, the meal’s vegetable side dish comprised of meltingly tender roasted sweet potato fries, accompanied by the oh-so garlicky cashew aioli from Christy Morgan’s cookbook “Blissful Bites.” One spoonful of this aioli and it became all I wanted to put in my mouth for the rest of my life (well, until I remembered kale…and roasted brussels sprouts…and kombucha…okay, the sentiment didn’t last very long). I only wish that my blender could have pureed the aioli into a smoother consistency, though I suppose I’ll have to wait for perfectly silky cashew creams until I receive a Vitamix for my college graduation gift (some students ask for cars, Ali prefers blenders).

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Because I’m familiar with the sheer joy of encountering good-quality gluten-free bread, I wanted to bake up an artisan loaf for Alok and Janani. I had seen this recipe for Farmhouse Seed Bread circulating all over Pinterest and garnering rave reviews for months, and yearned to experiment with it myself. Since the natural food store I visited did not carry teff or sweet rice flour, I substituted equal amounts of buckwheat and tapioca flours, and experienced fabulous results. The boule featured a crackly crust and a moist, dense interior—ideal for soaking up the Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup.

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Finally, to round out the meal, I made the dessert that never fails to impress any eater, no matter how picky or averse to veganism: a raw cheesecake. With a silky smooth filling and a simultaneously crunchy, chewy, and caramely sweet crust, it’s no wonder that of all of the catered dishes, only the cheesecake did not produce at least a small amount of leftovers. I employed this basic raw cheesecake recipe, layering thin slices of crisp apples on top along with a scant drizzling of maple syrup.

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The dinner guests offered only positive feedback about all of the dishes. I can hardly wait until my next catering gig, and in the meantime, will plan to engage in some publicity measures in order to gain attention for my…business? Wish me luck!

Until next time, Ali.