Thursday, April 26, 2007

Vegan World Fusion Cuisine

The latest cookbook to join my collection is Blossoming Lotus' Vegan World Fusion Cuisine. I haven't had a chance to make much out of it yet, but it's one of the most beautiful cookbooks I've ever seen, with lots of glossy color photographs -- not just of the food, but also of stunning places and things from around the world. There's a foreword by Dr. Jane Goodall, information about vegan principles and inspirational quotes scattered throughout the pages. The cookbook includes many examples of live-food recipes and lots of resource information. It makes me yearn to visit the restaurant that spawned the cookbook, The Blooming Lotus in Kauai, Hawaii.

Some of the recipes I'm looking forward to trying out are: Basil Pate, Transcendental Tropical Ratataouille, King Janaka's Maple Glazed Seitan and Mayan Wonder Bars.


Ah, Asparagus

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, as is the case with an appetizer from Greensboro's Healthy Spice restaurant.

The Tastic Spa is a tasty dish of asparagus spears, wrapped in vegetarian ham and bound with a strip of nori (the seaweed sheets most often seen wrapped around sushi). As I enjoyed it one evening, it occurred to me that the dish would not be difficult to make at home. On Sunday afternoon, incited by hours spent watching cooking shows on PBS, I got going. It did turn out well, so I thought I would share the details.

If you like it, consider a visit to the source. Although Healthy Spice is not a completely vegetarian restaurant, it does have several good choices for vegetarians and vegans. There's a photo of the Tastic Spa on its Web site here.

These directions make eight – but you can multiply or divide at will. You’ll need:
8 spears of asparagus, with tough ends removed. Steam until tender and set aside to cool.
8 slices of Tofurkey or similar vegetarian “Deli meat.”
8 strips of nori. Use kitchen shears to cut a sheet of nori into strips about a half-inch to an inch wide.

To assemble the dish, have a shallow plate or bowl of water handy. Wrap a slice of Tofurkey around an asparagus spear, so that the top and bottom ends extend above and below the Tofurkey. Then, dip a strip of nori into the water, so is moist but not waterlogged. Finally, wrap the nori strip around the tofurkey to hold it in place. The water will cause it to “stick” to the Tofurkey and to itselt, so your appetizer won't come unwrapped.

That's all there is to it. If you want to dress it up a bit, you can wrap up some baby spinach or small lettuce leaves with the asparagus -- leave them peeking over the top of the Tofurkey to give it a frilly look. Once your dish is assembled, it can be refrigerated and will keep well for a day or two.

To serve, I made a dipping sauce by whisking together:
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp lime juice
1 tsp (next time, I may use a bit less) toasted sesame oil
1 tsp mirin (a sweet Japanese rice wine – if you don’t have mirin, you could use a touch of sugar or other sweetener to balance the flavors)
a pinch of wasabi powder (next time, I will use more wasabi to give it more “kick”).

This sauce complemented the asparagus, Tofurkey and nori well. Leftovers made a nice salad dressing, too.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Earth Day and more

*Sunday is Earth Day, and there are several celebrations in the area to mark the occasion. On Saturday, the 2nd Annual Piedmont Earth Day Fair will be held from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem, 4055 Robinhood Road. Check out the event brochure -- it looks like it will be a full day with lots of good information about ways to go green. There's also a big celebration in Salisbury at Catawba College. You can see the lineup of activities here. It's my hope that more people will start thinking about the earth and our effect on it every day of the year, not just on Earth Day.

If anybody knows of any other events in the area for Earth Day, or if you have a special way you're going to mark the day, please post and let us know!

*Harris Teeter has a great "buy-one, get-one-free" sale running right now on a lot of vegetarian frozen items -- Amy's and Moosewood entrees, Health Is Wealth munchies, Tofutti ice cream and Van's waffles. Curse my small freezer!

*Julie and some friends and I made a final pilgrimage to our beloved California Fresh Buffet last night. It will close on April 27 after seven years so that the mostly volunteers who run it can concentrate on other ways of serving the community. We're extremely sad about its closure. As a vegetarian friend commented, "There will never be another salad bar" like the wonderful one at CFB. It was always one of the most vegetarian-friendly restaurants in town.

This is the second big blow to the Winston-Salem dining scene in just a few months, following the closing of Lucky 32 in January. (I still mourn the loss of its mozzarella-and-portobello appetizer, which may have been my favorite dish on any menu in Winston-Salem.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Web of Inspiration

Ever wonder what other vegans eat day in and day out? You can find out on the Web, since plenty of vegan bloggers post descriptions and photos of their meals. Their work is proof that vegan meals are colorful, creative and fun. Many of them include recipes, too. Here are a few that I find to be particularly inspiring:

First is Dinner With Dilip, who is just down the road from us, in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Dilip Barman, the president of the Triangle Vegetarian Society, draws from a seemingly inexhaustible fountain of ideas for meals. The blog also contains interesting comments on restaurants and happenings in that area.

Next up is Veganimprov, which is notable for its improvisational approach to vegan cooking – as it says, it's "Like jazz for food." It's also notable for including information about what wine accompanied each meal.

Jennifer McCann packs festive vegan lunches for her son, and chronicles them on Vegan Lunch Box. The site also includes reviews of books and products. It is so popular that McCann now has a cookbook out, fittingly titled Vegan Lunch Box. Then, for photos and descriptions "about what one grownup vegan takes to work for lunch everyday," head over to the Vegan Lunchcast.

Some blogs, such as What Do Vegans Eat? are explicit about answering that common question. This blog has regular contributors, but also invites readers to share their own photos and descriptions of vegan food. Others like this include What the Hell does a Vegan Eat Anyway? and Eat Air – A Vegan Food Log.

I could go on, but if you explore you're sure to find some favorites on your own. And most of these sites also have links to their own favorite blogs, so you could keep exploring … at least until it's time for dinner! Please let me know if you find - or, especially, if you write - a notable blog like this.

A follow-up: A while back, I wrote about Wildwood’s plain soy yogurt, the best non-dairy plain yogurt I’ve found. But the closest source I knew of at that point was in Charlotte. Now, I’ve found it closer to home – at the Deep Roots co-op, on Spring Garden Street in Greensboro.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Winston's Eatery

This week, Julie and I tried out a new restaurant on the Winston-Salem dining scene, Winston's Eatery. It's just south of Business 40 on Liberty Street, between the Downtown Middle School and the Children's Museum, and is open for breakfast and lunch.

It's a small place, with about 10 tables and a comfy-looking sofa. You place your order at the counter and they bring it out to you. We were very pleased with the vegetarian options. You can see their menus at their Web site, which is linked above. There are several vegetarian sandwiches to choose from for lunch, plus several yummy-sounding salads. The Camelized Apple, Pecan and Cranberry with Havarti salad sounds particularly enticing. The sandwiches come with a side: fresh fruit, pasta salad, slaw, sweet potato salad (with black beans) or the side of the day. The day we were there, the featured side was pesto potato salad, and it was wonderful. All of the desserts in the case looked great, especially the chocolate peanut butter pie.

Unfortunately, neither Julie nor I got exactly what we ordered for our sandwiches. I ordered the Vegetarian Godfather sandwich (roasted red pepper, portabella, basil, mozzarella and a balsamic aioli). Julie ordered the Vegging Out panini (roasted portabella, red pepper, grilled onion and provolone). Instead, both of our sandwiches came with what appeared to be the filling for the Roasted Veggie Wrap (roasted squash, green peppers, red onions and mushrooms). It was very good, though, and we cut them a bit of slack because they've been open only a couple of weeks and are obviously still working out a few kinks. In spite of that issue, we came away with a favorable impression of the restaurant and will try it again. The bread (Julie had panini, I had herb foccaccia) tasted particularly fresh. In fact, everything seemed very fresh. We just hope that next time we go there, the sandwich fillings will be as advertised on the menu.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pizza with Pizzazz

For months, I had been eager to try the new rice-crust spinach pizza from Amy’s Kitchen, which is topped with dairy-free mozzarella. Reports in magazines and online were positive. But it didn't seem to be stocked in local stores. Finally, it turned up at Whole Foods in Winston-Salem.

The wait was not in vain: This is tasty and satisfying, for a frozen pizza. The rice crust, which makes the pizza wheat-free, has a different texture than usual pizza crusts, somewhat lighter, crunchier, crumblier … enjoyable, but definitely different. The vegan cheese, though, melts and browns in a familiar way; it acts and tastes like "the real thing."

Amy’s Kitchen has long offered a roasted-vegetable pizza with no cheese that is vegan, as well as soy-cheese pizzas that are not vegan because the cheese contains casein, a milk protein. But this is the first frozen pizza I know of that includes vegan cheese – a welcome development. There’s already another one in my freezer, on hand for the day when I’m just too tired to do more than heat up a frozen pizza for supper.

The major drawback is the cost – nearly $7 for a pizza that serves two (the box says three servings, but not around my house). The other drawback is that frozen pizza, no matter how good, is never quite as good as homemade or restaurant pizza.

So for the days when you have a little more time and energy, a good option is to make pizza at home. Vegans can buy pre-made crusts, and the same brand of soy cheese that Amy’s uses on the spinach pizza, Follow Your Heart's Vegan Gourmet cheese. You can even get vegan pepperoni for a "traditional" pizza experience.

Or for something completely different, you can try the recipe for Carmelized Onion and Blue Cheese Pizza from the N.C. Sweet Potato Commission. A sweet-potato puree replaces the usual tomato sauce, for an unusual and very tasty pizza. The recipe is vegetarian, and can easily be veganized by replacing the blue cheese with a vegan alternative – for example, use crumbled Sunergia's soy feta.

Another option is to get a local pizzeria to make you a dairy-free pie. Brixx, a chain that has a restaurant in Greensboro, will substitute a non-dairy veggie cheese on any of its pizzas at no extra charge. Other restaurants have cheeseless pizzas on the menu, and others will leave the cheese off upon request. Readers, do you have suggestions for good places to get vegan pizza?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Dating and marriage for vegetarians

In this week's relish, we ran a story about vegetarians in the dating world and Web sites devoted to helping vegetarians find like-minded mates. Some vegetarians want to date only other vegetarians; others are fine with a carnivorous boyfriend or girlfriend.

This got me thinking about the intrinsic issues of dating and marriage for vegetarians. If you're dating or married to another vegetarian, that generally doesn't create a problem -- although it could if one of you is a strict vegan. But if one member of the relationship is a carnivore, the issue of meals can be tricky. It can mean the two of you having different entrees or entire meals when cooking at home, which is problematic when most of us don't have much free time to cook even one meal a day. It can also affect the choice of restaurants when eating out -- the carnivore might want to eat at a barbecue joint, but there's nothing vegetarian on the menu.

It requires a healthy spirit of compromise on both sides to make veggie-carnivore relationships work. Sometimes a vegetarian might have to make do with a garden salad or a couple of vegetable side orders in order to please their mate's palate, and put up with the sight of diners chowing down on meat all around them. Or a carnivore might have to do without meat when eating at a vegetarian restaurant.

How do you handle relationships with your vegetarian lifestyle? Do you date only fellow vegetarians? And if you're involved with a carnivore, how do you resolve the question of meals?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More with less

I make it a point to keep my kitchen fully stocked with cat food and treats, since Bunny and Phil get cranky if their meals aren't just right, and right on time. But sometimes I run low on the staples I usually rely on for my own meals.

Instead of getting cranky, though, I see this as an opportunity to get creative. It's time to make up a recipe, and use up the odds and ends that tend to be neglected when "the usual" is readily available. Often these turn out to be the most satisfying meals.

That was the situation when it was time to pack lunch this morning. I was out of bread and tofurkey, too - and, as always, short on time. But there was a bit of pasta in a box on the counter.... And just like smoothies, pasta salads leave a lot of room for improvisation, and they can come together quickly. Here is today’s "recipe," with ideas on ways to vary it to fit what you might have on hand.

1 cup whole-wheat penne pasta, cooked, drained and cooled.
Pasta cooks quickly, so it was done in the time it took to make coffee. Then I set it aside to cool while I got ready for work. Just about any pasta shape would work; or cooked rice or another grain could stand in for pasta.

3 oz. smoked tofu, cubed
If the tofu hadn’t been in the fridge, just waiting for something to do, a half-can or so of chickpeas or white beans would have worked in its place.
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
6 pimento-stuffed olives, chopped
The prep took perhaps 10 minutes – and that’s because I’m slow with a knife. Wish I had thought to grate a carrot, too, for extra color.... You could add or substitute other veggies that appeal to you.

I dressed the pasta and veggies with about 2 tsp tahini mixed with 2 TBSP plain soy yogurt (it would be simple to substitute vegan "mayonnaise" for the yogurt – or to use another kind of dressing altogether), seasoned with salt, pepper and dulse flakes to taste. The dulse flakes were a last-minute addition to add a bit of color. A garnish of 2 TBSP raw pumpkin seeds added more color and flavor.

The result was plenty tasty and filling -- and two people in the break-room at work commented that the dish looked good.

Do you have any favorite strategies for putting together a good meal when the shelves are getting bare?