My Asian Dumpling Obsession, and a Recipe

15 04 2012

Vegetable Dumplings at HanGawi in NYC

If you read last week’s post, you got a peek at my fabulous macrobiotic meal at a restaurant named Mana. We shared two kinds of steamed dumplings, one filled with a mash of lightly curried sweet potatoes, the other stuffed with greens and vegetables. This was not my first dumpling experience in the Big City. In fact, pretty much every time there is a veggie dumpling on a menu, I order it. The photo above is of a lovely veggie dumpling I had at the vegan Korean restaurant HanGawi, just a few days before. Although they are somewhat obscured by lightly steamed broccoli florets, you can see that they are folded in a tortellini-style shape. They were filled with tender greens, and perched on a puddle of sweet-sour hot sauce.

I couldn’t stop there, and when I had dinner at The Spice Market, a Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurant, I had another version. This time, they bobbed in a tasty soup.

Fresh Pea Soup with Sweet-Pea Miso Dumplings (sorry, it was dark)

This was definitely an upscale soup, a sweet and subtle puree of absolutely fresh, shelled peas, with a few chopped greens and herbs. The dumplings were tiny and tender, filled with miso-spiked pea puree. It was a celebration of the English Pea, a seasonal and fleeting delight. It was delicious.

Of course, then came the dumplings at Mana, where we shared them, dipped in tasty soy-based sauces.

Macrobiotic Veggie Dumplings

When you come right down to it, a plump, juicy dumpling is irresistible. Little pillows of deliciousness that they are, they are like a present, specially wrapped just for you. The sauce is the bow on top. You get to eat them with your fingers, if you want, or pick them up with chopsticks, which is also pretty playful. So, if you can see where this is all leading, I thought I should make some steamed veggie dumplings when I got home.

Steamed Chinese Style Veggie Dumplings at Home

Steamed Chinese-Style Vegetable Dumplings

I’ve made versions of this recipe for years, and found that they benefit from the complexity and funk that a bit of preserved or pickled cabbage adds. I used easy to find wonton skins in the photo, which are thinner, and kind of flop over in the steamer, but are just as yummy. If you are vegan, look at the ingredients on your wrappers, many brands are actually egg-free.

1 package potsticker or gyoza wrappers
canola oil
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup szechuan preserved vegetables or kimchee, rinsed and minced (not everyone has access to szechuan veggies, but kimchee is close enough)
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups minced bok choy
1 cup chinese chives, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch white pepper
2 tablespoons shao xing rice wine or sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

vinegar, chili sauce, and soy sauce

1. Use 1 teaspoon of the oil to stir fry the vegetables until almost wilted. Add salt, pepper, wine, soy sauce, and sugar, cook until thick. Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl and cool completely.
2. To assemble, get a pastry brush and a cup of water, and a steamer or plate, and cut some parchment pieces for each dumpling. Lay out several wrappers and place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center of each. Brush the top half of each wrap and pull the two sides up around the filling, and form a flat bottom. Pleat the top edge and set each on a piece of parchment on the steamer. Cover with plastic as you go. These can be covered and refrigerated for a few hours, or frozen raw to be cooked frozen.
3. To cook, set up to steam. When the water is boiling, put the steamer over it, cover, and steam for about 8 minutes. When the dumpling wrappers are tender and the veggies are hot all the way in the center, they are done.  Let diners mix the three condiments to suit their tastes on the plate.

With a little Sriracha





Macro is Alive and Well at Mana

9 04 2012

Our Meal: L-R Okinomiyaki Pancake, Sauteed Greens with Shiitakes, Kidney Beans, Brown Rice, Sweet Potato Dumplings, Veggie Dumplings

When I started learning about vegetarianism, way back in the 70’s and 80’s, the word on everyone’s lips was “macrobiotics.” While American vegetarians were eating mac and cheese and pizza, followers of Macrobiotics were into something else. If you are not familiar, Macro is a way of eating that is all about balancing the energy in the food, and balancing your body and mind in the process. It’s based on Japanese ways of thinking about food and the Universe, and the food reflects a deeper Asian aesthetic, as well.

In a macro way of looking at healthy eating, food is analyzed as to its yin and yang qualities. Yang foods are heavy and dense, and bring heat to the body. Meat and dairy are very yang. Yin foods are light, diffuse, and cold. Sugar is very yin. All foods have some balance of yin and yang within them, but generally, whole grains are the most balanced, and therefore balancing, foods. Macrobiotics eat 60% whole grains, 20-30% vegetables, and 5-10-% beans and soy, and sea vegetables, fruits and moderate amounts of fat. Small amounts of fish might be consumed. Foods like miso soup, seaweed, sesame and kanten are important. Eating local, low on the food chain, and organic, with no processed or refined foods is a core principle. A seasonal emphasis also promotes balance, with heavier roots and beans in winter and more leafy, light foods in summer. Certain foods, like nightshades eggplant, tomato and pepper and tropical fruits are not recommended.

Of course, that is just a quick summary, but you get the gist of it. Macrobiotics is very plant-based.

Somewhere along the line, Macro just kind of took a back seat to vegan, in recent years, even though the two have much in common.

I was excited to get a chance to go to a macrobiotic restaurant in New York City, accompanied by vegan blogger Sharon Nazarian (her blog here) and vegan pastry expert, Fran Costigan (her website, here). The restaurant, called Mana Organic Cafe, is run by owner Sung Lee, who graciously introduced herself to us, probably because we were photographing our food. It was a treat to share a spread of modern macrobiotic, vegan food.

Of course, when I saw dumplings on the menu, I had to have them. We shared two kinds, one filled with curried sweet potato and one with chopped vegetables. With dipping sauces, they were wonderfully comforting and fun to eat. I also ordered the Okinomiyaki pancake, in part because I created a recipe for one in my book, Big Vegan, and wanted to see how they did theirs. It was a lovely, dense cake, made up of sauteed cabbage and vegetables and mashed tofu, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and some salad greens. On the menu it was billed as macrobiotic “pizza.”

Okinomiyaki

Sauteed Bok Choy, Broccoli, Kale and Shiitakes

I love it when I can get beans, greens and rice in a restaurant, and it was great fun to share a meal with some vegan ladies. It would have been fun to try some nori rolls, soups, and other entrees, which all looked delicious, as we watched them being delivered to other tables. A specialty of the house is the Mana bowl, a big steaming bowl of broth, noodles and vegetables that smelled divine.

Vegans and vegetarians would do well to take a walk on the macrobiotic side, and get into the centering, nourishing foods at the core of the macro way. It can be fun to eat a vegan version of the Western diet, but if you are eating alot of refined food and forgetting your grains and beans, it’s time to start balancing the yin and yang on your plate.

You’ll feel better for it!

Mana, 646 Amsterdam Ave. (212)787-1110

Mana Restaurant’s Menu





Ask For the Vegan Menu at Amazing Thailand

20 02 2012

Soft Springrolls, Sweet Peanut Sauce

I love teaching cooking classes, for many reasons. One of the fun things is that the students often clue me in on restaurants that offer alternative menus. Since I do so much cooking at home, I am usually way behind the curve when it comes to restaurants, so it’s a huge help. This strange phenomenon of the secret special menu is really quite baffling; it’s as if restaurants don’t want the general public to think they are into vegans or something, or that they make weird gluten free food, so they keep it on the need-to-know basis. When I teach gluten-free, I always learn about some new places that are hiding a whole gluten-free menu behind the counter, that my hungry attendees have ferreted out and shared through the grapevine. This happened recently at a vegan class, when I heard a rumor that one of the better-reviewed Thai restaurants in Minneapolis had an actual Vegan Menu.

The restaurant, located in Uptown across from Calhoun Square, is called Amazing Thailand. It’s a nice place, with dark wood booths and interesting Thai wall decor. And a special, printed, laminated vegan menu, available on request. Awesome. And, in fairness, the vegan menu is on the website, if you can get it to open. But you don’t get it at the restaurant unless you ask.

They say that once you see something three times, it’s a trend, so I am calling it a trend. I dined in Bend Oregon in a Thai restaurant that had a vegan menu, and some years before, sampled vegan options on a menu in Eugene. Veganizing Thai food is not hard, really, so it makes sense. Vegans are already into eating tofu, mock duck, and all the peanuts you can sprinkle on top. Leaving out the fish sauce and eggs still leaves you with loads of flavor and texture.

So, just grab a Thai cookbook and take a look. If there is fish sauce, use soy sauce. Sugar? Vegan sugar or agave. Curry or shrimp pastes? Well, there are vegan curry pastes, Thai Kitchen is one that has no secret fishy ingredients. Shrimp pastes are basically used for their umami, and add salt, and often a dose of chiles. Try a dab of really dark miso instead, and adjust the heat. Eggs? Just whisk up some arrowroot and water to bind things like Pad Thai and thicken the sauce. Then, rely on the flavors of lime, chile, tamarind, palm sugar, soy sauce and coconut milk for a mouthful of Thai goodness. And don’t forget the peanuts.

Spicy Noodles, YUM

At Amazing Thailand, I had the vegetable springrolls, which were pretty much the usual thing. Rice noodles, lettuce, carrots, cilantro, in rice wraps with a sweet peanut sauce. I love those. It would be nice if they offered to throw some tofu in, but why quibble. Then I ordered “Spicy Noodles” with mock duck. The description just listed the veggies in it, so it was kind of a mystery. As you can see in the photo above, the noodles, which look like tubular pasta, were a stretchy rice sheet that had been rolled up and sliced in wide pieces, some of which unrolled, most did not. They were deliriously tender and elastic, and coated in a tangy, spicy sauce. Cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, onions and chiles were swimming alongside the mock duck, which seemed to have been coated with a blend of exotic spice, almost like five-spice. I got medium, which was pleasantly sinus-clearing hot.

The Vegan menu also offers a papaya salad, which can be vegan in Thai style, but my companion got Lao style which is only different in that it has fish sauce. Here is a picture of that. All accounts were that it was delicious.

Tangy-Hot Papaya Salad

It’s interesting that with an under-served vegan market out there, hungry for dinner, so few restaurants are interested in selling them food. Take a trip to Either coast, and there will be actual all-vegan restaurants, as well as plentiful vegan options in other, good restaurants. Here in Minneapolis, we have only one totally vegan restaurant, Ecopolitan, which is also a raw restaurant.

It’s fine by me that places cater to both vegan and omnivorous customers. I get it that they are trying to keep everybody in the party happy, and stay in business. Still, vegans are out there. It’s not that hard to figure out how to make some really good vegan food, and print a menu. Praise to the enterprising restaurateurs who are making things just a little differently so that vegans can enjoy their cuisine.

Now if I only had more time to go out to eat, I could find all the secret menus.





Is Your Spice Rack Better than a Medicine Cabinet?

14 08 2011

Open These Jars for Great Health

We have known for some time that spices like turmeric and cinnamon have health benefits. Turmeric is a potent antioxidant and anti inflammatory, and cinnamon is thought to help regulate blood sugar. But a recent study found that adding antioxidant-rich herbs and spices actually changed the way diners bodies reacted to a high fat meal, by reducing their insulin response by 20% and increasing the antioxidant levels in their blood by 13%. The really interesting thing was that it also reduced their triglyceride response by 30%.

The spiced meal contained 2 tablespoons of  rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika. On another day, participants ate the same meal, without spices, and on both days the participants blood was drawn and tested every 30 minutes. The study was done at Penn State and published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Trigycerides are a kind of fatty acid found in the bloodstream, which come from food and provide energy. High triglycerides are a harbinger of high risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and in recent years have become a regular part of having your cholesterol tested. We have also become more aware of the role of inflammation in all of these conditions.

The gist of it is that your body will be better able to process the fat in your food if you have plenty of these antioxidant rich spices at the same time. Instead of flooding your bloodstream with triglycerides and spiking your insulin, your Korma with Raita and Dal will keep you on the even keel we all want.

So, curry lovers rejoice!

Try cooking with spices with an Indian recipe, like dal or rice, and try adding a little more spice than the recipe calls for, and see how you like it. Look for fresh turmeric roots in the produce department, and add them to stir fries and other veggie dishes. Of course, rosemary and oregano are on the list, too, so you can go Mediterranean and mince lots of fresh rosemary and oregano into olive oil for a bean salad or bruschetta.

Whenever we talk curry, we think India, but there are plenty of curries with turmeric, like the yellow Massaman curry of Thailand, Sri Lankan curries, even the curry of Jamaica. Basically, eat foods with plenty of color and spice, and you will probably reap the benefits.

Of course, the two tablespoons of spice per meal may be a bit much for many of us to accomplish on a regular basis. Many of these herbs and spices are available in pill form, too, so if you don’t eat enough spice to have an impact, you can always supplement.

Let your food be your medicine, and life can be tasty AND healthy. Now that is a good deal.

Mash Ki Dal/white Lentils Recipe





Austin, Weird and Wonderful with IACP

12 06 2011

Veg Authors at Koriente:Ann, Me, Jill and Ellen

One of the best things about writing cookbooks is that I belong to a unique community of food professionals. We food writers can lead a strangely solitary existence, staying home to test recipes and type, or indulge in the unnatural act of photographing our food so that we can post about it.

Seriously, think about it, the correct response to a plateful of hot food is to dig in, not to grab your cell phone to snap a shot, or set up a tripod and start aiming lights at it.

But once a year, I break away from my kitchen and go to a conference with my fellow food people, the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The group is open to anybody making a living in food, so there are restaurant chefs, writers, editors, publishers, teachers, historians, TV and video producers, photographers and stylists, manufacturers of food and cookware, representatives of various foodstuffs, and more. Every year a different host city organizes a bunch of events to show off their food scene, and we converge on the city to take a big bite of what they have to offer.

This year, we traveled to Austin Texas, where a thriving alternative food scene co-exists with Texas barbecue and longnecks. “Keep Austin Weird” is a local slogan, and I’m all for it. One of our speakers was Jim Hightower, http://www.jimhightower.com/an outspoken populist who counts food activism as part of his mission in life. I’ve always been a fan, and he delivered a funny, heartfelt talk about the importance of fighting for our food supply. His humorous one-liners and wry way with absurdity kept the crowd laughing at the early morning session, even as he talked about sustainable food and regulating the corporations that make our food supply less safe. I even got to ask him about the NRDC lawsuit I wrote about in last weeks post, and he was optimistic that the effort to ban antibiotics from animal feed could be won.

Jim Hightower, Fighting For the Common Eater

Another seminar, a panel lead by Kim O”Donnel, author of the Meat Lovers Meatless Cookbook, centered on the Changing Place of Meat on the Plate. This was a discussion about sustainable meat, more than vegetarianism, although Meatless Mondays and cutting back on meat were definitely promoted. Panelist Ralph Loglisi, from the Center for a Livable Future, was there to bring the facts about our unsustainable levels of meat consumption to light. He blogs here: http://www.livablefutureblog.com/

I also went to lots of seminars on things like how to do a good TV spot, demonstrated by Ellie Krieger, how to be a good radio guest, with Kathy Gunst, how to edit video for blogs, with bloggers Chef John and Average Betty and videographer Daniel Klein http://www.theperennialplate.com/, and more. There was a seminar on the new electronic world of cookbooks, and there were cooking demonstrations by John Besh and Jacques Pepin that were entertaining and inspiring.

A favorite moment was when a blogger told Jacques Pepin she was glad to see he had a twitter account, and he replied, “I do?” and after the laughter, she asked how he adapts to the new world of social media, and with his Gallic nonchalance, he replied, “I don’t.” Of course, Jacques will be fine, letting someone else write his tweets and letting the brave new world of e-books and apps court him, while the rest of us have gotten the message that the internets and social networks are a vital part of reaching our audiences, so we gladly attend seminars on blogging and tweeting.

And in between all this, I got to spend time with some of the smartest, funnest people I know, the collection of dear friends from all over the world that I have connected with at IACP for years now. There were dinners at gourmet destinations like Parkside and Fonda San Miguel, a food truck party, a reception at the Art Museum with local fare, and I even got to make a break to the Austin Farmers Market.

Locally Grown Seaweed

A unique offering was this stand, where a young man with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology, named Lewis Weill, sells cultivated Ogonori, a variety of sea vegetable. The fine, crisp strands of ogonori were a revelation, so unlike the dried kinds of sea vegetables that I have always loved. Lewis has a day job as a biologist, and in his spare time, grows this nutritious veggie in tanks of purified water enriched with salt and minerals to to make a cleaner version of sea water. He is an unassuming visionary, who wants to save the oceans and also provide a clean seaweed that isn’t bathed in the pollution that has become a problem in wild-harvested sea plants.

One lunch that I organized was to bring together the vegan and vegetarian food writers for a veg meal. I invited Ann Gentry, chef and owner of Real Food Daily in Los Angeles and author of Vegan Family Meals, Jill Nussinow, the Veggie Queen, author of The Veggie Queen, Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment, and The New Fast Food, The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes, and Ellen Kanner, author of the Hungry Ghost and Edgy Veggie, who pens a Meatless Mondays column for Huffington Post, a syndicated column  The Edgy Veggie, and freelances for publications like EveryDay with Rachel Ray Bon Appetit and Culinate.

We walked over to a wonderfully weird little spot called Koriente, where a Korean cooking style blends with a whole foods approach, and most of the menu is vegan, although meat and fish are available. We all really enjoyed the brown rice and fresh veggies, and Korean hot sauce and nori.

a Summer Roll with Hummus

Brown Rice Bimibap

Brown rice and veggies really hit the spot after a few days of rich food, and sitting with these stars of the veg world was a rare treat. This small group of women who live, write and cook to promote a plant-based worldview are usually operating thousands of miles from each other, and it was great to get these moments to share. These are changing times, and we are all seeing the interest in vegan and veg food growing, and that is cause for celebration.

Thanks Austin, and thanks to all my IACP brethren for a good time. I’m inspired and educated, and most importantly, connected to some amazing people.

Oh, and my publisher, Chronicle Books, threw a lively party to announce this years new releases, and I got to see the cover of my upcoming book!

Yes, It's Big!





The Upside of a Sad Meal, A Recipe

16 04 2011

A Balm for The Soul

It was a spectacularly bad day.

A close friend died unexpectedly, leaving me alternating between feeling fine and being hit with the realization that I would never see him again. Lightning bolts of grief kept punching a hole in the thin veil of normalcy that came from going through the motions. Life would seem like the day before as I worked along, and then, boom. Never again.

Casting about for some appropriate thing to do at a time like this, we opted to have dinner at a restaurant where we once shared a happy time with him. He was Italian and loved Italian food. He would have urged me to have wine, but honestly, I didn’t feel up to it yet.

Feeling somewhat lost, I looked at the menu boards and just couldn’t think. Just had pizza, too much pizza, something else. I latched onto a pasta al aglio. With a side of salad, it would be comforting, simple. It might just make me feel better.

I should have had the wine.

My pasta came, and I dug in. White spaghetti, drenched in bland oil, barely garlicky to my morose palate. I wanted fruity extra virgin, sweet roasted garlic, or even bitingly fresh crushed garlic to slap me in the mouth.  Sassy, like his humor. Maybe my taste buds were too sad to care, but I just couldn’t taste the things I was hoping for. A few limp basil leaves, some chips of nondescript cheese, and a deep slick of pale oil. Just looking at it I knew it was the canola cut with cheap olive oil that the restaurant supply place used to swear that nobody would detect. Slices of un-toasted white baguette flanked the bowl, offering me a carb-oblivion.

Of course, I ate it all. Every lame bite. My stomach ached for hours after, just from stuffing it so full.Of course, I was eating for comfort, overeating to make myself feel better. And the pang in my belly just reminded me of my folly.

If he had been there, we would have been chatting and laughing, I would hardly have cared about the pasta. I might have gotten something else. Mostly, he would have been there.

Instead of that greasy bowl of noodles.

So there it was, hard reality like a rock in my stomach. I really should have had the wine, then I could have lamented trying to drink my troubles away the next day instead.

I’ll never have the dinner I wanted, because he is gone.

But I did have some time to think about why I as so mad at that damn bowl of pasta. As much as I go out to eat to be inspired, and to taste things I want to make at home, sometimes I have something that makes me want to go home and make the dish I thought I was going to get. Maybe my critique of the pasta was a sign, a sign that I might still be me.

I’m still waiting for something good to emerge from this loss. In my life, I have found that in hindsight, something almost always does. Love is lost, new love comes, a door closes another opens. Of course, it takes time, and hindsight. Right now its just senseless and stupid.

So to make it just a little better, I’ll make the pasta I wish I had had that night. I might have been just as unhappy with it, I might have felt just as sick after stuffing it in. But at least this one has some garlic.

He would have wanted it that way.

Pasta al Aglio for John

John was not vegetarian, but he ate and enjoyed veg food at my house. This is plenty cheesey, vegans can sub 2 tablespoons of toasted and chopped hazelnuts tossed with a few tablespoons of toasted breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt for the cheese.

Serves 4 as a side, 3 for a main course

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 bulb garlic, peeled but whole
1 large carrot, julienned
1 cup snap peas
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more if needed
8 ounces angelhair pasta, whole wheat
3 ounces tangy, aged local cheese or asiago, finely shredded
1/2 cup fresh basil, torn
1/2 teaspoon salt
coarsely cracked black pepper

Put on a pot of water for the pasta, salt it liberally, and preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the whole peeled garlic cloves in a small metal bowl or a piece of oil and drizzle with one tbs of olive oil. Cover or wrap and bake for 15-20 minutes, shaking occasionally and testing by piercing the cloves with a paring knife. When they are butter-soft and tender they are done, cool. In a large saute pan, heat 2 Tbs of the remaining olive oil and add the carrots, saute for a minute, then add the peas, pepper flakes and lemon zest and heat. Cook the pasta one minute less than the package says and drain, saving half a cup of pasta water.

In a bowl, mash the garlic with the salt and lemon juice, then add to the saute pan. Toss the hot pasta with the garlic, the saute in the pan, and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, cooking over medium high heat until the sauce has coated the pasta, then add half of the cheese and the basil. Crack pepper and sprinkle with salt, to taste. Serve topped with the remaining shredded cheese.

Garlic





Chain Restaurants Mainstream The Veg Option

3 04 2011

Home of the Balsamic Tomato Bruschetta

Veggie Diners have always had challenges in getting a good meal in a restaurant, especially a mainstream chain restaurant. Things got markedly better when salad bars became popular, if you can remember back that far. My meatless life used to mean choosing between fries or a shake, back in the late 70’s in a small town. Even now, a social event at a chain restaurant may mean politely noshing on a few onion rings or a side salad just to enjoy the company.

But according to Restaurant News, casual dining chains are making the bold move of offering a vegetarian option. Places like the Hard Rock Cafe, Stonefire Grill and California Pizza Kitchen are now putting a few meatless dishes on their menus, in response to customer requests.

We can thank the Meatless Mondays campaign, which has given flexitarian dining a hook.

Many of the chain restaurants cite the Meatless Mondays campaign, and are now offering more meat free dishes for customers who want to have that flexitarian choice. Customers have also made their voices heard by requesting gluten free and lower fat options as well.

It’s high time. Those of us who live in metropolitan areas may forget how hard it is to eat healthfully in the chains and small town restaurants that the other half of America has to choose from. These changes didn’t come about to serve 1% of the population that call themselves vegetarian. These menu items are for the crossover crowd.

It marks a shift in thinking, which has been a hard one to achieve. The idea of going out and not eating meat is really hard to get people to accept. Even people who might not eat it every single meal at home see a trip to a restaurant as a splurge. Triple-stacked burgers with all kinds of bacon, cheese and mayo are way more than most people would make at home, and that is their appeal.

So what are the new menu items, designed to tempt the flexitarians on Mondays? Don’t expect anything less mainstream than the rest of the menu, with veggie burgers, grilled veggies, veggie pizzas and lasagnas and simple tomato bruschetta. Pasta is always easy to make veg friendly. Vegan, well, there is another story. You might be able to get some of these with no cheese, no mayo and see what happens.

Still, it’s a good step in the right direction. Maybe if these things keep selling, we will see some more creative, more vegan-friendly choices in casual dining. And don’t forget, these changes come about because customers ask for them. Ask for whole grains, and meatless options, and who knows, the menu may change for the better.

A Link to the Restaurant News Article:

http://www.nrn.com/article/vegetarian-dishes-crop-menus?utm_source=streamsend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=13619321&utm_campaign=Food%20News%20Wednesday%2C%20March%2023





Meatless Monday Moves into the Mainstream

29 01 2011

Meatless Meals that will Take it Mainstream

The time must just be right. The Meatless Mondays campaign has just announced another partner in their plan to get people to eat veg once a week. Food service giant, Sodexo, which serves 10 million consumers daily in North America alone, is getting on board with a meatless monday plan.  In a gradual rollout, the hospitals, schools, and workplace foodservices of Sodexo will offer a tasty, healthy vegetarian meal every monday.

I figured that if even one in 10 of their customers opts out of a 4 ounce beef patty in favor of a plant based option, that is a cool quarter  million pounds less beef eaten on that day. In a month, it adds up to a million!

This mainstreaming of the veg option will have a major impact, with thousands of people shaving just a little bit from their carbon footprint, their sat fat and their exposure to the risks of eating alot of meat.

I recently met with Chris Elam, the program manager at Meatless Monday, over delicious vegan Korean food at Hangawi restaurant in New York. Elam also blogs about MM at the huffingtonpost.com. We discussed the sudden enthusiasm for the movement, and it’s trajectory for the future.

Elam joined the team at MM  just a couple of years ago, and has been able to help take the movement rapidly forward, seeing “Astonishing growth over the last 2 years. Back then there was just one weekly MM blogger, Kim O’Donnel, and now there are over 150. There are 17 international programs around the globe, entire public school systems , such as Baltimore, Oakland, New Haven, more than 40 campuses, and restaurant chains big and small.”

Building a great team of supporters has really raised awareness of the idea of meatless. He also gives credit to having a good partner who can answer any nutrition questions.

“Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health acts as our scientific adviser, backing up all our health and environmental claims. They’re a key component in all this.”

And of course, the strategy of involving chefs with household name recognition is a stroke of brilliance. Glamorous celebs who go vegan contribute on one end, but when carnivorous types like Mark Bittmann and Mario Batali get the message out, there is a segment of the population that suddenly takes it seriously. According to Elam,

“We’re delighted that all of Mario Batali’s restaurants around the country have adopted MM. He even does it in his own home. Other celebrity chefs such as John Fraser and Katie Lee are outspoken supporters of the MM movement.”

Across the pond, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono and other famous names have lent their star power to a meatless monday campaign in Britain, as well.

As Elam and the others in the growing movement work to bring awareness to the wisdom of cutting back on animal foods, we can all hope that MM keeps having success. Elam would like to see Meatless Monday go completely mainstream.

“Our 5 year goal? To see people writing “meatless Monday” – in other words it comes so much part of the cultural mindset that it’s a given, it doesn’t need to draw attention to itself.”

For Chris Elam on Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-elam/mario-batali-meatless-mon_b_557589.html

For some tofu tips:

Pressing Tofu

http://wwfoodie.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/meatless-monday-vegetable-gratin





My Vegetarian Tasting Menu at La Belle Vie

13 07 2010

As many of you know, I cook. I test recipes, create new things, and buy too much at the Farmers Market. I have so much food around that I have to really make an effort to keep up with the restaurant scene.

So when a birthday comes along, it’s a good excuse to break out and seek inspiration at the table of some creative chef. I spend days searching the internets, looking for the perfect spot. This year, I finally made it over to La Belle Vie. For those of you who live outside the area, La Belle Vie is one of the restaurants in Minneapolis that gets national attention.

This is from their website:

“La Belle Vie is one of the Twin Cities most lauded restaurants, earning Awards of Excellence by both Zagat and Wine Spectator Magazine. Located in the 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis, La Belle Vie provides an atmosphere of elegance and sophistication from the dining room to the lounge.

Tim McKee, executive chef and owner of La Belle Vie, is the 2009 James Beard Award-winner for Best Chef Midwest. He is nationally renowned for his fresh interpretation of traditional French Mediterranean cuisine.”

I called a week ahead of time and made reservations for two, for a custom five-course vegetarian tasting menu, with wine pairings. Then I spent a week looking forward to it.

An award winning chef, inspired by the freshest and finest vegetables, how great would it be?

It was fabulous. One thing we will laugh about for a long time was a narrowly averted catastrophe. As we sipped our first drink, the server approached, and said, “By the way, you aren’t having the vegetarian menu, are you?” to my husband. We set our apologetic server straight, but the bias was plain. The veg thing is a chick thing. My sweetheart has been veg for 35 years.

Once we got over that hump, everything went seamlessly.

The blackberry cosmo before dinner

I was not that crazy about the blackberry cosmo, but I am not a cocktail person. It reminded me of emergen-C, or some kind of medicine. Looking back, I should have thought it through and realized that five wines was going to be plenty for me.

A lovely gougere, hot from the oven arrived, then some fine breads and butter.

A little bite to get you started

Then an amuse.

Tidbits of pickled radish, bocconcini, cucumber and fried tarragon garnish were atop a dab of cherry puree and tossed with sweet-tart cherry balsamic dressing.

Our Salad course was a lively pile of mache and croutons atop caramelized onions, with shaved Manchego cheese.

There are some tender asparagus spears under there, too

We were quaffing to keep up with the wine courses, enjoying a white burgundy paired with the tart salad. It even worked with the warm asparagus under the cool greens.

Next up, with a chilled French Rose, was a little vegetable stack, with a base of tender swiss chard, a layer of buttery sauteed chanterelles, some baby carrots, peas, frisee, and chervil.

Those mushrooms sang me a song

By this point the wine is going to my head, but I am enamored with the food, the service, and I take a pic of the staff at the wine table.

A Glass of Rose and the hush of white tablecloths

Our next course came, a pale green asparagus risotto, garnished with microgreens, shaved parmesan, and a tangy oven-dried tomato garnish. The tomato was chewy, like a moist fruit leather, and added a delightful contrast to the tender rice.

Asparagus Risotto

Then came a potato mille feuille, a stack of paper thin slices of buttery potato, with a crisp top, in a pool of creamy sauce, with a dab of herb emulsion, some thinly sliced sauteed peppers, and olives. A Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was served alongside.

The Mille Feuille

And of course, a special birthday dessert, an almond souffle, with fruit purees, a buttermilk ice cream quenelle, violas and a dark chocolate Happy Birthday plaque. A sweet, pink dessert wine that tasted like strawberries was served.

The summery happy birthday dessert at La Belle Vie

After all that wine, a shot of espresso was definitely appealing. Little did we know, an array of bite-sized treats would come along with it. An orange-infused truffle, an apricot gelee, a strawberry filled choux-pastry, and a little layered fruit and sponge cake finished the meal.

Espresso and precious bites

Tipsy but caffeinated, feeling like a member of the fine-dining class, I had to say everything was delicious. The service was top-notch, the setting historic and serene. The finest, freshest seasonal ingredients were prepared simply and with great care.

Every chef has her own expression of what a plant-based meal should be. This was very vegetable centered, with richness added with butter and cream, and cheese more as a garnish than a main ingredient. All the dishes had a delicate balance of flavors and textures, and were composed beautifully. Understated elegance is the theme at this destination restaurant, where the careful preparation demands that the diner eat mindfully.

Was I inspired? Yes, to keep striving to let great vegetables speak for themselves. Chef Mc Kee balances taste and beauty with great restraint, all for a sensuous experience.





Vegetarian On the Road

21 03 2010

My book, New Vegetarian, is the very good reason that I didn’t blog last week. I was in a two week-long period of travel, starting with a tour of Texas and ending in a stint in New York City. I had a great time cooking and demonstrating, and came back ready to take vegetarian to a new level.

Traveling, though, can be a time when you need your old hunter-gatherer instinct. Getting a meatless meal on the road can be a challenge, depending on where you go. From the disappointing airport options (cinnamon buns and pizza, anyone?) to the crapshoot of hotel restaurants, you end up spending some time scouting it out. I try to think of the time I spend checking out my options at the airport as aerobic activity, as I patrol the entire food zone, dragging my bag and sporting my stuffed laptop backpack, seeking something acceptable to eat.

Sometimes the Luna Bars in the backpack are the best option.

But when you get to your destination, you have to start scouting. This time around, I came up against a familiar question. Do I go to a place that calls itself “vegetarian”? Or do I go to a well-reviewed, well-respected restaurant and check out the veg option? Sadly, most of the time places that are dedicated veg are less interesting to me. I’m glad to relate that eating vegetarian was easy at all of the above.

Cosmic Cafe, Funky Vegetarian with a Texas Accent

My first foray was in Dallas. A little place called Cosmic Cafe was just around the corner from my hotel, with a funky paint job and a yard full of Indian statuary, it proclaimed its vegetarian status proudly in a city known for beef.

The outside, as you can see above, says Indian food. A safe haven for meatless diners, Indian restaurants are usually good bets, even when they don’t say anything about the v-word. Cosmic Cafe, though, is not really an Indian restaurant, as I came to find out. There in the home of Tex-Mex, much of the menu consisted of tacos, burritos and pizzas, all with Indian accents. The heady aroma of curry spices wafted from pots simmering on the stove, so I hoped for greatness. My pizza, built on a nan bread and bathed in sort of curry flavored tomato sauce, was loaded with vegetables and scattered with croquettes of a lightly spiced black bean burger.

The fusion of Dallas, India and vegetarian was a little odd, but it was a satisfying and tasty lunch. Vegetarian places always seem to be trying to stay afloat, and in Texas, making everything into a burrito must be a strategy for making the food familiar. Funky, cheesy, and often rebellious, veg places like this one are always unique and creative.

Fast forward to another vegetarian restaurant. In New York City, close to the famed Kalustyan’s spice shop, I had lunch with a friend at Pongal, an Indian place that proudly proclaimed its vegetarian status.

My Gujarati Thali Plate

Here, in the city that never sleeps, the chefs at Pongal have no need to update their vegetarian traditions. There were no burritos or pizzas, only authentic dishes from Southern regions of India known for their meatless cuisine. The food was excellent. One thing that stood out was that the fried foods were wonderfully un-greasy. Usually the deep-fried breads are a decadent treat, and once they cool you realize just how oily they are, but not here.

Can't you smell the dosa?

My dining companion had the Pongal thali, and we shared with abandon. Steamed Iddly, fried poori, carrot chutney, and medu vada, the little fried lentil donuts, were making their way across our table as we feasted. No melted cheese, no meat, nothing but pure Indian vegetarian, and it was delicious.

In the end, it is hard to compare restaurants, especially in far distant corners of the country. Each speaks to its community-Cosmic Cafe to the local yoga and veg crowd, comfortable with something a little more familiar. Pongal was crowded with Indian-Americans, and the serious ethnic diners that populate one of the most international restaurant cities in the world.

There is a place for both, the sincere and the authentic. The hippie and the immigrant, the political and the nostalgic.








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