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.

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A Sexy Salad for The Big Night

13 02 2012

Well, it’s time for the big Valentine’s romantic meal, and lots of people are making reservations for gourmet restaurant feasts. They will dine on oysters and steak, cream doused pastas, and then a big chocolate dessert, all accompanied by plenty of alcohol. Then, if they are lucky, they will head home to pursue romance in the bedroom.

Unfortunately, that big, heavy meal and all that alcohol will probably only hinder their activities. In fact, they may find themselves slipping into a sugar coma before they even get started.

So my advice to you, if you want to get lucky on Valentines, and all year long, is eat a light meal of plant-based aphrodisiac foods.

These foods, unlike their sat-fat laden alternatives, actually nourish the sexual systems. Believe it or not, guys who eat right don’t need Viagra. In fact viagra was inspired by a chemical that you can get from a good diet, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is made in the body from l-arginine, and it has the unique ability to relax the blood vessels. It’s really good for circulation and heart health in general, but that particular action is helpful for the now famous ED, or erectile dysfunction. L-arginine is high in meats, but also in beans, nuts and seeds.

That’s right, the natural foods version of viagra is right there in a healthy pantry. OK, viagra is an amped up version that works right away, while the one you get from food needs to be a part of your diet daily to make a difference. And why not? The plant foods that contain l-arginine are delicious, and healthy for you in so many ways.You can also buy it in supplement form, if you want to make sure you are taking care of your circulation.

If thinking about sex will get the dudes to eat nutrition all-stars, then so be it, bring on the sexy stuff.

So, for a pre-romance meal, try this sexy salad.

A few handfuls of Arugala provides a peppery, mineral rich base, that has long been considered an aphrodisiac.

Sprinkle on some cooked black beans, rich in l-arginine, which converts to nitric acid, the blood vessel relaxing compound that inspired the invention of Viagra.

Top that with sliced avocado, which replenishes your good fats, potassium and vitamin E that helps produce hormones for keeping things flowing.

A few sliced cherry tomatoes, or “pomme d’amour” as the French used to call it, boost your vitamin c and the lycopene needed for prostate health.

A drizzling of a nut or seed oil amps up the Omega 3 fats for your heart and necessary good circulation, as well as more hormone production.

Top that with a generous sprinkling of sunflower seeds, which pack plenty of zinc that men need for sexual health.

Squeeze a lime over the pile and shower it with minced red chiles, which raise your metabolism and warm your lips in a provocative way.

A sprinkling of coarse salt and some cracked black pepper is all you need.

Save the dessert for after the romance. You’ll have earned a treat.





Fudge-Filled Chocolate Heart Cakes for Valentine’s Day

5 02 2012

Mmm, So Decadent....

This weekend, while everybody else is making Superbowl food, I am looking ahead to the next big food event. Valentine’s Day. It’s been a while since I made a new romantic chocolate treat, and it’s time. I’ve been slacking off, resorting to boxed chocolates or candy for a couple of years.

It has been, and continues to be a good excuse to go out to eat. But this year, I may save room for my own dessert, waiting at home.

Valentine’s is a chocolate holiday. Champagne is good, too, but I’m sure that just about everyone in a relationship will be sharing something chocolate  on the big day. If you haven’t heard, chocolate is the healthy food that tickles the cannabinoid receptors in your brain, supposedly giving you a high in the same way that marijuana does. They also say it creates some chemistry that is similar to falling in love. It’s also full of antioxidants and heart-healthy phytochemicals, so we can feel good about eating some on a special occasion.

For this tasty cake, I wanted to try out my latest fun food, chia seeds. I have been remiss in not trying them in baking sooner, and have been playing with them for a while. Like ground flax, they have a magical ability to replace eggs. Just grind them in a spice or coffee grinder, then mix with water. Then, the rest of the time, add them to smoothies, hot cereal, and puddings. If you don’t have chia, just use flax.

Fudge Filled Chocolate Hearts

I have heart shaped ramekins that hold a little more than a large muffin cup, so you could make 6 cupcakes with this recipe. I made five cakes. Depending on how much time you have, you can either eat them warm, right out of the oven, and they will be like molten chocolate cakes, or you can chill them , trim them, and coat them with ganache or glaze for a showy presentation. If you want to use edible red flowers, like nasturtiums, or raspberries or strawberries, put them on the ganache while still fluid.

FILLING:

1/2 box mori-nu firm silken tofu (6 ounces)

1/2 cup brown rice syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup1 tablespoon arrowroot

vegan chocolate chips, melted

CAKE:

1 tablespoon chia seeds, ground

1/4 cup non-dairy milk

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup extra dark cocoa (you can use regular cocoa, too)

1 pinch salt 1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar

1/4 cup non-dairy milk

oil for ramekins

GANACHE AND GLAZE

1 1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

5 tablespoons non-dairy milk

1/2 cup vegan powdered sugar

milk, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Make the filling. In a food processor, puree the tofu until smooth, scraping down repeatedly. Once it is pureed, add the rice syrup, vanilla and starch and process until well mixed, scraping down a few times. Melt the chocolate, and add it quickly to the puree, then process to incorporate smoothly. Transfer to a piping bag of a large zip-top bag. Reserve.

2.  In a cup, stir the ground chia with the first measure of non-dairy milk, then let stand. It will thicken. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda. Whisk to mix. In a medium bowl , mix the oil, maple, vanilla, vinegar, and remaining non-dairy milk. Stir the chia mixture into that and then add it all to the dry mixture. Stir until well-mixed but don’t over-stir.

3. Use a heaping 1/4 cup of batter in each ramekin, and use your wet finger to push it out to the edges. Then, cut the corner off of the plastic bag of filling, and stick the tip into the center of the ramekin, pushing it almost to the bottom. Squeeze the bag to pipe the filling into the center of the batter. Do this with each cake, there will be plenty of filling, and you can pipe more in if there is some left over.

Piping in the Fudgy Filling

4. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the cake and filling puff up, and a toothpick inserted in the cake part comes out dry. Cool on racks. If you want to eat them now, just dust with powdered sugar and dive in.

5. For ganache, melt chocoalte and non-dairy milk together, stirring until smooth. Let cool slightly as you flip the cakes out of their ramekins and trim the cake flush with the filling with a serrated knife. Place upside down on serving plates and coat with ganache. Mix powdered sugar with enough non-dairy milk to make a drizzle, then decorate the cakes on the plates.

Warm Out of the Oven, MMMM

Heart Full of Fudge