Heading north for good Mexican–at La Vida Vegan

Through the magic of Twitter I just found another great vegan business: when I recently tweeted my happy discovery of vegan Nanaimo bars at a coffee shop just a few blocks from work, I netted a new Twitter follower (who quickly became a followee).

La Vida Vegan is an all-vegan food truck serving a simple menu of tacos and tamales, plus lots of made-to-order juices and a few sweets. Although they’re based in the central-Vancouver-Island town of Parksville, Jud and I caught up with them in Qualicum Beach and managed a quick snack before meeting my parents for dinner farther up island.

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La Vida Vegan, serving up delicious food at the Qualicum Beach visitors’ center.

We opted for one taco and one tamal to share, plus juices.

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Both dishes were really delicious–topped with similar crema, salsa verde and fermented vegetables (similar to sauerkraut), but different in form, of course, and with different fillings of black beans, lentils and vegetables. Their focus on making their products from scratch clearly comes through in nicely balanced fresh flavors, right down to the tortillas.

Jud had a beety “Duncan” juice, and I had a “Tofino,” with celery and lime. Thumbs up on both!

If we hadn’t already had dinner plans, I would have been glad to make a meal of some more tacos and tamales. Did I mention that they’re gluten free to boot?

Check them out on Twitter and Facebook to learn where to find them on a given day.

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Treasures on the Hill, at SugarPill

I won’t often profile businesses here that aren’t vegan or vegetarian, but this one makes me so happy–and has so many products that are vegan, that I want to tell you all about it.

It’s a magical little shop on Seattle’s Capitol Hill just begging for a long browse, a chance to check out new flavors or new scents, or to find a lovely gift even for those hard-to-shop-for people.


Don’t you want to go in there?

SugarPill Apothecary is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, but the shop fits the space so well it’s easy to imagine that it’s been there for decades. Karyn Schwartz, the proprietor, has an energy that’s at once very warm and very calm, and just furthers the sense that you should stay a while. Let’s take a tour.


The Wall of Salts

One of the first things that you’ll notice upon walking in is this beautiful display of dozens of different salts, both in their natural states and seasoned in various ways. Open containers of each one invite sniffs of wonderful smoky, savory, spicy flavors overlaid on the salty base, and many of them have gorgeous colors and textures to add to the appeal. In a country where plain ol’ table salt gets painfully overused in part because it’s so neutral, I love the opportunity to focus instead on using just a bit of a more special salt to add complexity to food.


Salts to keep you busy all day

See that Spicy Celery Salt at upper right? I initially got it for Bloody Marys, and I still look forward to trying it that way. But meanwhile, I seem to add it to everything: fried potatoes, salad dressing, and most especially to this super-easy-and-addictive Chickpea and Avocado Smash from Emmy Cooks. You’ll also find a wide array of natural salts from around the world, like Himalayan pink or Hawaiian black, along with a variety of smoked salts (which make everything delicious), and ones infused with things like wine, hot chilies or wild mushrooms.

Most of the salts come in those flat silver tins, in either tiny or medium sizes. Obviously the larger ones are a better deal if you’re going to be using a lot of the product, but the tiny ones are wonderful for traveling. It’s fairly common for me to cook in other people’s kitchens, including rental ones without much in the way of spices. Having a bit of a complex spice blend or some rich smoked salt with me is an easy and compact way to make much more interesting food when I don’t have my full spice collection available. They’re also great to have tucked in your purse for those tragic times when you might get stuck with a plain baked potato or a stripped-down salad as your only vegan options. Neutral foods will perk right up with some of that spicy celery salt, or the lemon pepper blend.

And if that weren’t enough, the tins are attractive enough to make nice gifts, and there are even pre-grouped sets of them bundled neatly together for that very purpose to save you some time and difficult choices.

Ok, enough about salt. How about chocolate?


Spiced up or straight up, your chocolate options are many.

Much of the chocolate is not vegan (some even has bacon in it…), but you’ll find lots of options that are, in high-quality offerings of bars, powders and nibs, with a strong emphasis on fair trade products.

Speaking of which, let’s focus for a moment on this lovely thing:


“Nutella for grown-ups,” the proprietor calls it. “Heaven for vegans,” I call it.

Yes, it’s a creamy-smooth chocolate-hazelnut spread that’s vegan. Let that soak in a while. Special bonus? The hazelnuts are locally grown, by Lynden, Washington’s Holmquist Hazelnuts, and the chocolate is sourced directly from the cacao farmers in the Philippines. It’s decidedly less sweet than Nutella, and with a much deeper chocolate flavor (very much a dark, and not a milk chocolate). I find that those things just mean I’m able to make a jar last longer. Which is good because the stuff is not. cheap. But damn, it’s a nice splurge!

And there’s more: A wide assortment of small-batch bitters for your craft cocktails. Fancy oils for dressing your salads. Letterpress cards for every occasion. Soaps, lotions and other personal-care products, many of which are explicitly labeled as vegan. Rancho Gordo beans. Specialty mustards and locally made pickles. Even Washington-grown organic grains and grain products from Bluebird Grain Farms.


So many temptations to explore!

Finally, SugarPill stocks a wide array of medicinal herbs (seen filling the cases behind the owner in the first photo). I haven’t tried any of those, but if–as I would expect–they’re prepared with the same care and attention as the rest of their products, people looking for herbal remedies should definitely take a look. Rebekah Denn, writing for my employer, covered much of the medicinal side of the business in her recent Pacific NW Magazine story.

SugarPill Apothecary is open daily starting at 11am; closing time varies by the day of the week. Stop by, and/or check out special offers or information about new products on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted in Products, Seattle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Gluten-Free Vegan Tour of Seattle

Last weekend, my sister and her boyfriend came up for some vegan food tourism (inspired by Jud’s and my visit to Portland last fall). Since Maren’s been eating gluten free for the past several months, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to round up Seattle’s vegan, gluten-free dining options.

There are so many! With little more than 24 hours in their visit, there were only so many places we could cram in (despite our very best efforts!), but safe to say, a vegan avoiding gluten could last a long time in this town before needing to return to the same spot. I should note, though, that only a few places are gluten-free establishments. If you’re sensitive enough to gluten that cross-contamination is an issue you should (as you surely already know) ask the staff at other places about how well they’re able to manage contact with gluten ingredients.

We started at Pizza Pi, source of many delicious vegan pizzas over the years. Sure enough, they offer a gluten-free crust, and since their sauces and cheese are already gluten free, there are lots of options on the pizza menu. We started with a “Saucy Sampler,” with one order of regular bread and one order of gluten free, both smothered in Teese.


Four sauces to go with gluten-free or conventional breadsticks

We all found the gluten-free crust (used both for breadsticks and for the 9″ personal size pizzas) to be quite respectable, even to those of us still used to eating gluten, and the sauces were all the same delicious ones I knew from the regular menu.

Maren tried the St. Patrick’s Revenge pizza (spinach and artichoke sauce, green peppers, broccoli, spinach and fresh basil), and I had a sample of it (the rest of us ordered gluten-containing items):

For some reason, it didn’t taste as good as usual (that pizza is one of my favorites), but I don’t think the different crust was the reason–maybe just an off day. I wouldn’t hesitate to order a gluten-free pizza there, or a St. Patrick’s Revenge, again, though just in case I might try a different combo next time.

We were all stuffed by the time we left, but of course we had to stop at Sidecar for the World Wide Vegan Bake Sale. In addition to the many gluten-free items the store carries regularly, the bake sale had an entire section of gluten-free treats. We picked up an assortment of goodies for later and headed off on a walk–mostly to make room in our bellies for the next stop: Jodee’s Desserts.

I’ve written about Jodee’s before, so I’ll just say that it once again delivered the goods–this time in the form of a slice of Key Lime Pie that we shared, along with some samples of other flavors. I’ll also point out that the menu is entirely gluten free (and vegan), so sample and order anything you want!

After some visits to Pike Place Market and the Olympic Sculpture Park, we were (eventually) ready for dinner. Maren and Brian hadn’t yet been to Travelers Thali House, which I’d recently discovered to be very friendly to GF/V diners.


My first meal at Travelers, with different dishes but the same format each month.

Sure enough, we had another great meal from the April menu, different from the one featured in my post, but in the same thali format. We made sure to order extra papadams to avoid having to fight over the two that came with our order.

For breakfast we hit Wayward. I wouldn’t have thought they’d have so many gluten-free options, but they really came through! As you can see from their gluten-free menu, many of their regular items are already gluten free or can be made so pretty easily.

I’ve been wanting to try their Club sandwich for ages, and I decided this was the time since a gluten-free version was available:


Gluten-free Club at Wayward. Be sure to specify, since there’s also a Club with gluten.

Normally, this comes with vegan turkey and ham along with the tempeh bacon, but the first two things must contain gluten since they’re excluded here. Thus, the Club really turns into a BLT, but it’s quite a tasty sandwich, even on rice bread. The French fries that came with it were excellent, and getting a pickle on the side (hidden behind the sandwich) always wins me over.

Brian tried the Gluten-Free Sampler (scrambled tofu, hashbrowns, greens, and tempeh bacon):

He enjoyed it, and having tried each of those things via their regular menu, I can vouch for them all being good.

Maren got one of my favorite items from the standard menu, which happens to be gluten free: the Very Veggie Omelet, served with home fries:

Vegetable-rich, filling and very tasty!

Of course as long as we were in the U-District we couldn’t miss Chaco Canyon, so we headed there to get some baked goods to eat later.

With a case like this right up front, you know you’re in good hands:

…and when you realize that the much-larger case below it contains a majority of gluten-free items as well (clearly labeled along with indications of raw items and those without soy ingredients), you start to feel the panic of very difficult choices:


Of course, writing a food blog gives you license (right??) to make all kinds of choices that would otherwise be ridiculous, so I got a chocolate-hazelnut cookie, a piece of rhubarb upside-down cake, AND a piece of that vanilla-lemon cake. The cookie was tasty, if a little dry and crumbly, as gluten-free cookies nearly always are. The cakes, though, were outstanding. Chaco has really mastered the art of making gluten-free cakes (and muffins) that you wouldn’t guess were gluten free. You taste rhubarb (and maybe a hint of fennel?), not garbanzo bean flour, and the texture is moist and only slightly more dense than a comparable counterpart would be with gluten.

This time I reluctantly skipped one of my very favorite desserts that they carry–raw chocolate brownies with hazelnuts. More like a truffle in bar form than a brownie, these things are so decadent, smooth and rich I would put them high on the list of things to feed skeptics who think that vegans eat unsweetened tree bark for dessert.

Chaco also serves “real food” if you want breakfast, lunch or dinner, and there are lots of gluten-free options (raw and cooked) on those menus also.

Finally (after a long walk around Discovery Park), no gluten-free tour of Seattle would be complete without a stop at Flying Apron in Fremont. This all-vegan, all-gluten-free establishment has been around for years, and I’ve heard many times how beloved it is by locals who avoid gluten. I confess that my experiences with their baked goods have been pretty hit or miss, so I hadn’t been by since they opened their storefront in Fremont. A couple weeks ago, I decided I needed to give them another try, and I’m so glad I did.

The new (not so new anymore, but new to me!) storefront in the middle of Fremont is adorable and welcoming–a huge improvement over the tiny, basement-level counter they used to occupy in the U-District.

There’s even a bit of sidewalk seating for nice days.

When I visited recently with Jud, I tried a couple baked items and a few things out of the savory case.


A hit and a miss: LOVED the lasagna; was disappointed in the Ginger Wheel cookie.

I must say, that experience reinforced my earlier experience with their baked items: dry and gritty. I will add that the cookie and the pecan cinnamon roll we also tried had really good flavor–they just fell far short of my hopes for texture. The cookie was quite hard, which would have been less annoying if it hadn’t also been quite thick. I think the cinnamon roll would have been much more enjoyable if it had been called something else. “Cinnamon Spiral,” maybe? For me, a cinnamon roll is soft and pillowy. This was crisp and brittle, much more like a scone. Again, the flavor was very good, but I had a hard time getting past the texture based on my associations with that particular baked good.


The Pecan Cinnamon Roll that should perhaps be called something else.

But. The stuff we got out of the savory case knocked my socks off. That lasagna you see up there? It’s one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever had, bar none. Complex flavor, plenty of veggies, and I would never guess that the noodles are made of rice and gluten free. Jud’s shepherd’s pie was not quite at that level, but it was very enjoyable, and I’d definitely order it again if I wasn’t in the mood for lasagna.


Shepherd’s pie at Flying Apron: rich and savory.

Jud also ordered a broccoli salad, with which I am now officially obsessed, so he ordered a large when we returned with Maren and Brian:


I could eat this daily for a good long time.

Raw broccoli (of which I’m not usually a fan, but gladly make an exception here), cabbage, and carrots with plenty of cashews and raisins in a lightly sweet, creamy dressing. Holy cow. Don’t miss this if you go.

On this most recent visit I also tried the Mac and Cheese, which is mixed with spinach:

Again, the rice-based pasta did not betray its gluten-free nature, and this was a very well-made mac and cheese. I appreciated the added spinach, both for nutrition and for flavor and visual interest, and the garlicky sauce was nicely creamy without being over-the-top greasy like some versions are.

I also tried a few other baked goods:


Russian Tea Cake (Have you ever seen one that big?! It’s easily 3″ across.) and Chocolate Chip Cookie


Chocolate Shortbread Cookie (and blue sugar cookies I didn’t try)

Finally, we had some winners. I actually liked all three of these quite a bit. The Russian Tea Cake was my favorite, with nice walnut flavor and subtle sweetness that didn’t take over the cookie. Because these cookies tend to be crumbly anyway, the texture achieved with gluten-free flours wasn’t far at all from the traditional results. I was pleasantly surprised to find the chocolate-chip cookie to be soft and even a little chewy, and the shortbread had a pronounced chocolate flavor while maintaining the just-crumbly-enough texture of a shortbread–with an unusually attractive presentation.

Fortunately, Flying Apron has a wonderful policy of a 100% guarantee: if you try something you don’t like, they’ll give you a refund. I didn’t take them up on this, but I hope it takes out enough of the risk factor for you to try some of their wares. You may not like all of them, but I bet you’ll find some that you do. And in any case, don’t miss the savory items! The only thing I haven’t liked so far was the vegetable-topped flatbread that features more peppers than I prefer (and many would consider that a plus).

There are lots of other places that would be high on my list for gluten-free, vegan dining in Seattle. We only skipped Bouteloua Bakery because it was closed for the weekend, but they do an excellent job with gluten-free cupcakes and cakes by the slice. Thrive on 65th is another place that’s entirely vegan and gluten free, serving mostly raw food with a few cooked items. Sutra, which I’ve also raved about before, is so focused on vegetable-centered dishes and local ingredients that many of its menus are already gluten free, but if you alert them ahead of time they can assure you of a gluten-free meal. St. Dames, in Columbia City, is an ovo-lacto place with a good assortment of vegan, gluten-free, and GF/V options for brunch/lunch/dinner. Finally, Plum Bistro and Sage Bakery and Cafe are well-loved vegan restaurants that cater easily to those avoiding gluten.

You want a map? Of course you do.

This is still just the tip of the iceberg. Where have you found good gluten-free vegan food in or around Seattle?

Posted in Gluten free, Raw foods, Restaurants, Reviews, Seattle | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Cookbook review: Comfort Soups to Keep You Warm

You don’t have to read much of this blog to know that I am not at all opposed to oil in my food. I cook with it, bake with it, and happily eat food others have prepared with oil.

But just as enthusiastically, I like to learn about different ways of preparing foods and ways of accommodating others’ diets. So I was glad to try a new eBook by Veronica Patenaude, aka The Low Fat Vegan Chef: Comfort Soups to Keep You Warm (I got a free review copy). Patenaude’s self-published eBook contains 30 soup recipes (plus some extras), all developed for use without any added oils.

I honestly had a hard time picking which recipes to try first, since the pictures and recipe titles (all viewable here) made a pretty strong case for all of them. I decided to start with the Greek Fasolada (White Bean) Soup, using some beautiful little Orca beans I found at the farmers’ market.


Greek Fasolada Soup, with Orca Beans

I liked the different colors in this soup, and the subtle heartiness of the beans. On the down side, as someone accustomed to foods with added oil, was that I did miss the oil, especially at first. It tasted pretty bland, despite the inclusion of flavorful ingredients like fire-roasted tomatoes and fresh lemon juice. Patenaude points out that some people unaccustomed to low-fat cooking might want to use a little extra salt as their taste buds adjust, and I did find that that helped, especially using a spicy celery salt that added more complex flavor than salt alone could have provided. Indeed, the book typically calls for Herbamare, but offers plain salt as a substitute. Based on my experience, I would not recommend using plain salt in these recipes. Whether you use Herbamare or another seasoned salt blend, I found that that extra element of flavor was really important for compensating for the lack of oil.

I wish that I had held back a serving of the soup to try the next day, since bean soups so often improve in flavor overnight. However, the friends I shared the soup with tried it after a day, and they gave it thumbs up. I will also say that if I hadn’t been full after the generous first bowl I served myself, I would have gone back for more. One friend agreed that he liked the soup more as he ate more of it.

For the next recipe, I went for the Creamy Potato Corn Chowder, made with coconut milk and lime:


Creamy Potato Corn Chowder

This time I resolved to make my own broth, using my own un-recipe (turns out I don’t like the Pacific brand low-sodium broth she recommends if homemade is not available). The chowder takes an interesting turn from traditional corn chowders, using chili powder along with the lime and coconut milk for a unique fusion approach. In general I liked it, though I agreed with my friends that the lime was a little overpowering and made the soup too tangy. A smaller amount would have been just right, I think. The lite coconut milk called for in the recipe did a good job of incorporating the creaminess you want in a chowder–and a mild coconut flavor–while adding a minimal amount of fat.

Finally, I was drawn to the Moroccan Chickpea Soup, with plenty of spices to accompany the beans and vegetables.


Moroccan Chickpea Soup

I used the rest of my homemade broth in this recipe, along with freshly cooked chickpeas. The results–with fresh ginger, cinnamon, and other spices–were a well-balanced nod to Moroccan flavors and ingredients, and an enjoyable lunch for me the past two days. Although it looks similar to the Greek soup due to similar vegetables, the flavors are totally different, and it’s another soup entirely.

I confess that I miss the oil in this one a bit, too, but I do think that has a lot to do with what my palate is accustomed to. For someone already accustomed to low-fat cooking, I think this book would provide a number of varied recipes to try, and for someone interested or otherwise motivated to try more cooking without added oils, there are lots of good tips on technique and ingredients to help beginners. I would not recommend it as an introduction to vegan food for someone accustomed to omnivorous or rich vegetarian fare, as I think such a person would have a hard time seeing past what’s not there to see what is there to enjoy.

Overall, one thing I found frustrating was the wide variation in serving sizes used throughout the book. In her introduction, Patenaude explains that the serving sizes are subjective, based on her recommendation for that recipe. I can see the value in that approach, but it made for some very unpredictable yields. The Greek soup I made said it would serve six, and it produced 3-1/2 quarts of soup. The chowder also said it would serve six, but it only made 2-1/2 quarts. Then the Moroccan soup listed as four servings and also made 2-1/2 quarts. I would say that any of those could be reasonable servings for those soups, but the inconsistency between recipes meant, among other things, that I didn’t know how much fridge or freezer space to plan for once the soups were done.

The eBook is available as a PDF file (also formatted for Kindle and iPad), simply designed but easy to use, with clickable table of contents and easy key word look-ups using the find function. I had no trouble bringing it up on my Android phone, which would be very helpful for quick look-ups while at the grocery store, or keeping the book handy for cooking in someone else’s kitchen. It sells for $19.95 (ETA: I had erroneously said before that this was Canadian, but the book ships from the US and is priced in US dollars), which is on the high end for an eBook, but it does come with a money-back guarantee if you find you don’t like the book, plus notification of any revisions (I did catch a missing ingredient, which I’m told will be corrected for future distribution of the book). You can also try for yourself her recipe for Low Fat Vegan Mexican Black Bean Corn Soup, which just might be next on my list to try.

Patenaude’s writing is conversational but clear, and she takes advantage of the electronic format to err on the side of thoroughness in explanations and introductory material. Because of the format and design, though, it’s easy to skip over those sections when you want to just get to your recipe. I appreciated that every recipe had a (well-done) photograph, which is a huge help for visual people like me in picking what recipe to make. You might notice that my images show “brothier” results than the ones in the book. I’m not sure whether she styled her photos differently in an effort to better show the elements of each soup, or whether the recipes might have called for more broth than would ideally be included. If you try them, you might want to hold back one cup of broth and consider what consistency you prefer as you’re finishing the soup.

In good news for those with other dietary restrictions, the recipe collection is largely gluten- and soy-free (or can easily be modified to be), which made it very easy for me to share the results with my friend who avoids both of those things.

It’s tempting to think that in mid-April soup weather is now many months away, but we in this part of the world know better: there will be “soup days” for months yet, and if you’re looking for a source of low-fat recipes this would be a good one to check out.

And hey, there’s a GIVEAWAY!

Yep, the author is generously making available a free copy of Comfort Soups to Keep You Warm to one of my readers. To enter, just comment with either your favorite kind of soup or a tip you use for flavorful, low-fat cooking (or both, of course, if you want to). A winner will be chosen at random from entries received by end of day (midnight, PDT) Sunday. I’ll announce the winner Monday.

Posted in Cookbooks, Gluten free, Reviews, Soy free | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cafe Munir brings Lebanese delights to Ballard

Last November I saw a tweet that led me to this Seattle Met blog post about a Lebanese bistro opening soon in Ballard.

And I got really excited. I love Lebanese food and try to take advantage of Portland’s many wonderful offerings every time I go. And this lede on the blog item echoed a complaint I’ve had about my beloved Seattle for years:

Rajah Gargour grew up in Lebanon (and Jordan), and has a singular but rather significant complaint about the state of his native cuisine in Seattle: “This food isn’t represented at all,” he says. “It doesn’t exist.”

Lucky for all of us, owner/chef Gargour has changed that with the lovely Cafe Munir in the Loyal Heights area of Ballard, which has been open since January at 2408 NW 80th Street.

My employer just published a nice review of the place, but much of the write-up covered the meaty and dairy-rich offerings. Rest assured, vegans can get stuffed on all kinds of delicious options at Cafe Munir, and our server was helpful in identifying appropriate choices.

We went on a Saturday evening at prime dinner time, and the place was busy enough that we waited about ten minutes for a table. Seated with a view of the dining room with a couple glasses of Lebanese red wine, the time went by quickly.


Cafe Munir at dinner

The space is not super fancy, but it’s got nice touches, like the clean white arches and beautiful decorative light fixtures, mirrored in the style of the candle holders at each table.

After a long walk that afternoon, we were ready to make a solid dent in the menu, though we still had to save several options for next time. There are all the basics you’d expect to be available on hot and cold mezze menus–hommos, baba ganoush, falafel, fattoush (Lebanese green salad tossed with toasted pita)–as well as some less-common items like muhammara (a dip made of roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses) and two that were new to me: Ta’miyeh, a cousin to falafel made with fava beans instead of garbanzos, and mukhaddara, a variant on muhammara made with roasted green peppers, pistachios and mint. We went for a mix of familiar and new:


Clockwise from top left: baba ganoush (in striped dish), pita, Ta’miyeh with tahini and spicy tomato sauces, hommus, mukhaddara, fattoush.

Here’s a closer look at some of those items:


Lebanese Bread Salad (Fattoush), Ta’miyeh, Mukhaddara


Baba Ganoush, with a lovely garnish of fresh pomegranate seeds

The old favorites did not disappoint. The baba was smoky and smooth, and the hommus was substantial and well balanced in flavor. The Ta’miyeh was very similar to falafel (and good), but having two sauces to pair it with instead of just tahini sauce made for some added interest. The mukhaddara was a completely new blend of flavors to me. I’m not a huge fan of green peppers, so next time I will try the muhammara, but I would happily eat the mukhaddara again as well. At once rich and fresh-tasting, the flavor of the roasted poblanos really came through in the finished dish.

We enjoyed the fattoush, and it did add some much-appreciated fresh, raw produce to the table. It wasn’t as interesting as the other dishes we tried, and since we had more than enough otherwise to keep us busy and full, we agreed that we might skip it next time.

Of course, we couldn’t just leave it at small plates, so we ordered a couple larger ones as well. The kosheri we ordered (a rice-lentil-caramelized onion dish billed as “the Egyptian national dish,” and clearly a variant of mujaddara) was delicious, but sadly did not photograph well at all. It came with the same roasted, spicy tomato sauce that we’d had with the falafel, which was a fantastic accompaniment. Ask to skip the yogurt that normally comes with it also.

We also got some vegetable skewers, which came dusted in sumac and served with a side of tahini sauce.

All that (which was absolutely too much food for two people, even hungry ones), plus three glasses of wine, at $9 each, came to $75 with tax, which seemed very reasonable for the amount and quality of food, the very good service, and the pleasant atmosphere. My only wish for the business is that they improve their Web presence. The blog that serves as their website makes it very difficult to find basic information such as address, business hours or phone number, so honestly you’re better off with Yelp if need a quick answer on those details.

By all means, though, go visit! I’m eager to go back.

Posted in Restaurants, Reviews, Seattle | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Notes from Vegfest 2012

This weekend was Vegfest in Seattle, run by the Vegetarians of Washington. After a daunting-yet-fast-moving line, Jud and I made it in this afternoon, eating our way through the huge exhibition hall at Seattle Center. For a pair of crowd-hating introverts, Vegfest can be something to endure as much as enjoy, but it’s such an unmatched way to try new products that we persevered again this year.

Having just been to the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, I confess feeling a little smug at how favorably Seattle’s Vegfest compares. Far more vendors, better organization of exhibition space to handle the insane numbers of people that both events attracted, and much better organization of the admissions process (I never found out why there was such a delay to get started in NY, but it was very irritating, especially to the people who had paid a bunch extra for VIP tickets that should have gotten them right in). I enjoyed the NYC festival, but I really do have to tip my hat to the Vegetarians of Washington for our spectacular local event.

Even though they upped the admission price this year to $8, it’s still a steal for all the tastes, take-with-you samples, coupons, and access to discounted products that you get. There’s a rest area for people needing a seat away from the sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, a nursing area, a well-stocked book table, and of course row after row of booths with volunteers sampling all kinds of food and beverages.

New things I tried that were notable:

  • Wayfare “Pig Out” bacony bits. Crunchy, smoky, just the right amount of salty. I could definitely see dumping these on salads, baked potatoes, soups, and my outstretched hand. They don’t taste just like bacon, and I think in this case that’s a good thing. They taste remarkably natural, and like they just took all the best elements of bacon and left the rest. Unfortunately, they’re currently available only by mail order. I hope that changes soon! I’d love to pick some up at Sidecar.
  • Heidi Ho Organics nut-based cheezes. I had previously tried and liked the Smoked Gouda flavor, but today I had the chance to try the Monterey Jack and Chipotle Cheddar flavors. Soy-free and gluten-free, these hazelnut-based cheezes are much less processed than some of the more famous ones, like Daiya or Follow Your Heart. On the plus side, they’re…well, less processed, which many people appreciate as its own virtue. On the potential downside, they would not fool anyone trying to imagine they’re eating dairy cheese (some might consider that a plus, also!). They taste and act similar to cheezes you might make out of The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook (which I highly recommend), so you can get some softening/slight melting, but you won’t get the gooeyness that Daiya is famous for. I find that the Jack and Gouda flavors especially have a pretty strong mustard flavor to them. On a sandwich, I think I’d be quite happy with that. On crackers or in a baked recipe I might prefer something without such a pronounced mustard note. The Portland-based company is working on expanding distribution to Seattle.
  • Speaking of Daiya, I tried one of their new Daiya wedges, in the Jalapeno-Garlic Havarti flavor. The texture was creamy and soft, and the flavor was really excellent: some sharp notes balanced with smoother, richer flavors. Maybe it was just the piece I got, but I didn’t notice any of the heat that I would have expected from the Jalapeno (but I prefer it that way). This is one of a very few vegan cheeses I’ve tried that I would eat straight up on crackers. In fact, when I smooshed it onto the caraway-flavored Mary’s Gone Crackers I had picked up across the aisle, it was really a perfect match.
  • I was really excited to try the GardenBar, after reading about it recently via Grant Butler. I have eaten an awful lot of bars in my decade and a half as a vegan, and after all the Clif bars, Lara bars, Odwalla, etc. etc. etc. I have longed for something not sweet. When traveling or hiking I tend to go through a lot of these things, and at some point you are just done with eating sweet food and might like an option other than nuts or sesame sticks–especially when you really are stuck eating one instead of an actual meal. All of which to say…I wanted to like these more than I did. I love the premise, but I felt a little cheated when I found that they are sweetened also. So yes, they’re savory, but savory kind of like teriyaki is: you feel like you’re getting a solid dose of sweetness also. I wouldn’t say I disliked them, and I would like to give each flavor a more thorough try than I got from the little bites today. Honestly, overall I’d say I preferred the Sheffa bars I tried in NYC. Those truly are not sweet at all, and the rosemary flavor in particular was really good. On the other hand, the Sheffa bars are crisp-dry, which makes them messy as they crumble when you eat them, whereas the GardenBars hold together nicely. GardenBars also include actual vegetables, rather than just the legume-grain combo of Sheffas. What I’m hoping is that this is the new fad in convenience foods, and that we’ll see many more varieties of savory snack bars to fill this sadly neglected niche.
  • Mom’s Vegan Kitchen French Toast Mix. I had never heard of this company, but they were sampling the French Toast Mix, and I was very impressed. The batter seemed to do just the right job of flavoring the bread and making a good crust on it as it fried. I see now that the product is gluten free, so if you wanted to use gluten-free bread for your toast this wouldn’t get in your way. Locally, it’s carried at the usual suspects (Karmavore, Sidecar, Oly Vegan, Food Fight, among others), so it’s easy to find. They also make biscuit mix and pancake/waffle mix, which I’d be glad to try also.
  • I finally tried a Field Roast frankfurter, which has been available for several months now. They’re good! Firmer in texture than most vegan franks, but not as firm and smoother in texture (as you’d hope) than the rest of Field Roast’s line of grain meats. Flavor was good, and it hit the spot with some mustard on a bun. They’re significantly more expensive than most vegan dogs, but they’re also a little larger than many and definitely a nicer product. If you’re a hot dog fan, these are probably worth a splurge.

I also got to re-sample quite a few old favorites, like Coconut Bliss, Sunbutter, Biscoff Spread and Mighty-O Donuts.

Did you go to Vegfest this year (or to Portland’s Better Living Show, which also happened this weekend)? What products were your favorites? Anything you are glad to know you don’t want to bother buying?

Posted in Events, Gluten free, Products, Reviews, Seattle, Soy free | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Travelers Thali House: No dairy, no gluten, no soy? No problem.

About a month ago, I got an email from my friend Bernie, asking for Indian food recommendations in Seattle. A long-time vegan newly directed to avoid both gluten and soy, Bernie saw an opportunity in focusing more on Indian food, which has a lot of options that don’t include those ingredients.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of recommendations up my sleeve, but that very same day I saw a tweet from Michael Natkin, a local ovo-lacto food blogger (and soon to be cookbook author) you should follow. The food in that thali looked awfully tasty, and both Michael and the Travelers website offered good reason to believe that this vegetarian restaurant could do right by vegans. Bernie, Jud and I resolved to check it out.

Travelers has a tea room on Capitol Hill, which also sells snacks and a nice assortment of spices and kitchen implements suitable for Indian cooking. For a weeknight dinner, though, we headed to their Beacon Hill location: Travelers Thali House.

The space is in fact a converted house, and it’s both casual and inviting. The menu didn’t make clear what was vegan or gluten-free, but invited us to ask. When we did, we learned that most of the menu was or could be made vegan, and that nearly everything but the breads were gluten free. Avoiding soy was also no problem. For the three of us, we split a Deluxe Thali ($20), a Full Thali ($15) and a plate of samosas ($5), which was a good amount of food to fill us up.


Full and Deluxe Thalis, free of gluten, soy, or any animal ingredients (except the chapatis, which contain wheat).

The difference between the Full and the Deluxe is that the latter adds an order of bread (all contain gluten; only the chapatis are vegan), a beverage (tea, chai, coffee or soft drink), and dessert. Each one came with a large papadam; if you wanted a gluten-free deluxe you might ask if they’d give you a second papadam for the bread. If you want less food, there are smaller options (with fewer dishes) for $8 or $6. There’s also a “light fare” menu that breaks out of the thali format, offering dal, rice, salaad and a couple condiments for around $5. Safe to say, the menu can easily accommodate any size of appetite, and the prices seem very reasonable for what you get.


A closer look at a Full Thali

What you see here (clockwise from front center; italicized descriptions are quoted from the menu):

  • Masoor Dal (red lentils, cooked with ginger, garlic and chilies, topped with fried onions and roasted black cumin seeds)
  • A chickpea curry not listed on the menu
  • Nepali Lauki Ki Sabzi (lauki is a gourd that grows on lush vines that cover houses and haystacks throughout India. This authentic recipe – with potatoes, tomatoes and onions, lightly seasoned – comes from our Bhutanese-Nepali chef)
  • Papadam (poking up from center of tray)
  • Sesame Potato & Cucumber Salaad (nearly hidden behind the papadam: a Nepali salaad of potatoes and cucumbers, coated in a dressing of toasted sesame seeds with ginger, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and fried fenugreek seeds)
  • Steamed basmati rice
  • A simple fruit salad with orange, fresh pineapple and pomegranate seeds
  • Kadhi Pakore (fried chickpea dumplings that would have been smothered in dairy products if we hadn’t ordered vegan)
  • Achaar Pachranga (the famous mixed pickle of Haryana – sour, salty, spicy – stimulates the digestive fire)
  • Mango Chutney (sweet chutney from the mango fields of northern India, preserved with vinegar, sugar and salt)

All of the elements were well prepared. The curries had a nice balance of flavors and weren’t overly spicy, and the potato/cucumber salad was an interesting combination of familiar flavors I would never have thought to put together. I wouldn’t say that any one thing jumped out at me as outstanding, but the generous variety of textures, flavors and visuals made for a very enjoyable meal. We also appreciated the fact that, unlike most Indian restaurant food, this seemed to be prepared with a reasonable amount of oil. The thali format also meant not having to coordinate our ordering to get a nice balance of food groups on the table.

The two tasty, piping-hot samosas (not gluten free) came with both a tamarind and a mint chutney:

Not pictured is the delicious chai I enjoyed as part of the Deluxe Thali. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better chai, with a nice mix of fresh-tasting spices and tea, both peppery and slightly sweet. If you don’t have time for a meal, I’d urge you to stop in to either location just for that. They also sell packages of the spice blend and tea to make the chai at home yourself. This would give you nice control over the sweetness level, in addition to being very cost effective. There’s even a rooibos version if you’d prefer to avoid caffeine.

Jud had a glass of wine, which came amid apologies from the server that recent changes in Washington State liquor laws have limited the variety of wines they have access to. Sure enough, the wine was drinkable but probably not anything we’d order again. They do offer a short list of beers also, which I would guess to be less affected by availability issues.

The Deluxe came with a little plate of dessert, also:


Dessert, plus two polished-off thalis

The rectangles were Besan Burfi (“chickpea flour fudge”); the balls were Ganesh Ladoo (“sweet balls of chickpea boondis”). I had had besan burfi before, but never ganesh ladoo. Like many desserts in Asian cuisines, the primary flavor is “sweet,” which is not generally what I enjoy in a dessert, preferring less sweetness and more complexity of flavor. Given that, I’m probably not the person to ask whether these were good examples of those dishes.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the experience. The thali menu changes monthly, so unless you go very soon you’ll have some different dishes in the rotation. If you’re working around dietary restrictions beyond veganism like we were, this place is a great, no-fuss way for everyone to get a nicely varied meal. One more bonus is that the restaurant is just a couple minutes’ walk from the Beacon Hill light rail station, making for very easy access if you don’t already frequent that neighborhood.

Thali House Restaurant
(206) 329-1465
Open noon to 9pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Happy Hour 4:00 – 6:30
Closed Monday & Tuesday
2524 Beacon Avenue S
Seattle, WA 98144

Where do you go for vegan Indian food in the PNW?

Posted in Gluten free, Restaurants, Reviews, Seattle, Soy free | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Northwest Niblets

Ok, I’m going to try to be more regular with this Northwest Niblets thing–a round up of cool little things you may have missed on Twitter or Facebook or the grocery store when you were busy with the rest of your life. If you know of something I should include in Northwest Niblets, please email me or tweet at me.

  • Corina Bakery in Tacoma has new digs, and from the look of it, they’re gorgeous! The new address (their website is not yet current) is right around the corner from their old location. Find them at 602 Fawcett Ave. If you don’t know the deliciousness that is Corina, I suggest you read this right away, or just get down there and discover it for yourself.
  • If you’re a bit farther to the north, maybe you should head to Seattle’s Bang Bang Cafe, where my Seattle Times colleague Tyrone Beason wrote about “a little scoop of heaven that is spicy, smoky and wonderfully crunchy”–that being the vegan mac and cheese that is the talk of Belltown and much of Seattle.

  • Seattleites might also like to know that Rachel’s Ginger Beer is now available, among other places, at Central Co-op. Delicious on its own or as a mixer.

  • Maybe you’re even farther north, all the way into BC! If that’s the case you’re SO in luck next month. On March 10-11, Fairy Cakes Cupcakes is having its Grand Opening, complete with samples (some gluten free, all vegan and free of tree nuts and peanuts) and other great stuff. But wait! There’s more! On Thursday, 3/22, New Westminster is the place to be for a Vegan Wine and Cheese Soiree. Yes, you read that right. And if you’re wondering what else you would do if you were to venture to New West for this event, you should instead be wondering why you’re not already there.

  • Our friends to the south might like to know about the opportunity to help start a vegan, artisanal ice cream truck in Portland. More into savory than sweet? Then check out the Kickstarter campaign to help Homegrown Smoker add a second truck, on Portland’s east side. And if you haven’t tried Homegrown Smoker’s magically delicious street food, you need to plan a trip to their current downtown cart right now.

  • Two favorite food discoveries this week: FatFree Vegan’s Polenta Lasagna, which was deliciously rich, hearty and loaded with vegetables. It’s also gluten free, easy to make and reheats beautifully. And then for dessert, Eat Pastry cookies (or just eat the dough!). Warm, soft, vegan cookies out of the oven in about 15 minutes. And Whole Foods Westlake has three varieties on sale right now, through 2/28. Other Whole Foods stores probably do, too. Now is the time to try this wonderful stuff.

ETA: Thanks to Brooke for reminding me about Jodee’s Desserts in Seattle, which is celebrating its first anniversary this Saturday, 2/25, with special treats in the storefront. You can read how much I love Jodee’s desserts here.

Posted in Events, Gluten free, Northwest Niblets, Portland, Products, Recipes, Reviews, Savory stuff, Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Barbecue Sliders with Coleslaw

Friday night I went to a Meet-up hosted by Anika, of Seattle Vegan Score (which blog, by the way, was a primary inspiration for starting Northwest Herbivore, and if you’re not following it I can’t imagine why not). It was a gathering of local vegan food bloggers–most of whom I’d never met, at least in person. I settled on taking BBQ sliders made with Soy Curls, even though I’d a) never cooked with Soy Curls b) never made sliders c) to the best of my recollection never eaten a slider.

But I wanted to eat a slider, and this is how my brain works. Despite the apparent lack of wisdom in not making a favorite, practiced dish when short on time (and perhaps trying to impress some new acquaintances), I rarely make the same thing twice and rarely follow recipes, so I often look at situations like this as a chance to push myself a bit more and try something that inspires me rather than something that feels familiar. This time it worked out; other times it totally flops, but I always learn a lot.

So. Here’s my learn-as-I-went version of Barbecue Sliders with Coleslaw (with just the one picture since I was running late enough as it was!). They went over really well with the group, and although a bit time-consuming, you could easily split up the work to make them easy for a party or other gathering.

If you’re doing this all at once, start with the buns. Normally I’d make buns from scratch (there’s a great sandwich bun recipe in The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook), but with all the other stuff to do and limited time I just used blobs of pizza dough out of the Whole Foods refrigerated section, and they worked great.

Slider buns (Makes 32 buns about 1-1/2″ across)

2 11-oz. packages refrigerated pizza dough (I used whole wheat from Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s makes several delicious vegan pizza doughs that are cheaper and would work just as well here). If you use frozen, you’ll need to thaw it well in advance, per package instructions.
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds (Optional. I used half white and half black.)

Take the dough out of the packages and knead briefly to mix in any dry areas or sticky spots. The Whole Foods dough didn’t need any flour on the surface for this; Trader Joe’s dough is stickier and definitely would need some flour. With a dough scraper or sharp knife, cut each ball of dough into 16 pieces, as equally sized as you can. If you want slightly larger buns, you might try dividing into 12 instead. Cover dough pieces with plastic wrap (or a clean towel or an overturned bowl) and let it warm up to room temp (this would be a good time to make the coleslaw).

Roll/pat/stretch each small piece of dough into a disc about 2″ across and 1/4″ thick. Arrange on a lightly greased baking sheet. These actually pull in a bit as they bake and rise into more of a ball shape, so you can put them very close together. Brush tops with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds (if the dough is somewhat sticky when you’re shaping it, you can do what I did and just dip the shaped pieces into a little bowl of seeds before putting on the tray).

At this point, preheat the oven to 450 F.

Let sit in a warm place until the oven preheats, or at least 10 minutes. Bake on the bottom rack about 10 minutes, or until puffed up into little balls and golden brown. Cool before slicing most of the way through each bun with a bread knife.

Barbecue Soy Curls

1 large onion, diced (I used a sweet white one)
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 package Soy Curls
16 oz. barbecue sauce (I used my own Chipotle-Peach Barbecue Sauce that I canned this summer.)
Extra seasonings to taste, which will depend on your sauce. I used a couple tablespoons each of soy sauce, cider vinegar and unsalted tomato paste, a teaspoon or so of smoked salt, and maybe 1/2 tsp. powdered chipotle.

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, cook the onion in the oil until very soft and starting to brown. While that’s cooking, soak the Soy Curls. I used very hot (almost boiling) water and soaked them longer than you normally should, which produced very soft curls that worked well for this dish. When they’re as soft as you want them, drain thoroughly and then chop coarsely to get the long strips down to something that will fit on a slider.

When the onions start to brown, add the Soy Curls to the pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, to evaporate some of the liquid that remains after draining. Add the barbecue sauce and stir well. Cook another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and taste to adjust the seasonings. By the time it’s done, it should be very moist but not have liquid spots in the mixture, so it will hold together on the buns without immediately making them soggy.

I’m thinking this would work great in a slow cooker, which could also really manage the prep time needed before serving, and you could use the cooker to keep the mixture hot on the table.

Coleslaw

1/2 head cabbage, cored and quartered (Purple makes for some nicely festive slaw, or you could do a mix of purple and green. Savoy would work, too.)
1 medium carrot, scrubbed and trimmed
1/4 of a large, sweet onion
1/3 to 1/2 cup Vegenaise
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2-1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. whole celery seed
1/8 tsp. salt

Shred the vegetables (I used the grating blade of my 7-cup food processor, which was a bit too fine for my taste, but it certainly did the job quickly and easily) and mix with the remaining ingredients. Adjust seasonings to taste and keep chilled until serving.

Assembly

Put a tablespoon or so of barbecue on a bun, top with a teaspoon or two of coleslaw, and pin it together with a party frill or just shove it in your mouth.

Posted in Recipes, Savory stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Soak up the atmosphere at Tacoma’s delicious 1022 South

Several months ago, in researching spots to check out for this blog, I stumbled upon the website of 1022 South, a craft cocktail lounge in the Hilltop area of Tacoma. I don’t often get down that way, so it wasn’t until last weekend that I visited–a result of a last-minute decision to get food and a drink before returning to Seattle from a day of snowshoeing near Rainier with Jud. 

First off, now that I’ve been there I need to give props to whoever designed their website. It’s clean, attractive, easy to navigate even on a phone (hurray for no PDF menus!), tells you what you need to know and gives a nicely visual first taste of what you’ll experience if you go. If only all businesses had such good websites!

Secondly, I’ll note that 1022 South is primarily a bar (or lounge, if you prefer), and there’s an excellent write-up in Tacoma Weekly about the business and its unique cocktail menu by an author who might be quite familiar to South Sound vegans.

I like a good drink, but since I’m no expert on cocktails I’m going to focus here on the food and the experience of going there.


Cozy and elegant, there’s seating at the bar and at a few small tables.

With its small, narrow space, 1022 South is not the place to take a crowd–but it’s a great place to take a date or a good friend with whom to relax and catch up. We waited just a few minutes for a table for two to open on a Saturday night, though we could have sat at the bar without a wait.


Vintage-styled lights are kept at a sultry dimness, but candles throw plenty of light on the tables.

The cocktail menu is extensive, creative and uses lots of house-infused liquors for complex flavors. Jud had a Sazerac, and I had a “Red Over White,” (Aquavit, beet-infused dry vermouth, Benedictine, celery bitters, sage and salt, which came together into an interestingly astringent dryness and a glowing red color).

The food menu had been updated somewhat since this one from the website, but the online version gives a good idea of their offerings, which are remarkably vegan-friendly and also remarkably rich in fresh produce. That sounded like just the thing after a day out enjoying the snowy sunshine in the mountains. We decided to get a number of small plates, plus a sandwich to share.


Grilled green beans with balsamic vinegar, sea salt and lemon zest

The green beans were deliciously crisp and complemented in both taste and presentation by the vinegar and trace of salt. We didn’t taste the lemon zest, but the beans were quite good anyway.


White-bean-and-fennel spread with baguette and green apple

We both really enjoyed this light but flavorful spread, which got even better when paired with the apple.


Spiced Marcona almonds and pistachios (left, background) and pickled vegetables

The nuts were a satisfying addition to the rest of the food we had, though again, the promised spicing (with coriander) was not detectable: they just tasted like good, salty nuts.

The pickles more than made up for that, though. The mason jar held a mix of pickled beets, cucumber and fennel. All of them were perfectly fresh-tasting and crunchy, with an excellent balance of tart-salty-spicy flavor that didn’t overwhelm the taste of the underlying vegetable. The beets were gorgeously red in the candlelight, and the others looked pearly white. The mixture varies according to what they’ve got at the time, but I will absolutely be ordering this again next time I go.


The “Winter Flora” sandwich, with beets, apples and tomato jam. Unexpected and lovely.

This was the one vegan sandwich offering available, so we went right for it. Neither of us would have dreamed to put these things together, let alone in this way, but it was wonderful. The thinly sliced beets brought a firm, chewy bite to the sandwich, and the fresh apples offered juicy, tangy crunch. I’m not sure what, other than vegan mayo, was in the top layer, but it worked very well to bring the other flavors together. The crusty potato roll it was served on was substantial without being a chore to get your mouth around, and the green side salad added even more welcome fresh veggies to the meal. Seriously, since when do you get this many vegetables–good ones! seasonal ones!–in a bar?

Our server was friendly and efficient, and when Jud peppered her with questions to figure out which wine he wanted to try after his cocktail, she led him to exactly what he was looking for.

If you’re looking for a place to get gussied up a bit and enjoy some cocktails in beautiful surroundings that let you pretend you’re visiting another era, this is it. If you’re “gussied up” in REI’s finest with hat head and find yourself looking for good food and a drink or two to complement it, they’ll still be really nice to you.

Two cocktails, a glass of wine, one sandwich and four small plates came to an even $50 before tip, and it was a perfect amount of food for two.

Posted in Restaurants, Reviews, Tacoma, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment