Friday, June 29, 2012

Vegan Ice Cream

Nothing refreshes like a creamy cup or cone of ice cream on a hot summer's day, but what to do if you are avoiding dairy? Fortunately, options abound, and we vegans are not limited to sorbet or FrozFruit (although those, too, are viable options, as are Italian Ices and CocoMango icies.)

Several vegan ice cream parlors exist in the city. The best of these three is Stogo in the East Village, across the street from St. Mark's Church. They have almost as many flavor options as a Baskin Robbins, and I haven't yet found one I didn't like. Soy, coconut milk, and hemp milk based ice creams as well as sorbets are available. One can also have an ice cream sandwich made-to-order with vegan cookies.

Another option is Lulu's Sweet Apothecary, which I don't go to that often because it's way over on Avenue B and 6th street, but the ice cream is very good. This place is kitschy and designed like an old time sweet shop, and along with a host of flavors (some gluten-free, as well) they have a zillion toppings, sundaes, malted milkshake, etc. Some of their ice cream is also offered at Sustainable NYC, which is on 9th and A and is a little less of a schlepp.

I was delighted to discover that a vegan ice cream option also exists in Midtown! Kyotofu, an Asian restaurant on 48th and 9th Ave, has soymilk soft serve which will fool even the most diehard Mr. Softee fan. 2 flavors are available daily and a small comes with a free topping, most of which are vegan. I sampled the green tea and black sesame flavors recently and they were terrific.

Additionally, most vegan restaurants serve vegan ice cream, although generally not to take out. Most health food stores sell a variety of vegan ice creams as well. Tofutti is a well-known brand which has been around for years, primarily to serve the Jewish Kosher community who can't have a dairy dessert after a meat meal. I don't particularly advocate this brand because, despite being quite tasty, it has a lot of chemicals. Other options have sprung up, however including Soy Delicious, which offers soy and coconut milk ice creams with a minimum of additives, Tempt, which is made from hemp milk, and Rice Dream, which is made from rice milk and is very light. I also highly recommend Ciao Bella's Blackberry Cabernet sorbet.

Even if you are not a vegan, if you are lactose intolerant or watching your weight or cholesterol, these various vegan treats are superior to their dairy counterparts, and you will not be missing anything taste-wise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roasted Beet and Fennel Melange

I made this with everything fresh from the farmer's market:

3 beets, peeled and cut into chunks
2 apples, cored and cut into chunks
3 fennel bulbs, sliced thin
3 carrots, cut into chunks

Marinated in:
2 tbsps olive oil
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp agave
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Bake at 400 degrees in a roasting pan until beets are soft (took about 1.5 hours)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Falafel, Vegan Snack

A delicious and easy-to-obtain vegan fast food option is falafel. Falafel is a Middle Eastern snack consisting of fried balls of ground up chick peas and/or fava beans and mild spices. Usually these crunchy balls of yum are put into a pita bread and topped with veggies and tahini (sesame paste). Some places also top with yogurt sauce, if you are not doing dairy it's easy enough to leave it off. The bean/bread/seed combination renders this meal and excellent source of complimentary proteins. My criteria for choosing a good falafel are as follows:
1. Has it been contaminated with meat? I do not eat from the Halal carts as they appear to fry the meat in the same oil as the falafels, this is a matter of preference in how much of a purist you are regarding animal products.
2. Is a whole wheat pita an option? (If not, I may skip the bread and order as a salad if possible: the white bread doesn't digest well and is just empty calories.)
3. Are there lots of veggie toppings? The more veggies available, the yummier and more nutritious the sandwich.

Here are some of my favorite spots for falafel in the city:
Maoz, which has rapidly become ubiquitous, is an all-vegetarian falafel spot which offers whole-wheat pita and has a DYI salad bar. Their falafel is tasty and inexpensive. The negatives about Maoz are that I find their falafel excessively salty and they stuff the pita so chock-full of falafel balls there is little room for salad (an ideal falafel sandwich for me would be a pita bursting with veggies and a couple falafel balls floating around, the whole thing dripping with tahini.)

Moshe's is a kosher, all vegetarian falafel truck on the corner of 46th and 6th which appears to be open only weekdays (and probably closes early on Fridays as the owners are Orthodox.) I have to admit, rated based solely on quality of falafel balls, theirs are RIDICULOUS. I have no idea what they do to make their falafel so superb, but flavor-wise they  undoubtably reign supreme. I foolishly ordered the full-size sandwich, piggishly demolished it all, and was unable to eat anything else for about 16 hours subsequently, so I would suggest the half-size portion. On the down side, their pita is white, and their salad is meager (lettuce, tomato, and onion only, with a side of extremely yummy pickles which they are a little stingy with.)

Mamoun's is a well-known haunt with a few locations in the East and West Villages. At 2.50 a piece, their falafel sandwiches are among the least expensive, but are smaller and more like a snack than a meal. Their falafel balls are tasty, whole wheat pita is an option, but salad is basic (lettuce, tomato, onion.) They have a host of tempting desserts which are decidedly NOT vegan (laden with butter and honey) so don't be fooled. Some side salads like tabouli and babaganoush can be ordered separately.

There is another spot I am going to recommend despite not actually having had their falafel in Midtown East. When I visited Soomsoom I was intrigued by their more unusual options, which included some sort of "Sabich" (Israeli sandwich) which was sort of like a potato knish stuffed with fried eggplant (too greasy for my taste). After ordering I noticed their incredible salad bar which included options such as roasted butternut squash and various types of beets, cabbage, and olives (to name a few-- there were seriously about 20 vegetable options). I regretted not ordering a falafel sandwich with salad toppings included, and will be returning at some point to sample their fare.

An honorable mention goes to Duzan Mediterranean Grill in Astoria Queens off of Steinway Street and Astoria Boulevard. I am too suspicious of their grill to order a falafel there, but I have on many occasions had a hummus pita which is absolutely divine. A host of pickled this and that (red cabbage, beets, cucumbers, etc) tops a creamy homemade hummus in a whole wheat pita topped with an equally delicious tahini. The workers are also friendly, which is great, because sometimes I stay a little longer and have seconds. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Raw Foodism for the Lazy

In an attempt to boost my overall health, I've been emphasizing more raw food. A fully raw food diet only works for me for a few days as sort of a cleanse, but my goal has been to consistently eat 75-80 percent raw foods. Often when I mention this to people they think that this is an an incredibly exotic way of eating, but it actually is terrific for someone who is lazy. There are certainly plenty of cookbooks, websites, and in NYC, specialty restaurants which have made an art out of raw food, creating crackers out of ground up dehydrated nuts, carving zucchini into fettucine, et al. However, what I've mostly been eating as a partial raw-foodist is fruit, salad, and trail mix. Not exactly exotic! I've been attempting three tactics:

1. Add raw food to a cooked-food meal. For example, rather than have a full bowl of cereal for breakfast (cold cereal is a cooked food as it has been cooked prior to being put in the cereal box), I'll top a small amount of cereal with a banana, 5 strawberries, raisins (dried fruits count as raw), and raw sunflower seeds. Still getting the cereal experience, but overall much more nutritious.

2. Replacing cooked snacks with raw snacks. This one is particularly useful. While I am not usually snacking on Snicker's bars, my snacks tend to be heavy on the bread/crackers end, which isn't terrible but is only providing a limited number of nutrients. Seriously, how great for you are Wheat Thins? Not that great. Instead of my usual midday bagel, I've been reaching for raw almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dried fruits, and fresh fruits. Since all of those foods have a fairly high calorie content (which is GOOD-- you want to eat calories so you don't keel over) they keep me going through the day.

3. Replacing some cooked meals with raw meals. I've discovered that eating 100 percent raw usually doesn't fill me up, but at least one meal a day I will eat almost entirely raw food. For example: a typical dinner for me was rice and beans cooked with a couple vegetables. Instead, I've been making a big salad with 5-6 veggies (lettuce, tomato, carrots, fresh dill are my favorite staples, then whatever else looks good at the market) with some raw seeds, some cooked beans for protein, a big dollop of homemade guacamole, and some lemon juice and olive oil dressing. Every time I make it I think I won't be full, but invariably I am actually satisfied for hours and crackling with nutritional goodness.

There are many more creative ways to accomplish a raw diet, including dehydrating, juicing, and sprouting, but for my current time/energy level this simple approach is working well.

There are many advantages to consuming the extra enzymes and vitamins in raw foods, but to me the biggest plus with eating this way is that it keeps me away from junk food and constantly consuming fruits and veggies, which let's face it, we all know are the best foods for us. My skin and energy level are definitely much improved from going this route.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Trini Curry Channa

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time. You need a particular type of curry: Chief brand Trinidadian curry powder, which is not very spicy and exceptionally yummy.

Chop a large onion and a clove of garlic and saute in about a tbsp of vegetable oil til soft.
Add 2 heaping tbsps of curry, plus a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a dash of cumin, stir until the veggies are coated and saute for another 3 min, watching carefully to ensure it doesn't burn. Add 4-8 leaves of cilantro and saute another minute.
Once curry is very lightly browned, add 3 cups of cooked chickpeas (channa) with about 3 tbsps of the liquid from the cooked beans. Stir thoroughly until the peas are well-coated in the veggies and spice. Simmer covered on a low heat for about 12 min, until some, but not all, of the liquid is absorbed.

This is delicious over brown rice, with Basmati being the best option. This is also absolutely superb paired with roti if you can obtain it.

There is another version with potatoes which I find harder to make because the cooking time for the potatoes is tricky. I also find it too starchy with the rice. However, if you wish to use potatoes, I would suggest partially boiling them separately, cutting them into small chunks, and adding them to the mix a few minutes before you add the beans, and using about 2 tbsps more water.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vegan Brunch Options

The pleasures of a weekend brunch, preferably plein air and featuring mimosas, are many, but at a traditional brunch locale vegan options tend to be few. If you enjoy the savor and the ambiance of going out to brunch but eschew the ubiquitous omelette, here are my two favorite locales featuring a vegan brunch.

Caravan of Dreams, on 6th street, has a superb vegan brunch which runs late into the afternoon and offers both a prix fixe option which includes sangria and coffee, as well as several a la carte choices. Sweet and savory options are included, with a highlight in the former department being their vegan french toast with fresh fruit, and the latter being several choices of tofu scramble with different vegetables. The sangria is a rich and complex melange of fresh squeezed juices and organic fruit bits with a dash of wine, and they offer soy or almond milk with their coffee or tea. A host of smoothies with raw, exotic "superfoods" such as maca, acai, spirulina, young coconut, and cashew cream can be ordered on the side. Their menu is exclusively vegan, mostly organic, has many raw options, and many items, such as the almond milk and cashew cream, are made fresh on site. I've actually never been to Caravan of Dreams for dinner as I find their prices a bit high, but their prix fixe brunch is very reasonable and quite filling. Outdoor seating is available. 

I recently stumbled upon a second vegan brunch option, Mana, a farm-to-table restaurant on 91st and Amsterdam, which has a pesca-vegan general menu (vegan with options for wild fish) and an all-vegan brunch menu. Farm-to-table means that the majority of items come from small, local farms. All items in this brunch menu are a la carte, including the beverages, but mimosas and bellinis are offered, as well as a peanut-vanilla smoothie which was delicious and filling. Their wheat- and egg- free oatmeal waffle is filling, tasty, and unsweetened, and comes with a side of maple syrup and almond cream, as well as a few berries. Paired with a side of tempeh bacon, which is refreshingly neither greasy nor salty, this meal satisfies both the sweet and the savory palate.  The basil pesto tofu scramble with a side of tempeh bacon and a field green salad is also quite delectable. Brunch for two sans alcoholic beverages came to about 40 including tip, which is not bad for the Upper West Side. There was no outdoor seating, but the ambiance and decor were excellent.