Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vegetarian Dim Sum House

One of my favorite neighborhoods in NYC is Chinatown. I love the hustle and bustle, I love the maddeningly crowded streets, I love the fruit and vegetable stands stocked with all the hard-to-find produce that I crave...although I could do without the stinky fish vendors, especially on a hot summer day. I could also do without all the restaurant windows full of Peking Duck carcasses, but fortunately for us vegans there are a few havens in the neighborhood where vegan treats can be found.

One such place is the Vegetarian Dim Sum House, where I recently went with two of my best gal pals, Valerie from Lifestyles of the Chic & Vegan, and Leanne of Vaute Couture. Being Asian ladies, we like to plan our outings around Asian food, and had been talking about dim sum for several weeks.

I had been to this place before, a couple years ago, and I had completely forgotten how good it could be. You don't go for the decor, because it's slightly depressing, and you don't go for the service, which is efficient but hardly warm and friendly. You go for the dim sum.

Now dim sum can be slightly intimidating to the uninitiated - you're given a menu card with a checklist of the items you want. You simply write in how many you want of each item, and they will bring the dishes to you. But it can also be intimidating because there are so many unfamiliar (to most of us) items, and descriptions are virtually nonexistent. What are treasure balls? Monk dumplings? And I just can't bring myself to order shark fin dumplings, vegan or not.

At any rate, I was with a couple of dim sum veterans who knew how to order like real pros. We actually started with some watercress dumplings, which were light and very fresh-tasting, but we dove into those before any of us remembered to pull out our cameras, so I didn't get a picture of them. We also had some good ol' spring rolls, to cover the deep-fried portion of our nutritional pyramid.

Then we had some rice flour rolls, some were filled with mock shrimp and some had mock ham. It's hard to describe the texture of these, they are like very silky, smooth rice crepes with a delicate flavor on their own but excellent at absorbing the accompanying sauces.

We also had some turnip cakes, which I had to confess I had never tried before, much to the dismay of Valerie & Leanne. I am now a fan too. These cakes are starchy, not unlike potato, but with a silkier texture. Fried to create a nice crisp on the outside, and dipped into what I think was a hoisin-type sauce, these were really delicious.

We also had some mock roast pork buns, a requisite at any dim sum outing. If you haven't had these type of buns before, the dough is really thick and spongy, and the filling inside is savory with a barbecue-type sauce. These are utterly addictive, though very filling. Or maybe I was just getting too full at this point anyway.

We had to try something from the sweet menu, so we had some red bean dumplings. The red beans are sweetened and mashed inside, so these are sweet but not overly so. I liked the filling but the wrappers were a bit too gelatinous (though vegan) for my taste.

We also ordered some crispy banana rolls for dessert, but be warned that these came out pretty much swimming in honey. If you order these, make sure to ask them to leave off the honey. Fried bananas are still pretty darn good on their own!

Vegetarian Dim Sum House
24 Pell St. (At Doyers St.)
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Simple, Perfect Pasta al Pomodoro

Is there anything more simple, and also more comforting, than tucking into a big ol' bowl of spaghetti? I'm not above boiling some pasta and heating sauce straight from a jar, especially on a weeknight, but when I came across this recipe for Pasta al Pomodoro in the May issue of Bon Appetit, I knew this was a simple recipe that I could rely on any day of the week. Really, it's just perfect as a go-to recipe when you don't feel like cooking much but you want something really satisfying and good for the soul.

The recipe is not up on their website yet, so I can't give you a link, but I will print my veganized version below. It's quite easy, the only changes I made were to substitute Earth Balance for butter and I used a vegan Parmesan.

Pasta al Pomodoro (adapted from recipe in Bon Appetit, May 2011)
serves 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I like the fire-roasted kind, but any kind is fine)
salt, to taste
3 large fresh basil sprigs, plus extra fresh basil for garnish
12 oz. spaghetti
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance
1/4 cup vegan Parmesan (I like Galaxy brand best)

1. Heat olive oil in a 12" skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 - 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 2 - 4 minutes. Add pinch of red pepper flakes and cook one minute longer.

2. Increase heat to medium, add tomatoes and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir in 3 fresh basil sprigs, and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, boil spaghetti according to instructions. About 2 minutes before it is tender, drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

4. Discard basil sprigs and heat skillet over high heat. Stir in reserved pasta water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring, until sauce evenly coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Note: at this point, I think the sauce is perfectly fine as is. You could certainly save yourself some calories by leaving off the next step (not that I would ever judge you for the extra calories), but if you really want to take this sauce to the next level, continue as instructed. The EB and vegan parmesan really give this sauce a silky, luxurious texture and an extra richness.

5. Add Earth Balance and vegan parmesan; toss until evenly and well coated. Transfer to serving bowls, garnish with fresh basil chiffonade and additional vegan parmesan, if desired.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My 2 Cents on the VegNews Scandal...

Image via This image is of real meat ribs - the bones have been photoshopped out to appear vegan.
 I woke up this morning to see my Twitter feed aflurry with outraged people talking about what will surely be dubbed Meatgate. Quarrygirl, one of my favorite vegan blogs, has yet again exposed a vegan scandal - this time, our beloved VegNews has been found to be using real meat photos to illustrate their all-vegan magazine.

Like pretty much everyone else, I am shocked. Purchasing stock photos of meat dishes then passing them off as vegan is not only dishonest, but it directly contributes to the exploitation of animals by supporting monetarily those who make their money by shooting images of dead meat. And as others have pointed out, it sets up unreal expectations in the readers whose recipes never turn out looking quite as good as the images in VegNews. Of course their vegan ribs didn't turn out as juicy and succulent-looking... they were never going to compare to the picture of the "real" thing.

But my shock and disappointment is coupled by some confusion. Very recently, I was approached by VegNews because they are doing a feature on the NY vegan chocolate shop, Cocoa V. About a year ago, I posted some photos from a visit to Cocoa V, and VegNews requested my photos to accompany their piece. The two people I communicated with from the magazine were both incredibly warm and friendly, enthusiastic about my photos, and I was honored and impressed that they had sought out images from a vegan blogger to publish in their magazine. There was no offer of compensation, but I was more than excited to contribute to what has long been my favorite magazine and, of course, be able to claim that my photos had been published. It certainly gave me an impression of integrity, and I simply assumed that all their images were not only of vegan products, but had been procured by vegan photographers as well.

So I'm sad to learn that this is apparently not the case. I know that a lot of people are justifiably angry and are immediately rushing to cancel their subscriptions, but I am patiently awaiting an explanation (an apology?) from VegNews about this disturbing issue. They have done so many great things for the vegan cause and I would like to think that they would want to remedy this situation and truly give us the all-vegan magazine that we have come to know and love.

UPDATE: VegNews has issued their response to the controversy here.

It is pretty much exactly what I expected - professional photo shoots are incredibly expensive, and it is industry standard to rely on stock photos to reduce expenses. HOWEVER, there are a wide number of vegan images available, even on iStockphoto, the outlet they were using for their images. Moreover, there are many talented vegan photographers out there - both professional and amateur - who would be more than willing to work for free or for nominal fees, just in order to support a magazine that they greatly admire. The site Finding Vegan, where many of my photos have appeared, is a veritable treasure trove of incredible photos of vegan food. There are many options available and I do hope and have faith that VegNews will make better use of these vegan resources in the future.

I have participated in several all-vegan photo shoots with my husband, who is a professional photographer and a vegan, having shot for Vaute Couture and Pinnacle magazine. We've had all-vegan models, vegan make-up artists, vegan stylists, a vegan photographer, vegan catering on set, and of course, all vegan products in the shoot. It can be done. And it is amazing how people will pitch in and help out for the good of the cause. I think this is a great opportunity for VegNews to reach out and rely on the vegan community at large, there are so many people who love this magazine and would be thrilled at the chance to contribute, and to ensure the integrity of this publication.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Appetite for Reduction's Broiled Blackened Tofu

In my last post I mentioned that I've been trying to eat lighter, healthier, and simpler lately. Mainly I've just been trying to take a small break from the overly processed foods, faux meats, and the like. I love my Gardein and my Field Roast sausages, I really do, but I've just been feeling a need to scale those items back a bit. Recently I've been on a weird kick where pretty much all I want to eat are mashed sweet potatoes and steamed kale. Exciting, I know, hence the lack of blog posts about it. But as you are all aware, vegans are perpetually on the verge of dying from lack of protein (sarcasm), so tonight I had to decide on something protein-packed to eat with my daily fill of sweet potatoes and kale. In my quest to keep it light, simple, and healthy, I reached for my copy of Appetite for Reduction for some inspiration

I'm not trying to lose weight or anything, but Isa's book is really great because the recipes are mostly quick, easy to make, and rely on simple, unprocessed ingredients. Exactly what I'm in the mood for right now. This blackened tofu recipe really appealed to me because of the interesting mix of spices that coat the tofu slices, which are then broiled as opposed to fried, which I admit, tends to be my typical way of cooking tofu. It's a really simple recipe but the result is so much more than the sum of the parts.

The spice mix has a classic cajun flavor profile: paprika, cayenne, oregano, thyme, a few other things I can't remember right now, and minced garlic. For some reason I was a little nervous that the flavors were going to be somehow overpowering - although my fear may have stemmed in part from the fact that I set off not one, but two, of our smoke detectors while making this recipe. But my fears were completely unfounded because the tofu came out tasting slightly smoky, savory, and all the spices were perfectly balanced. It might be my new favorite way to prepare tofu.

Even though I served my tofu with some simple sweet potatoes (mashed with Earth Balance, soy milk, salt, pepper, ground ginger) and steamed kale (with a splash of Bragg's liquid aminos), Isa's book is also really helpful in suggesting other dishes to create a menu. Like, I could have made her Ginger Mashed Sweet Potatoes & Apples, and her Jerk Asparagus, or Pineapple Collards to go with it. Those all sound amazing, don't they? Those will have to go on the menu next time, because I'm already thinking about when to make this Blackened Tofu again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ok. I haven't been cooking much lately. But I've been eating!

In my last post I explained that I haven't been cooking much because my sister was visiting us for a month, and we spent a lot of time running around and taking her to different restaurants. My sister has now returned home, but I've been finding it hard to get back into my groove in the kitchen. I promise you that I'm slowly getting inspired again and will be trying some new recipes soon, but I feel guilty for not posting more often. All that I can offer you right now are these pictures that I just cleared off my phone - it's a peek at the good vegan eats I've been having over the past month or so!

Smoky Tempeh Avocado Wrap from Blossom du Jour

Meatball Parm from 'Snice

Tofu Scramble Wrap from 'Snice

I did cook! I made rice noodles with veggies & Thai red curry

 Rosemary Grilled Seitan Salad from Jivamuktea Cafe

Soy Bacon Cheeseburger from Cafe Blossom

 French Toast from Cafe Blossom

An incredible Ethiopian meal at Awash

No visit to NY is complete without a banana split from Lula's Sweet Apothecary!

Or a piece of chocolate cake from Cocoa V!

And to top off a truly decadent month, some chocolates...

and some chocolate-dipped strawberries, also from Cocoa V.

As you can see, we've gone a little crazy eating out for the past month, and I can barely button my pants as a result of it all. I've been eating a lot of steamed veggies since my sister went home, but that's not really worth blogging about. Expect some healthy, clean, light & simple recipes soon!