Monday, March 18, 2013

Vegan on the Road: Zizi's Vegetarian in Charlotte, NC

According to the Veganesse's Charlotte Vegan Dining Guide, there are quite a few places for a vegan to get a meal in "Queen City." Unfortunately, the way the timing worked out, I only got to sample one. Fortunately, it was a good one!

Zizi's Vegetarian Restaurant is not at all aptly named. First of all, the food is all vegan. Secondly, it's not exactly a restaurant. More of a takeout counter. But the food is worth finding a place to sit and eat.

(Just a hint, Reedy Creek Nature Center & Preserve is less than 5 minutes away. There are plenty of picnic tables, covered pavilions - even with a fireplace! -  and a really charming view of the woods.)

For a little takeout counter, Zizi's really has a pretty extensive menu. They specialize in veganized versions of American food - Buffalo chicken, meatloaf, turkey and gravy, burgers, fried fish, macaroni and cheese. But they also have some conventional vegan fare for those not into analogues, like veggie stir-fry, spicy tofu, or grilled portabellos.

My flexitarian traveling companion, Debbie, ordered the lentil loaf with mac & cheese and mashed cauliflower potatoes with gravy.

Debbie was a big fan of the lentil loaf (which I snitched a bite of and I agree, it was delicious). Having never had vegan mac & cheese before, she was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was, and really liked the addition of corn to give it a little texture. Her only criticism was that she expected the cauliflower mashed potatoes to be a little more cauliflower and a little less potato.

I also had the mac & cheese and the cauliflower mash. My main dish was the Philly cheese steak sub, which is finely chopped seitan cooked with grilled onions and topped with a 'cheese sauce' of whipped Veganaise.

I cannot emphasize enough how delicious that sub was. It was very much like the original (meat) version in flavor and texture, but without any of the greasiness, grossness, or the guilt.

I also really enjoyed the sides. The gravy on the mash was flawless - much better than mine. The mac & cheese was good, but didn't compare to my homemade. (Of course, that would be really difficult, since I make the VegNews recipe, which is literally the best mac and cheese in the universe, no exaggeration.) But really, it was the sub that got me. So much so that I was tempted to run by to grab another for dinner on my way to the airport. I refrained, but only just barely.

I've got to give Zizi's credit for both the quality of the food and the reasonable prices. If I lived in Charlotte, I think it would be my go-to for takeout food. Should I find myself back in town, I'll definitely be visiting again!





Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Photos: Montauk, NY

These are some of my favorite photos from my recent trip to Long Island. There wasn't a lot of wildlife, but the scenery was glorious!










Friday, March 8, 2013

Can you be vegan and gluten-free?

Transitioning from a standard diet to a vegan one seems daunting enough, but for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or wheat allergies, there's an added level of fear. Can it even be done?

You may be surprised to know that, not only can it be done, but there are now an abundance of resources to help you: blogs, cookbooks, a website, even a forum. Let's take a look, keeping in mind this list is not exhaustive:

Blogs:
The Gluten-Free Vegan - A wide variety of recipes, including many common comfort foods (mac & cheese, shepherd's pie, muffins and cookies) and a selection of Mediterranean dishes (falafel, tabbouleh, dolmathes). Recipes come in a printable format.

Gluten Free, Soy Free, Vegan - Earthy foods and flavors from a Peace Corps volunteer living in Senegal. Mixed in among standards like pancakes and smoothies, find recipes for pumpkin lasagna, squash tagine, lentil dhaal, or dosas.

Manifest Vegan - An all-purpose gluten-free vegan cooking site. Find recipes to satisfy foodies as well as novice cooks. Also has tags for those who are soy-free, nut-free, corn-free, or refined sugar-free.

See also: The Welcoming KitchenGoing Against the Grain, Veganza, and Fork & Beans

Websites:
http://xgfx.org/ - Includes resources, recipes, product reviews, tutorials, tips for baking and for dining out.
http://www.glutenfreeveganlove.com/ - recipes, tips, and lifestyle advice.

Cookbooks:
Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats, by Allyson Kramer
The Gluten-Free Vegan and Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food, by Susan O'brien
The Welcoming Kitchen, by Kim Lutz
Gluten-Free & Vegan Holidays, Flying Apron's Gluten-Free & Vegan Baking Book and Gluten-Free & Vegan Bread by Jennifer Katzinger

Forum:
http://www.vegiac.com/ - While the activity in the forum ebbs and flows (it seems to be in an ebb stage at the time of this writing), the wealth of information in the previous thread makes it worth creating an account. Find recipes, resources, and advice from others with first-hand experience.

While being both gluten-free and vegan definitely presents some challenges, with the amount of information and support available, it's not only possible, it's now simpler than ever.

Vegan on the Road: Ariana Cafe & Hikudo Asian Bistro in Huntington, NY

It's never too difficult for a vegan to find some place to eat while traveling, but still, it sure is nice when someone takes it out of your hands! On a recent trip to Long Island, I left myself entirely in the care of my dear hosts, Jenn and Betsy, and was amply rewarded for my trust in their restaurant-finding abilities.

On the day of my arrival, we dropped my bags at my hotel in Huntington, then took a day trip out to Montauk to hike around the lighthouse. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in East Hampton at a gourmet market chain called Citarella.

Citarella had an absolutely amazing salad bar. In addition to all your standard salad bar items, they had grilled squash and zucchini, gourmet olives, huge artichoke hearts, roasted peppers... very fancy! And still reasonably priced - it was about the same per-pound price as the salad bar at Whole Foods.

For dinner that night, we returned to Huntington and met up with my colleague and traveling companion, Crystal, and her friend at Ariana, an Afghan fusion restaurant with a separate vegan menu. 

Jenn warned me that Ariana had been featured on Restaurant Stakeout for bad service. It's a family-run restaurant, and while the food rates highly, the service leaves something to be desired. Well, this turned out to be true, but I've certainly had worse service. The owners themselves attended to us, and they were polite and careful about determining who at the table was vegan and who wasn't. It was only their attentiveness and speed that left something to be desired. If you go, just be ready to flag them down if you need something. But on to the food! 


Upon seating, we were served pita triangles with house-made hummus and eggplant dip, kalamata olives, and pickled red cabbage. All absolutely delicious.

The hot tea was a lovely selection of tea bags of various flavors, and I was pleased to see that they did have raw (vegan) sugar out in the sugar service.

Crystal and I both ordered from the vegan menu. Crystal ordered the Vegan Delight, which was a sampler including banjan buranee (sliced eggplant with peppers, onions, and tomatoes in a marinara sauce) and sabzi chalaw (spinach and herbs with basmati rice), all with a side of steamed vegetables. Crystal enjoyed the dish, saying that the eggplant was similar to an Italian style eggplant, and the spinach to an Indian palak dish.
 
I chose the vegan steak, a portabella mushroom with a pomegranate balsamic sauce, accompanied by a side of sauteed spinach and steamed vegetables.

The vegetables were all cooked beautifully. I could've eaten a significantly larger portion of spinach, but you know how we vegans love our greens. The portion of mushroom steak was ample, with two large mushrooms. The pomegranate sauce was tart and a lovely complement to the earthy flavor of the mushroom, but the balsamic was a bit heavy. Next time I'd ask them for a lighter touch with the vinegar. But it didn't deter my love of the dish in the slightest.

I would definitely recommend a visit to Ariana if you're in the area. Just make sure you're not in a rush!

The next morning, Crystal and I had a breakfast meeting at our hotel, the Hilton Long Island. I was delighted to find that their buffet actually had many vegan-friendly items - fresh fruit, home-fried potatoes, oatmeal and cream of wheat made with water instead of milk (made plain, with various dried fruits and nuts to choose from to make your own flavor), and fruit smoothies made to order. And at $12.95 on weekends, it was actually less expensive than many hotel breakfasts.

Finally, before Crystal and I caught our flight back that evening, we made our way back to Huntington's Main Street, right down the road from Ariana, and stopped at Hikudo. This Asian bistro/sushi bar had a variety of vegan options on the menu, in every category from soups and salads to appetizers and main dishes. (Unfortunately not desserts, but I was wisely carrying some fair trade vegan chocolate.) 

I opted for the vegetable dumplings as an appetizer, and I would fly back to New York right now just for another serving. They were perfect! The perfect amount of crisp on the bottom, the perfect firm 'bite' in the middle (to the point that I actually double-checked with the waiter to make sure they hadn't inadvertently given me meat-filled dumplings, as veggie dumplings tend to be mushy), and perfectly seasoned. The sauce was light and tasty. Just so good.


For my main dish, I selected the mixed green vegetable stir-fry, which was a huge plate loaded with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, baby corn, and mushrooms and a side of rice. The sauce was delectable, and like the dumplings, the vegetables were cooked to the exactly perfect degree. Not one bite overcooked, not one bite undercooked, but every vegetable on the plate done just so. That's an impressive feat.

Jenn and Crystal seemed to be equally satisfied with their (non-vegan) selections, so I'd say it's definitely a place for enjoying a meal in mixed company. As a plus, the service was outstanding.

My thanks to Jenn and Betsy for making it such a stress-free, fun, and delicious trip for me and for Crystal!