12/20/09

the futile illusion.

Vegetarian (and Vegan) Delights of NYC: Mousabaha at Wafa's in Forest Hills
By Robert Sietsema in Featured, Sietsema, Vegetarian Delights of NYC

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/archives/2009/12/vegetarian_and_1.php

The mousabaha at Wafa's--a six-month-old Lebanese spot on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills--is transcendent, a piquant stew of chickpeas, tomatoes, and eggplant.

The charming place is just off the main drag, mainly featuring counter seating with a view of the stately homes of the neighborhood. The menu is somewhat impromptu, and you're well advised to look across the counter at what Waya (the woman who runs the place) is currently at work on. Though some meat is served, many vegan options are available, including a creamy hummus, a verdant tabbouleh, and a lemony lentil soup. For dessert, lacto-vegetarians should check out the rice pudding.

Jamie (reader)says:

I appreciate what you are trying to do here, but NYC has some of the best vegan/vegetarian focused dining establishments in the world and if baffles me why you have yet to cover any of them. Most of what you profile are side dishes, which are nice and all, but there's almost nothing I'd want to make a meal out of (I'm vegan). Are you afraid of hearty meat substitutes? Of people who cook vegan because they believe in it, and not just by accident? I assure you, you are missing out. Check out the seitan at Candle 79! The warm open faced tempeh sandwich at Angelica Kitchen! The mock duck curry at Pukk! The vegan biscuits and gravy at Sacred Chow! The seitan asada at Papacitos! And even (dare I bring it up to a foodie?) the magical amalgamation of chemicals and processed soy that is the crispy soul chicken at VPII (a delicious unhealthy treat to be savored once in a blue moon)? Vegans love food, and I think more of them would read your blog if you were not so squeamish about covering the restaurants we hold dear. Not because they're vegan, but because they're good. You are missing out.

rsietsema (village voice)says:

Thanks for your heartfelt email, Jamie. We have covered extensively both Angelica Kitchen (which I love) and Pukk (full review). To tell the truth, I'm not a big fan of meat substitutes, there are plenty of vegan cuisines (south Indian, for example) that make excellent food without trying to give the futile illusion that one is eating meat. Given a vegan value system, why would you even want to eat something that looks like meat? For one thing, meat substitutes tend to represent wildly over processed foods filled with chemicals, and, truth to tell, a clump of tofu, strip of seitan, or glob of textured protein is (Sic: not) a beautiful thing unto itself.

Alas, many vegetarian restaurants serve food that is totally bland, or, in the case of Chinese vegetarian, so soaked in sugar and grease, that there's no way it's healthy by any stretch or the imagination. Not that we're obsessed with plugging healthy food, either.

One of the reasons we promote vegetarian and vegan alternatives at regular restaurants is to convince them to give more of their menus over to meatless choices; Remember that vegetarians and vegans more often find themselves in the vicinity of places that serve meat than not.

Nevertheless, I appreciate you suggestion of good vegetarian and vegan places to dine.


sacred chow says:

Hello! For your edification: when you wash out wheat dough, what remains is wheat protein aka seitan; if you boil soy beans, blend well, strain, add a coagulant, like lemon juice, into the milky liquid, you'll have soy curds aka tofu; if you make a slurry with soy flour, like making pasta, and cut this thick dough into shapes, dry, you'll have soy protein; should you add rhizopus oligosporus culture to rehydrated soybeans, incubate for 24 hours or so, you'll have a block of tempeh. Fairly simple and minimally processed. Sometimes a recipe originally made with an animal protein works perfectly with a plant protein. And it is understandable why a vegan, or any one else, cooking with plant proteins would look to these recipes to help guide them, animal proteins have been a part of our history for a much longer period of time than plant proteins. It is not to dissimilar from someone choosing to "substitute" an exotic animal protein in a recipe. For instance, ostrich instead of beef. And I bet that a couple of times while you were eating a pork chop you thought: "Maybe it's a lamb chop?" Or when you were eating a lamb kebab, you might have thought:"Is this beef!?" A fish "steak", a turkey "burger"... Illusions? No! It's not the same but it's similar. That's just it, many proteins tend to feel and look similar. But in the case of plant proteins there is a vast difference, assuming the protein is not over-processed and organic, these proteins dramatically lower carbon, violence, misery and unhealthy fats; and in Sacred Chow's case, the protein is kosher. The need to balance in plant proteins for those who over-consume animal foods is a vital message to get out there to your readers: for the sake of a healthier planet, the mitigation of heart disease, cancers, obesity, starvation, and the mistreatment of animals, eat plant proteins! Oh, and by the way, we should all avoid clumps, strips and globs of totally bland, greasy and over-sugared foods & proteins! Bon appetit!
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