Sacred Chow: "How a vegan restaurant should be."

SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2012

Which is better? - When you have high expectations and the meal comes just under or when you have no expectations and the meal ends up amazing? I vote for the second.

Sacred Chow is in my work neighborhood and I have seen it come up on my iPhone each time I search for a new vegan restaurant to try. I guess I always thought of this place as take out. You can sit here although there aren't that many tables- it's worth the wait! I was still full from my lunch at SNICE- yes I eat at SNICE minimum once a week. They are a casual easy going almost cafeteria style ordering place with a lot of tables- consistent and dependable! I work equal distance from SNICE and SACRED CHOW- now I have more options- this is very exciting for me. 

I absolutely love this place. 
It's close to my vision of "how a vegan restaurant should be." You can tell they are all about the animals by the logo alone. They care about the quality of their food and service which you can tell once you have dined here. The food is HEALTHY... and their tofu is organic! Relief- finally! Even though I wasn't hungry, I ordered a bunch of tapas with my friend. That's their thing here- VEGAN TAPAS! I tasted everything and brought home a nice plate for the next day!
I ate:  Orange Blackstrap Barbecue Seitan,
Korean Tofu Cutlets,  Shiitake Mushrooms, Mama's Soy Meatballs, Black Olive Seitan, &  Dijon Kale.

Everything was incredible!  My favorites were the olive seitan, the tofu, meatballs and the shiitake mushrooms. I will complete this menu in no time at all. Look how much I ordered when I wasn't even hungry- can you imagine? It may actually take some time though because I will be getting these same tapas again- I can't wait!



Yesterday, before I left for work, my husband had a bit of a sore throat that I didn't much care for the sound of, because I knew it indicated that his respiratory system was about to go on strike if I didn't act quickly. Unfortunately, before I could brew up a pot of herbal tea or something, I realised that I was running dangerously late for work, so I kissed him goodbye, and ran out the door. Last night, I got home, and felt that same annoying scratch. Time for plenty of ginger in the food.

The trick to using ginger in your cooking, so that it tastes its best, is to make sure that you don't overcook it. When you fry it in oil, it tends to get rather sticky, unless you carefully sliver or dice it. Grated ginger and hot fat do not get along very well. What's worse is that when you do grate the ginger, the flavour dissipates into the food, and any ginger lover will tell you that this is a shame. You want to actually taste the ginger, and feel its soothing feeling on your throat.

Here's a couple of things to remember:

1) Don't overcook your ginger. Unlike garlic, whose flavour can be mellowed with early cooking (such as when you add it directly to fat), ginger tends to cook rather quickly, when it's grated. When it's in large pieces, or in discrete pieces (even when said discrete pieces are rather small), it tends to keep it together, and not burn. I'm guessing that it's the rough edges of grated ginger that causes it to stick like that to the pot.

2) Don't put your ginger into huge chunks. For people who purport to dislike ginger in food, the frequent complaint (as my mother found out early on, thankfully) is that they hate to bite into a huge chunk of ginger. The theory that my mother had at the time, however, was that if it was in a large piece, you could easily pick it out. Tell that to a kid who's growing, and used to (more or less) inhaling his food, and you're going to get some choice words. Ginger, being so lightly coloured, tends to blend in with the background, and not stand out overmuch. Because of this, you want to either chop the ginger so huge as to make it impossible to miss (and thereby be able to easily remove it from the pot of food), or chop it small enough that you don't bite into large chunks of ginger, or to grate it.

If you do grate it, please add the ginger at the absolute latest point that you can, and you'll have a strong gingery flavour. If you want it to cook down a bit more to mellow a touch, go ahead and cook it, so long as you've got enough liquid in the pot to ensure that the ginger doesn't stick like glue to the bottom of the pot and burn.

In other words, when you're making a soup, stew, daal, or other liquidy thing, feel free to grate your ginger, and add it shortly before introducing liquid (should you want a mild taste). If you're making something dry cooked, like lemon rice, coconut rice, tomato rice, saag paneer, etc, if you want a mild taste, sliver the ginger as finely as you can, then chop the slivers into as small a piece as you can get it to. If you grate it, you'll have to add it towards the end of cooking, and wind up with a strong taste.

If you want a doubly strong taste, sliver then dice the ginger, and then add it towards the end. It will be dlicious.

But I digress. I told you all of that to tell you this. I made daal last night with obscene amounts of ginger, and it really helped a lot. Here's how it goes.

2 cups red lentils
1 TB canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp coriander seed
4 TB finely chopped (not grated) ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt & black pepper to taste
6 cups boiling water

In a pot, add the red lentils, and the boiling water. Let the lentils cook for about 8 minutes over a full rushing boil. Drop down the simmer for another 15 minutes or so. You want them cooked all the way through. While that's going, go ahead and make the spice blend. In a small pot, add the canola oil, and allow it to heat through. When it's hot, add the mustard seeds, and wait for them to pop violently. When they do, add the cumin and coriander seed, and lift up the small pot to swirl it around to combine the ingredients. When the cumin and coriander pop and sizzle and make a lovely aroma, add the chopped ginger, turmeric, and a bit of the salt. Stir around the ginger for a bit over the heat for about 2 - 3 minutes. If you try this with grated ginger, you'll get a sticky mess. If you try this with ginger paste, or ginger garlic paste, you'll get a bad smelling sticky mess. Please, just use fresh ginger, people.

When the ginger is just softened, turn off the heat. Let the spices hang out until the red lentils are cooked through. You'll know the red lentils are completely cooked when they turn completely yellow. Yes, it's normal for them to get a little broken up. Once the lentils are cooked, stir through the spices, and add pepper to taste.

Between the black pepper and the sharp ginger, your throat will feel a hundred times better.


Vegetable Chili

I got to thinking about expectations of various foods, and how we can challenge them. What's wrong with having Indian food made with South American ingredients (like Coconut Quinoa), or with a sweet chilled soup (Chilled Beet Bisque), or cold steeping ingredients in wine, and making cocktails of them (Hibiscus Sangria)? I say there's nothing wrong with it, and that it should be encouraged! It's fun to try out new things. It breaks the rules, and gives you a chance to explore and enjoy things you hadn't considered before.

There is a school of thought that says that unless a dish has exactly what goes into it traditionally, you're not allowed to call it that thing anymore. I think that's a closed minded way of looking at the world. I believe that there are interpretations on a theme, and that when you're trying to aim for a particular experience, you can reference the inspiration, so that people have something to relate it to.

At the end of the day, it's all semantics and doesn't matter anyway. I'll continue doing things the way I like to do them, and anyone who doesn't like it doesn't have to do it the same way. They're welcome to their own way, just as I am mine.

All this thinking lead me down the path to making a vegetable chili. You heard me right. No beans, no heavy proteins, but the same spices, the same herbs, and the same flavours that you'd get in a traditional chili, but made completely out of vegetables.

Here's what I came up with.

Collard Greens Chili
3 TB olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped roughly
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 tsp thyme
3 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 TB chopped garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup of white wine, in which you've steeped 3 TB of dried red hibiscus overnight
1 large bunch collard greens, chopped
2 potatoes, diced and roasted for 25 minutes at 350F
1 cup apple juice
2 TB brown rice syrup
1 heaping tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp crushed fennel seed
1 TB cumin powder
1 TB chili powder (optional; if you don't have chili powder, just use a mixture of equal parts cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, and garlic powder).

In a large pot, combine the onion, celery, bell peppers, thyme, and oregano. Cook over high heat, until all the vegetables are softened. If the pot looks dried out, feel free to splash in a little bit of water, and stir it around. When the vegetables are softened through, add the tomato paste, and stir well. Add the chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes, and stir until you see the tomato paste beginning to stick to the bottom of the pot. This is where you're going to get some extremely delicious flavour.

When the bottom of the pot is sticky with tomato, throw in the white wine, and let the wine come to a boil. If you don't have hibiscus to steep in the white wine, the juice of 1 lime will do the same thing. It won't be quite the same as what I made, but it will still taste good in its own right.

When the wine boils, add the collard greens, roasted potatoes, and apple juice. Stir well to combine. By this point, the chili should be getting very thick. Too thick, in fact, to stir. Add the apple juice brown rice syrup, and cocoa powder, and stir well. If it's still too thick, feel free to add more apple juice as necessary. When everything comes up to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. Let the collards get tender. Turn off the heat, and stir through the cinnamon, fennel, cumin, and chili powder.

Serve piping hot, over brown rice, or with a side of bread. The recipe makes a fairly large batch of chili, so this is a good excuse to call over your friends, and enjoy each other's company along with the lovely food.


Keep Calm

It was years ago, and my sister and I were both rather young. She was too young for school yet, and I had recently started walking myself to and from school, because it was a short walking distance away. I had come home one afternoon, to see some of my toys scattered about the room that we shared. I got furious and yelled at my sister for a while, which made her cry. My mother came into the room, and said, "OK, now  that you've yelled and screamed, did it make anything better?"

It was her overall attitude towards life: if it's not going to help you, or anyone else, to lose your temper, it's best not to lose your temper. Same thing happens when I am with my angel husband (who is otherwise a level-headed, calm chap). He'll find himself getting flustered about something that's completely beyond our control, and I'll gently remind him, "Is it helping us get there faster by your getting flustered?" It takes him a minute or so to realise that he's losing his usual sense of calm, but once he does, he's able to step back, and (sometimes) even laugh about the situation.

I find myself asking the same question when my own temper starts to skyrocket (as it does). "Is it really going to help anything to get flustered, or angry, or screamy? No? Then what are you doing it for?" Most of the time, I can manage to reel myself in, and face the situation with a renewed confidence in myself. The few times that I do let loose, I use my friend Melissa's trick.

I look at my watch (or phone timer, as the case may be), and give myself exactly one minute to wallow in whatever negative feeling I'm in at that moment. Anger, rage, fear, grief, whatever. Once that minute is up, I let it back out into the universe, to disperse as it will. I'd sooner not hold onto it if I can help it.

When that's done, I find my inner peace returning, and my ability to do my job getting much better.


It's Spring!

The weekend promises to be gorgeous. This is the time to get your hands on some peas, mint, asparagus, and all those other lovely things that grow in Spring. And, since Passover is going to be over as of Saturday evening, peas are back on the menu! Yay!

Asparagus & Peas

1 bunch pencil asparagus, chopped into 2 inch pieces
3 cups peas, shelled
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
juice & zest of 2 lemons
3 TB fresh dill
3 sprigs marjoram
2 TB fresh parsley
3 lbs potatoes, peeled and diced
mint, for garnish
3 TB olive oil
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel and dice the potatoes, and combine with half the oil. Spread onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Toss gently, and turn the pan, then bake an additional 15 minutes.

While the potatoes bake, toss the asparagus in the remaining oil. Throw it into the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. When everything is done cooking, toss together with the shelled peas (if using frozen, just run them under cold running water for about 3 minutes). You want the peas to cook in the residual heat of the hot veggies.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Juice and zest 2 lemons. Add to that the marjoram, the parsley, the dill, and salt and pepper to the lemon juice. Add the sliced red onion, and toss gently to coat. Let the onions sit in the lemon juice until the veggies cool down to room temp. When everything is at room temperature, toss gently with the dressing, and adjust the salt as necessary.

This dish absolutely requires the freshest of peas, of asparagus, and of herbs. When you eat it, you'll have the creamy roasted potatoes, the bright bursting peas, the earthy herbs, and the twang of the lemon. If you have it, this is also an excellent time to throw in some chopped fresh mint to really bump up the flavour.

Enjoy your Spring!