Restaurant Review: Sutra (Seattle)

On a recent trip to Seattle, I had the opportunity to eat at Sutra.

Sutra is a vegan restaurant with a set menu and one seating per evening. As people arrive and are seated, they are given a menu that lists today’s meal and offers drink options. Dinner begins when the chef rings a bell to get everyone’s attention, and goes through the menu, explaining each dish. Then food preparation begins, and each course is prepared in batches.

We sat at the bar, where we could watch the dishes being assembled. I highly recommend sitting at the bar. Watching the kitchen was engaging, and added anticipation and curiosity to the experience.

Soup and salad course

First course: Salad with tangelo and candied sunflower seeds, and stinging nettle soup with miso

The food was amazing. I don’t think I’d ever had stinging nettle soup before, and it was absolutely delicious. It had a thick, almost creamy texture, and a salty, savory taste. The salad complemented the soup nicely, with sweet components.

Second course

Second course, mid-preparation: Fermented quinoa-cashew cheese being removed from a mold.

Second course

Second course: Lentils, fermented quinoa-cashew cheese, beets, chard, and jerusalem artichoke chips.

Another great dish. A lot going on, but it worked well together. The fermented quinoa-cashew cheese had a much lighter texture than fermented cashew cheese. It has a mild taste, which works with the stronger tastes of the lentils and beets.

Third course

Third course: A rice and mung bean crepe with cauliflower, mushrooms, and a soy and mirin sauce.

Also great. The rice and mung bean crepe had a slightly chewy texture, a little bit like an omelette. The sauce was great, although dipping was not really an option given the small cup, so you have to flood the plate.

Dessert

Dessert: Chocolate flan with a spelt and pumpkin seed cracker.

And finally, a chocolate agar-agar based flan with a spelt and pumpkin seed cracker.

I don’t have photos of the drinks, but we split one non-alcoholic flight between the two of us. A drink came with each course, plus one before food was served. The drinks were creative, and I didn’t feel that I was missing out at all by ordering the non-alcoholic flight.

Especially great is the CommuniTea kombucha, a local Seattle kombucha, which they have on tap. It’s worth a try if you’re visiting Seattle, since CommuniTea can’t be found outside the city.

Sutra was a great experience. I can’t remember a meal that I enjoyed more thoroughly. Very highly recommended.

Homemade Vegan Butter

I’ve been looking into vegan butter alternatives that don’t involve palm oil.

Butter, vegan or otherwise, should be solid at room temperature. This means that it must have saturated fat.

Unfortunately, the cheapest sources of saturated vegetable fat are hydrogenated vegetable oils (which have trans fats, which are banned in California due to health concerns) and palm oil (which is a major cause of rainforest destruction). Virtually all store-bought margarines are based on one of these ingredients.

Luckily, we can make homemade vegan butter from refined coconut oil!

I’ve tried two vegan butter recipes so far. The first I found on Luminous Vegans, and is based on a recipe by Miyoko Schinner. It worked great, although I didn’t take photos.

The second, which I’ll discuss here, is the basic coconut oil butter recipe by Mattie at Veganbaking.net. The two recipes are very similar, with the same ingredients in slightly different proportions (with the exception of xanthan gum, which is only in the Veganbaking recipe).

See the original recipe for details, but the gist is as follows:

  • Combine soy milk and apple cider vinegar, and let it sit for 10 minutes or so to curdle.
  • Warm refined coconut oil until liquid, but close to room temperature.
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.
  • Pour into a freezer-safe container or silicone mold, and place in the freezer to rapidly cool.
  • Remove from mold and enjoy!

I doubled the recipe for easier mixing in my blender, and to match the batch size for Miyoko Schinner’s recipe. I also used a bit more salt than called for — 1 tsp versus 3/4 tsp; the original 3/4 tsp is probably about right.

Vegan butter mixed and poured into a mold.

I took Veganbaking’s recommendation and got a silicone mold. They recommend the Tovolo King Cube mold. I wanted a rectangular shape, so I got this Allforhome rectangular mold. This mold makes nice butter shapes, although they are smaller than real sticks of butter.

I pre-chilled the mold to help the butter cool rapidly, since it’s important to solidify the butter shortly after it’s mixed, or it will begin to separate. However I took some photos between mixing the butter and freezing it in the mold, so this did cause some separation.

Pro tip: You really want the butter to be level in the freezer, or you’ll get some slanted butter sticks. If your freezer looks anything like mine, that will require some planning in advance. I planned this imperfectly, and got some slightly crooked butter.

The finished product!

I wrapped the sticks of butter in wax paper for storage in the freezer. They didn’t quite stay wrapped as well as I’d have liked, but they look nice anyway.

Wrapped and ready to go.

So enjoy! I’ll update with some pictures of the butter in action.

Strawberry Ginger Lemonade

So far, making a smoothie without a recipe is as easy as I’d hoped. Throw in some fruit, some combination of ice and water, blend, then sweeten to taste. So here’s the first drink I made with the Vitamix:

Strawberry Ginger Lemonade

  • Three whole lemons, peeled
  • Five strawberries, hulled
  • About an inch of ginger, grated
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups (a little more than a tray) ice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

First, blend fruit, ginger and water, to be sure the lemon seeds are pulverized. Then add ice, blend again. Then sweeten to taste. About a 1/2 cup of sugar worked for me. This made about 4 tall glasses for us.

strawberry-ginger-lemonade

To make this in a conventional blender, slice the lemon into eighths, and remove the seeds. Also consider slicing the strawberries.

I’ve heard people suggest throwing a piece of ginger into a high-powered blender, rather than grating it. I tried this once, but found that it added a stringy texture that I didn’t like. Maybe I just didn’t blend it enough.

Vitamix!

Vitamix!

I recently spent several years of American Express points on a Vitamix Pro 750!

I’ve been curious about high powered blenders (eg. Vitamix, Blendtec) since I started working with cashew purees and cultured vegan cheese. The recipes call for blenders, and my food processor wasn’t quite cutting it.

I’ve also noticed that people rave about high powered blenders on vegan forums. High powered blenders made the PPK 100 list a year ago, and at the first vegan event I went to (a Grubwithus dinner), 5 of the 6 people I asked had one and recommended them.

High-powered blenders process harder substances more effectively than normal blenders. You can make flour from whole grains, for instance, and you don’t have to chop or remove seeds from fruit. They can also make hot soup, using friction from blending alone to heat the ingredients.

I chose a new style Vitamix (versus Blendtec or other Vitamix models) for the following reasons:

  • The new containers are much easier to get stuff out of, compared to classic Vitamix models. They are wide, shorter, and don’t narrow substantially at the base.
  • Most reviewers prefer the manual control offered by Vitamix, compared to Blendtec’s manual control options. Blendtec’s programs are great, but users often report having to repeat programs to completely blend.
  • It’s nice to have a tamper for when you need it (eg. making almond butter).
  • It’s nice to have program options, in case those wind up being useful.

That said, both Vitamix and Blendtec users rave about their mixers, so I don’t think there’s a wrong choice here.

I splurged on the Pro 750 since I was using points. Having used it, I think that the program settings are probably not too important. You really want to be nearby when using it anyway. There are pros and cons to the new style containers. One drawback is that they work best when blending a large amount of food, since smaller amounts may hide under the blades. Since the old style containers are narrow at the base, this is likely less of a problem.

I’ve heard only positive reviews of the reconditioned models, so a refurbished 7500 or Pro 300 might be a good choice for the (somewhat) budget conscious.

Anyway, new toy!

Vegan Halloween candy

It’s Halloween! This was my first year looking for vegan Halloween candy. Here’s what I learned:

First, don’t stress over it. There are really a lot of options. For a fairly comprehensive guide, see this Big Fat Vegan Radio episode. The show notes list the candy that they recommend (near the bottom of the page). Examples of widely available vegan candy are Skittles, Twizzlers, Swedish Fish and Oreos.

There’s also some really great higher-end vegan candy available if you’re interested (and don’t get too many trick-or-treaters; otherwise these might be a little steep).

Here’s what I wound up getting for this year:

Image

Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups won Our Hen House’s Facebook poll about favorite vegan candy. (Note: only the dark chocolate variety are vegan.) I got them partly because I wanted to try them myself. I also got a few small Alter Eco dark chocolate bars in case we run out of peanut butter cups.

Alter Eco and Justin’s are both on the Food Empowerment Project Chocolate List, a list of producers of vegan chocolate products that do not source chocolate from regions where slavery is rampant. (Note: the list includes Justin’s nut butters; it’s not entirely clear that this includes Justin’s dark chocolate. I’m following up with Justin’s.) I got both at Whole Foods.

I also learned (from Big Fat Vegan Radio) about Go Max Go, which makes vegan translations of a number of popular candy bars. It’s a little pricey for Halloween, but is a great idea for candy nonetheless. They are not Food Empowerment Project recommended, but their site takes slavery in the chocolate trade seriously, as well as palm oil environmental concerns. I’m following up with them about how they source cocoa.

Not directly Halloween related, but speaking of vegan chocolate — I’ve become a huge fan of this stuff:

Image

I came across this while looking for slavery-free alternatives to a favorite chocolate protein bar of mine.

Alter Eco’s Quinoa Dark Chocolate is Food Empowerment Project approved, is delicious chocolate in its own right, and the toasted quinoa gives it a satisfying crunch, similar to Nestle Crunch. It’s also fairly cheap for single-origin fair-trade (non-West African) chocolate at $4 / bar. It can be found at Whole Foods or online. Try some!

That’s all for now, Happy Halloween! What’s your favorite Halloween candy?

Is Benecol vegan?

I happened across Benecol Spread and Benecol Light Spread in a grocery store recently, and wondered if it was vegan. On the one hand, the ingredients appeared to be vegan at first glance. On the other, I’d never heard it mentioned on vegan cooking forums.

It took several emails with McNeil Nutritionals LLC, the makers of Benecol, to establish any clarity on the issue. I’m posting what I learned here, in case others have the same question.

Continue reading

Tempeh BLT

This recipe is inspired by Frida’s in St. Louis, where I first tried tempeh bacon earlier this month. (Totally great!)

I never really had BLTs as an omnivore, so I just see this as an interesting way to enjoy tempeh, rather than a way to recreate a favorite meal.

There’s not much of a recipe here, since I was starting with pre-marinated tempeh bacon, rather than making my own from plain tempeh. I used Lightlife Smoky Tempeh Strips.

Image

They’re pre-cut into thin slices, roughly similar to how bacon is sliced.

The “recipe”: Pan fry it in some oil until it seems done to you. I could fit the whole package (enough for two sandwiches) in a large pan at once.

Then assemble a sandwich: lightly toasted bread, sliced tomato, lettuce, and vegan mayo (I used Nayonaise).

Image

Served with roasted brussels sprouts.