Tag Archives: vegan

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.

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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.

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:

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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:

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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?

Cheese review: Punk Rawk Labs Cashew Cheese & Treeline Scallion Cashew Cheese

On a trip to Seattle this week I stopped by Vegan Haven, a market operated by Pigs Peace Sanctuary. San Francisco doesn’t have a vegan market (yet?), which makes it hard to get weird vegan stuff *, such as the handful of cultured vegan cheeses that have come out in the last year or so. I’d heard a lot about these cheeses, but had only tried the ones that I’ve made myself.

Cultured vegan cheese

Cultured vegan cheese is made by fermenting vegan foods (usually nuts, although sometimes soy) using a similar process used to make dairy cheese. This differs from the type of imitation cheese typically found at grocery stores (eg. Daiya) in that a real culturing process was used to give it a cheese-like taste, rather than synthetic flavoring or texturing. Cultured vegan cheese typically has few ingredients (the plain cheese below lists ingredients as: “organic cashews, water, culture, sea salt”), and does not typically attempt to imitate the texture of dairy cheese.

Vegan Haven had cultured cheeses available from two companies: Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline.

Treeline & Punk Rawk Labs Cheese

Both cheeses before opening

Punk Rawk Labs is a Minneapolis raw food company that makes cashew and macadamia nut cheeses in three flavors: plain, herb and smoked. I tried the plain cashew cheese, since this was closest to what I’ve tried to make.

Treeline is based in the Hudson River Valley in upstate NY. They make two soft cheeses: scallion and herb-garlic, and two hard cheeses: classic and cracked pepper. I’d have preferred a plain flavor, but only the scallion and herb-garlic flavors were available, so I tried the scallion cheese.

Punk Rawk Labs

Punk Rawk Labs Cashew Cheese 2

Punk Rawk Labs Plain Cashew Cheese

First, I tried the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. It had a moist texture, hard enough that you could cut wedges out more or less intact, but soft enough to be spread on a cracker. I found the cheese to have a pleasant sharpness, and a saltiness that I think would be comparable to cheddar. I really enjoyed this cheese, and finished it in the two days we had left in Seattle.

Treeline

Treeline Scallion Cheese

Treeline Scallion Soft French-Style Nut Cheese

The Treeline cheese had a similar consistency, although was slightly drier. The taste seemed to be dominated by scallions, which made it hard to taste anything else. I never had much scallion dairy cheese, so I don’t have a good baseline for comparison. The cheese tasted less salty and less sharp than the Punk Rawk Labs cheese.

Discussion

I liked the Punk Rawk Labs cheese a lot, and found myself craving it over the next few days. I preferred it to the Treeline cheese, partly because I prefer plain cheese over scallion flavored cheese, but I also liked the moist, sharp and salty qualities of the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. I’d love to try other Treeline flavors in the future, although I don’t foresee getting the scallion flavor again.

The plain Punk Rawk Labs cheese was also a useful point of comparison for my own attempts at cultured cashew cheese based on recipes from Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese. The Punk Rawk Labs cheese seemed sharper and saltier than those that I’ve made. It tasted a lot like how my cheeses smelled when fermenting, which is really all I want in a vegan cheese. (My attempts tend to taste much more mild than they smell, unfortunately.)

I’m curious if they salt the cheese after it is cultured, since it’s rather salty and salt is said to inhibit bacterial growth. Punk Rawk Labs describes their process as culturing cashew milk and then removing moisture from the cheese, whereas the Artisan Vegan Cheese recipes involve culturing a cashew puree (a hummus-like consistency). I’m curious if this explains the difference in sharpness.

Overall, I was very happy with my first taste of commercial cultured vegan cheeses, and I’m inspired to try making them again.

* While looking up these companies for this post, I’ve learned that both Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline cheeses are available in SF at Rainbow Grocery, a great vegetarian food coop with a great selection of vegan paraphernalia (non-dairy milks, vegan supplements, etc).

This week in veganism

It’s been a big week. Some highlights:

  • I tried tempeh bacon for the first time at Frida’s Vegetarian Deli while visiting St. Louis, MO.
    Frida’s tempeh BLT was amazing! We went back and had the same thing the next day.
  • I had my first vegan boba tea at Boba Guys in the Mission in SF.
  • I had the first soy yogurt that I really liked. (The fruit flavored Silk yogurt, the only soy yogurt you can get anywhere.) It’s definitely sweet, but it’s pretty good.
  • I ordered (but have not yet tried) Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon from Vegan Essentials.

However today I’m excited about this: a new vegan food truck is stationed a block from my house!

Hella Vegan Eats (also on Facebook), which does catering and hosts vegan pop-up brunches in the area, has a new food truck, stationed in Dolores Park for the weekend.

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We tried almost everything: the Scallion Pancake Tacos (our favorite!!), Lusty Lovers Tacos (also good!), the Donut Burger (see below), and a chocolate cupcake.

Here’s the donut burger, in all it’s umbrellaed glory:

[Donut burger photo]