Vegetarian: ‘not as scary as it sounds’
It’s easier than ever to eat out and eat veggie
By Angel Roy firstname.lastname@example.org
Local restaurants are boasting unique all-veggie menu items that they say will even satisfy the appetites of most meat-lovers.
“People come in with their vegetarian friends or family and they tell me before they leave, ‘If I got this food every day, I would never eat meat again,’” said Sravan Kumar, who owns Meena’s Kitchen in Nashua with his wife.
“A lot of people misunderstand vegetarian food. … The only vegetarian options so far they have seen is salad, fresh cut veggies in a box that you have to put some kind of dressing on. That’s not true. There are a lot of tasty options that are vegetarian,” Kumar said.
Bajji — vegetables dipped in chickpea batter and fried — has become a popular item at the Indian restaurant, which opened in July 2009, Kumar said.
Meena’s menu features eggplant, zucchini, onion, potato, plantain and spinach Bajji.
“Bajji can be done with any vegetables, really,” Kumar said. “We just chose the most popular kinds of things.”
The chickpea batter, he said, contains chili powder and cumin, but the spice “is not something that brings water to your eyes.”
“In Indian cooking spices are used for taste, not for spiciness,” Kumar said.
Another unusual veggie-friendly offering at Meena’s Kitchen has a deceiving name, Medhu Vada, meaning lentil doughnuts.
“Everybody thinks doughnuts are supposed to be sweet,” Kumar said, adding that lentils are the main source of protein in India. “It’s just shaped like a doughnut, that’s all.”
The doughnuts, Kumar said, are made by soaking lentils in water overnight and then grinding them on a stone grinder until the legumes turn into a cake batter-like paste. The doughnuts are then formed by hand, deep fried and served with chutney or Sambahr, an Indian vegetable soup.
“We can take any vegetable and cook it 10 different ways and every one will taste and look differently,” Kumar said. “That’s the art of cooking.”
When taking the reins from her mother at Jewell & the Beanstalk in Manchester seven years ago, owner and vegetarian Amber Grogan wanted to serve items that would appeal to the meatless mass.
“There was not really much for vegetarians back then,” Grogan said.
For a twist on a home-cooked classic, Grogan offers her customers a veggie pot pie made with tofu, peas, carrots, onion, potatoes and veggie stock.
“I make almost like a gravy with the veggie stock instead of using a chicken base,” Grogan said.
Tofu — sautéed in curry — is also used as a topper on the cracked wheat salad at Jewell, Grogan said.
The cracked wheat salad is made with Bulgur wheat (which Grogan said is available at local supermarkets) that is boiled until its texture resembles that of couscous. The wheat is then mixed with apple pie seasoning, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, brown sugar and maple syrup. Grogan then adds craisins, apples and pumpkin seeds to the dish.
“Everyone usually gets that,” Grogan said. “It is a good starter if you’re not a vegetarian.”
The dairy-free tofu-veggie scrambles are also a fan favorite at the Somerville Street eatery and are often made with veggie sausage, a soy-based product similar to a veggie burger.
Grogan said her veggie-friendly menu makes vegetarian meal ordering a breeze.
“You don’t have to modify anything so it makes it easier,” Grogan said.
The menu at the all-vegan Café Indigo in Concord boasts homemade seitan — a meat substitute made with wheat gluten — as the primary protein for its dishes. The seitan assumes the role of corned beef in Indigo’s “Rachel” sandwich, an alternative to the Reuben made with coleslaw, and is also the main ingredient of the café’s faux turkey breast, in which the seitan is rolled out flat, topped with bread stuffing and rolled up “jelly roll style,” said owner Patty Dann.
The seitan, Dann said, has a “basic flavor” that is the result of a dozen spices and is also offered teriyaki style or with a balsamic glaze.
Dann also supplies seitan to a number of colleges, private schools and local restaurants.
Two seitan specials were recently added to Indigo’s offerings — Seitan Taco Tuesdays and Vegan (Wings) Wednesdays.
The vegan wings will be boneless, naturally, and marinated in barbecue and hot sauces.
“Some places put a stick in [the ‘wings’] but I think it’s a little too creepy for vegans,” Dann said.
Dann called her husband and herself “accidental vegans” as she first mastered the art of vegan and vegetarian culinary dishes by cooking daily for her herbivorous children. Soon Dann and her husband also gave up meat products, and later all animal products.
With her middle daughter seeking out a vegan wedding cake for her nuptials, Dann came to the rescue by tweaking a few old family recipes — it was then that the vegan carrot cake was born.
Dann began producing vegan cakes for local co-ops, then later for Whole Foods Markets, and within six months was seeking a commercial kitchen to keep up with orders. Four years ago, she found a spot on Hall Street that not only had a kitchen but also had a café with a front reception area.
“We decided to throw in a few tables, thinking that no one would ever come here,” Dann said. “We were like ‘Who would eat at a vegan restaurant in Concord?’ We quickly had to change things in the bakery to keep up with the café.”
“Obviously there was a need, because in this economy we have managed to grow every year,” Dann said.
In fact only 30 percent of Dann’s customers are vegetarians or vegans, she said.
“You would be really surprised,” Dann said of the café’s offerings. “It is not as scary as it sounds.”
Have a favorite vegetarian or vegan dish at a local reastaurant? Let us know at email@example.com and we’ll pass along your advice in a future Weekly Dish.