September 23, 2010

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Vegetarian: ‘not as scary as it sounds’
It’s easier than ever to eat out and eat veggie
By Angel Roy aroy@hippopress.com

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 food@hippopress.com and we’ll pass along your advice in a future Weekly Dish.



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8/12/2010 The world in your cup
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7/15/2010 Mexican in Manch
7/8/2010 Kugelfest or falafelpalooza
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6/24/2010 A millyard dog
6/17/2010 Lamb on the grill, lamb on the skewer
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5/20/2010 Gluten-free bread, but noone has to know
5/13/2010 Shaker Village gets a new restaurant
5/6/2010 Mother's Day meals
4/29/2010 3C's makes a move
4/22/2010 Welcome to the Pattie Shack
4/15/2010 Move over calzones
4/8/2010 A taste of Boston on the West Side
4/1/2010 Sunday's best
3/25/2010 Taste brings the towns to Nashua
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3/4/2010 Tedy J's is a family endeavor
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2/11/2010 A whole lotta love
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1/21/2010 Veano's Italian Kitchen returns
1/14/2010 The co-op movement grows
1/7/2010 A new Leaf
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12/17/2009 Foodie gifts for 2009
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7/30/2009 And the sippin is easy ...
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6/25/2009 Kitchens then and now
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3/19/2009 Five-course trip to Lebanon
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7/03/2008 3C's Cafe opens in Highlander Inn
6/26/2008 Oh, tartar sauce!
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6/12/2008 450 pounds of lamb
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5/29/2008 Chocolate throwdown
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5/15/2008 Local, gluten-free and ready made
5/8/2008 The return of brownies and pasta
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A year of eats

All-you-can-read guide to breakfast
A bagel by any other l
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A picnic — it’s romance with ants
A sweet burst of summer, in stages
Beef, It's What's For Dinner, Lunch, And Dessert
Be it ever so humble, the burger rules
Blockbuster snacks for your movie
Box Of Chocolates
C Is For Cookie And Christmas And Cool Combo
Celebrating A Holiday For The Rest Of Us
Celebrate Easter In A Sugar Coma
Chat And Chew

Chinese soup is magic
Chocolate cake makes everything better
Chocolate, Part II
Competition flows like chocolate
Corn Flake Chicken, Honeycomb Salad
Dining at the "Your House Bistro"
Don't Dread The Bread
Dress Up Your Next Meal
Drinking Out Of The Box
Eating Your Way Back To Health
Empanadas
Enter Soup
Experiments With Very Bad Brownies
Feeding A Crowd The Morning After
Follow the cider house rules
Fresh Herbs
Go ahead — run silent, run deep
Goodbye corn syrup, hello organic oatmeal
Go Indian for Thanksgiving
Grilled Cheese Junkie

Halloween candy for grown-ups
Have a Happy Meal and a happier wallet
Holiday Cookies - The Easy Way
Holiday Potluck 101-Tips For The Kitchen Novice
Home-Based Date
How do you like them apples?
In-A-Pinch Love Feast
It's not easy to be cheesy
It’s not Christmas without tamales
Lest We Forget The Humble Squash
Keeping your cool while you eat
Living through your salad days

Looking Beyond The Hot Dog Stand
Lunching your way to a less toxic you
Meat's meat and a man's gotta eat

Moist and delicious chicken — no, really
Oatmeal Cookies, The Miracle Cure
Oscar Night, When The Stars Come Out To Eat

Offering Up A Slice Of Teriyaki Pie
Pot Pies Are Darn Tasty
Pumpkin-Flavored Treats
Small Plates Are The Next Big Thing
Speedy 'za not pie in the sky
Steak: it’s what’s for dinner, again
Summer coolers, just add sunlight
Summer Squash
Super Bowl Grub
Take A Walk On The Dark Side
Taste of Manchester Event
The Cosmopolitan
The joys of a simple oatmeal breakfast
The return of comfort food
The One-Note Cook Book
The New American Plate Cookbook
The Stickiest, Hottest & Sweetest Of Love's Labors
The taste of retro
The Unheralded Peanut Butter Cookies
The union of sweet and heat
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The Weekly Dish (12-23-04)

The Weekly Dish [1-13-05]
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Week Four: Adding Diet To The Mix
What Was Hot And Haute In 2004
When $$ trumps urge to dine out
When in doubt, go for the organic
When nothing else will cool, Slurp it
You Say Potato, She'll Say Potato,Too
You say tomato, writer says lunch