Aug 25, 2014

Travelling Vegan: Amsterdam

Amsterdam is probably in my top five favourite cities. It has a very cool, young vibe while still being able to preserve the architectural integrity from the past, something we in Bombay aren't able to do so well. The pretty houses that line the canals and the never-setting summer sun will only want to make you find ways to move to this city.

Getting straight to the vegan food now! Amsterdam has its version of Charlie's Chocolate Factory for vegans! Okay, I'm being dramatic. There is a candy store in Amsterdam (aptly called Candy Freaks) with millions of varieties of candy right from chocolate covered fruits and nuts to jelly squares to marshmallows to gummy bears. And a LOT of it is vegan. The owner is a quirky, generous fellow. Before I could even pick what I wanted he made me try all of the vegan candy at the store. And by all I mean I must've eaten at least 20 pieces of candy before I bought my stash. And there was still so much more candy to try. They even have gluten-free, sugar-free, all natural candy. Even if you don't like candy, don't miss this store.

Feels like a dream!

Everything is marked, making it easier to choose.

We had access to a kitchen during our stay in Amsterdam and it made life much more easier. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I was going to attempt to be as gluten-free as possible and I found an amazing gluten-free bread that really didn't seem like it was actually gluten-free. This company makes gluten-free products but all of them are not vegan. It helps if you know some french to read the ingredients. Or you can look up their website and check which ones are vegan friendly. I tried the Ciabatta and the classic white bread slices. If I had to choose, I would ask you to go with the Ciabatta. It was spectacular.

Best GF Bread I've ever had

Look at the holes in the Ciabatta.

We were close to two vegan restaurants and I managed to sneak a meal at both. One of them De Bolhoed, had a great menu which was slightly on the expensive side, but worth a try. I tried their apple pie and a warm bowl of their Peanut Soup with veggies an Tempeh. That was a meal in itself.

De Bolhoed, situated right by a canal

Soup of the day

Delicious Apple Pie

More vegan dessert options

This one looked very tempting too!

The other one called SLA has a mostly organic, vegan menu, I think they only offer cow's milk with their coffee with an option of almond milk. As you enter this tiny place the first thing you notice is their amazing salad bar. I was more than happy to make my own big bowl of salad. All their salad dressings are vegan. I also managed to make space to try their amazing raw vegan cheesecake.

The inside of the minimalist SLA

My Salad

Raw vegan cheesecake

One thing really stood out through this entire trip and that was the amount meat-free meats available in all supermarkets. Living vegetarian or vegan for people who like mock meats was never easier. One company called The Vegetarian Butcher, based in Netherlands, is doing amazing work in the veggie meat business. They have a few vegan options too. I did try the Teriyaki Chicken and it felt too close for comfort. The husband said it was the closest any vegan mock meat had ever got. Not comforting for me, but this makes giving up meat so much easier if your life depends on it.

Closest meat substitute ever!

Doesn't that look really close?!

Here are a few other vegan things I ate.

Raspberry Soya Yogurt

Passion Fruit Sorbetto

Rosemary Baked Potatoes

A simple Arabiatta

Found this locally made chocolate in many stores. This one is dark chocolate.

Some pointers:

  • If eating vegan space cakes is on your agenda in Amsterdam then sadly you won't find any.
  • Get in to a supermarket or even better a 'Bio' store. Lots of vegan options for snacking as you travel.
  • If you can, look for accommodation with a kitchen. It really is a life saver.
  • Download the Happy Cow App. It is a great resource.

Coming soon is my 'kid in a candy shop' moment at an allergy expo in London.

Jul 30, 2014

Travelling Vegan: Eating out in Brussels & Ghent

It's been a while. I just realised my last post was in March. Time has got the better of me. While I type this, the rains in Mumbai have been lashing us through the night and giving us a break during the day. The husband and I managed to take our annual break last month. This time we jam packed our two weeks with so much activity we needed a break after the break. Our first stop was Brussels, probably Belgium's most visited city with a statue of a boy peeing as one of the most famous tourist attractions.

Like last year, this time also I did not chalk out the vegan restaurants I had to eat at. Frankly I did not have the time. I was baking cakes for people until the night of the flight. Even before I knew it I was passed out on the short flight to Paris. A quick train ride later we were in a grey, rainy Brussels.

Belgium is known for its chocolate and they want you, the tourist, to be very clear about that. While walking towards the touristy center of the town, every second shop is a chocolate shop. Put on some blinkers on the sides of your eyes if you don't want to enter every chocolate shop. They have amazing selections of dark chocolate most of which are vegan in a variety of flavours. You can buy an assortment of whatever you like by the kilo.You can also buy dark chocolate spread at these small chocolate stores. Make sure you check ingredients.

Drooling yet?

Everyone is welcome!

My loot - Dark Chocolate squares with Dark Hazelnuts, Strawberry and Cocoa Nibs

While on this trip, I'd decided I would also try to be as wheat-free as possible. Yes, I love challenges! I've noticed a marked difference in the way my body reacts if I eat wheat. While in Belgium I managed to stay wheat-free snacking on these amazing Tartines (almost like the rusk) made from Chestnut flour with a Truffle Pâté. I may have even made it a meal on one occasion.

Very crunchy snack. Also available in lots of different flour options.

Tartex is a famous brand that makes lots of yummy vegan stuff.

We took a day trip to the pretty Ghent which is supposed to have the most number of vegetarian restaurants per capita in the world. They even officially have announced Thursday as a meat-free day. We literally waited outside a vegan restaurant until the friendly manager opened for business for lunch. Komkommertijd is run by a worker's co-operative and serves an all you can eat buffet. I skipped breakfast so that I could fill up on the lovely food there!

We were the first to arrive, but it got full very quickly.

The manager was a little unsure if we would like the food when she realised we were Indians. She said they are always worried about Indians finding the food bland. The food and decor were perfect for the cold, rainy day Ghent was having. They had a warm soup, lots of salad greens with native leaves and edible flowers with a choice of dressings (veganaise, mustard, vinaigrette), herb baked potatoes, cheesy root vegetables, a goulash, rice, Portobello Bhajjis, Spring Rolls, a baked dish with carrots and other root vegetables and not to forget a beautifully dense coconut cake baked with blood oranges and raspberries.

Beautiful green salad leaves and edible flowers


Herb Roasted Potatoes


Cheesy Roasted Root Vegetables

Round One!

Simple and stunning

Back in Brussels and on the prowl for lunch one day, we entered a quaint and brightly lit cafe De Markten. We didn't intend to eat lunch there. I wanted to try Den Teepot but when we went there they were closed for renovation which was a shame because it was my last day in Brussels. De Markten did not have anything vegan on the menu, but by my third day I was craving for some good salad. I asked the young waitress if they could make anything vegan for me and she suggested a salad. What came was the tastiest salad I have ever gobbled up. I ate the whole thing!

Den Teepot has an organic market downstairs

Tastiest Salad Ever!

We also went to a brewery in Brussels that brews some amazing beer. This part of Europe likes their beer flavoured too. So besides the regular varieties of beers, you will find cherry, raspberry, strawberry flavoured beers.

Plain and Raspberry Beer

If you are looking for dessert other than chocolate, you can head on to any of the dozen Le Pain Quotidiens. They always have a vegan muffin - either apple cinnamon or banana blueberry. Marked as Bio with a carrot sign next to it on the menu. They also have other vegan stuff on the menu all marked with a tiny orange carrot next to it.

Vegan and Organic Blueberry Muffin from Le Pain Quotidien

Vegetarianism is bigger than it ever was in Europe and I noticed it everywhere. All restaurant menus have more then one veggie option. The smaller cafes and restaurants by the busy streets dont have that many options and also I would ask you to give up the idea of eating Belgian waffles if you are a vegan. I still remember when we traveled to Europe in the early 90s, my mom had smuggled a single electric cooktop in to our hotel rooms. If we didn't find anything to eat outside, hot rice and dal was always there as a backup. What is even more surprising is the Gluten-Free movement. Every restaurant has gluten-free options (not always vegan) and even the gluten-free section in supermarkets are bigger and better than I have ever seen. I continue on my vegan, gluten-free quest towards Amsterdam in my next post.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Many restaurants have off days during the week. Check the websites for when they are open.
  • Always look for restaurant timings before you venture towards them. Sometimes they are not open on weekend evenings.
  • It's better to know or learn key words of the language they speak. Most touristy cities have an English speaking population. But my (poor) French skills were of tremendous use during this trip.

Mar 22, 2014

Roasted Amaranth & Banana Pancakes - Oil Free recipe

I've been on a gluten-free binge for a while now, avoiding wheat and gluten as much as I can. There are hundreds of replacements available in local grocery stores here in Bombay. You can use Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl Millet), Ragi (Finger Millet), Foxtail Millet, Thinai (Italian Millet), Varagu, Singada (Waterchestnut flour), Arrowroot Starch, Rajgira (Amaranth Flour) and so many more that I don't even know of. Amongst all of them my most favourite flour to use is Amaranth also known as Rajgira here in India.

Samskara was kind enough to send me SOS Organic's Roasted Himalayan Amaranth Flour. I don't think the ones available in the market are roasted because the nutty flavour of this particular flour was stronger than usual. I loved the smell of it as soon as I opened the packet. The flour is slighlty more coarse since it is stone-ground. I store Amaranth flour in particular int he fridge because I noticed that this flour usually reacts to the weather. The easiest thing to do is make pancakes with gluten-free flours and that is exactly how I went about using some of this flour.

You need:
1 cup SOS Organic's Roasted Amaranth Flour
1/4 cup Arrowroot Flour
1 tsp Orgran Egg Replacer (Or any egg substitute for 1 egg)
1/2 tsp Cinnamon Powder
1/4 tsp Nutmeg Powder
A handful of Pecans, chopped (Or walnuts)
2 ripe bananas
1 tsp Jaggery Powder (optional)
A pinch of Salt

To serve:
Jaggery Syrup or Agave Nectar or Maple Syrup or Any Jam

Mix the amaranth flour, arrowroot flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, chopped nuts, salt.

In another bowl, mix the orgran egg replacer with 2 tsp of water and whisk with a fork till it is fluffy. Add the bananas to it and mash it well. Add salt and jaggery powder if you are using it. I like the pancakes to be less sweet so I can serve it with something sweet.

Mix wet with the dry ingredients and add as much water as you like till you get a thick consistency batter. It should be easily spreadable on your pan or griddle.

I use an iron pan or tawa to make the pancakes.

Serve it hot with anything you like.

Feb 7, 2014

Steamed Root Vegetable Salad with Black Soya and Salsa Verde

We rarely see the colour black in natural foods anymore. With the obsession for white even in our food choices, we are slowly foregoing things like unpolished Urad Dal, Sesame and Rice. I love using black sesame to make my grandmother's recipe of South Indian Gun Powder. It adds such a wonderful colour to the powder. When the lovely people over at Samskara sent me some Organic Himalayan Black Soya to experiment with, I was more than excited to add some black to my food. Black Soya is used to make Black Bean sauces in SE Asian cooking. The Black Soya bean is dried, salted and fermented to bring out that lovely tangy flavour. I'm still looking around for recipes to make that and decided to use it in this salad instead.

Green Tomatoes which are in season now

Not being such a good planner, I usually make up recipes with whatever I have on hand. I found these pretty looking green tomatoes in the market and was wondering what to do with them when the Salsa Verde idea came to me. Salsa Verde literally means 'Green Salsa' and is a Mexican side dish often added to tacos or used as a dip. Salsa Verde uses Tomatillos, but I read that green tomatoes are a suitable replacement. The salsa verde went very well with the mushy potato and sweet potato. The black soya added bits of colour and a nice bite to the salad.

Salsa Verde with Green Tomatoes

Steamed Root Vegetables and Black Soya

You need:

2 Potatoes
2 medium Sweet Potatoes
1/2 cup Himalayan Black Soya, soaked for 3 hours and drained
(You can also use carrots and beetroot)

For the Salsa Verde
2 Green Tomatoes
1/2 a small White Onion
1 clove of Garlic
1/2 a Spicy Green Chilli
1 tbsp fresh Oregano
2 tbsp chopped Coriander
Juice of 1/2 a lime

Steam the unpeeled potatoes, sweet potatoes and black soya for 20-25 minutes or until they are cooked and not mushy. Peel the vegetables after steaming and cut them into bite-sized chunks.

Chop up the green tomatoes, onions and garlic. Put it in a small pan with 1/2 a cup of water. Boil it until the tomatoes are cooked and the onion is translucent and take it off the stove. Add the salt, oregano and coriander and blend with an immersion blender. Add lime juice to finish.

Once the vegetables and soya have cooled, mix the salsa verde until it is evenly coated and serve.

The Salad

Jan 29, 2014

Sol Kadhi - Savoury Coconut & Kokam Drink

I'm back after a two month silence. Travel, weddings, work, baking and everything else has been keeping my off the computer. If only typing was easier on the phone! I break my silence with the simplest of recipes that is astonishingly delicious.

Solkadhi is a drink made with a fruit called kokam that is used to add sourness to recipes. Someone told me that they spotted kokam at a Whole Foods store in California. I won't be surprised if it is the next next big thing to replace Moringa, Quinoa, Coconut Oil or whatever the latest "Super food" is. It is a simple recipe that is not only vegan but also can be raw and is one of my favourites. It is a traditional Maharashtrian drink that is served chilled after a meal and is a wonderful light pink colour that is very refreshing on a sunny afternoon.

Dried Kokam
I usually make it with freshly pressed coconut milk but you could use the tinned variety too. This recipe also uses raw garlic cloves, but I stay as far away from raw garlic (or onions) as possible. I don't like my breath and my skin smelling of garlic for the next 24 hours. I also add a pinch of Pink Salt or Kala Namak which gives it a mild kick.

Sol Kadhi

Here is what you need:
2 cups of coconut milk
6-8 pieces of dried kokam, soaked in a tiny bit of water for an hour at least
2 small garlic cloves (Optional, I avoid it)
1 Green Chilli Pepper (Mildly Spicy variety)
1 tsp Cumin Powder (Omit this if you want to make it raw)
A pinch of Pink Salt (also known as Kala Namak)
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves to garnish

Blend the Coconut milk, Kokam, garlic, green chilli. Put it through a sieve. Add the rest of the ingredients, chill and serve.
If you are making Coconut milk from scratch then add the soaked kokam fruit pieces to the coconut meat with the rest of the ingredients while grinding with water. After two extractions you can add the rest of the ingredients and chill it.
Stir well before serving.

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