Archive for Getting Started

Eating Out


[Yellow Sunshine Vegetarian Fast Food in Berlin, Germany]

Even though I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years, going out to eat with friends and family is sometimes kind of a drag. It’s not that I can’t find things to eat. Really, it’s that my family and friends insist on making a big deal out of the fact that I’m a vegetarian, as if this puts some kind of limitation on where we can eat. The truth is, most restaurants will have vegetarian options (vegan options are another story, although my cousin assures me he can generally make do, even if it’s just with a salad.) You may not have a life-changing meal there, but at least you can tell your family and friends to chill. On the other hand, it’s nice to go to a place that caters to vegetarian cuisine, even if you may not be able to drag your meat eating family and friends there.

What To Look For

The following kinds of restaurants will almost always have something you can eat:
Indian (usually half of the menu will be vegetarian)
Thai (lots of tofu dishes)
Chinese (lots of vegetable dishes)
Italian (pasta)
Ethiopian (list of vegetarian dishes: http://www.ethiopianrestaurant.com/vegetarians.html)
Asian Fusion (noodles, vegetables)
Mediterranean (falafel, hummus, tabouleh, baba ganoush, etc.)
Health Food (we love our health nuts)
Moroccan (lentils!)

The following kinds of restaurants will generally have something you can eat:
Japanese (often will have vegan sushi available)
Pizza (lacto-ovo)
Korean (vegetarian bibimbap)
Kosher (latkes are a potato pancake that are very delicious)
French (often there is some kind of quiche or crepe that is lacto-ovo vegetarian)
Vietnamese (Some Vietnamese restaurants only have meat broth. Some do both veggie or meat.)
Mexican (Many Mexican restaurants use lard in fried beans, so ask for black beans. Make sure the rice isn’t cooked in meat stock.)

The following kinds of restaurants you probably want to avoid:

BBQ
American (usually the only option is grilled cheese)
Deli
Diners (Denny’s may have a boca burger, but do you really want to go there?)
Bar & Grills
Greek
Turkish
Creole
Filipino
Irish
Soul Food
Fast Food (even the fries are usually cooked in oil w/ varying amounts of animal fat)

Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants
Finding vegetarian restaurants before the birth of the internet was a serious pain. Now every place (almost) has a website. And there are some great websites out there to help you find vegetarian and vegan restaurants.

Happycow.net is a vegetarian restaurant finder that allows you to search worldwide. Good news for hungry veggie expats like myself. Their listings include address and phone information so you can make sure the place is still in existence before you go. They also have reviews and a carrot-based rating system to tell you how expensive it is. Be sure to check in the notes if the place is 100% vegetarian, vegan, or both.

VeggieLife.com also has a restaurant finder with results in the USA only. No descriptions of the restaurants are included, but address and phone numbers are available. They also don’t specify whether the restaurants are vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous. They do, however, have supposedly the most listings.

VegDining.com allows you to search by city worldwide to find restaurants. There is a place for reviews but few are active. Restaurants are categorized according to whether they are only vegan / vegetarian, mostly vegan, vegetarian friendly and so on. Phone information and address are generally available.

City Guides

San Francisco
San Francisco & Bay Area Vegan Restaurant Guide

New York City
Vegetarian Restaurant Guide

Chicago
Chicago Vegan Restaurant Guide

Los Angeles
Vegetarians in Paradise City Restaurant Guide

Portland
Vegetarian Restaurant Guide

My Favorite Vegetarian Restaurants
In the Bay Area:
Saturn Cafe in Santa Cruz (Simply the best. Home-made veggie burgers? Sweet potato fries? Fake chicken satay anyone?)
Cha ya in San Francisco. Vegan monk food, udon noodle soup, and lots of interesting delicacies. Did I mention vegan chocolate cake?
Long Life Vegi House in Berkeley – Fake meat or seafood Chinese style only. The fake mongolian beef is probably the best thing ever.
Santa Cruz Diner Mostly because they have veggie dogs with sauerkraut.
Smart Alec’s Fast Food in Berkeley (Some people detest them, but I think their original homemade griller patty is delicious.)

In Berlin:
Yellow Sunshine – Vegetarian and vegan fast food! Every city should have one!

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BBQ – Vegetarian Style!

Fourth of July Vegetarian Options
When I first became a vegetarian, I was pretty vexed by cookouts. I would show up to the big 4th of July or Labor Day BBQ with a patriotic appetite, only to find my stomach still grumbling by the end of the day for lack of a satisfying meal (the only vegetarian options being Kettle Chips, potato salad, and watermelon). Meanwhile, my meat eating friends would have their bellies stuffed full of hamburgers, hot dogs and so on. I eventually figured out that the best way to cope with this sort of situation is to bring something you want to eat, and grill it yourself!

Vegetarian BBQ Ideas and Options
While Garden Burgers may not make for the best grillables, there are lots of other vegetarian burger options that taste great after a good grill.
1. Boca Burgers – Boca makes some great soy burgers that taste pretty darn good after a good char! Try basting the burgers with a marinade (teriyaki for example) and adding grilled onions on a toasted sesame bun! They even make a soy burger especially made for the BBQ- The All American Flame Grilled!
2. Soy Hot Dogs – While these little fellas taste far from an actual hot dog, they’re delicious after a quick sizzle on the grill. Be careful when turning and picking up. These guys cook fast and will sometimes pop, blister, or even break in half if not watched closely! Wrapping in aluminum foil may help with this. Add vegetarian chili and cheese to make a chili dog, or chopped onions and tomatoes!
3. Baked Potatoes – An easy and inexpensive option! Wrap the potato in foil or place directly on the grill. Add sour cream and sliced green onions for a delicious snack!
4. Grilled Vegetables – The following vegetables are excellent for grilling: onions (red, yellow, or white), mushrooms, tomato, bell pepper, leeks, potato, yam, eggplant, turnip, carrot, zucchini, okra, asparagus, and more!

5. Grilled Eggplant Sandwich – Slice some eggplant slices into rings. Place directly on the grill. Turn over midway through cooking to make sure both sides are cooked. You can add a marinade of olive oil and oregano for extra flavor. When done, place between two slices of ciabiatta bread and add some mayonaise or veganaise, mustard, and arugula. Salt and pepper can be added to taste.
6. Grilled Bell Pepper and Feta Sandwich – Another tasty sandwich option. Grill the bell pepper, then slice into strips. Sandwich between two slices of ciabiatta bread with some feta or arugula!
7. Vegetable Kebabs – Not only are kebabs easy to cook, but they’re easy to eat! Chop up some veggies into “chunks” and skewer on a wood skewer. Place on the grill and rotate until all the veggies are cooked. You can also baste them with a marinade of oil, garlic, lemon, and herbs for extra flavor. Make sure it’s cool before you devour! Here are some excellent veggies for kebabs: onions (red, yellow, or white), mushrooms, tomato, bell pepper, leeks, potato, yam, eggplant, turnip, carrot, zucchini, okra, asparagus, and more!
8. Corn on the cob – An old favorite! Just make sure you bring extras because your meat-eating friends will undoubtedly want to try some! Add salt and / or butter to taste.
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Grilling Tips & Ideas for Vegetarian Cookouts
-If you don’t want to bring your own grill, and you don’t want your veggies to taste like meat, try wrapping your veggies in aluminum foil before placing them on the grill.
-Veggies tend to cook quicker then meats, so make sure you keep an eye on them and don’t wait until your friend says the burgers are ready to remove your treasures from the grill!
-Try different marinades and glazes to baste your veggies with for extra flavor. Olive oil, herbs, garlic, and lemon makes a zesty combination while chili pepper, cumin, black pepper and paprika turn up the temperature.
-Bring along some dips to dunk your veggies in! Ranch dressing (or vegan ranch) is great on cooked carrots and zucchini. Tzatziki (a greek yogurt sauce), hummus or pesto also make excellent dips.
-Try turning your grilled veggies into a sandwich or kebab.
-In the mood for something sweet? Try grilling up some fruits! Peaches, apples, and pears taste excellent post-grill! And if you’re up for something a little more elaborate, go here for some vegetarian grilled dessert options, many vegan and vegetarian:http://www.bbqshop.co.uk/barbecue-recipes/bbq_desserts.html

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Starting Out: Getting to Know Tofu

My Initial Struggle With Tofu

When I first became a vegetarian, all I knew about tofu was that vegetarians ate it, a lot of it, or so I thought. I had never tried it before, didn’t know what to do with it, and was a bit surprised when I brought home my first package of silken style tofu, tried to pan fry it, and ended up with a weird half-burnt lumpy mush that was a far cry from anything edible. I decided I needed help. After hunting around online for advice, I became overwhelmed with information and differing opinions on how to work with my new soy curd friend. Some suggested freezing it, others deep frying, and still others recommended draining the liquid using cheese cloth. This sounded like an awful lot of work for someone who was new to cooking, and I quickly decided I would just have to make due without tofu.

I didn’t touch tofu outside of restaurants again until six years later when I moved to Daegu, South Korea and took a Buddhist vegan cooking course from a friend. The recipes were based off the same fundamental ingredients the monks used in temple cooking, including very simple, traditional items such as lotus root, seaweed and tofu. I recognized the silken tofu as soon as she brought it out, and explained in blatant terms my last embarrassing experience with the stuff. She laughed when I got to the part about the frying pan. “Fry? You tried to fry this? But this is silken tofu!” She said, smiling. She then explained to me that there are a few different types of tofu, and that tofu can be used in a variety of ways as either a meat substitute or a protein-rich addition, but that it is important to select the right kind of tofu based on what you want to do with it. I will now pass on the very valuable advice she gave me which helped me to overcome my fear of bean curd and starting cooking some top-notch food using tofu.

Types of Tofu

Silken Tofu is a very soft form of tofu that is has the consistency of flan or custard. It is (generally speaking) best used uncooked and can be added to salads, or eaten by itself with a light dressing or soy, seaweed flakes and pepper (a popular dish in Korea and Japan.)

Soft Tofu varies from silken tofu in that it is more condensed and less custard like. It is thicker and firmer, can be cooked but is also excellent in soups and stews uncooked. Normally we want to use soft tofu in recipes where we want a very soft texture similar to how tofu tastes naturally. This kind of tofu is excellent for marinating and eating raw, but flavored.

Firm Tofu is the sort of tofu we generally want to put in the frying pan, deep fryer, or oven. This kind of tofu is an excellent meat substitute and when drained of water and cooked often has a texture that goes nicely in dishes as varied as mexican recipes, soups, stir frys, and scrambles. There are a few ways to prepare and cook firm tofu. The cheese cloth method I first learned about can certinaly be used to drain the water out of tofu, but so can paper towels, simple pan frying (cut the tofu into 1/2″ thin strips and press down on the tofu with your spatula to help squeeze out the moisture), or deep frying (you’ll want to squeeze some of the water out before doing this using the paper towel / cheese cloth method). Sometimes firm tofu is subdivided into medium, firm, or extra-firm tofu. You’ll want to select the option that is best suited for the meal you are preparing- extra firm for very hard textures and medium for softer textures.

Dried Tofu / Pre-cooked Tofu Many stores carry pre-cooked or dried tofu which does not require much preparation. You can recognize this kind of tofu by its golden brown color (the other two kinds of tofu will be white). Unlike the other kinds of tofu, this sort of tofu will not be prepackaged in water. Usually pre-cooked tofu has a skin that is rough and thick. The inside is tender just like normal firm tofu. It can be eaten by itself with a marinade (sometimes this is already included with the tofu) or used in salads, pastas, or scrambles. You’ll probably need to experiment with these a bit before you find the “right” tofu for your recipes as pre-cooked tofu varies greatly in terms of consistency.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tofu

How do you store tofu?

For long-term storage, tofu can be placed in the freezer for up to 4 or 5 months. Once opened and sliced, depending on the size, tofu can become difficult to store and keep because it is a perishible product that requires water to retain moisture and prevent spoilage. The best way to keep tofu is uncut and in as big a “block” as possible. Put the block in a air-tight plastic container filled with water (up to the height of the tofu block). Re-fill the water every day to ensure the tofu stays moisturized and fresh. If the water is changed every day, the tofu can last several days, up to 5 days.

How long does tofu take to go bad?

If stored unopened and in the freezer, tofu can last up to 5 months after the date of purchase. It is important to keep an eye on the expiration date, of course, and only to open the tofu directly before you intend to use it. For opened and re-stored tofu (placed in the fridge and in water), re-freshing the water daily can allow it to keep up to 5 days. If stored as left overs, it is best to eat as soon as possible as spoilage will depend on the other items included in the recipe.

How can you cook tofu?

Tofu can be eaten raw with or without a sauce or marinade. It can be cut up and placed in soups (soft tofu is recommended for this). It cake be over-baked, pan-friend, or deep-fried. There are a number of recipes in this blog that show you how to use tofu. Click the “tofu” tag for a list of recipes, or use the search function.

Where can I find tofu?

Tofu can be found in many supermarkets in the vegetables section. It is usually located next to the organic greens and fresh dressings. Asian and oriental markets are a great resource for different kinds of tofu. Vegetarian and organic grocers will generally carry tofu.

Can I freeze tofu?

Yes. Freezing tofu is a common long-term solution to tofu storage. Tofu can be frozen up to 5 months after the date of purchase, depending on the expiry date and temperature. It can later be defrosted for immediate use.

How much tofu should I eat?

This is a question that has been debated by nutritionists for quite some time. One thing to be aware of is that soy allergies are very common, so it is important to go slow when adding tofu to your diet. Try one meal a week and work up to adding more if things go okay. If you notice any sort of allergic reaction, stop and if necessary consult your doctor. Another important thing to consider is your general nutritional and dietary needs. Tofu, unfermented, is a whole protein. The amount of protein the average person needs will vary based on their size and activity level, not to mention general metabolic makeup. That said, here’s a calculator that may help give a general idea of your protein needs. 100 grams of firm tofu contains about 11.5 grams of soy protein. It is important to get enough protein in your diet as protein is essential for maintaining bodily health. That said, many doctors believe having too much protein may put pressure on your kidneys or other organs and all nutritionists agree that eating too much of one thing is never a good idea, generally speaking. It is best to use your judgment as to how much tofu you should or shouldn’t eat, but don’t feel like you have to use tofu in every meal in order to meet your protein requirement. There are lots of sources of protein out there aside from tofu, and it is important to maintain a balanced diet not just for your health, but for your palate!

LINKS:

How to eat tofu without really trying
Wikipedia explains everything about tofu you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask
Soy Vey! Should you eat it or not?
Protein calculator
Preparing and Cooking With Tofu

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