Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Merzi, DC

Merzi means "choice" in Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi and that is the premise behind this fast casual Indian establishment in Penn Quarter. When it first opened many, many years ago, I'm pretty sure they had the distinction of being the only fast casual Indian restaurant in DC. Now, there's competition with the new Rasa in Navy Yard, but Merzi is under new ownership and Rickey, the owner, is setting out to make Merzi better.

When you first step in, you are greeted by inviting red and wood walls. The dining room features booths as well as table seating. It's a pretty standard concept--you build your bowl step by step. The lighter portion is $8.25 and the large is $9.25. Where they are lacking is in options for bases, proteins, and toppings. Maybe I'm just spoiled by Roti and Cava Mezze Grill, but I love having lots of options. You choose your base--rice, salad, or no base for a vegan bowl. Then you can choose from or just order all five vegetables: braised red cabbage, potatoes, green peas, chickpeas, and curried cauliflower. And for protein, they are now offering crumbled tofu.

What is cool is that the new ownership is looking to cater to all diets and they are trying to veganize what they can to make it more accessible to everyone. Before, you could only have one sauce if you were vegan: the "spicy" onion tomato masala. Now, the tikka masala, the creamy sauce, is vegan because they replaced the dairy with coconut milk. Win!

Once you've chosen all the ingredients for your bowl, you can top it with a few toppings such as cucumber tomato salad, romaine lettuce, corn, and pickled red onions along with a tomato or tamarind chutney.

I ordered the salad bowl with romaine, all veggies, both vegan sauces (one on each side), pickled onions and a little chutney.

The first thing I noticed was that the spicy sauce wasn't very spicy at all and Rickey said that that is because it is Americanized Indian--so it is American spicy. Well, that is disappointing. I think for a spicy sauce, it should be a bit more spicy than it is. The veggies tasted unseasoned, except for the cauliflower, which is really good--seasoned with cumin and turmeric. Apparently the veggies were over seasoned before so they went back to the basics with unseasoned veggies. I think a little more seasoning would be nice, but, then again, the sauce is pretty flavorful. The tomato masala sauce is good, but somewhat plain. That new vegan tikka masala sauce, however, is great--it's super creamy and flavorful and brings all the flavor to the dish. I loved the pickled onions too.

The second time I went, I got the rice with all veggies and the new tofu option with the tikka masala sauce. The tofu, because it is crumbled, was hard to taste, but, again, that sauce made the meal!

I also tried the samosas, but I wasn't a fan. They were just way too deep fried. I am a fan of the mango chutney though.

For drinks, they just started offering two freshly made drinks--Chai Iced Tea and Turmeric Mint Lemonade. I only tried the lemonade and I thought it was pretty good. But, where they really shine is that they just made the Mango Lassi vegan--now made with coconut milk and it is absolutely delicious!

I asked Rickey why he cared to veganize more items and he said that he has been vegan on and off and really wants the food to be accessible to all. Everything in the restaurant is gluten free, so now it's time to have more vegan options. I'd, personally, love to see more veggies like eggplant and more protein options like lentils or chickpeas. I think he's on the right track though and I really look forward to seeing this restaurant evolve under the ownership. He even just joined the Vegetarian Society of DC's Green Rewards program, which gives members discounts at local veg-friendly businesses. Thanks, Rickey, we appreciate you.

Be sure to go and try the new tikka masala sauce! It's delish.
415 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 656-3794

Merzi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Full Disclosure: Although the meal was provided to me at no cost to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dophert, Amsterdam

I was on a mission to find good vegan food in Amsterdam and ended up at Dophert. Dophert is an all-vegan two-story cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner six days per week.

It had an eclectic bookstore feel to me with its grade-school-like tables and chairs, exposed ductwork, and decorative lighting. The hexagons painted on the floors and the artwork on the walls gave the cafe some character.

I was just excited to find a vegan restaurant in Amsterdam! We started with the Bitter Ballen, which are a traditional Dutch snack made with meat served with mustard. This was obviously a vegan version and these gooey balls were served with mustard. They were a little underwhelming, but I was happy to try a traditional Dutch snack veganized.

We tried two other dishes -- the Fried Seitan Sandwich made with seitan, jalapenos, and tomatoes on a sub roll. It was pretty good.

And I had the Quinoa and Black Bean Burger, which was also very good!

The desserts in the dessert case were tempting, but we were pretty full and couldn't make room for them. I'll definitely come back to this place to try more when I return next year!

Spaarndammerstraat 49
1013ST Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cece's Veggie Noodle Co.

Simple meals for people on the go--this seems to be the trend nowadays. And simple meals for people who cook at home are very popular. Often though, those looking for easy meals and drawn to less healthy meals. But, there are so many healthy options. One of them is the Veggie Noodle Co., which apparently recently got renamed to "Cece's Veggie Noodle Co."

I was the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore this past September and grabbed a few of these as I'm already a big fan. What are they? They are simply spiralized veggies. They take root vegetables, make them into noodles, put them in a box, and slap a recipe on the back. And all you have to do is heat them up for a few minutes with or without other veggies and throw a sauce on them. Bam! You got your meal.

Like I said, I am already a huge fan. They sell Sweet Potato Spirals, Butternut Spirals, Zucchini Spirals, and Beet Spirals as well as Butternut Veggiccini and Zucchini Veggiccini. Newer products include their Riced Cauliflower and Riced Broccoli.

I had the pleasure of trying two of their seasonal flavors as well as two classic ones. For the Golden Beet Spirals, I made their Golden Garlicky Lemon Basil Beets recipe. I mixed the golden beet spirals with olive oil, fresh basil, and lemon zest in a bowl, then sauteed them in lemon juice and garlic. So good!

For the White Sweet Potato Spirals, I just sauteed them and topped them with spaghetti sauce and fresh basil. Yum!

I did the same with the Sweet Potato Veggiccini and it was delicious.

I took the Zucchini Veggiccini and sauteed it in oil with dried jalapenos and topped it with spaghetti sauce. It was so good!

I'm a big fan of these healthy "noodles" as they are really just vegetables and super good for you. Quick to cook, delicious to eat, and healthy too. To find a store near you, click here. Bon Appetit!

Full Disclosure: Although these products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Maoz, Amsterdam

We had gotten back from skydiving on the Texel island in The Netherlands late and I was desperate to find some food at 9 p.m. at night!  Luckily, I found the international vegetarian chain, Maoz Vegetarian!

Maoz's menu is simple--falafel in a white or whole wheat pita or make it a salad or bowl with falafel and add fries and a juice if you like.

All toppings are vegetarian and mostly vegan. I topped mine with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olives, pickles, tahini and more. And as starving as it was, it really hits the spot. There are four of these in Amsterdam and all are open until 1 a.m.

Maoz Vegetarian
Leidsestraat 85
1017 NX Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Whaddyalove Chocolate

Looking for a fun gift of chocolate? Whaddyalove Chocolate based in Los Angeles is making vegan chocolates with pizzazz!

Half of the fun of these bars is in the packaging as they are wrapped with a thick paper with origami folds.  The Classic Bar was psychedelic looking and so colorful. And inside the chocolate was made with cacao nibs.

The other half of the fun is on the inside. The Sparkle Bar has a unicorn on the outside and chocolate with edible sparkles on the inside. Made with pure cacao beans, cane sugar, cacao butter, and Himalayan Salt, you really can't go wrong with these.

These chocolates would make a really fun gift to anyone who is a child at heart. They even come with a card that states: "Share what you love about your life with someone you cherish." So sweet. You can order the bars online for $5.95 each here.

Full Disclosure: Although the chocolate was provided to me at no cost to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Juice Brothers, Amsterdam

As I was walking along the streets of Amsterdam, as one does in the Netherlands, I came across a juice shop called, "Juice Brothers." This cute, quaint, little shop serves organic juices, cleanses, and food.

From acai bowls and smoothie bowls to granola and vegan sweets, there is a variety of treats to choose from. As I was just passing by, I wanted a snack and found that they were serving Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream from New York! Well, I couldn't pass over a chance to have that delicious ice cream. Yum!

Be sure to stop by for a vegan mac and cheese and don't leave without trying the ice cream as well! Winner, winner, mac and cheese dinner!

Juice Brothers
Haarlemmerplein 43
1013 KB Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Wild Garden - Marinades and Pilafs

Wild Garden, best known for the little to-go hummus packs you get in airplane snack boxes, has Marinades and Pilafs now as well! And five out of six of them are vegan!

All of the marinades: Turkish, Shwarma, and Persian are vegan and two of the three pilafs, Bulgar and Couscous, are vegan. The Rice and Lentil are not vegan because it is made with butter.

My favorite of all of them was the Shwarma. I cooked seitan in the Shwarma marinade and was blown away by how tasty it was. I put the seitan in a Turkish wrap with lettuce, tomato, and onion and it was fantastic. You have to try this!

The Bulgur was okay. It had a funky seasoning and was sticky and hard out of the bag. I made the recipe on the bag for Bulgur Herb Salad by cooking it with red and yellow peppers, onions, and parsley and while it looked beautiful, the seasoning was too heavy to go with this recipe.

The Couscous really stands alone as it is already seasoned in a tomato sauce and made with chickpeas. You heat it up for 90 seconds and you have a complete meal!

I really enjoyed trying these marinades and pilafs and look forward to trying the rest of them. If you'd like to try them yourself, you can find them at Amazon here.

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me at no cost to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pure & Beautiful Vegan Cooking - Cookbook Review

Pure & Beautiful Vegan Cooking by Kathleen Henry was inspired by both the challenges and benefits of eating vegan in rural Alaska.  She says, "If I can make my way being vegan with seemingly limited ingredients way up here in the Last Frontier, then I know you can too. One doesn't have to be next door to a specialty health food store or have a pantry full of odd ingredients." I agree!

She begins with quick tips on ingredients and equipment that help to demystify ingredients that may be unfamiliar to you like agar agar, miso paste, and kala namak.

In her mornings section, the Caramel Banana Oat Pancakes look delectable. Other recipes that inspire me are Savory Steel Cut Oats with Fava Beans, Sweet Potatoes, and Baby Kale; Pea and Sausage Pesto Crepes with Creamy Cheese Sauce; and Garden Lasagna.

In the desserts section, the Mocha Smore Pie looks so amazing. There's also Banana Cream Pie, Blueberry Thyme Lemon Bars, and German Chocolate Cups.

I made two recipes from this book. The Creamy Rosemary Chickpea Pasta is a hearty and tasty pasta dish made with chickpeas, vegan sausage, and fresh rosemary. By using the chickpea liquid, which some now call aquafaba, it helped thicken the sauce and bring heartiness to this pasta dish. Also, the addition of vegan sausages gave it some extra flavor that complemented the nutritional yeast cheesiness and fresh rosemary. Delicious!

I also made the Soba and Veggie Miso Bowl, which warmed my heart on a cold, winter afternoon. Warm broth envelopes soba noodles, broccolini, carrots, peas, and shiitake mushrooms while the red miso adds the flavor to this dish. It is a meal unto itself.

I don't think you can go wrong with the recipes in this book. You can find Pure & Beautiful Vegan Cooking on Amazon here.

Full Disclosure: Although the cookbook was provided to me at no cost to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.