Thursday, June 27, 2013

Classic Hummus...

I love hummus - who doesn’t - I love it, and I make it often. It’s one of my favorite foods, and it’s often a saving grace when it comes to eating healthfully - and sometimes just plain eating - as a vegan traveler. No matter where you go, no matter how small the town, or how vegan-unfriendly the city, someone, somewhere has hummus. It seems to be universally loved, and it seems that everyone and their mother has a personal hummus recipe that they like best.

When it comes to hummus I don’t care if it’s thick, thin, creamy, extra-creamy, or a little textured. I love them all just so long as the flavor is good. That’s that’s really the key, because hummus just ain’t no good if it’s bland or boring. I don’t mean that you have to dress it up and make if fancy - although I love that too - I just mean that when it comes to a good hummus you should be able to taste the nutty tahini, the tart lemon, the bitter cumin, and the garlic, oh gods the garlic!  Hummus without garlic is like a hand without fingers. You definitely, definitely need the garlic!

For years and years I used to make hummus with canned chickpeas and the result was always good it comes out smooth and creamy like I like, and the flavor is wonderful. Until this year I had never made hummus with dried beans before, and this is because my old stove just wasn’t up to the challenge of cooking a bean as hard as the garbanzo. I don’t know why this is, but no matter how long I cooked them on the stove they never got soft. Now my new stove cooks these things like a champ in about an hour, and I have to say the flavor of hummus with home-cooked beans is really out of this world.

Another thing I love about hummus is that it’s so versatile. Really as long as you have chickpeas you can do basically anything else you like. You can season it with whatever you have on hand, and often times while I’ve been on vacations where I’ve had access to a kitchen - or at least a food processor - I’ve been able to whip up hummus using almond butter instead of tahini, lime juice instead of lemon, garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Hell I’ve even used basil, oregano, curry, and other random seasonings to flavor it when I didn’t have enough cumin. It’s easy, simple, filling and oh so satisfying!

For the sake of your convenience you can use either canned or home-cooked in this recipe, but I highly recommend you trying the home-cooked method, because it really is amazing. So here I go tossing my hat into the ring and adding another hummus recipe into the

Classic Hummus 

2 ½ C Home-Cooked Chickpeas (about 1 heaping cup dried)
4-6 Garlic cloves
3 tsp Ground Cumin
2 tsp Ground Coriander
3/4 tsp Smoked Paprika
½ tsp Onion Powder
5 Tbsp Lemon Juice
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
6 Tbsp Tahini
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
1/3C -2/3C water - (Or enough to reach your desired consistency, the more you use the creamier and thinner the hummus)

- Combine the chickpeas and the garlic in a food processor and process until you have corse crumbs.

- Add in the spices, salt, pepper, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Process until you have a thick paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

- Add in the water and process until you have a smooth creamy dip. Add enough water to reach your desired consistency. This may take a few minutes depending on your processor and you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times.

- Scrape the hummus out into a serving dish and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, some smoked paprika or a dash of cayenne pepper, and a little minced cilantro. Enjoy as a dip for veggies or toasted pita or forget the serving dish and use the hummus in a wrap, on a sandwich, scooped onto a salad, spread out onto some falafels, or spread across some socca. Enjoy!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Product Review - Sunwarrior: Chocolate - Raw, Vegan - Protein Powder...

Happy Summer Solstice everyone! Today is the longest day of the year, today is the day to stay up and enjoy the sun, because after today the days will gradually begin to grow short again until we find ourselves in winter once more. I love summer solstice because I love the sun, and I love late-night sunsets. Seeing the sun go down at six is a little depressing to me, and I’d much rather watch it set at nine or ten. Unfortunately in Illinois today we have no sun at all, the day was bright and cherry when I woke up - for about five seconds - and then the sky quickly turned to grey, and now it’s going black. Storms are on the horizon, and so most of my solstice we be spent moping around indoors. At least I took advantage of the day before the rain hit, and had a lovely bike ride through the grey, whipping wind.

But enough about all that, I wanted to share a product with you that I’ve been enjoying quite a bit lately over the past couple of months. Since I’m not cooking anything summery or celebratory today I thought it was the perfect day to share it with you.

Sunwarrior Chocolate  Protein Powder! This stuff is amazing! Y’all know how much I love a good vegan protein powder right? Well, I first heard about Sunwarrior a few years ago when I was in Maui, and I’d been wanting to try it ever since. Of course this stuff is a bit more expensive then what I normally buy so I kept on holding off on getting some. Then my local health food store was having a sale and I scored a bag for 30% off! How cool is that? I chose to buy the chocolate flavor because I tend to favor chocolate flavored protein powders and figured that would be the safest place to start, and man oh man is this stuff good.

Now, I love me some Manitoba Harvest Hemp Protein and some Vega but I think Sunwarrior beats them both in terms of just good ‘ole flavor. The texture isn’t grainy at all, or gritty like a lot of powders out there, and It has a mild chocolate flavor as opposed to a really in your face one. I also don’t find it to be overly sweet, and I don’t think it leaves that strange protein powder ‘aftertaste’ in your mouth. This stuff goes down smooth, and tastes delicious and you can really add it into any kind of smoothie that strikes your fancy. I’ve been enjoying it in all sorts of configurations latley but my hands down favorite way to drink it is the classic - almond butter, almond milk, banana, maca, cherries, and ice combo.

Other great aspects of Sunwarrior protein powder is that it’s a GMO-Free product, it’s Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, and Dairy-Free, and it’s also hypoallergenic. There are also no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, it's sweetened with stevia and it’s raw. It also contains all the essential and non-essential amino acids in a perfectly balanced profile. According to their website they have the highest amount of (non-soy) raw, whole-grain sprouted vegan protein of any product available. Pretty cool! One scoop is also only about 80 calories which is considerably lower then a lot of other protein powders I’ve seen on the market.

I look forward to trying both the vanilla and natural flavors in the future, and hope they’re just as good as the chocolate version, but for now I’m really loving this powder. So if you love protein powders as much as I do - particularly as a quick post work out, or pre-work breakfast - then check this one out and let me know what you think!

Oh and if you live in an area where the sun is actually out and shining today, make sure you go out and enjoy it! Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Black Sesame Rice with Steamed Kale, Cabbage and Edamame...

Tonight’s dinner was less of a recipe and more of a ‘lets throw some stuff together and see what happens’ kind of affair, but it turned out so good that I just had to share it. Originally I didn’t know what I wanted to make, but as the day grew later and I became more and more involved with homework I realized whatever I did choose to make wasn’t going to be anything elaborate. Midway through the day I started feeling like rice, and once I got thinking about rice I got thinking about bowls - again!

Well, I was all out of brown rice, but had a jar of black rice that I’ve been neglecting. Black rice pairs particularly well with sesame seeds which I have plenty of and so that got me thinking of Asian flavors. Asian flavors brought me to Edamame which is a good protein source, and then all I needed was a vegetable. Today I had to write an essay on the health benefits of Cruciferous vegetables, and writing that essay inspired me to utilize the kale and red cabbage that were sitting in my fridge. Steam it, and toss it into a bowl with a few well picked condiments and a lovely nutritious dinner was served.

This is a light but filling dinner packed with dense nutrition. Black rice provides you with 18 amino acids, zinc, copper, iron, carotene and several vitamins as well as protein and fiber, which makes it more nutritious then plain ‘ole brown rice. Not to mention - if you believe in such things anyway - in China black rice is claimed to be good for the kidney’s, stomach, and liver. Sesame seeds are a great source of manganese, copper, calcium, iron, phosphorus, Vitamin B1, zinc, magnesium, selenium and fiber. They’re also great at relieving the liver of oxidative stress.  Edamame provides you with complete protein - meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids - as well as fiber, calcium, iron, Vitamin A, C & E and various other minerals. Kale is the best known cancer fighting vegetables on the planet, and the richest of all leafy greens in carotenoids. Ounce for ounce it has more calcium then milk, and it’s calcium is more bioavailable then milk - meaning our bodies can utilize more of it, better. It’s also packed full of essential vitamins and minerals. Cabbage is another great cancer fighter and an immune stimulant packed full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and by now we should all be well aware of the amazing health benefits of both Ginger and Garlic.

This is exactly the kind of delicious meal you can eat every day and not feel guilty about it. Every ingredients is packed full of beneficial nutrients to help you! This is definitely going to be a ‘go-to’ meal for me from now on.

Black Sesame Rice with Steamed Kale, Cabbage and Edamame

For the Rice  

1 1/4 C Black Rice
2 ½ C Water
1 Tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil
3 Garlic Cloves minced
½-1 tsp Japanese 7 Spice blend (To taste)
1/4 C Sesame Seeds

For the Kale - Cabbage - Edamame 

! Bunch Kale torn into bite sized pieces
1 ½ C Red Cabbage sliced
1 ½ C Edamame
Sliced Green Onions to taste
2 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
2 Tbsp Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s (Tamari or Soy Sauce can be used instead)
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
Ume Vinegar to taste
½-3/4 tsp White Truffle Oil (Optional but strongly recommended!)
½ tsp ground ginger

- Cook rice in a rice cooker, or according to package directions. Once rice is done cooking add in the sesame oil, garlic cloves, and 7 Spice blend. Stir to combine and cover the pot or cooker with a lid for 5 minutes to let the steam infuse the garlic into the rice.

- Add Sesame seeds to the rice just before serving and stir to combine.

- Meanwhile in a large pot steam the Kale, Cabbage and Edamame, for roughly 5-7 minutes until the kale is wilted and the cabbage is wilted but still a little crisp. If you need to you can steam in two batches, kale first, then cabbage and edamame together.

- Combine all the steamed vegetables in a large bowl. Add the Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s, Rice Vinegar, Ground Ginger, Maple Syrup, Ume Vinegar, White Truffle Oil, and Green Onions. Stir to combine and taste for flavor.

- Serve by scooping the rice into a large bowl, then layering in the steamed vegetables. Enjoy!

*** Note - If you taste the mix and feel it’s too salty but don’t want to add any more maple syrup to even it out you can add 5-6 drops of liquid stevia. This works really well. ***

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Product Review - Kombucha Wonder Drink...

So by now you should be well aware of my love for Kombucha. I’ve previously shared my thoughts and feelings on brands such as GT's, Mmm... TeaKevita, and REEDS, and today I wanted to tell you about another brand of kombucha I discovered back in May in Vancouver. It’s called Kombucha Wonder Drink - and boasts all the amazing health benefits of every other Kombucha brand I’ve tried and reviewed. KWD is founded by Steve Lee, who also happens to be the co-founder of the popular tea brands STASH and Tazo. Apparently he got really into kombucha on a trip he took to Russia in the 1990's, brought back some recipes and started messing around with home-brewing. Some of his friends - like microbrewery experts and microbiologists - got into the game and thus Kombucha Wonder Drink was born.

As far as I can tell - from my own trips to health food stores - KWD isn’t big yet, not in the was GT’s and Kevita are, but I’m sure it’ll get there. In Vancouver I first found KWD being sold in a small produce market, and then a few other health food stores around town. Here in Chicago the only place I’ve seen it for sale is The World Market, but it’s only popped up there within the past month. Since I didn’t know too much about it when I first discovered it I decided to Google it and read some reviews. Most of them unanimously say that the flavor is great, that seems to be the focus. People love the taste, and I can see why. KWD is relatively sweet, and doesn’t have that tart vinegary, mouth-pucker taste that some of GT’s or even some Kevita flavors have. KWD comes in eight really interesting flavors, it’s relatively low in calories at 50 calories a serving, and it’s organic.

Of their eight flavors my favorite are Asian Pear and Ginger, Niagra Grape, Green Tea and Lemon, and Cherry Cassis. The Traditional Flavor, Essence of Peach, and Essence of Mango are also pretty decent, but I’m less fond of the plain Essence of Lemon and the Essence of Juniper Berry, Spearmint and Lemon Myrtle. Of the flavors that I like the most I can’t deny that they are indeed very tasty, I can knock that stuff back with no problem and want more. However, the one major drawback for me is that Kombucha Wonder Drink is not raw. That’s right, KWD is pasturized. The other major drawback for me is that 12g of sugar per serving. That’s a bit too much sugar for me and I prefer the low-sugar of GT’s.

Now I guess in the Kombucha community there is some debate over what’s better, raw or pasturized. The people who prefer it raw claim that the living culture is what is providing the most benefit, the nutrients are left whole and intact, they are not degraded by the pasteurization process. They say it has to be raw to be healing and to provide energy. While on the opposite hand the people who are in favor of pasteurizing claim that the process helps to preserve the nutrients, as well as the flavor and make it both more stable and more safe. That’s certainly the explanation that KWD gives on their website for why they chose to pasteurize their drink. To retain flavor and keep Kombucha safe. I don’t know if I buy it though. I mean sure when you eat or drink anything that is raw and unpasteurized there is the risk that you could become ill, and I have heard horror stories of people home-brewing kombucha who have become sick. However I’ve never read an account of anyone drinking a bottle of say GT’s and getting violently ill. Surely there must be some sort of regulatory process that inspects raw products meant for commercial sale to ensure public safety? I don’t know.

Honestly I’m in the raw Kombucha camp all the way. I think it’s healthier, and more beneficial and while I do love the unique flavor of KWD, I don’t feel the same strong boost after drinking it that I do after drinking GT’s. I have to assume that’s because it’s pasturized, and possibly it’s also because of the sugar content. The sugars are quite high in the drink, and perhaps that makes me feel more sluggish then it does energized.

Bottom Line is that I like Kombucha Wonder Drink’s Flavor, and I’ll certainly drink it from time to time when I see it available, but it won’t be replacing GT’s as the constant in my refrigerator, and honestly I think it’s a little too much to ask to pay upwards of $3 a bottle for a pasturized Kombucha that may or may not be as nutritionally competent as it’s raw counterparts. As always, if you see it, try it for yourself, and let me know what you think. Where do you stand? Raw or Pasturized and why?

If you're interested in knowing more about Kombucha Wonder Drink you can check out their website.

Kombucha Wonder Drink

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jae's Southern Bowl - Chipotle Black-Eyed Peas with Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Collard Greens...

Today I wanted to share with you a meal that I’ve been enjoying quite a lot lately. Actually I first made this dish back in April but it quickly became a favorite and a staple. It’s both super simple, and yet loaded with amazing flavor. This dish really inspired me to rethink food and how to prepare a meal. As much as I love fancy food and spending a lot of time in the kitchen, sometimes all you want and all you need is good, clean, and hearty nutrition to fuel you through your day. At least that’s all I’ve been wanting lately, and trust me when I tell you that as simple as this dish looks, it’s super satisfying and filling. It’s the kind of meal you can feel good about eating because you know everything in it is good for you.

Before I get into the recipe let me start by saying “Get It Ripe” by Jae Steele is a cook book I’ve owned for years and yet hardly ever use. I bought it in my favorite used book store back when I first went vegetarian and honestly it was just a little too over my head at the time. The recipes themselves are not particularly complicated I just didn’t know what the hell spelt flour was, or millet, or why I should use brown rice syrup! These days of course I’m an old pro, I’m not intimidated by strange sounding ingredients, these days most of them are regular features in my pantry. Still this is an often overlooked book in my collection for the simple fact that my cook book collection is so large. I have definite ‘go-to’ cook books that I use quite frequently, but every now and then I get tired of them and so I go through the shelves to look for that one book I never use that suddenly inspires me. Back in April that was “Get it Ripe” and the first thing I made out of it after dusting it off was this amazing Southern Bowl which contains - Chipotle Black-Eyed Peas, with Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Collard Greens. Even though I wasn’t much of a bean lover when I first bought this book, this was always the number one recipe that stood out to me. I’ve always wanted to make it, and so I finally did. Honestly I don’t know what took me so long because this dish is fan-freaking-tastic. It is so mouth-watering good, the beans alone will blow your mind and you can eat them straight out of the pot they’re that amazing. There are definitely a couple of steps to this dish but say you make a big pot of the beans on a Sunday, the rest is pretty easy to throw together for a quick weekday lunch or dinner.

The black-eyes peas are simmered with olive oil, garlic, onion, celery, zucchini, chipotle, allspice, bay leaves, sea salt, and vegetable broth or water. The first time I made this I used vegetable broth, and the other times I made this using water, and honestly the beans are so flavorful that you can use water and they’re not bland at all. They’re so rich, and even a bit creamy, and they have a perfect level of spice from the chipotles. I mean really, chipotles and beans they were meant to be together.

Then you layer those delicious mouth-watering beans on some soft, and creamy mashed sweet potatoes and you’re in food heaven. Jae makes her sweet potatoes with coconut oil, sea salt, non-dairy milk, maple syrup and black pepper. The coconut oil is amazing in them and lends a really light coconuty flavor that’s the perfect accompaniment to the slightly spicy beans. Now, I’ve had a lot of mashed sweet potatoes in my time, hell I’ve had a lot of coconut mashed sweet potatoes in my time but seriously these are some of the best I’ve ever had anywhere.

Lastly you add in one whole bunch of simply and lightly steamed collard greens. I know that doesn’t sound like anything special but when you mix ‘em in with the sweet potatoes and some saucy spicy beans well you have a flavor explosion. The slightly bitter greens are well complimented with the sweet and spicy flavors of the rest of the dish, and once you eat all three components together you can’t really imagine eating any one part separate. You truly need to have the three together to create magic.

This dish, is really one of the most perfect examples I’ve ever found of just how amazing simple vegan fare can be.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Crispy Cabbage and Rice Bowl with Miso Molasses Dressing...

Lately, when it comes to food I’ve been feeling really uninspired and over-stimulated. What I mean by that, is in my mind I’ve been battling two contrasting desires. On the one hand I want to make everything. I want to make all those delicious, gourmet meals that has my mouth watering when I log into the blogosphere, or crack open a cook book, yet on the other hand everything sounds so good that nothing seems right, does that make sense? Plus I just can’t seem to muster the energy to do any ‘gourmet’ cooking. I want food that quick, simple, and easy, I want food that’s low calorie and high in nutritional density, I want food that’s good for my body, food that is fuel. Yet I want it to taste amazing and I want it to seem decadent.

All these contrasting desires have been leaving me feeling so blah in the kitchen, not to mention that I’ve just been feeling really ‘fooded’ out since being back from Vancouver. In Vancouver we didn’t exactly eat junk, but we did eat a lot, and I mean a lot. There are so many good vegan restaurants in Vancouver that we probably ate double the amount of food we normally do, so that’s where this intense desire for simple, and basic food is coming from.  Since our return I’ve been really into smoothies, juices, beans, salads, bowls and superfoods. We ate a lot of that kind of stuff in Vancouver and now that I’m back I want to really focus on good for you whole foods. Unfortunately there are only so many salads and so many bowls that one can make before you start to get bored. As I already said the 100+ cook books in my collection haven’t been much help as I feel kind of uninspired to actually put in any of the work they require.

So lately my meals have revolved around four basic principals, and I actually find that these four things are actually the best things to consider when making a bowl - or even a salad. Firstly a survey of what you have in the pantry and fridge is an absolute necessity. Second it’s good to look for what you have in abundance or what needs to be used ASAP. Third it’s always important to take into consideration any food craving or interest you may be having that day. Lastly pick one culinary or cultural theme, whatever inspires you the most in that moment. Once you’ve gone through these steps putting together a bowl or salad is pretty effortless work.

At least that’s how it works for me. This is the method I employed to make dinner Thursday and surprisingly it came together rather well. As it happened I had a lot of cabbage, rice and various seeds. The cabbage needed to be used. I wanted something sugar-free and nutritionally dense, and I was interested in an Asian sort of flavor. The miso molasses dressing might sound strange to you, but I assure you it’s quite good. Molasses is great because it’s relatively low in sugar with a low-glycemic load plus it has a bounty of trace minerals like copper, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, B6, and selenium. The cool thing is that you don’t even need to eat that much molasses to get the nutritional benefits, a Tbsp is enough to enjoy the nutrition. It’s also much lower in calories then other liquid sweeteners - such as Agave or Maple Syrup. So when I decided to add a touch of sweetness to my miso dressing that’s why I chose to try Molasses. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I reasoned, and much to my surprise it turned out fantastic.

I also love the combination of slightly wilted cabbage with crispy kimchi, crunchy seeds, a creamy dressing and cooked rice. All these things just seem to go together in perfect textural harmony. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean!

Crispy Cabbage and Rice Bowl with Miso Molasses Dressing 

1 C Brown Rice
3 C Shredded Green Cabbage
1 C Shredded Red Cabbage
½ Large Yellow Onion
5 Green Onions Sliced
1 Tbsp Hemp Seeds (per serving)
1 Tbsp Black Sesame Seeds (per serving)
1 Tbsp Ground Golden Flaxseed (per serving)
1 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil
1/3 C Kimchi (per serving)

Miso Molasses Dressing 

1/3 C Rice Vinegar
½ C Water
4 Tbsp Mellow White Miso
1 ½ Tbsp Molasses
2 Garlic Cloves
1 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1 Tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil

- Cook brown rice according to package instructions.

- Heat sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When hot add the cabbage and the onion and stir-fry for 6-8 minutes until onion begins to turn soft and cabbage is sightly wilted. Do not overcook, you want the cabbage to still have some texture!

- Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth.


- Divide the rice amongst 2 - large portions - or 3 - smaller portions - bowls. Divide the cabbage mixture evenly between the bowls and sprinkle each bowl with 1 Tbsp hemp seeds, 1 Tbsp black sesame seeds, and 1 Tbsp Ground Golden Flaxseed.

- Garnish with desired amount of sliced green onions, and add 1/3C of kimchi to each bowl. Top with desired amount of dressing and serve!

*** Note - Can be made soy-free if using a soy-free miso like Chickpea Miso.***

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Chocolate Berry Superfood Smoothie...

I love all kinds of smoothies but there are three kinds that I enjoy more frequently then others. One is the obligatory green smoothie, the second is a berry combo smoothie, and the third is the chocolate protein nut butter smoothie. I tend to drink green smoothies more often in the summer, a lot of berry smoothies in the winter and the chocolate nut butter combo is a wild card. I’ll take it whenever, wherever. Lately however I’ve been enjoying this third variety more often. It seems to be my new ‘go-to’ smoothie on working days, the added protein from the protein powder and nut butter, plus the cacao and the maca keep me energized long into the day.

The only problem is that I get board pretty quickly when forced to eat the same thing all the time. So Monday I was craving a smoothie, something chocolate and creamy like my typical pre-work smoothie but the idea of the same old same old just had me feeling blah. I thought about making a berry smoothie as I have a lot of delicious berries newly on hand but that just sounded so plain. After a few moments spent pondering my dilemma in my kitchen something dawned on me. “Who ever said you can’t combine a berry smoothie with a chocolate nut butter smoothie?” No one that I know of anyway and so that’s exactly what I did.

It may sound weird to you to combine berries with chocolate and peanut butter but I assure you it’s quite delicious - mind blowing really - and while the color leaves a little something to be desired the taste is phenomenal. And really, that’s all that matters isn’t it?

Chocolate Berry Superfood Smoothie 

1 Scoop Sun Warrior Chocolate Protein Powder
1 3.5oz pack frozen acai berry puree
6-8 frozen strawberries
1 Banana
1 tsp Lucuma Powder
1 tsp Maca Powder
1 Tbsp Hemp Seeds
1 Tbsp Earth Balance Coconut Peanut Butter
3/4 C Unsweetened Almond Milk
4 Ice Cubes

- Place all ingredients into a high speed blender and blend on high for 60-90 seconds until smooth and all the ice is crushed.

Enjoy before or after an energizing workout, or on days you have to go to work!

*** Note - You can use any kind of peanut butter or protein powder you like, but I find the Sun Warrior Protein Powder has a superior taste. As for Earth Balance's Coconut Peanut Butter, I highly recommend this. Not only is it freaking delicious but adds another flavor note to the overall smoothie. More about this peanut butter in a review post to come.***

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Restaurant Review: Happy Buddha in Barrington...

Suburban Illinois is not particularly well known for it’s variety in vegan dining options. There are of course a few chain places a hungry vegan can go and grab a quick bite if need be. However 100% vegetarian places - let alone vegan - are a bit hard to come by. You run into more and more of them in the suburbs the closer you get to the city, but the further out you go the more scarce they become. That’s why I’ve been dying to tell you about a place my husband and I discovered back in February. It’s a small Vietnamese place called Happy Buddha, and it’s in Barrington. Trust me when I say it’s worth the drive, and if you live in the area it’s sure to make you very happy indeed.

We originally celebrated Valentine’s Day here this year, and it was so good that when I aced one of my finals my husband took me back to celebrate that. Everything we’ve eaten here tastes amazing, and fresh, and none of the food contains MSG. Unfortunately they have now added a few meat items onto the menu - I think business was very slow and they did it to generate interest in an otherwise vegan-unfriendly area - but the restaurant was originally vegetarian - mostly vegan - and they still run it as a vegetarian restaurant. The meat menu is very limited, and the veggie menu is extensive.

My husband and I love Vietnamese food, and so we’ve tried quite a few items on the menu thus far. We start each meal off with the Fresh Vegetarian Steam Rolls, which are incredible! They contain mushrooms, green peas, jicama, carrots and tofu and come with a chili dipping sauce and a bowl of pickled vegetable slices. Super good.

We’ve also had the Fresh Vegetarian Shrimp Spring Roll which has soy shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts, mint, lettuce and rice noodles. It comes with a sweet spicy dipping sauce and crushed peanuts.

We’ve also had the Fried Wontons which were amazing, filled with the same mix as in the fresh steam roll. And we’ve had the deep fried soy shrimp although It seems we forgot to take a picture of that one, sorry!

As a side to split between us one day we ordered the Combination Fried Rice, which has Soy Shrimp, Soy Chicken, and Soy Ham, with carrots, green peas, corn, bean sprouts and green onions. We asked for this to be made with brown rice instead of white, and I really love that this place gives you that option. The rice was super flavorful and super tender. A definite winner.

For Entrees we’ve tried the Vietnamese Pho which is my favorite Vietnamese dish ever and I always order this in every Vietnamese restaurant. I have to say that this is one of the better Pho’s I’ve had. About as good or maybe even better then the Pho I ate at Loving Hut.  Happy Buddha’s Pho is made with Vegetable Broth, Rice Noodles, Soy Chicken, Mushrooms, Oyster Mushrooms, Fried Tofu, Bean Sprouts, Bay Leaves, Cilantro, Broccoli and Green Onions. It comes with a sweet Hoisin style sauce for you to spoon into your soup as well as a hot, hot, hot and spicy red sauce that you can add for a bit of heat.

We’ve also tried the Asparagus Soup and it was absolutely amazing! This soup is made with vegetable broth, tofu, asparagus, green onions and soy crabmeat. We’ve had the Wonton Soup as well but we took it to go so I forgot to take a picture of that also. It was super delicious though! Made with vegetable broth, wontons, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, tofu, green peas, jicama, and radish. I can’t even remember the last time I had wonton soup - AMAZING!

Other Entrees we’ve had are the Vegetable Fried Noodles which is a bit on the plain side but also quite delicious. Since I wasn’t overly hungry when I ordered this it was just the right amount. However if you’re very hungry I suggest a bigger menu item. It contained broccoli, snow peas, bean sprouts, mushrooms, fried tofu, green onions, white onions and of course noodles. The sauce was savory and a tad sweet, though I get the feeling that this dish is particularly high in sodium so if that’s an issue for you, you may want to double check.

We’ve also had the vegetables in curry sauce which was very good as well. It was made with broccoli, sugar snap peas, baby corn, green pepper, white onion, fried tofu, mushrooms and the house curry sauce which I really loved. It was the perfect blend of heat with a touch of spice and it came with a side of brown rice.

Lastly the second time we dined at Happy Buddha my husband decided to try the Vietnamese Vegetarian Rice Crepes. I snuck a few bites and oh my are these good!  It’s a tasty rice crepe filled with soy shrimp, fried tofu, jicama, bean sprouts, mint, lettuce, toasted rice powder, white onions and cilantro. Served with House sauce Really, really, good!

So to sum it all up, Happy Buddha is a pretty wonderful place. The food is excellent, the staff is friendly, attentive and appreciative. The place is small but the atmosphere is great, I love the relaxing ‘chill-out’ music and the easy-going vibe of the place. I think also that this is a great place to take family members who are maybe a little unsure of vegetarianism and veganism. If they want to play it safe they can order a meat dish while they try the veggie things you order. The food is so good I don’t think any non-veg person would be disappointed. So if you live in the area, live near the area, are passing through or just want a good meal stop by this little Oasis in the burbs, and enjoy! I always leave happy, and I’m sure you will too!

Happy Buddha 
207 W Northwest Highway
Barrington, Illinois
Open Monday - Saturday 11am - 9pm - Closed Sunday
Phone - 847 - 304 - 1472