Monday, March 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Urban Vegan in Chicago...

A couple of weeks ago I finally got the chance to eat at Urban Vegan which is a cute little Thai place with locations in Lake View and Lincoln Park. For the past few years I’ve seen Urban Vegan kiosks at the major veg-friendly festivals in the city - most notably Vegan Mania - and I always pick up something to eat at their booth, vowing that I’ll one day make it to one of their physical locations. However, like with so many other things, I just never actually got around to it until now. I really wish I’d made the effort to go sooner though, because Urban Vegan is serving up some of the best damn Thai food - vegan or otherwise - this side of Thailand. For real.

My husband and I chose to go to the Lake View location - because it’s closer to our house. It’s a surprisingly tiny little place, yet it doesn’t feel overcrowded. We took a booth in the back right corner and settled in to peruse the menu. With so many amazing options I’ll tell you, it was mighty difficult to choose. They serve up everything from noodles and rice, to classic Asian-fusion entrees like Orange chicken, and Sweet and Sour - to soups,  salads, burgers, wraps, appetizers, and a cute little chef’s special menu that’s somewhat of a hodgepodge of Asian, Pan-Asian, and American dishes.


As we sat mesmerized by the menu two complimentary bowls of miso soup arrived for us to enjoy. We were both grateful for the soup considering it was still pretty cold out in Chicago. Not -20 or anything but cold enough that snow was still piled up in the gutters and a jacket was a necessity. I enjoyed the miso - I always do, and drank it down pretty fast, and then it was time for appetizers.

Steamed Curry Dumplings

My husband who loves dumplings could not help himself and ordered a plate of the Steamed Curry Dumplings  - not that I’m complaining! - which was a veggie dumpling in a green curry sauce. These were so soft, and delicious, and the curry sauce was super flavorful without being overly spicy. I loved them. To go with our dumplings I ordered a plate of the chicken satay, this is where I couldn’t help myself. I’ve already mentioned my love of satay and so I couldn’t pass up the chance to order a plate of vegan chicken satay in an actual restaurant. This was phenomenal, hands down some of the best satay I’ve ever had - vegan or otherwise - the soy chicken was really flavorful and chewy like I remember chicken being, and the light curry flavored sauce it was coated in was divine, but the satay sauce itself was the real winner. Man, oh man, I could have eaten the sauce by itself - actually, come to think of it I did sneak a few spoonfuls of straight sauce one all our skewers were gone, don’t judge!  It was creamy, peanuty, and decadent, a tad sweet, a tad salty, it was perfect. I highly recommend it.

Chicken Satay 

For our main meals my husband went with one of the Chef Specials called Shrimp Spinach Noodle. This is a plate of spinach noodles, with soy shrimp in a curry sauce with some mixed vegetables. He really enjoyed it, though he thought it was a tad on the spicy side. I took a little bite and didn’t think it was overly spicy but to each their own. It was definitely good, that’s for sure.

Shrimp Spinach Noodle

I of course went with the Pad Thai, have I told y’all about how much I love Pad Thai? Well I do. It’s hands down my favorite Thai dish, in fact, it might just be one of my favorite foods ever. I never ever get tired of it. I could eat it all day long and still want more. There is just something so absolutely magical about the combination of flavors that make up Pad Thai. It’s sweet, tart, salty, savory, there’s crunch, there’s soft noodles, and fried tofu - it’s perfection. I’m a bit of a Pad Thai connoisseur actually, and so whenever we got to an Asian restaurant that serves Pad Thai I always order it. It doesn’t matter how many other great things are listed on the menu, it doesn’t matter if I think something else looks good, I always, always order Pad Thai because I’m always in search of the ‘best’ Pad Thai. Up until now my favorite Pad Thai has been the tofu Pad Thai served at Wok ‘n’ Fire a Japanese, Pan-Asian restaurant out here, and no matter where I go I’ve never found a Pad Thai that matches it. Until now. Urban Vegan has the hands down best freaking Pad Thai I’ve ever eaten anywhere. They blow everyone else out of the water, and I should know, because I’ve eaten Pad Thai all over the place. Halfway through my plate I was full to the point of bursting but It was so good that I couldn’t stop eating it. You must get this if you go to Urban Vegan, you won’t be sorry. The only thing I would do differently is next time I will just order my Pad Thai with tofu rather then tofu and soy shrimp. I really liked the novelty of ordering the shrimp, but they were not necessary in my opinion.

Pad Thai 

For dessert we had just enough room between the two of us to share a half shell of coconut ice cream with chocolate drizzle. Even though it was still a bit frosty outside this was a nice end to the meal and I really enjoyed it.

Coconut Ice Cream 

The whole experience was great really, the food was out of this world and the service was fast and friendly. There was ample street parking available, and the price was pretty moderate. Some of the appetizer and the dessert portions were a little on the small side, but the main dishes were quite large. I will definitely be going back again soon, and if you haven’t been I’m telling you, make the effort, the trip is 100% worth it!

Urban Vegan

Lincoln Park
1550 W Fullerton Ave. Chicago IL 60614
Tel: 773-472-8208
Monday -Closed
Tues - Thursday 11:00 am - 9:30 pm
Friday - Saturday 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 am - 9:00 pm

Lake View
1605 W Montrose Ave. Chicago IL 60613
Tel: 773-404-1109
Monday - 4:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Tues - Thursday 11:00 am - 9:30 pm
Friday - Saturday 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 am - 9:00 pm

PS: Wok'n'Fire's Pad Thai is still amazing, a close second, it not tied with UV

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Peppermint Is The Spice of Life...

Did you know there are about 25 different species of mint? Peppermint is a natural hybrid cross between watermint and spearmint and it is by far one of my favorite things in life. It’s my favorite mint because it has the boldest flavor, rich and cooling with a subtle hint of pepper, and a powerful note of chlorophyll. Other mints such as spearmint are more subtle and mild tasting, though possibly more ‘cooling’ as well. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved the taste of peppermint. As a kid it was all about peppermint candy, and then as a young adult it became more about peppermint tea. Mint of any kind is not something I generally use much in my cooking unless I’m cooking something Middle Eastern, but I do drink vats of peppermint tea regularly! I have always preferred herbal infusions to actual tea, and peppermint is by far my favorite. Some people use it only when they have an upset stomach, or are feeling nauseous and while I do use it for medicinal purposes as well, I really don’t need any excuse to enjoy a hot, steaming mug of peppermint. I love it’s soothing flavor, it’s refreshing aftertaste, it’s calming properties and of course it’s great for what ails your stomach. Regardless of whether I’m feeling sick or in perfect health I’ll drink peppermint tea any day of the year, sometimes in mass quantity.


Mint is an ancient herb that’s been used since antiquity for it’s culinary, medicinal and aromatic properties. Though it’s now cultivated everywhere Mint’s origins lie in Europe, where it is honored in Greek Myth. As the story goes Mint was originally a nymph named Minthe who was so infatuated with Hades, that she wanted to seduce him. Hades who felt a rather mutual affection for the nymph may have gone for it too if not for his wife Persephone, who quickly intervened and out of jealousy and spite transformed Minthe into a plant. Though Hades was upset, he could not undo the spell, and so instead he decided to impart Minthe with the pungently sweet smell characteristic of mint, so that when she was walked upon in the garden her aroma would be a delight to the senses and she would not be utterly forgotten.

Interestingly it’s because of Mint’s characteristic smell that it’s become one of the more popular perfuming herbs throughout history. All around the world from Europe to India to the Middle East Mint has been used as a strewing herb to clear the air both in temples and in homes. Over the centuries mint has also come to symbolize hospitality, in ancient Greece mint leaves were rubbed over the dining tables to welcome guests, and in the Middle East mint tea is still offered to guests upon arrival. Mint was also commonly used in funerary rites in ancient Greece. It was even used medicinally by Native Americans before the arrival of European Settlers. Some archeological studies have dated it’s use back 10,000 years, which is pretty neat.

Health Benefits 

Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use and has been commonly used to soothe upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, indigestion and irritable bowel. An Italian study published in 2007 reported that 75% of patients who took peppermint oil capsuels for four weeks had major reductions in IBS symptoms compared with just 38% of those who just took a placebo. A similar 2010 study conducted in Iran found similar results, and a 2011 study showed that peppermint acts through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain sensing fibers.

Additionally the German Commission E found that peppermint oil as well as peppermint leaf can be used internally as an antispasmodic in the upper gastrointestinal tract and bile ducts to treat IBS, catarrh of the respiratory tract, and inflammation of the oral mucosa. While externally peppermint oil has been used for myalgia and neuralgia. According to the German Commission E, Peppermint oil may also act as a carminative, cholagogue, antibacterial and secretolytic and has a cooling action.

Of course Peppermint may benefit more then just your gastrointestinal tract. Some resent studies have discovered that Perillyl alcohol - a phytonutrient plentiful in peppermint oil - has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, mammary, and liver tumors in animal studies. It has also been shown to protect against cancer formation in the colon, skin, and lungs.  However these results have not yet been equally matched by human studies.

Peppermint oil has also been found to be antimicrobial which means it stops the growth of many different kinds of bacteria as well as inhibit the growth of certain types of fungus.

Peppermint contains the substance rosmarinic acid, which has several actions that are beneficial in asthma. Extracts of peppermint have also been shown to help relieve the nasal symptoms of colds related to allergy. Rosmarinic acid also has antioxidant abilities to neutralize free radicals and has been shown to block the productions of pro-inflammatory chemicals.

Some studies have even suggested that the aroma of Peppermint can increase memory and alertness.

On another note studies have also shown Peppermint to be a rich source of traditional nutrients such as manganese, copper, and vitamin C.

Preparation - 

As I’ve said my favorite way to enjoy Peppermint is through a nice mug of tea. However if peppermint tea isn’t your thing you can simply minced the fresh leaves and add them into salads - the flavor of mint works particularly well with grain salads such as tabbouleh. You can use it in soups particularly Vietnamese or Asian soups - like Pho - or Middle Eastern Soups or Tagine’s. You can add it to fruit soups, raw soups, or cold summer soups for a bit of additional flavor and it’s cooling properties. It tastes great minced and mixed with fresh ripe tomatoes in a tomato salad or try it in gazpacho. It’s great tossed with fried or grilled cubes of eggplant, or try it in a homemade non-dairy yogurt sauce. Add it to fruit salad, pair it with fennel and oranges, throw it into smoothies or turn it into a dessert! Mint Chocolate pudding anyone?

However you decide to try it, just try it. Get creative and let me know what kind of combinations you come up with, I’d love to hear all about it.

May your life be rich in spice and as always Happy and Healthy Eating to you!

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day, A Celebration of Irish Food!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope everyone’s day is filled with good luck, and good cheer, great food and great beer. Today is the first year in three years that I haven’t actually had to work on St. Patrick’s day, that feels pretty special to me, and yet - funnily enough, this year is also the one year I don’t feel like doing anything! Ha. Every year there’s something I want to do and can’t, this year I can do whatever I want but there’s nothing to do - oh well, I could use a little relaxation anyway.

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t up to the challenge of cooking an Irish theme meal, I do it every year regardless of how busy I am or how I’m feeling, in fact some of you may remember that last year I spent the entire week prior to St. Patrick’s Day Veganizing Irish Classics. Man that was fun, if only I’d had the time to do it again this year. Instead I opted for a simpler affair.

For Breakfast I made two different versions of Irish Soda Bread - because what’s St Paddy’s without Soda Bread? The reason I made two is simply because I couldn’t decide which recipe I wanted to make more, and since my husband loves Soda Bread I knew it would all get eaten regardless.

The first recipe I tried was Alicia C. Simpson’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe from her book “Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations.” I’ll admit I was kind of skeptical about this recipe, yet still intrigued enough to make it. Sour Cream in a Soda Bread? That sounded like blasphomy to me, but since I had a carton of vegan sour cream sitting in my fridge, begging to get used I thought “why not?” The end result really blew me out of the water, I mean Wow! Normally I make Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Soda Bread which I love dearly - it’s my favorite soda bread - but this one, man, I hate to say it but I think Alicia might have Colleen beat with this recipe. I just love the subtle hint of sour that the sour cream lends to the bread, mixed with the sweetness of sugar, and savory salt and soda, plus the dried fruit - it just works. I used the suggested mix of raisins and cranberries, which I think was a great idea.

However, the recipe states to cook this all as one loaf, and man does it make a heck of a lot of dough! I think next time I make this I’ll divide the dough in half and make two smaller more manageable loaves, but damn was this a fantastic breakfast. Moist, and delicious, especially spread with a little Earth Balance.

The Next Irish Soda Bread I made was from Mark Reinfeld’s book “The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe.” This loaf is more traditional in the respect that it’s low on Sugar and High on baking Soda. It also only uses raisins - no other dried fruit, and vegan buttermilk made with soy milk mixed with lemon juice. Reinfeld also leaves out the caraway - which he claims is an American invention - and uses whole grain spelt flour. This is a dense and hearty loaf, that’s more savory then sweet. Definitely delicious but in my opinion it doesn’t hold a candle to either Colleen, or Alicia’s versions. Of course if you prefer savory over sweet then this is exactly the loaf for you.

To wash down my Soda Bread this morning I made a batch of Alicia C. Simpson’s Irish Cream Liqueur which is a mixture of Coconut Milk, Irish Whiskey, vanilla extract and agave. After making the cream I used it to make her Irish Cream Latte which is a simple - yet tasty - mix of espresso, almond milk, and her homemade Irish Cream Liqueur. Quite satisfying, even though I’ve never been particularly fond of coffee liqueurs before.

For Dinner I decided to go with something simple, and so I went back to Mark Reinfeld and his “Taste of Europe.” From it I decided to make the Irish Stew, and the Parsnip Colcannon. I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of the colcannon recipe. As much as I love a good vegan colcannon these days, and as much as I like a good parsnip the thought of including parsnips in colcannon seemed crazy to me. Of course, I have a lot of trust in cook book authors - especially those I rank among my favorites - and so I was willing to go against my instincts and make the dish as directed.

Lucky that I did, because holy guacamole guys! This colcannon is amazing, in fact it may just be the bed damn colcannon I’ve ever eaten. I love that the parsnips lend a subtle sweetness and snappy bite to the otherwise bland potato. They cream just as well as a potato does, and I love how simple the whole recipe is. Steam potatoes, parsnips and garlic. Mash with almond or soy milk, add finely chopped kale and parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper bam done! For something so simple there is so much flavor here!

Now, I was also a tad skeptical about the Irish Stew, mainly because it looked too simple. I thought briefly about going with a more complicated dish but then decided simplicity is what I wanted. Though I enjoy cooking, and don’t mind being in the kitchen for over an hour, today I wanted something I could just kind of throw in a pot and forget about. This recipe is actually very similar to the Seitan and Guinness Stew I made for Paddy’s Day last year, except mine has more ingredients. Of course I was tempted to ‘add’ to this stew but followed the directions as noted, taking the suggestion at the bottom of the page to add in a cup of diced carrots or ‘other’ vegetables as desired. I added a cups worth of carrots and parsnips - because I had extra, and then added some peas because who doesn’t love peas in a stew? But the peas were my only creative tweak. In the end I was mighty amazed by how good this stew turned out. For such a simple recipe it again packs a powerful punch of flavor. I used homemade seitan for it - which I think makes a huge difference, and home-grown Rosemary too.

On a still somewhat cold, not-quite-spring day, this was the perfect warming, comforting meal. Irish food has a reputation for being bland, but I think this is a grievous misconception. If you know what you’re doing Irish food is some of the most soul-satisfying and comforting fare around. It’s stick to your ribs good, and it always cheers me up. Especially on long cold nights.

However you choose to spend St. Paddy’s Day I hope you have a good time! Now go eat some potatoes and cabbage and blast some Pogues and Flogging Molly! Oh, and if you’re interested in more Irish recipes or perhaps a little Irish History then check out some of my posts from previous years!

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Memories of Ireland Potato and Leek Soup 

Irish Style Seitan In Mustard Cream Sauce with Wild Rice and Crispy Cabbage

Irish Tea Time Seed Cake

Irish Seitan and Guinness Stew with Champ

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Randy's Grilled Shishito Peppers with Sriracha Satay...

Shishito Peppers, ever heard of ‘em? Yeah, I hadn’t either until my brother-in-law bought me Randy Clemens “The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook” for Christmas. I flipped through this book with amused interest at the variation of recipes that included Sriracha and then I came across the beautiful photo of grilled Shishito peppers and thought “Oooo, now that looks good!” followed by “Now what the heck are they?” A quick Google search informed me that Shishito peppers are a - generally - sweet, finger sized pepper from Japan. Interesting, I thought. The photo that accompanies the recipe is absolutely mouth watering and the Sriracha Satay Sauce it’s paired with is incredibly drool worthy. I’ve been dying to make this recipe since December, but didn’t think I had a hope in hell of finding Shishito Peppers.

Then last week my husband and I decided to make a spontaneous trip to the Japanese Market - Initially for noodles and miso - and what should I happen to find sitting in the produce department? A huge bag of Shishito Peppers! Wow, I couldn’t believe my luck. Not knowing how I’d like them, I grabbed only one bag with the intention of making Clemens recipe ASAP.

Boy oh boy do I wish I’d bought another bag of these peppers, because they were really fantastic and so unique. To me they weren’t quite as sweet as say a bell pepper, they had a slightly bitter edge - though I can’t be certain if that’s from the pepper flesh, the seeds, or the charring - but nevertheless I liked them. Once I started in on my plate I couldn’t stop until every last pepper had been drenched in Satay and consumed in it’s entirety, and that’s another thing, the Satay!

Look at that beautiful Sriracha Satay!

Now I love me some peanut butter anything, and I sure as hell love me some Satay sauce. In fact, at restaurants when I find a good satay and there isn’t enough food to dip into it I’ve been known to spoon the stuff directly into my mouth.- what? It’s delicious! - So I’ve had a lot of good satay in my time, but Clemens Sriracha Satay is probably one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s creamy, it’s smooth, it’s spicy, it’s garlicky, it’s sweet, it’s fan-freaking-tastic! It’s also not overly peanuty which might be a major plus to any peanut haters out there - my husband, a confirmed peanut hater loved the sauce.

One of the most brilliant things about this satay is that it’s made with coconut milk, that milk gives it an extremely rich, and velvety consistency, and the sriracha packs so much flavor but not an unbearable amount of heat. I also love that this satay is simmered on the stove and served warm, that makes a lot of difference in my opinion, and it’s so good that it would be perfect over any grilled vegetable, tofu, seitan, or tempeh. It would even be good thinned out as a dressing over a grain salad and some steamed broccoli. The Satay made a large batch so I can’t wait to get creative with the leftovers.

If you can find Shishito Peppers in your local Asian market, pick them up, give them a try and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

For The Love of Doughnuts...

Baked Doughnuts with Old Fashion Glaze

Okay, so doughnut pans are the coolest thing ever guys! Seriously! You know, I never really gave all that much thought to doughnuts before, I mean, sure I liked them well enough, and I ate them. - If you grew up in Canada within a stone’s throw of a Tim Hortons, then doughnuts were definitely a part of your cultural experience. - but I was never Homer Simpson crazy for them. They were never my sweet treat of choice.

When I went vegan I stopped eating doughnuts - obviously, since they aren’t vegan, and vegan doughnuts are somewhat hard to come by at least in the Midwest. Although I hear through the vegan grapevine that the West Coast has a couple of awesome vegan doughnut shops. Lucky! Anyway, I gave up these little treats and really never felt all that bad about it. I wouldn’t say I ever missed them. However over the past year the vegan blogging world has been posting more and more of these amazing vegan doughnuts, some store-bought and some home-made, and more and more vegan cook books are coming equipped with a doughnut recipe or two in the dessert chapter.

Every time I would see one of these pictures or recipes I’d feel a fleeting sense of nostalgia, and then a sudden desire to make some doughnuts. For quite some time now I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a couple of doughnut pans, but it wasn’t until last weekend that my wonderful, thoughtful husband brought home three doughnut pans for me. I’d been talking about doughnuts endlessly for a week, and since there are no vegan doughnuts for sale around here, he did the next best thing and bought me the pans to make my own.

I started with a batch of Baked Chocolate Doughnuts with Chocolate glaze from Chloe Coscarelli’s book “Chloe’s Vegan Desserts” - Although I neglected to take a picture of the finished product, sorry. - and my world was changed forever! Baked vegan doughnuts! What a novelty, and so delicious! The recipe made about 18, and even though I gave 8 away, the rest didn’t last long. They were just too good to be true.

Baked Maple Sriracha Doughnuts 

So now I’m in something of a doughnut baking frenzy, it's so much easier then I initially thought it would be and now I wish I hadn't waited so long to get some doughnut pans! I seriously want to make every doughnut recipe I can get my hands on now, and so today I decided to try another batch of doughnuts from Chloe, these ones were the Baked Doughnuts from “Chloe’s Kitchen” and are topped with Old Fashioned Glaze. Personally I thought there was a little too much nutmeg in the doughnut itself, and I thought the glaze tasted too much like powdered sugar, but my husband liked them, and that’s all that really matters.

Then I decided to do something crazy. I decided to bake a batch of maple Sriracha doughnuts. I know exactly what you’re thinking, you’re thinking ew! But I’m telling you, as skeptical as I was at the start I am a total convert to using Sriracha in sweet confections. These were probably some of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had. The balance between spicy and sweet was perfect. The doughnut batter itself is rather plane, all the goodness comes in the glaze. Powdered sugar, maple syrup, almond milk, and Sriracha - doughnut heaven! This recipe comes from a little book called “The Veggie Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook” by Randy Clemens, a totally cute book that I can’t wait to get more use out of.

So the moral of the story is, get your hands on some doughnut pans, because they’re loads of fun, and you're gonna love it!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sensational Spring Citrus Smoothie...

If you’re living just about anywhere in North America right now, and you’re anything like me you’re probably wondering when this dreaded winter is going to come to it’s end. I mean I like winter alright - in moderation, but all these crazy snowstorms and the bone-chilling cold has got me longing for Spring like never before. Today it’s in the mid-40's which to some is still pretty cold, but to me it’s like paradise, the sun is shining, there’s no wind, it’s actually warm enough to walk outside without a parka - light jacket may be required however - and I’m beginning to feel like Spring is finally on it’s way. I know I’m ready for it, and my body is ready for it, and so are my tastebuds.

Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I absolutely love grapefruit, and the reason why people don’t know this, is because despite my great love of this beautiful citrus I don’t really talk about it very much. Over the past couple of months I’ve been buying huge bags of ruby red grapefruits and normally I juice them along with oranges, lemons and ginger. Well, this morning I was definitely craving a mix of that sort but was too lazy to get out the juicer. So instead I whipped up this super simple, and deliciously citrusy smoothie to keep the smile on my face and remind myself that spring is only a few more weeks away. So buck up, and enjoy some citrus until it gets here.

Sensational Spring Citrus Smoothie 

1 Large Red Grapefruit, peeled, pith and seeds removed.
Small handful of Fresh or Frozen Raspberries
6 Fresh or Frozen Strawberries
½ Large or 1 Small banana
5 Frozen Peach Slices
3/4 C Orange Juice
½ C Water
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

- Place all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend for 60-90 seconds until completely smooth. For a thinner consistency add a little more water if desired.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Restaurant Review: Soul Vegetarian East in Chicago...

I don’t normally like to write two restaurant review posts back to back - you know for variety’s sake - but I just have to tell you about Soul Vegetarian East. Today is not the first time I’ve eaten there, or had any of their food. I think anyone who’s living in Chicago and been vegan for a time has probably heard of them. They’re quite prominent around the Veggie Fest Circuit - always have a booth, and some of their products are even sold in Whole Foods. Anyway, Soul Vegetarian wasn’t where my husband and I were originally headed for lunch today, but the place we were headed was unexpectedly closed. Lucky for us Soul Vegetarian was just down the street, and man do we love us some down home, comforting soul food. It’s not the kind of food I eat regularly, but man, do I love it. Seriously, I could drink BBQ sauce, it’s the only condiment I could never give up or live without. Even as a kid I preferred BBQ over any other condiment, and I’ve been known to smother just about anything in a good dollop of ‘que sauce.

So happy accident that our original destination was closed, because even though I do grab a soul vegan wrap from Whole Foods on occasion, and do enjoy their booth at the local veggie fests, I actually haven’t eaten inside the restaurant in several years, and I wanted to share with you just how awesome the experience is.

Onion Rings 

For those of you who don’t know, Soul Vegetarian has been around since 1980. It’s a neighborhood place, and family run with a pretty loyal clientele. At lunch time it’s always busy, people popping in and out, people sitting in, people lining up at the juice bar, but the street always has enough parking for us to get a space. When we go there, we dine in, we take a small table in the corner and tuck in, eager with anticipation. The staff is friendly, and helpful, and despite everything being made in house, and fresh the service is rather prompt. Though I’ve heard from others that the service can also be a bit on the casual side, so maybe it depends on what time of the day you go.

Tofu Buffalo Wings and Blue Cheese Dressing 

Anyway, My husband and I have been subsiding on light, wholesome, vegan fare lately. A lot of rice and beans, a lot of salad, so coming into a place like Soul Vegetarian was like being a kid in a candy store. Everything sounded decadent and amazing, and we wanted a bit of it all!

We settled for the Onion Rings which came with BBQ sauce, and a plate of Buffalo Wings which came with a Blue Cheese Dressing, for our starters. Oh man, I’ve never been one to order onion rings in a restaurant, but man were these delicious. Something about the batter reminded me of KFC - not the taste just the smell, and yeah, I know that kind of weirds me out too if I think about it too long! - The onions were thin and tender crisp, and the batter was thick and well seasoned, so good especially dipped liberally into the ‘que sauce.

Look at that awesome! 

The Buffalo Wings were the real star though, man oh man, these take vegan wings to a whole new level y’all. Soul Vegetarian makes tofu and seitan in a way that’s so unique, there are only a few places where I’ve had tofu like this. It’s moist but chewy, and the texture is so reminiscent of chicken I have to remind myself it’s tofu. I don’t know how they do it. They cut the tofu in to thick slabs, lather it in buffalo sauce, and give you a nice cooling blue cheese dip. Personally the blue cheese dip - vegan of course - dose not taste all that amazing on it’s own, but somehow when you pair it with the wings it’s out of this world fantastic!!

Vegetable Noodle Soup and Corn Bread 

For my husband’s main meal he ordered the Mixed Basket. Which is basically your choice of three deep fried foods. He chose mushrooms, tofu, and seitan steak. He loved them all, and said that each had their own unique texture and flavor. The tofu was fluffy and soft, the seitan, chewy like steak, and the mushrooms were crisp but juicy. Overall the mushrooms won out as his favorite. The basket comes with an order of fries and a nice big dipping bowl of BBQ. He also got a bowl of the vegetable noodle soup which I took a few bites of and can attest to it’s awesomeness. I don’t know how they made this soup but it’s like no vegan soup I’ve ever had. Fantastic! It’s so good you can’t believe it’s vegan, and it comes with a tasty slice of cornbread too.

Mixed Basket
Fried Mushrooms, tofu and Seitan Steak with Fries 

For my meal I ordered the East Coast BBQ Roast Sandwich. Which was a messy ‘que sandwich of thin slabs of tofu, lettuce, and tomato, that came with extra ‘que sauce and fries. Honestly I don’t know how I ate it all, but I did, and every single bite was delicious.

East Coast BBQ Roast Sandwich 

Despite being incredibly full afterwards we decided to heave over to the Eternity Juice Bar which is connected to Soul Vegetarian and owned by the same people. This is a mostly raw juice bar, offering juices, smoothies and raw food options from salads, to desserts. I’ve never actually eaten any of the raw offerings before but I like their smoothies. Today my husband got the berry smoothie and I got the Spirulina Smoothie which is a combination of soy milk, soy ice cream, and spirulina - sound weird right? Well it’s not, it’s amazing! I dare you to try it!

In the past we’ve also gotten their BBQ Tidbits - amazing - their BBQ Twist Sandwich and Platter - Both Amazing - their smoky greens - pretty good - their Unreal Chicken Wrap - Amazing - their Jerk Seitan and Tofu wrap - amazing - the Lasagna - amazing and their macaroni and cheese which was pretty good. This is definitely a place you need to check out if you live in Chicago, and a worthy spot to stop off if you’re just visiting! Trust me, if you like comfort food, and you like soul food, and you like southern food then this is the place for you!

Left - Berry Smoothie
Right Spirulina Smoothie 

Soul Vegetarian East 
205 E 75th St (King)
Open Mon-Thur 7am-10pm,
Fri 7am-11pm,
Sat 8am-11pm,
Sun 8am-9pm.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Restaurant Review: El Chante Vegano, in Alajuela, Costa Rica...

So, we’re back from Costa Rica. We actually got back last week but I’ve been too busy getting things sorted around here, and going through all my vacation pictures to do a proper update. The trip was wonderful, exactly what we needed, and Costa Rica is a beautiful country. I highly recommend it. Super friendly people, awesome food, great scenery, and sun, sun, sun - what more can you ask for?

Speaking of food there is one restaurant in particular that I’ve been dying to tell you about. It’s called El Chante Vegano, and it’s in Alajuela not very far from San Jose, or the Airport and it’s the perfect place to stay if you’re going up to the Poaz volcano or the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Anyway, we ate at El Chante twice on our trip and both times we were blown away, and really I don’t say that lightly. This was probably the best food we ate in all of Costa Rica. Everything we ordered was full of flavor, and tasted amazingly fresh. You can really tell that a lot of love and time goes into not only the food preparation but the restaurant as a whole.

Hummus and Pita 

Plantains with Refried Beans and Guacamole 

It’s a beautiful place, comfortable and down to earth, and bigger then many of the restaurants we ate in on the trip. The family that runs the restaurant is super friendly, and helpful. They really make you feel welcome and at home. Since during part of our meal we were the only people in the restaurant we spent a lot of time talking with the owners, who were just really, really nice.

Garbanzo Bean Burger 

The menu selection is small but varied, there are enough options and enough variety to keep everyone interested and make everyone happy. Our first time there we ordered the fried plantains for an appetizer which came with refried beans and your choice of guacamole or pico de gallo. We chose the guac. There were amazing, I loved that they were crispy yet tender at the same time. The refried beans were creamy, and flavorful, and the guacamole was some of the best we’ve ever had. We ordered this again on our second visit and also ordered the hummus with pita. The pita bread was soft and chewy, the hummus was creamy yet fluffy, delicate, delicious and perfectly spiced.

Portobello Burger 

On our first visit my husband had the portobello burger which came with a side of rosemary potatoes. He loved it, and said it was wonderful. I tried the garbanzo bean burger which was to die for. Really this was such a unique patty, it held together well, but was moist, yet flaky. It’s a hard texture to describe and something I’ve never experienced elsewhere. Plus the flavor was wonderful, the perfect amount of seasoning. My burger also came with rosemary potatoes which were delicious.

Chocolate Brownie 


We also ordered coffee with soy milk - because Costa Rican coffee is amazing - and for dessert we got a chocolate brownie that had little bits of walnut in it. The brownie was straight from the oven and still warm,. So delicious. Not a novice baker myself by any means, but this was probably one of the best brownies I’ve ever had. We also got a cupcake, I don’t remember what kind it was now, but it was so good, and had a light floral taste. I was particularly impressed with the icing which was light, and not overly sugary.

No Sea Burrito 

For our main meals on our second visit I decided to get the No Sea Burrito which was fantastic. It had refried beans, mushrooms, and some other vegetables wrapped up in a tortilla that was lightly grilled or perhaps broiled. I loved that the tortilla was crisp yet soft, this gave it great texture to go along with the great flavor. My husband had the Lu Sandwich, which was a veggie sandwich with a pesto sauce. I don’t remember all the veggies that were on this but he gave me a bite and I concur that it was fantastic. The bread that they use for their sandwiches is really fantastic too, it’s light, chewy, herby, perfect! The Lu Sandwich came with rosemary potatoes again, and my burrito came with a nice side salad dressed in a light vinaigrette

Veggie Lu Sandwich 

On our second round we got cinnamon buns fresh from the oven. These were wonderful, crisp on the outside soft on the inside, still warm from the oven with a light sugary, cinnamon drizzle over top. Amazing.

Cinnamon Buns 

Really, .There are not enough good things I can say about El Chante Vegano. If you’re in or near Alajuela you must pay them a visit, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Out of all the places we ate on our trip this was by far our favorite. High quality food, great flavors, wonderful atmosphere, great selection of music playing over the stereo, reasonable prices, and wonderful people. What more can you ask for? Anytime I’m in Costa Rica this will be my go-to restaurant destination.

El Chante Vegano
25 Meters West of the Post Office of Costa Rica, (Avenida 5 - Juan Santa MarĂ­a)
Open Tue-Sun 11am-8pm, closed Mon

PS: Yes I did take a picture of the outside of the restaurant but seem to have momentarily misplaced it. As soon as I find it i'll put it up.