Regional exploration and locally sourced foods define Seattle’s vegetarian scene

When people think of vegetarian meals their mind typically jumps to “rabbit food.” Plain vegetables, watery tofu and grain burgers are often assumed to make up the entirety of a meatless diet. Yet chefs in Seattle are proving otherwise every day. Vibrant ingredients and creative preparations are the driving forces behind today’s food trends.

Cultural influence

The vegetarian food being made in Seattle is oftentimes regionally driven. Chefs are experimenting with infusing different cultures into their food. At Sutra, located in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, seasonal vegetables, herbs, legumes, fruits and nuts are often prepared with Mediterranean and Asian flavors. Chaco Canyon Café’s menu explores a map of cultures. Their Egyptian red lentil soup and Thai peanut bowl are popular items.

“Curries are hot, they’re always going to be hot,” said Gabe Kinney, campus executive chef at the UW. “We’re starting to see a lot more done with noodles. There are cuisines that are coming out of Africa that we’re looking at trying.”

This inspiration shines in the food being served across the UW campus. The Husky Den food court, inside the Husky Union Building, features eight restaurants and a market. Banh & Naan, a new addition since the recent remodel, highlights Southeast Asian flavors. The menu includes vegetarian tofu curries, banh mi-style sandwiches, and grilled naan sandwiches.

Araya’s Place, the University District’s highest rated vegetarian restaurant on Yelp.com, is a popular destination for flavorful vegan Thai food. Open for over 25 years, Araya’s was the first Thai restaurant on the Ave before moving to their current location down the street. The number of Thai and other Asian restaurants has steadily risen since. Araya Pudpard, the founder and owner of Araya’s Place, says the buffet is her way of exposing people to different dishes because, “I’m afraid they won’t have a chance to try many things.”

Perhaps what makes Araya’s Place so popular is their use of fresh, aromatic ingredients. Pudpard says hot peppers, garlic, and “a lot of kaffir lime leaf” are essential ingredients in Thai cooking. After listening to feedback from customers Pudpard started using organic peanut butter, agave syrup instead of maple and corn syrup, and has added more gluten-free options. Curry pastes, peanut sauce, and many other condiments are made from scratch.

Local and seasonal

This attention to ingredient quality is widespread among Seattle’s most popular vegetarian restaurants. Locality of ingredients often trumps organic these days. The current trend is to support local farms and businesses instead of chasing after the organic label, which can be difficult to attain.

Chaco Canyon Café offers up 100 percent vegan, nearly 100 percent organic, food. Arielle Benson, general manager of the University District location, says about half of their ingredients are locally sourced. Seasonality also plays a large role in their menu.

“We change a third of our menu every month to work with a particular farm and highlight what’s in season and just play with it,” said Benson. “We really have some extreme talent in our kitchen for coming up with new recipes and just showcasing what Washington has to offer, which is absolutely lovely.”

Molly’s Salad’s, a wholesale artisan salad and sandwich company with cafes in the University District and Georgetown, is another business pioneering locally sourced food. They work with Seattle area vendors for many of their ingredients. Charlie’s Produce, the largest independently owned produce company in the Pacific Northwest, and local bakeries Macrina Bakery and Cafe, Essential Baking Co., and Great Harvest Bread Co. are just a few of the businesses they buy from.

“It’s better for our community to source locally,” said Sarah Rork, a product development specialist at Molly’s, “so we’re always striving towards that.”

Strengthening the community is a common thread throughout Seattle’s vegetarian and vegan restaurants. At Araya’s Place, placed near the entrance is a table stocked with informational pamphlets about eating vegetarian, and guides to local restaurants. A “Community Partners” wall of pinned cards and signs at Chaco Canyon Café gives customers a place to learn about other local businesses.

Healthy convenience

The demand for healthy, easily accessible food on the go increases as more people experiment with trying new foods and cuisines. Over the years packaged vegetarian meals have become easier to find. Amy’s Kitchen and Kashi are two examples of companies that stock frozen meatless entrees in many grocery stores across the country.

Molly’s Salad’s created “Molly’s Fridges” to meet this demand. Small fridges stocked with prepared sandwiches, salads, and other foods are located in office buildings and other high traffic areas. To purchase, you simply take out what you’d like, and pay by text or through Molly’s online web payment. Rork describes it as “a healthy alternative” to the other fast foods that are readily available.

Those working in UW Dining strive to provide students and staff with interesting, healthy meals that are easily accessible. Restaurants on campus sell freshly made foods, while markets of all sizes provide a wide selection of prepared foods.

“There’s a lot of finesse that goes into writing a menu,” said campus executive chef Kinney. “Everything from looking to see what’s the up and coming trend, what people are gravitating to, thinking about their preferences, looking at price points.”

Vegetarian and vegan foods abound on campus. In addition to the Southeast Asian flavored entrees at Banh & Naan, vegan shepherd’s pie, vegan macaroni and “cheese” (made with the popular vegan ingredient nutritional yeast), and vegetarian Chinese food are available at the UW’s Husky Den.

At District Market, the university’s new grocery store, fresh meals such as Sunrice noodle dishes and Sukhi’s “NaanWich” sandwiches are for sale. One display features vegan and gluten-free baked goods by Flying Apron. Salty snacks made with flax seeds are near chips made from kale and sweet potatoes.

Across Seattle the availability of inspired foods is growing. Chefs are experimenting with interesting flavors and exploring different cuisines, all with a focus on sustainable and local products. Whether following a vegetarian diet, or just trying new foods, the food in Seattle is vibrant with a positive spin. 

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Halloween candy cookies

By now you’re probably tired of Halloween candy. Somehow we always end up with piles of it in the pantry (mostly due to the marked down prices the days after). This recipe is a great way to repurpose candy if you still have some leftover from the holiday.

For Halloween we picked up Reese’s Dark Chocolate Miniature Peanut Butter Cups and Reese’s Pieces. After eating them for the past couple of weeks, I’m sick of them. I used to be excited to have one once in awhile, but now I sort of just want them out of my kitchen. So, I decided to add them to chocolate chip cookies!

For the recipe I used Martha Stewart’s Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. In place of the two cups of chocolate chips I used,

-1 cup of chopped Reese’s cups
-1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces
-1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
-1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

These turned out great. Let me know if you come up with any other good combinations!

Vegan Haven offers vegan-shopping oasis

Located on the corner of NE 55th St. and University Way NE in the University District is what many vegan Seattleites refer to as the “vegan triangle.” Comprised of three local, vegan-friendly businesses, the area draws many vegetarians and vegans.

Wayward Vegan Café serves vegan breakfast all day, with their biscuits and gravy combinations popular among customers. Pizza Pi, the United States’ first vegan pizzeria, cooks up pizza with vegan cheese and faux meat.

Vegan Haven, Washington’s only 100 percent vegan grocery store completes the triangle. The store is a rarity because of the specialty items sold. Many products sold at Vegan Haven are difficult to find anywhere else in the area.

Established in 2005 by three friends, the store was sold to the nonprofit Pigs Peace Sanctuary within a year. Located in Stanwood, Wash., the sanctuary takes care of over 200 pigs that have been rescued from dire situations.

Rainbow of Vegenaise; the largest selection I’ve seen in one store.

Besides the products sold, Vegan Haven is unique because of its rare business model. All profits go to the sanctuary.

Doh Driver, the store’s manager, is the only paid employee. The rest of the staff is made up of about 25 volunteers. To work at Vegan Haven, volunteers must be vegan. Driver volunteered at the store for a year before she was made manager. She says volunteers typically work three to four hours a week.

The products offered at Vegan Haven are what set it apart. All items are vegan, with many gluten and other allergen-free items as well. The store offers all sorts of pantry items, frozen meals and refrigerated products.

75 percent of the products sold at Vegan Haven are ordered through United Natural Foods, Inc., a national organic and natural food distributer. The remaining 25 percent comes from direct ordering, in which the manager contacts the suppliers and companies one on one.

Shoppers concerned about the locality of items are in luck. Many items at Vegan Haven are produced in the Pacific Northwest.

“I try to focus on local and regional items. Some of them are pretty big companies, and I still go through my main distributer for those, like Purely Decadent Ice Creams and Tofurkey, and Field Roast even,” said Driver, “but the direct ordering is where I get a lot of the smaller, local, or specifically vegan items even if they’re not local.”

Meeting Deb Perelman, aka Smitten Kitchen

On Thursday I had the pleasure of meeting Deb Perelman, writer of the food blog Smitten Kitchen. It’s one of my favorite food blogs, and the one I’ve followed most consistently over the years. Her recipes are spot-on. There’s no other way to describe them. I consider them the best of the best. If I’m ever uncertain about where to look for a recipe, I go to Smitten Kitchen. For something like pie crust, or  mac and cheese, she has the best recipes. They work flawlessly and there’s never anything stale about them. You can tell that she’s passionate about good tasting food.

Another thing I love about Deb is that her recipes are exciting. They’re consistent and they’re standbys, but they’re also experimental at times. Like this bacon, egg and leek breakfast risotto, banana bread crepe cake with butterscotch or these whole wheat raspberry ricotta scones. I could go on…

When I heard that a Smitten Kitchen cookbook was coming out I was overjoyed. It’s nice to be able to find her recipes with a few keystrokes, but there’s something about pulling a cookbook from a bookshelf that makes cooking more of an experience. To promote the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb has been traveling the west coast on a book tour.

I initially learned that Deb would be in Seattle at Book Larder in Fremont on Wednesday. Being a ticketed event, it was sold out by the time I heard about it. Their website explained that the store would open for additional guests for a book signing after the event. I planned to go, but ended up choosing not to. I was skeptical about waiting in line, and was sad I wouldn’t be able to hear her speak. At the last minute, I found out that an additional book tour stop had been added at the University Bookstore for the following morning.

On Thursday morning I was excited to get to the event. Stacks of the cookbook sat near the registers at the bookstore. After buying my copy, I headed up the stairs to the event area. It was packed! For such a last minute event, I was happy to see it busy. The University Bookstore staff arranged a table of coffee and breakfast items from recipes in the book. I got a few things and waited for the talk to start.

When Deb got there the Q&A started! She answered questions about her cooking style, inspiration, and things like how to best utilize a small kitchen.

On her inspiration for the site she said,

“I’ve always liked to cook and I’ve always liked to tinker and fiddle, but I didn’t get very serious about it. I think like a lot of young people I liked to bake and do things that won favors and influenced people, which baking has a tendency to do.

But I didn’t get much more serious about cooking until I was an adult, and I, like many adults got tired of eating out all the time, or just ordering food in, or just throwing together a grilled cheese sandwich. And that was when I kind of really kind of tapped into this excitement I always had about cooking, and sort of fussing, and I remember when I started, very early on, realizing that as somebody who loved to cook and knew how I liked food I felt frustrated that I didn’t have these go-to recipes for things.

Let’s say you’re like, man I could really go for some whole wheat pancakes today. But does anyone ever say that? They’re like, no, I could really go for some creme brulee french toast today. And then to not even know how to make it, and then to have to go through this roulette where you Google, and then you’re like, well, that might work. And then you make it, and it takes an hour, and the recipe’s okay. And it’s not great, and you’ve just wasted your time, and your energy and your money on this roulette and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to create a space where hopefully things could be your go-to recipe for things, or at least my go-to recipes.”

After the Q&A we had the chance to have our books signed by Deb. She was so warm and nice to talk to. I mentioned I’d been a reader for years, and told her how much I love the site. I also let her know that I had made her pancetta, white bean and chard pot pies the night before. To make them vegetarian I used Morning Star veggie bacon in place of the pancetta. It was so much fun to talk with Deb herself about it.

Seeing Deb talk and meeting her was an amazing experience. It’s so rare that we get the opportunity to meet people that have inspired us.

Dumplings, potstickers, and wontons

Dumplings are one of the best vehicles for food. They’re small, and full of flavor. There are so many ingredients you can use to fill them.

Gyoza wrappers are an easy way to make dumplings at home. You can find them at most larger stores, such as Fred Meyer, or at Asian grocery stores. They come in round, or square shapes. At stores in Seattle they usually look something like this.

From there, you’re free to fill them with just about anything.

When I want to make more of an Indian-spiced potsticker, I prepare a filling with red lentils or yellow split peas as the base. From there you can add spices and other flavor boosting ingredients. I like to mix frozen peas into the hot lentil mixture, along with garlic and curry powder. Last time I also added smoked serrano chili powder, parmesan cheese, and lemon zest to the mixture. This recipe is a variation of this golden potstickers recipe.

For a vegetarian wonton soup, it’s easy to bring the ingredients together. I like to think about what flavor I want to focus on. In the past I made a filling with finely diced tofu, vegetables, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sriracha. A similar recipe can be found here. This is great with a gingery vegetable broth, which you can make by simmering ginger slices in broth.

I also love a more mild wonton dish, like this plump pea dumpling recipe. Here the dumplings can be pan-fried and served over cooked yellow split peas, or cooked in no-chicken broth for wonton soup.

Gyoza wrappers aren’t limited to Asian dishes. You can make Italian ravioli and tortellini with them! In this butternut squash tortellini with brown butter sauce recipe the wrappers are used to envelope a creamy squash and ricotta cheese filling. They’re topped with a brown butter sauce containing fresh sage leaves, walnuts, parmesan, and dried cranberries.

Wonton wrappers can be used to hold just about any filling, and can be prepared in so many ways. They can even be used in desserts, such as in these Nutella banana gyoza dumplings. The options here are endless.

Ingredient spotlight: Blue Chair end-of-summer plum jam and smoked serrano chili powder

This week at Williams-Sonoma I bought ‘end-of-summer’ plum jam by Blue Chair Fruit, a jam and marmalade company based in Oakland, Calif. I also picked up a jar of the Williams-Sonoma brand  smoked serrano chili powder.

These are both really interesting ingredients. The plum jam is fresh and authentic tasting. It only has a few ingredients, plums, sugar, and lemon juice. Lately I’ve been eating it on toast, but there are so many ways you could use it. I would love to make these crescent jam and cheese cookies with it. It would also be delicious on a fresh waffle…

With the smoked serrano chili powder I’m excited to find ways to highlight it in a dish. A few days ago I made roasted kidney beans  using my past recipe, with the serrano chili powder and cumin as my spices. The chili is smoky, similar to canned adobo chilis. It’s also a little spicy, which I love. I want to try adding some to this Smoky Braised Mexican Pumpkin recipe. I think it would also be interesting in a dry rub for this bbq tofu.

Fall Time Dishes

The fall chill is setting in and I’m excited to start making tasty, warming dinners. With the clocks turning an hour back this weekend, it’ll be even darker at night too. There’s something about cooking seasonal foods during the cold months that makes it easier to get through.

Here is a list of autumn-flavored meals and foods that I’m looking forward to making this week,

Pancetta, white bean, and chard pot pies: I would scratch the pancetta, or use Morning Star bacon instead to make this vegetarian. It’s also a pretty time consuming recipe, so I’ll have to plan it for a weekend.

Pumpkin curry with chickpeas: I have a little sugar pie pumpkin I want to cook, this would be delicious for it.

Dijon-braised brussels sprouts: These just look delicious. I really like mustard lately.

All Day Apple Butter: I’ve been craving apple butter for weeks now, ever since I went apple picking at Jones Creek Farms in Sedro Wooley. The apples I collected there are long gone, but I picked up some more at the store.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars: No explanation needed.

Ingredient spotlight: yuzu juice and malt vinegar sea salt

This fall I’m working seasonal at Williams-Sonoma. Each year the company hires extra employees to work over the holiday season.

I love getting food products with the employee discount. This week I picked up yuzu juice and malt vinegar sea salt.

Yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit. It’s pretty unique from the lemons and limes we see in local grocery stores. I see it as a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, though still pretty tart.

I first tried yuzu in Boom Noodle’s yuzu lemonade. I definitely what to recreate it at home. Boom prepares it with “lemon and yuzu juice, calpico, umeboshi.” Once I make a batch I’ll post my recipe. I’m excited to use yuzu in savory dishes as well.

This pork chops with yuzu-miso marinade recipe sounds good, but I’ll have to think of a tasty pork substitute.

The malt vinegar sea salt is more of a wildcard. I personally love vinegar, so I figured vinegar salt would be a nice addition to meals. So far I’ve had it on buttered toast, and gnocchi. It’s great! It really adds a nice malt vinegar flavor. I’m still trying to figure out what to use this on, but I’ll let you know when I come up with something interesting.

Roasted spiced chickpeas

Roasting chickpeas is one of my favorite ways to prepare canned garbanzo beans. I first learned about cooking them this way when I came across this salt and vinegar roasted chickpeas recipe. It’s delicious, and definitely one of my favorite easy protein recipes. The only downside is that it requires a lot of vinegar, and the cooking time is a little too long for my liking. When you roast them for the full amount of time the chickpeas end up crunchy. I prefer them a little crunchy on the outside but still soft in the middle. 

Lately I’ve been preparing these simply, skipping the vinegar and roasting them for a shorter amount of time. It’s good for a quick dinner or a snack. They are great over salad, or served with rice and vegetables like I did here. I’ve been meaning to try them over buttered pasta as well. A saffron pasta would be even better…

This recipe really is simple. You can do any mixture of spices, or none at all if you prefer. They’re tasty with nutritional yeast sprinkled over the top as well.

Roasted Chickpeas

1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2-4 teaspoons spices (cumin, chili powder, and curry powder are all good options)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper (produces more crispy chickpeas). Arrange the chickpeas on top and drizzle with olive oil.

Massage with spices and salt and pepper.

Roast for 15 minutes. Check to see how crispy they are. I think they’re perfect when the chickpea skins start to peel off, the outsides are browned, and the inside is still soft. If you prefer them crunchier, roast for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Skillet, Molly Moon’s, Veraci Pizza, and Monte Cristo food truck owners come together to discuss the food truck business

University of Washington’s Foster School of Business hosts EntrepreneurWeek each year. The weeklong event includes a variety of workshops and speaking panels to promote new companies in the region. The panel, Food on Wheels – A Foodie Blogger Dishes with Food Truck Owners, was last Wednesday.

Smallfoodbiz.com blogger Jennifer Lewis led the panel discussion between four Seattle food truck owners, Josh Henderson from Skillet, Molly Nietzel from Molly Moon’s, Marshall Jett from Veraci Pizza, and Danielle Custer from Monte Cristo.

On the table for discussion were the ins and outs of owning a food truck. The panelists were honest in describing the reality of running a kitchen on wheels. The weather is a huge factor in determining profits, especially during the rainy months in Seattle. “My company is profitable four months a year,” said Nietzel, owner of Seattle’s Molly Moon’s ice cream shops and food truck. She says her food truck makes one-tenth the profit of each of her brick and mortar stores. To supplement, many food trucks offer their services for weddings and other catering events.

The speakers also stressed the importance of standing out. “We weren’t doing anything crazy, it was just crazy for Seattle. If your product is better you should do better,” Henderson said.

Despite the hardships of running a food truck, most of the panelists talked about the excitement of the food truck business. “I look at it like competition,” Henderson said. “The market will correct itself with competition.”

In addition to the panel, Veraci Pizza, Molly Moon’s, and Monte Cristo were parked on the Business Hall Promenade for visitors to purchase food. I decided to try Monte Cristo. The food truck is brand new on the Seattle food scene, and this was one of the first times it’s been open for business. Serving “gourmet mobile melts,” the truck offers a selection of grilled cheeses with decadent cheeses. I ordered the For the Love of Cheese sandwich, a grilled cheese with black mambazo, chive ladysmith, aged gouda, and peach-jalapeno-torta cheeses. It came with potato chips and a mix of pickled cauliflower and carrots. This was so good! The bread of delicious and perfectly grilled. The cheeses melted together perfectly. The chips and pickles were a great touch, it’s nice to have a variety of textures in one meal. I highly recommend this!