Vegan Cheese At Riverdel Fine Foods

A few years ago I wrote about Dr. Cow, the vegan cheese shop in Williamsburg. That’s why I was surprised last year when I started reading articles which stated that Brooklyn was getting its “first” vegan cheese shop, Riverdel Fine Foods. I stopped by to see how it compared to Dr. Cow and to pick up some vegan cheese for myself. At Riverdel they have a huge selection of vegan cheeses from multiple makers, including the one pictured above from Cheezehound. The majority were nut-based cheeses, though they also have other non-dairy products like coconut milk yogurt. They also serve vegan baked goods, and make sandwiches with the vegan cheese and fake meat products. It’s a great (if slightly expensive) resource for Brooklyn vegans, and also for anyone who may be curious as to what vegan cheese actually is.

Riverdel Fine Foods — 820 Washington Ave

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Store Bought Pizza Dough Is My New Best Friend

I’m friendly with some truly great pizza makers, so when it comes to making my own pizza I sometimes feel intimidated. Sure, I’ve tried before. More than once, in fact. But then I stopped for a long, long while. Then on a recent night my girlfriend suggested dusting off my cast-iron pan and make some pizza. And there was no need to make our own pizza dough, because there are several shops in the neighborhood that sell high-quality raw pizza dough for very little money. It was an eye-opening moment for me, and I’ve done it five times since then. My favorite version is pictured above, a white pie with mushrooms, artichokes, and truffle oil. Here’s how I did it.

While the refrigerated pizza dough warms to room temperature, pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees. Cut button mushrooms into quarters (or if they’re really large, more pieces) and saute them in olive oil with some salt and chili flakes until the mushrooms are cripsy around the edges. Turn off the heat and toss the mushrooms with some truffle salt. Drain a jar of quartered artichoke hearts, then rinse them and dry them off. Add a little olive oil to the bottom of a cast-iron pan and stretch out the pizza dough into it. Drizzle a little more olive oil on the dough, and then sprinkle some truffle salt on that. Add the sauteed mushrooms, spreading them out evenly over the dough. Then to the same with the artichokes. Place slices of fresh mozzarella cheese all over the mushrooms and artichokes, and make sure they are also evenly distributed. Drizzle a little more olive oil, season with some more truffle salt, and then put the pan into the oven. It takes about 25 minutes to cook all the way, but I usually check around 20 minutes in to make sure. The mozzarella should get slightly browned, the crust around the edges should puff up and get crunchy and brown like fresh bread. Once it’s done remove it from the pan, drizzle on some truffle oil, and let it cool on a cutting board for a few minutes. Then it’s ready to serve. The crispy crust, the creamy mozzarella, and the slightly acidic artichokes make a perfect foil for the rich mushroom ad truffle flavor. It’s so good that when I made it for for dinner my girlfriend insisted I make it again for lunch the next day. Hopefully you’ll like it that much too.

You don’t need truffle-flavored products to make a good pizza though. I made a pretty good one with Brussels sprouts and mushrooms (make sure you saute them before topping the pizza) and I’m starting to experiment with adding fresh ricotta after cooking. Just buy the pizza dough and experiment with ingredients that you like.

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Vegetarian At NOVO Cafe In Brighton Beach

A few weeks ago I got a message from a reader that Cafe Glechik, the Ukrainian restaurant I wrote about a few months ago, had closed. I knew that the Brighton Beach location had closed, but now it seemed that the the Sheepshead Bay location was closed as well. She had some good news though — a new place called NOVO Cafe had opened in the Brighton Beach space. Even better, they had a vegetarian borscht on the menu. I stopped by this weekend to check it out for myself.

The borscht was fantastic, with big chunks of vegetables in a flavorful broth. It was especially nice with chunks of the dense and mealy brown bread brought to every table. As you see above, I also got some vareniki — Ukrainian dumplings filled (in my case) with a mix of mushrooms and potatoes. Topped with caramelized onions and sour cream, they were rich and filling. I have to admit that I preferred the ones at Cafe Glechik, but NOVO Cafe’s are pretty good.

NOVO Cafe — 3159 Coney Island Ave

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Cheeseboat Brings Georgian Specialties To Williamsburg

For years I’ve been drooling over pictures of khachapuri on other food blogs. Khachapuri is a specialty of Georgia — the former Soviet country, not the southern state. It’s a big piece of bread, baked with cheese bubbling out of the center of it, often with butter and an egg. Based on the way it looks, someone might call it a “cheeseboat.” Someone like the owners of Cheeseboat in Williamsburg, where they serve upscale khachapuri as well as other Georgian inspired dishes. On a recent visit we got one of the other dishes, called lobio — beans slow cooked with herbs and onions. They were pretty good, comforting and warm, but they paled in comparison to the other dish we ate: a cheeseboat topped with truffle butter. When the bread came out the server told us what to do: stir the melted cheese, egg, and truffle butter together vigorously until it becomes an intoxicatingly delicious goop. Then you simply tear pieces off of the cheeseboat and dip it into the cheesy-eggy-truffle buttery mix. We couldn’t stop eating it, particularly the pieces of bread at the bottom that had become soaked in the mixture. It was one of my favorite meals of 2016. The restaurant has a bunch of other varieties of cheeseboats, so I think a return visit may be in order soon.

Cheeseboat — 80 Berry St

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Vegetarian At Rondel Ukrainian

While looking for more Ukrainian restaurants near me I came across the menu at Rondel Ukrainian. First there were the usual listings: pickles, dumplings, and salads. But then I saw something that made me determined to visit. There was an item on the menu called One Big Potato Pancake. Unfortunately it’s better in name than in practice — the oversize pancake is folded over on itself and covered in a mushroom and sour cream sauce, making what should be a crisp texture soft and kind of soggy. The flavors are good, but the texture is a bit of a disappointment.

Still, there are enough vegetarian option on the menu to make a return visit a possibility. In the meantime, though, I’ll stick with Cafe Glechik.

Rondel Ukrainian –2006 Coney Island Ave

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Vegetarian Uzbek At Nargis Cafe

As unlikely as it sounds, I’ve now been to three different Uzbek restaurants here in NYC. Many years ago I visited Cheburechnaya in Rego Park, and this past summer I went to Uma’s in the Rockaways. Now I can add Nargis Cafe, in Gravesend, to that list.

I started with a plate of assorted pickles, like I almost always do, as well as a pumpkin-filled pastry known as samsa. The delicate pastry dough envelopes a sweet and savory pumpkin mixture, heavily spiced and seasoned. Pumpkin in this case is not the sweet jack-o-lantern type, but a slightly less sweet (though still orange-colored) gourd.

The photo at the top of the page is potato chuchvara, a rolled dumpling typical of Central Asian cuisine. At Nargis they are available either steamed & sauteed or crispy deep-fried. I got the deep fried ones, though in retrospect I should have gotten the steamed ones. The dumpling skins were a little too thick to be enjoyed fried like these were, though the smooth potato filling was a nice contrast to it. Either way you get them I highly recommend dipping them into the provided sour cream for yet another contrast.

There are a surprising amount of vegetarian options on the menu at Nargis Cafe, so I think a return trip may be warranted.

Nargis Cafe — 2818 Coney Island Ave

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Roasted Mushrooms and Cauliflower Over Rice

Last winter I wrote about the joys of simple roasting, and now that the weather has taken a turn for the colder I thought it was time to revisit the idea.

I cut some shiitake mushrooms into halves, and quartered some creminis. I tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and added them to a pre-heated pan in the oven at 450 degrees. While they cooked I cut a quarter of a cauliflower into large chunks, and tossed it with the same seasoned oil. After about 20 minutes the mushrooms were crispy on one side, and more importantly they had shrunk enough to make room for the cauliflower. I moved the mushrooms to one side and added the cauliflower to the pan. I checked on the over every 15 minutes or so, turning the cauliflower and mushrooms as they browned.

When everything was browned and the cauliflower cooked through, I removed the pan from the oven. I let it cool for about two minutes before squeezing the juice of a fresh lemon over it. There was enough residual heat in the pan to make the lemon juice sizzle, but not immediately evaporate. I let it cool for another few minutes and then served the mushrooms and cauliflower over rice.

It’s a dish that celebrates the joys of simplicity; everything is perfectky cooked, and perfectly seasoned, and there is nothing missing. It wasn’t until I was almost finished eating that I even realized that this was a completely vegan meal.

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