I was disappointed when I found out that Strictly Vegetarian, the vegan Ital restaurant on Church Ave, had closed. I was doing research into more vegan Caribbean food when I found out about Four Seasons, almost directly across the street from where Strictly Vegetarian was. It’s a similar setup — they have a variety of dishes in steam trays, and you pay based on the size of the tray you want. Having learned from my previous experience I went for the $8 tray, loaded up with “a little bit of everything.” On the day of my business that was a bed of peas and rice and lo mein noodles, smothered with stewed chickpeas, “beef” with green beans potatoes, chopped dried bean curd in a curry sauce, and minced “beef” with chili peppers. Then some marinated cucumbers and pepper sauce topped the whole thing off. Eating through the plate revealed a variety of flavors; savory and sweet, shot through with bursts of spices. Four Seasons also has a full service juice bar and bakery, all fresh and all vegan.
Four Seasons — 2281 Church Ave
Back when I wrote about Cafe Kashkar I remarked on the Korean flavors that popped up on the menu. Several blocks away at Cafe At Your Mother-In-Law the link between Korea and Uzbekistan is even more explicit. Uzbek and Russian specialties share the menu with Korean ones, and of course there are some crossovers. The tofu salad (pictured above) is made with strips of tender, chewy dried bean curd sheets. Although the menu describes the salad as being seasoned with Korean spices, it tasted more Eastern European to me — particularly the flecks of fresh dill scattered throughout the salad.
The hanum (a more refined and, frankly, better version of the khonoom I had at Cafe Kashkar) was decidedly more Uzbek — delicate dumpling skin wrapped around steamed potato, covered with a sweet onion and tomato sauce and topped with more dill.
Cafe At Your Mother-In-Law — 3071 Brighton 4th St
Although I cook a lot, I hardly ever use cookbooks. But when a friend of mine releases a cookbook, I make an exception. Fellow Brooklyn vegetarian and blogger Chitra Agrawal, owner of Brooklyn Delhi, has a new cookbook out. Vibrant India is a natural extension of Chitra’s mission to marry the flavors of India with a uniquely Brooklyn aesthetic. With a few specialty pantry ingredients, such ad black mustard seeds and hing (aka asafoetida), the home cook can transform local ingredients into great Indian dishes.
I wanted to start with a few simple dish, with ingredients I had on hand. The stir-fries, or palya, seemed like a logical starting point. First up is a potato stir-fry (alugedde palya) with onion and ginger. The potatoes are simply boiled and then cooked with onions. In addition to the spices mentioned above the cooking oil is seasoned with curry leaves and a bit of ginger and chilis, and this incredibly flavorful oil permeates the entire dish. I ate the potatoes with some simple rice, but the book mentions that you can use the same mixture to fill a dosa (there’s also a recipe for how to make the dosa in the book).
Next I tried the cabbage stir fry with lemon and curry leaves (yalekosu palya). Although there were similarities with the potato dish this leaned more heavily on the smoky flavor of the curry leaves and the toasted dal (lentils) that get sauteed in the flavored oil. The cabbage is slightly wilted but still a bit crunchy, then tossed with dried unsweetened coconut, and finished with lemon juice and cilantro.
There are a wide variety of recipes in the book — salads, breads, desserts, etc — and some are more complicated than others. I’m looking forward to cooking my way through most of them.
Many many years ago Donny and I stopped by Pies ‘n’ Thighs for a few slices of pie. I was underwhelmed at the time, and since I don’t eat fried chicken I never went back. But this past weekend I met up with some family to celebrate a cousin’s birthday, so now I’ve eaten an actual meal there. They don’t really have any vegetarian entrees, but they have something called the Superbowl. When you order the Superbowl you get to choose three side dishes and choose either a biscuit or cornbread. Not all of the sides are vegetarian, but there are enough to cobble together an enormous meal. I went with the hot sauce-tinged mac & cheese, hushpuppies, and the black-eyed pea salad. I also chose a biscuit, on the advice of our server. The black-eyed peas were doused with a vinegar dressing, which was great for cutting through the richness of the other food. My favorite part of the plate was actually the biscuit, once it had been slathered in honey butter. We also had some pies, and boy have they come a long way. My favorite was the banana cream pie; not too sweet, lots of great banana flavor and plenty of whipped cream. I don’t know if I would recommend Pies ‘n’ Thighs for vegetarians, but I can certainly recommend the pies.
Pies ‘n’ Thighs — 166 S 4th St
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
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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Tagged cooking, pizza
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