Good morning! Today on VeganMoFo we head to Latin America, the Caribbean and maybe North America. We start in the largest and most populous country of the region: Brazil. I’ve only been to Brazil once, but it was enough to whet my appetite. I spent some time in Sao Paulo, where...Read More
Today I have a real treat for you on our VeganMoFo world tour as we head south and east to Georgia! Now before I start gushing about how awesome this country is for vegans, let me first say that I don’t fall in love with *every* country I visit. Oh no. On the contrary....Read More
Good morning! Today on VeganMoFo we head to Latin America, the Caribbean and maybe North America. We start in the largest and most populous country of the region: Brazil.
I’ve only been to Brazil once, but it was enough to whet my appetite. I spent some time in Sao Paulo, where they have an amazing vegan scene, and then I headed north to the quieter coastal city of Recife and stunning Olinda, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Sao Paulo is a thriving city with an incredible energy and creativity. I was lucky to be there for Sao Paulo Pride, reputed to be among the world’s largest pride parade. Despite the fact that it was rainy and a little cool, thousands of people thronged the streets, celebrating diversity and love. That day I was invited to a private party on a balcony overlooking the parade, which was organized by a local group working to address HIV. The price of entry was a bag of rice. It felt like we were on a secret mission of sorts. I remember searching for a grocery store in the middle of downtown Sao Paulo with a friend, buying my bag of rice, and lugging it with me through the streets of the city to the party. It took us a while to find the right door to the closed mall above which the party was taking place, and then we had to show our wares to get in. The party was fun, but it felt a bit removed from the energy below, and so we lingered a while and then went downstairs to explore.
There are a good number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Sao Paulo, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was to me. There was one place I ate at twice that served a completely vegan buffet packed with Brazilian cuisine, like feijoada. Oh my! It was pretty amazing. It also had a neat store attached, which sold cans of vegan dulce de leche, among other goods. But some of its vegetarian restaurants weren’t so vegan friendly. One night I went to a restaurant called Banana Verde, which had only a few vegan options at the time. When I asked for recommendations, the waitress suggested pupunha. So I ordered it. It was actually a complete piece of a palm: I had to cut through the tough outer edge to get to the soft heart! I love hearts of palm, but this was the strangest, albeit most natural presentation I could imagine.
Recife is a much quieter city, and although I was there for almost as long as I was in Sao Paulo, I can’t really say I got much of a feel for it. The beaches were gorgeous, pristine. But it was rainy and cold much of my visit there and everything is pretty spread out.
Olinda, on the other hand, was gorgeously stunning. I spent a day there walking through its curvy, narrow, hilly streets.
I adored its colorful buildings, old churches and the art that is absolutely everywhere you turn. It’s definitely a wonderful place to spend a day, or two, or more.
I wasn’t sure what to make for Brazil, but when I started researching the cuisine, this Brazilian style “chicken” pie kept popping out at me again and again.
It’s like a potpie, but with just a little gravy. Some make it with a crumb topping (I have); others top it with additional pastry.
I knew that with the fabulous Beyond Meat, which shreds nicely when warm, I could get a texture and taste that would be scarily close to the original, and so I had to try my hand at making one.
From start to finish, this is the quickest savory pie I have ever made. And it is delicious!
This is pretty much the definition of comfort food!
Today on our VeganMoFo world tour we head further west to Azerbaijan, one of the entry points to Central Asia and our last stop in the region. There are no two ways about it: Central Asia is tough for vegans. With the exception of a few side dishes, very few traditional Azeri foods are vegan and when you say you don’t eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy, it’s hard for Azeris to understand. I remember one particular moment when I ordered a vegan pizza without cheese at a local restaurant. They understood the no dairy thing, but when my pizza came it was laden in ham. I sent it back and asked them to make me a new one. They brought it back with some of the ham picked off, but didn’t get everything. I sent it back again. I had similar experiences in other Central Asian countries I visited. It’s probably lucky I ate bread at that time, because otherwise I may have just starved.
Azerbaijan is at once a fascinating and depressing part of the world. Azerbaijan has oil, and so its economy is growing by leaps and bounds. New construction was going on everywhere when I was there. But the benefits of the oil wealth accrue to just a few, make the country incredibly expensive for all people, and exacerbate the inequalities that have existed in the country since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The government in Azerbaijan is one of the most repressive in the world. It’s so-called democracy is a sham. It’s an autocracy, pure and simple. Human rights abuses are rife. Corruption is a way of life.
But the country has a rich history and a poetic air about it. Baku’s old town is lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed my strolls around it.
One afternoon I heard music from a fenced-off courtyard next to me; I stuck my head through an opening and saw traditional Azeri dancers being filmed for a TV show. I lingered for a while, enjoying the scene.
It was also one afternoon in a little traditional tea house in the old town that I tried for rose jam for the first time. And what a revelation that was! Rose-flavored foods taste exactly as they smell. Some people like it, some people don’t, but I love it.
And so I’m bringing you today a simple recipe for rose ice cream. I used rehydrated organic dried rose buds for this dish; you can usually find these in tea stores (rose tea: yum!) and maybe well-stocked health food stores. Although all roses are edible, unless you can find organic ones or have them growing in your garden and are pesticide free, you really don’t want to eat them. The amount of pesticides used on those perfect-looking roses you find at the store is insane and definitely not something you want to put in your body. Plus most of them don’t smell and the flavor of roses really comes from their aroma.
I served them with a few chopped up pistachios, because for some reason I think roses and pistachios complement each other perfectly. Yum!
Today I have a real treat for you on our VeganMoFo world tour as we head south and east to Georgia! Now before I start gushing about how awesome this country is for vegans, let me first say that I don’t fall in love with *every* country I visit. Oh no. On the contrary. There are are some that I’d be happy to never set foot in again. But Georgia is definitely not one of them. Tblisi is a city I’d happily spend more time in and the Georgian countryside is distinct and beautiful.
Now there are a few things that Georgia is famous for in the region. The first is their wine (not a fan). The second is Borjomi, a natural sparkling mineral water that comes from a volcanic spring in the Borjomi Valley (an acquired taste, a little bit salty, but I love it)! And the third, Georgian toasts! Toasting is a time-honored tradition in Georgia and the toasts you will hear are elaborate. They often reflect on the deeper meaning of life, the universe and all that and can be incredibly poetic or funny or a little bit crude. Toasting is a real skill and let me tell you, Georgians have mastered it. Any Georgian meal would not be considered complete without at least one round of toasting by all guests at the table.
If you haven’t gathered by now, central to the tradition of toasting is food. Georgians don’t dine. They feast. They feast on gorgeously fresh and succulent vegetables: eggplant, tomatoes, squash and peppers are all key and oh so good. They feast on an array of nuts: they have devised 101 ways to use walnuts in everything sweet or savory. They feast on hearty stews made with beans and packed with veggies. They feast on delicious salads, amazing herbs. They feast on mushrooms cooked any which way you like. They feast on fabulous vegan foods by the boat load! (And of course they feast on meat too, but let’s not dwell on that). Every time I ate with Georgian friends I’d wonder when the food would stop coming (answer: not until there is more than anyone sitting around that table could possibly eat).
While you do need to be careful about hidden dairy and eggs and therefore steer clear of pretty much anything baked, there is no reason why any vegan couldn’t travel to Georgia and not experience pure veganic bliss.
So today, I’m not going to dwell on politics, or history, or human rights in Georgia (and I could talk about all of that for quite some time). I’m not going to tell you about that time I traveled by land from Yerevan, Armenia, to Tblisi and my hairy moments at border control. I’m not going to tell you about the brilliant Shakespeare play (in Georgian) we saw at the gorgeous opera house. Instead, I’m going to let you enjoy the photos of this dynamic and truly unique country (it even has it’s own fascinating & distinct script!) and focus on the food.
Today I’m bringing you three Georgian recipes I promise you will love so you can have the makings of your own Georgian feast.
One decidedly non-vegan food that Georgians are famous for is called khachapuri. I don’t know how to describe it other than as a covered cheese pizza (without the tomato sauce). It always looked amazing and I pined for a vegan version. The recipe I’m bringing you is not that, but it’s close: it’s a boiled and fried khachapuri that has all of the *vegan* cheesiness, but is super quick and easy to make. Served with a bit of sour cream, they are truly a delight. Let me say that again: DELIGHT! They are best served piping hot.
You’ll need cashew sour cream, or another vegan sour cream, to make this recipe and serve with the Khachapuri. My recipe is here.
Oh my! Beans with Georgian spices in a yummy gluten-free crusty bread. Yes please! The most common type has dough top and bottom, but I’m bringing you an version from a region of Georgia called Adjara that is easier to make, but is as every bit as good. It may not look too pretty, but let me tell you, you will be craving more once you’ve finished with it.
Yes, this is a feast we heartily enjoyed from start to finish!
Today we’re visiting Ukraine, the country of half of my people, on our VeganMoFo world tour.
Oh Ukrainia! I really loved this country. And not just because it was the homeland of my grandparents or because I look like I fit in when I travel there. I loved it because of my friends and colleagues there and the sense that bigger and better things were in store for it. I loved it because it was stunningly beautiful. Kyiv maintained a sense of character and its beauty despite its Russian occupation for so long and only a few imposing Soviet structures lined its streets. I loved it because of its peoples’ fierce commitment to independence and because their struggles for justice continued in the face of daunting challenges. I still love it, but now I’m heartbroken.
In truth, Ukraine has always been some tension between the Russian-leaning east, where Russian is mostly spoken, and the country’s west, where Ukrainian is mostly spoken. But I never thought that it would be so ruthlessly divided or that Russia would be so aggressive in trying to take it back. In the aftermath of the cold war when it gained its independence, Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons with the written agreement that Russia would not try to retake it and if it did it would have the support of the UK and US. So much for that…
The causes of the current conflict, and the historic protests that preceded them, were many and complex. The media narrative largely is that they started because in the face of economic stress, instead of looking to the European Union and the West, the country’s Russian-supporting President at the time looked east to Russia. The reality is, it was about much more than that. It was about holding the government accountable to the people; it was about addressing the blatant corruption that undermined the country’s economy and peoples’ livelihoods; and it was about justice. Many of my friends and colleagues were on Maidan Square; luckily, none of them died there.
The consequences of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and advance in the western part of the country are pretty devastating. The best way I know how to illustrate it is by sharing stories of how it has impacted one community I know well and worked with closely in the country: people who use drugs. Ukraine, like many countries of the region, has pretty high rates of substance use and with it high rates of HIV infection driven by injecting drug use. To address both, non-governmental organizations, with the support of the government and international donors, were implementing some of the most innovative harm reduction programs in the region, the most important of which was opiate substitution therapy programs. Methadone and buprenorphine can have a transformative impact on the lives of people addicted to heroin, help them regain control of their lives, find jobs and care for their family. In Simferopol, Crimea, at one center I visited, people on methadone and their parents and friends told us of the life-changing impact it had. Mothers told us of how it gave them back their children. They were so genuinely grateful for this program.
Instead of addressing HIV and injecting drug use with programs that actually work, Russia has adopted an approach that can be described as ignoring them at best, and exacerbating them through harmful policies at worst. When Russia annexed Crimea all of the harm reduction programs stopped, immediately. At least fifty people have died as a result. The organization I used to work for helped get thirty people on substitution therapy out of Crimea, but in the long run that’s not a sustainable solution.
My grandparents are from western Ukraine, near Lviv, and an area that changed hands quite a bit with its neighbors, Poland and Austria. The Germans were pretty ruthless when they invaded western Ukraine during the second world war, not only targeting Jews, but ethnic Ukrainians as well. My grandparents were rounded up and shipped to a German work camp, where they met.
There is so much more I could say about Ukraine. It is a genuinely beautiful country with a difficult past and present. But I hope, fervently hope, that its future is much brighter.
But on to the food. Surprisingly, I found it pretty easy to eat in Ukraine, especially around Lent when orthodox Ukrainians fast and abstain from meat and dairy (although they still eat fish). I would eat hearty meals during that period: cabbage varenyky, great salads, amazing potato dishes, delicious soups, because there were pretty extensive and largely vegan Lenten menus at pretty much every restaurant. Yum! And even when it wasn’t Lent, I still usually had plenty of options. For some reason Ukrainians love sushi and so just about everywhere, I could usually find an avocado roll, miso soup and some sort of tofu dish! And the pickles and sauerkraut… oh my! It was there that I realized why my dad could eat sauerkraut as an evening snack (and why now I make my own and do the same!)
Today I’m sharing raw and vegan versions of two dishes that are much, much loved in Ukraine (and of which there are variations throughout the region): cheese varenyky and vinegret.
Varenyky are dumplings. They can be sweet or savory. They can contain just cheese, cheese and potatoes, sauerkraut on the savory side, or berries, cherries and other fruits on the sweet side. This raw version is really yummy and uses a really easy to make cashew cheese and mild-tasting marinated celeriac, with of course, the definitive herb of the region: dill.
My partner is not hugely into cheese and so he was a bit wary of this dinner. But when he tasted them he loved them and ate them with abandon! The varenyky really are incredibly flavorful.
I hope you like them just as much!
From Poland we move north today to Lithuania as our VeganMoFo world tour continues.
Lithuania is one of those places where you really get to experience the difference between dark and light. I first travelled to the country one June many years ago and the light at night to me was striking. I remember walking back to my hotel with friends some time after midnight and while the sun had dipped down, it was still twilight. The sky was a gorgeous shade of blue, I could see clearly and it was beautiful.
The last time I went to Lithuania it was in the middle of winter, frigidly cold with packed snow on the ground and icebergs floating down the river. This time I barely saw the sun and even when it was up it felt dark. When we walked to a traditional Lithuanian restaurant one evening, by the time we got there I could not feel my hands or my feet. It was pitch black outside.
Lithuania is also one of the first countries I traveled to where I felt perpetually hungry (and was woefully unprepared). Finding vegan food the first time was incredibly difficult. I subsisted mostly on potatoes, salads (but even finding a salad not laden in mayo was hard), and bread. One evening when we stumbled across a vegetarian café in the city’s old town, I remember feeling overwhelmed with joy at finding a real meal. I think I scoffed down that curry like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. It was divine! Last time, I went prepared, but also things had changed dramatically. I had no trouble eating and eating well. Even if there was nothing vegan on the menu, wait staff knew what I meant when I said vegan and kitchens were more than prepared to make me something I could eat.
Vilnius is a lovely city that has the feel of a small town, although it had changed a lot between my visits. Its old town is one of the most stunning I have had the joy of rambling through. Churches are literally everywhere. I felt like I couldn’t turn a corner without seeing crosses.
The colorful buildings, replete with deep basements, and sweet courtyards, are just lovely. And in the old town there are really wonderful little boutiques and shops, many of them selling Lithuania’s two prized commodities: linen and amber.
So today, in memory of my first visit to that country, I am sharing a somewhat non-traditional recipe for potato pancakes, a staple, but not vegan, Lithuanian dish. I used half sweet potatoes and half white potatoes and the result is delicious.
I have been roaring through my supply of the Vegg egg replacer this week and it’s perfect for this dish. You can buy it on Amazon or at any number of vegan online stores. However, if you can’t get that, I suggest you substitute a light binding egg replacer, like ener-g or arrowroot powder, and add a teaspoon of nutritional yeast and a ¼ tsp of black salt. You really don’t want anything too heavy here.
My partner is not a big fan of mushrooms (I just don’t get it!). So I served them to him the way many do in Lithuania: with sour cream and apple sauce.
This is a really great weekend brunch. Or any day breakfast or lunch for that matter!
Today on our VeganMofo world tour we visit Poland!
I travelled to Warsaw for the first time in November last year and absolutely fell in love with the city. It’s dynamic and has an exciting energy (perhaps that’s because I spent time with some really awesome young feminists). But I would never want to live in Poland: the country is deeply Catholic and the church has way too much sway on politics. One of my dear friends is the deputy speaker in Parliament and she’s been struggling for women’s rights in this country for decades, but there is still a long way to go. For example, abortion is highly restricted and even when women are in desperate need of it because of threats to their health or life, it’s almost impossible to access.
One of the things I love to do when I get to any city is just walk around and explore.
In the small windows of time I had to do that, I think I must have traversed half of the city!
The old town is gorgeous.
Art and sculptures adorn the city streets.
Gorgeous, colorful old buildings stand with grace along its winding, maze-like streets.
And on weekends markets abound selling homemade foods, crafts, preserves and gorgeous polish pottery (I only wish I bought more!).
Believe it or not, Warsaw is home to an amazing vegan movement. I ate like a queen at the catered lunches at my meetings there. And the number of vegan restaurants is astounding, with some of the best gluten-free vegan food I’ve eaten anywhere! I made it my mission to hit as many as I could, but there were quite a few that I still didn’t make it to.
Veg Deli, all vegan and gluten free, was my absolute favorite. They served mostly Polish classics and it was all really great.
Marrakesh Café and its sister restaurant Tel Aviv serve delicious Israeli and Mediterranean-inspired food, most of it gluten free. As you can see, I seriously indulged there. The gluten-free bread alone at Marrakesh was worth heading there, but the spreads and shwarma were just stunning.
And for the best vegan burgers ever, including with good gluten-free options, you can’t miss Krowarzywa!
Today, I’m bringing you a vegan, gluten-free version of a traditional Polish treat: sweet rolls.
I saw these at the breakfast buffet at my restaurant and they looked spectacular, but of course were not vegan or gluten free. They are similar to a danish, but with bread instead of puff pastry. And to make them just a little more decadent they are usually topped with a crumble and powdered sugar or a water glaze. They could be eaten for breakfast or dessert, or a snack anytime really.
I made half of them with a sweet cheese filling and half with raspberry jam. I made the cheese from scratch; it’s incredibly easy to do, it just needs to be prepared a day ahead. I provide the recipe below. But you could substitute it with a vegan store-bought ricotta instead if you like! Either way, they are really, really yummy!
The recipe does take a bit of time to pull it all together, but don’t let that put you off. It is really worth it!
What a treat!
Good morning! Today as our VeganMoFo around the world culinary tour continues, we travel to Turkey.
There is some debate about whether Turkey is part of Asia or part of Europe, and as Turks would note, it straddles both. In Istanbul there is actually an Asian side and a European side. Today it is our entry point into Europe, where we’ll explore the cuisine of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
What can I say about Turkey? I think it was the first country I visited where I felt the weight of history.
On my first trip to there I went Antalya. One evening went to see a symphony orchestra perform in at the Aspendos Amphitheatre, just outside of the city, which is thousands of years old and the best-preserve amphitheatre of antiquity. It was stunningly beautiful, sounded amazing, and it hit me that people had been enjoying music and theater in that space for an astoundingly long time.
It was also in Antalya that I discovered I had developed an allergy to peaches. My first couple of days there I ate a delightfully fuzzy and beautifully sweet peach every morning, followed about half an hour later by really annoying itchiness. It took me a while to piece together the fact that the itchiness was in fact hives and the cause was those damned, gorgeous peaches. It breaks my heart to this day that I can’t eat them, or other the other fruit and nuts I subsequently developed allergies to.
Antalya is a lovely little city: gorgeous coastlines, rugged cliffs overlooking, amazingly deep, blue seas.
I enjoyed every minute of it and found it incredibly relaxing and affirming. But I was lucky to be there off-season, and so I imagine it’s not quite so peaceful when it is over run by tourists.
I adore Istanbul. It feels magical to fly into the city and see the silhouettes of mosques dotting the skyline, particularly at dawn or dusk.
When I’m there I feel like I am walking around in a museum.
The blue mosque, which dominates the skyline in the Asian part of the city, is absolutely stunning.
Both the architecture and wall-to-ceiling decorations are gorgeous. It feels like a treasure, and it is.
The Hagia Sofia, which sits across from the Blue Mosque, is an amazing mix of Moorish architecture with Catholic art.
It is really beautiful.
Another must-see is the Basilica Cistern, part of a beautiful, almost haunting, underground water system. Some of the columns have been decorated, a couple with the head of Medusa.
I love to just walk and walk and walk in that city. It feels like around every corner there is something new to marvel at.
Oh, and the food! Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, the endless array of salads with fresh and cooked vegetables! What joy! I can never get enough of the eggplant or the beans or the nuts. And do I need to opine about the joys of Turkish delight (most of which is vegan)? I think not.
Today I’m bringing you a recipe for a Turkish stew that I enjoyed again and again in Istanbul. It was always served in a sizzling cast-iron pot overloaded with vegetables and white beans, with a rich tomato-based sauce.
I have tried again and again to recreate it from memory and I’m not quite sure that my version is quite as good, but it’s pretty close. The best thing about it is that you can use pretty much any vegetables you have on hand.