Lemonana

IMG_2104     We had frozen “Limonana” (Lemonana) at Dizengoff in Philadelphia recently and I was struck by the herbal flavor of it, and by how well it went with their very excellent hummus.  Lemonana is basically lemonade with a generous dose of mint, and it’s been called the national drink of Israel.  This aint your Grandma’s lemonade–it’s assertively tart with a divine herbal edge.  It can be made in a good variety of ways, but I know they make a mint syrup at Dizengoff, and they choose to serve it frozen.  I looked at a bunch of Lemonana online and developed this easy recipe, which tastes a lot like the one at Dizengoff.  I’m convinced, however, that Dizengoff uses a secret ingredient–some savory herb or something.  I’ll be trying that in future, but in the meantime, this is so good and refreshing that I’m satisfied.

LEMONANA

Serves:  2 to 3

Mint Syrup
1 Cup water
1 Cup sugar
1.5 oz. fresh mint
Combine water and sugar in a very small saucepan and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and wait 10 minutes for the syrup to cool slightly.  Stir in fresh mint, cover and let steep for 15-30 minutes.  Remove and discard mint leaves or strain syrup through a mesh sieve and allow to come to room temperature.  Store in a sealed glass jar or bottle in refrigerator for up to one month.

Lemonana
1/2 Cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup water
2/3 Cup mint syrup
2 drops orange blossom water  (optional)
20-30 ice cubes

DIRECTIONS
To a blender, add lemon juice, water, mint syrup and orange blossom water, and stir.  Add ice and blend until frozen, adding a little more ice if necessary.  Taste.

Notes:  My ice cubes are those smaller crescent-shaped ice “cubes” that come out of an ice dispenser in my freezer.  You may need more ice than this, unless you’re using the old-fashioned, big rectangular ice cubes.  Any leftover mint syrup can also be used in iced tea, of course.  To save time, make mint syrup ahead and have it well chilled.  Two photos of Dizengoff below.  Dizengoff has a cult following for their hummus and their pita bread.
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Blackbird Pizzeria – vegan Philly

IMG_0102    Blackbird Pizzeria is a GREAT vegan restaurant located at 507 South 6th Street in Philadelphia.   The food is so good that when I go back to Philly, it’ll be first on my list of places to eat.    After reading Yelp reviews, we ordered the Cubano sandwich, and also the Philly Cheesesteak for Lars.  And, especially for me, we ordered the Pizza Patate, which was DIVINE.  The Cubano came first and since we had a cooler in the car, we split one half of it, and it was surprisingly good–I didn’t want to stop eating it.  Mr. Seitan (Lars) enjoyed the Philly Cheesesteak while I waited for the Pizza Patate, which was my favorite thing we ate in Philly that whole weekend, including a superb dinner out at Vedge, not kidding.

Blackbird’s menu is not too large, but perfect, in my opinion, with five good-looking salads, sides like vegan hot wings and sautéed kale, and tons of toppings including avocado, tofu ricotta, seitan bacon, artichokes, garlic, caramelized onions, pineapple, etc., etc.  All items are not only vegan, but kosher too (not that I care if anything is kosher).  The neighborhood is nice and friendly, across from a children’s playground.  Blackbird’s pizza dough recipe is in the Happy Cow Cookbook, and I plan to try it because their crust was killer.  They even have homemade cookies, “warmed to order,” such as the Kitchen Sink cookie (chocolate chips, potato chips, pretzels, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, oats) or the Early Bird cookie (oatmeal cookie, assorted breakfast cereal, melted marshmallows) (see photos below) (we got one of each to go).  In short, Blackbird Pizza makes me want to move to Philadelphia.
IMG_0100  A nice, friendly neighborhood.
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IMG_0105  the blackboard at Blackbird
IMG_0110  Cubano sandwich.
IMG_0112 Pizza Patate to die for.
IMG_0126  Early Bird cookie
IMG_0127  Kitchen Sink cookie.

IMG_0106   Yesssssss

IMG_0198_1  Hell yeah I bought a t-shirt.

Italian Market – vegan Philadelphia

IMG_0091    On our last morning in vegan-friendly Philadelphia, we decided to brave the December cold and walk Philly’s Italian Market.   I was told by someone who grew up in South Philly that the Italian Market is not what it used to be, but I’m so glad we went!  It was a quiet Sunday morning and we had gotten advice from a couple of locals as to where to park, and ended up walking a couple of  blocks back to the market.  My old Frommer’s guidebook calls it a “gritty outdoor market–part of Rocky’s famous run.”  Yes, it seemed like a lot the vendors were Asian or Hispanic, but there were also a few Italians and even a pallet fire in a barrel that we warmed our hands by at one point.  All the vendors were super friendly and we had a great walk up and down both sides of the little street, buying produce that was ridiculously cheap (see photos below).  My advice is to walk the market first, and then go back and buy the produce you want at the best price.  For example, the same pineapples or pomegranates varied in price by up to $2, depending on the vendor.  Also, the condition of some produce was pristine, while another seller had it at the same price but in a more wilted condition, etc.  One of the highlights for me was Fante’s kitchen-supply store.  We had ducked in there to get out of the cold for a minute, and left half an hour later with a shopping bag of goodies.  Open since 1906, picture a vintage hardware store packed to the ceiling with shelves of colorful, whimsical and practical cooking supplies–everything you can think of.  My haul included a Silpat (something I’d never used before), a rabbit-shaped cookie cutter, a perforated Chicago Metallic cutting wheel for homemade vegan marshmallows and mochi, and an $18 steel colander that I now don’t know how I lived without all these years.  Loaded up with fresh fruits, vegetables and greens, we left the old Italian Market ready to eat healthy for the next week.   I loved the diversity of all the vendors and shoppers, the convivial atmosphere, and knowing that for the price of a dead-animal burger, anyone on a budget can leave that market with real, whole food at an affordable price.  Food that doesn’t go to waste, and that provides the vendors and their families with a living too.  As a bonus, just the act of walking both sides of the street, and walking to and from the market was great exercise too!
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Sip-N-Glo Juicery – Philadelphia

IMG_0080    Here’s another post for the vegan Philadelphia categorySip-N-Glo Juicery is located at 932 South Street in Philadelphia.  After an amazing dinner at Vedge the night before, I was jones-ing for juice on Sunday morning.  Real juice, where they make it in front of you, because seeing is believing.  And Sip-N-Glo Juicery did not disappoint.  From the easy parking at the Whole Foods across the tiny street, to everything else, including the clean kitchen, quick service, and delicious juice, I was happy.  When I asked if I could have a Green Beast but with added carrot and light on the ginger, the reply was, “Of course!”  Check out their stellar menu here.  They offer juice cleanses, shots, and a Kids Menu.  My only regret is that I didn’t buy a t-shirt.  I’d be at this place every week if I were lucky enough to live in vegan-friendly Philadelphia!
IMG_0084  No seating, but easy parking directly across the tiny street, at Whole Foods.
IMG_0085  See your juice made to order in a clean kitchen.
IMG_0087  Lots of add-ins, big menu, t-shirts!

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole Grain Mustard Sauce

IMG_1810    This is the 2nd delicious and easy recipe I’ve tried from the Vedge cookbook by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby.  I’ve eaten these Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole Grain Mustard Sauce at the Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia (see photo below), and this recipe replicates that experience very well.  My comments on the recipe are to make sure to divide your salt and pepper before you begin (I accidentally threw all the pepper into the sauce, which didn’t hurt it).  The sauce takes two minutes to make, so make that first and throw it in the fridge.  Cut the stems/bottoms well off the sprouts and discard.  I just used a knife to cut and shave the sprouts.  Make sure to cook the sprouts on high (as per the recipe) because that’s how you get the roasty bits.  Go easy on the sauce–a little goes a long way, and next time I would probably only make half of the sauce.  Out of the Vedge cookbook, I also made the Salt Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers and Red Onion, which is also an easy and super-delicious recipe.  It’s simple to make the components for both of these recipes ahead.  Once the sprouts are prepped, they take only a 5-minute sizzle in the pan before serving.   In short, I love this gorgeous cookbook.
IMG_1484  Here’s the dish we received at Vedge restaurant.  As you can see, lighting was super-low, and they used a very grainy mustard.  I just used organic whole-grain mustard from a jar, and it was still delicious.

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers and Red Onion

IMG_1784    Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers and Red Onion.  This delicious recipe is from the Vedge cookbook by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby.  Although this dish has various components, it’s simple to make.  To save time, I roasted and peeled the beets the day before I needed them.  We also recently ate this salad at the Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia, and it was killer.  I was pleasantly surprised that the dish I made at home actually tasted like what we ate at the restaurant.  In the restaurant, this dish is served in a round stack with a circle of smoked tofu (see photo below).  My comments on this dish are that I used only 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt (since the capers are so salty), and I also reduced the second application of black pepper.  I was unable to procure fresh dill and it’s too early for dill in my garden, so I substituted 1 teaspoon of dried dill weed.  And . . . it was still wonderful.  I grow beets, and cook beets more than most people, and noticed no discernible difference with the salt roasting–so in future, I would simply wrap the beets in foil and roast them in the oven for 60-90 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  By the way, the cookbook is gorgeous, with 100 plant-based recipes that highlight The Vegetable.  It has a soft, matte cover with no pesky dust jacket, and beautiful photographs.  Since I had one of the best meals of my life at Vedge restaurant, this cookbook is not going on the shelf–because I’ll be too busy using it.
IMG_1483  At the restaurant, this is served in a stack with a ring of smoked tofu.

Vegan Philadelphia – last day

Sunday, June 13. Got up early. Took a cab to Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat restaurant at North Fourth Street and we had not been to the North end before this yet. A funky little restaurant with a colorful mural on the outside, in a mixed-use neighborhood. The restaurant was filled with locals. I had the Savory Tofu Scramble but asked for home fries with peppers and onions, instead of the French fries. Also got a potato latke and some veggie sausage. I could live without the veggie sausage. The latke was good but they did not have vegan sour cream. However, the tofu scramble and home fries were really good! Lars got eggs benedict (not vegan) and fresh-squeezed orange juice. He said the oj was really fresh. This is a busy place with lots of local families of all ages coming and going. Very casual and I would definitely go there again. My tofu scramble and home fries would feed two or more and it was $7.25.  As I was sitting there eating that stellar tofu scramble with home fries, I was just so darn HAPPY.  The waitress said if we walked to Spring Garden Road that the cabs go by there. We walked 2 or 3 blocks to Spring Garden and sure enough, a cab appeared in about two minutes. Checked out of the hotel and the valet brought our car around. Drove to nearby Whole Foods which has a great parking garage right there. Bought two flavors of Daiya cheese, vegan Worcestershire, etc. Also noticed that there is a nice little section of vegan desserts. Bought a vegan oatmeal cookie sandwich that was HUGE and tasty. I’ll be eating off it for a week. Bought a bag of ice, packed the cooler up and headed to Queenstown to pick up Ipo dog. Ipo hopped in the back seat and promptly fell fast asleep and stayed so all the way home.

Vegan Philadelphia – Part Two

Saturday, June 12.  Woke up and ate our super-sweet watermelon that we bought from The Bourse last night.  Walked to Reading Terminal Market, a huge conglomeration of food stalls.  This colorful place is quite a show.  Even though the Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar was closed that day, I managed to find some vegan eats, and sat facing the passers by.   There was a man playing old-fashioned piano, and it’s just a unique experience.  We then walked all over China Town, getting the lay of the land.  By the time we walked down through Antique Row, we were ready for lunch, so headed for Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant.  As it was lunchtime, only the to-go part of the restaurant was open.  Just a takeout counter with a few tables in back on this side of the building.  But, the Chicken Cheesesteak sandwich is legendary, so in we went.  And . . . it was amazing!  I asked the kids at the counter what in the world was it that tastes just like chicken.  They told me it’s textured soy protein and comes in a box from Hong Kong.  I had the sesame roll and Lars got the spinach wrap and we almost think the wrap was better, if not as traditional.  Then we walked to Essene Market and I picked up some really good-looking glass refrigerator containers with BPA-free lids of a pretty green.  Went through a great old antique mall and ran into a Mummers performance at the Betsy Ross House.  Poked around Elsfreth Alley, and then went to a movie at this great theatre right next door to our hotel;  The Ritz at the Bourse.  Saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was stellar despite the subtitles.  We rested at the hotel for a bit, and then we took a cab to New Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant, and had vegan dim sum. They bring the food fast and furious here, despite our telling them not to bring everything, and please only to bring one or two bites of each dish. We were then served entire platters of fried tofu, etc. Char siu bao was not good. Some things were good, some were not. The trick here would be to get to know the menu and order off the menu, not dim sum. But dim sum for the most part was good and we would most definitely love to have a place like this near us, would go here again!  Oh to try the vegan Peking Duck!

Vegan Philadelphia

Having only been really vegan for a month or so, I was desperate to find some vegan peeps and to go to a restaurant and just order anything on the menu.  Listening to vegan podcasts, I learned that Philadelphia is a vegan-friendly city.  Since we’ve been talking about going to Philly for the last three years, off we went.  We checked into the Omni Hotel at Independence Park on June 11.  What a great location!  This hotel backs up to The Bourse; an old Merchant Exchange that was built in 1895.  A complete restoration was done and inside it’s a giant food court with some shops too. We picked up some fruit and water for the early morning, and walked back to our hotel room. Dinner was at Horizons, one of the best vegan restaurants in the country. It was only about a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and the weather was balmy.    We peeked into courtyards and onto balconies, as we went. Past fenced lots with children’s soccer games going on, and all manner of lovely dogs being walked. Horizons is not much to look at from the outside. Inside it is nicer, if a bit shopworn. Professional staff dressed in black and funky modern jazz playing on the stereo.  Lars got a Pomegranate Sangria that he liked. There were ten appetizers and it was hard to choose. We settled on Vietnamese Tacos (crispy lemongrass tempeh, pickled daikon salad, cilantro and spicy sriracha mayo) for $10. Superb but slightly too hot for Lars. I was thrilled with the tempeh. Mostly I have not cared for the taste of tempeh, but this was fried in panko, but very thinly, and had a bit of crunch, and tasted like chicken. Then we ordered the Grilled Vegetable Salad (Smoked black olives, crispy potato, Easter egg radish, shaved cauliflower, preserved lemon/chive dressing). Super good. Our waiter was great, attentive but not too. For main courses, we got the Grilled Seitan (Yukon mashed potatoes, horseradish cream, and roasted red pepper tapenade) for $21. It was freaking me out because I would SWEAR I was eating the best steak I ever had in my life. Grilled and slightly charred and just simply incredible. Our other main course was the Peruvian Mushroom Crepe (with squash trio, giant lima beans, roasted olives, aji Amarillo sauce, spicy peanuts and avocado cream) for $19. Very good. Lars kept eating that and I finally asked him to stop eating that so he could try the seitan. He reluctantly tried it and then agreed it was like an excellent steak. The waiter said they use “Ray’s Seitan” and that it is so much better than they could make in-house.  For dessert, we split the Saffron Creme Brule.  This came complete with perfect crackling crust, and the texture and creaminess were spot on, however, the saffron gave this dish a slightly musty, odd taste, and the pistachio biscotti was dry as a bone, and tasteless.  However, everything else was so good, that it would be a dream come true to have a restaurant like this near us!   postscript:  Horizons is now closed and their new vegan restaurant is Vedge.