Jackson and Rye, London

  

I’m off to the Arctic for the next four weeks, which means that my partner and I won’t see each other for a very long time. We took the day off work today (Friday) and set out to do some tourist London exploration, because I realised that I never, ever big up my home town enough.

I reckon that’s because the vegan food offerings here just aren’t very good. Why not? The centre of London has a dearth of places that serve vegan breakfasts. Vegetarian food offerings are awesome, but if you have allergies or have cut out animal items from your diet totally, London is not the best place for you.

That said, I live here, so make do I must. Tibits is great for some vegan food, Inspiral is super, and unintentionally vegan ethnic offerings are plentiful. But it’s no New York (hello vegan Chinese) or LA (they have a vegan CHEESE SHOP). And this continues to make me sad.

So we took the day off work and this took us to Jackson and Rye because I was determined not to go to Hospital Club AGAIN (my fail safe brunch location). It sucks for vegans. And for anyone with allergies. But it’s glorious inside, and their country style potatoes with caramelised onions may well be one of the most delicious thins I’ve eaten this week.

I literally have a plate of avocado and some green juice, but hey, the tiling is nice and they have a bottle of Tabasco, so life’s not all bad.

And if you’ve got a meat eater in your life, I imagine they would be a huge fan.

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Seed: vegan po’boys and beignets, N’awlins style

Waiting for the streetcar

Waiting for the streetcar

“Garden based, Nola taste.” The tagline of Seed in New Orleans suggested that this restaurant was exactly what I was after: I craved vegan food, but I wanted to sample the true flavours of the south too. In short, I wanted a po’boy.

Although I turned up at Seed knowing exactly what I wanted to order (Tofu po’boy), I’d just been to Mothers with Sam so he could get his very own New Orleans traditional po’boy too. I’ve never eaten meat in my life, but watching him demolish his “Ferdi Special” with roast ham, beef, and jus to dunk, made me think nothing could be a match for that sandwich.

I toyed with getting a salad, or tofu “fried chicken” bites, or even a soup. But I knew I would cave, and order the po’boy; something my gluten sensitive insides would hate me for heretoafter. Our servers were both young and “hip” looking, and I saw next to a lady who lived and worked in New Orleans but who had never visited before. She order a two small starters, and then took half of each to go. Not sure why she bothered.

Pineapple ginger burst

Pineapple ginger burst

The clientele was a mix of (young) ladies who lunch, business people, and one cheerful family with two young kids who were demolishing the plates of vegan beignets (wise).

I ordered the pineapple, almond butter, ginger and almond milk smoothie which tasted decadent and like having a pudding for start. Usually I’d opt for something healthier like a green goddess or something the colour of indigo, but I’m glad I had a “cake” drink because it was totally delicious, if a little bland.

The po’boy was hands down the largest sandwich I have ever seen in my entire life. Seriously. It was the length and breadth of my forearm, and crammed full of deep fried tofu pieces that tasted a little like cake. The sandwich came with lettuce, vegan mayo, and tomato, but I asked for extra avocado. There was a cauliflower pickle salad side which I upended into the sandwich.

I couldn’t fit it in my mouth, so I basically gnawed on the bread for a little while, hoping to make an inroad somewhere. Inevitably the entire contents of the sandwich spilled out over plate/table/leg/cleavage, so I covered my face in a napkin and just went for it.

IMG_4449The lady from New Orleans next to me was laughing, but she only finished half a starter so I don’t care.

Although I’d never eaten tofu like this, and I was having an enormous po’boy sandwich, it was ever so slightly bland. I feel as the restaurant held back with seasoning – both the ginger in the smoothie, and the mayo on the sandwich. It needed something else, like a sharp mustard, or a heavier garlic mayo. I added siracha which made it taste delicious, but turned it into a banh mi rather than a po’boy.

We ordered beignets to go, and several hours later (I am still stuffed from the po’boy), have polished them off, licking icing sugar off our fingers and chewing happily upon having found this excellent vegan beignet: my first doughnut in three years.

Dallas’ downtown taqueria: Taco Borracho

Bordered by Mexico, Texas’ version of its neighbour’s food went global decades ago with Tex-Mex. But as well as a number of drive-thrus, diners and restaurants that still cater for creamy, cheesy versions of the real things, Texas hosts lots of tacquerias.

Great for vegans, dieters and gluten-freeer’s alike, these traditional joints litter the main city’s streets and even in Dallas-where money and glitz talks- you can still buy a taco for $2.

We’d heard great things about Miguel’s Cantina near the Dallas Museum of Art, so obviously, being British, we went to the place across the street instead. On the upside, we could see into Miguel’s and watch all the people having a great time.

Taco Borracho was full of office workers smeared in taco juice and rice so clearly they were doing something right. Like any American taco shop they also sold burritos and quesadillas, but the menu was short and to the point with a choice of brisket, brisket or brisket. I asked for veggie tacos and was told I could have black beans. Fine by me.

The tacos were $2.95 each, or 2 for $6.99 with extra rice, beans and a drink. So much rice and beans. Like all tacos that aren’t smothered in chipotle sauce and guacamole, they were just fine but not incredible. The beans were pleasantly stewed and tender, the flecks of jalapeño gave my mouth a sour kick every now and the extra hot salsa that I had poured liberally over the chewy corn tortillas eroded the top layer of my mouth. So far, so good.

There was far too much rice on the plate though, and it was a strange yellow colour as though they’d used food dye to make it look as though it was cooked with saffron.

The Peruvian owner had frowned when I had asked her to ease off on the sour cream. “We don’t have sour cream.” So at least vegans won’t offend their sensibilities with frivolous demands.

So for an ok, authentic taco, head to Taco Borracho. You’re welcome.
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The best falafel in London

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The day supermarkets started to sell plastic boxes of tiny falafel balls in their fridge sections was the day Middle Eastern food seemed to lose it’s magic in the UK. Falafel became de rigeur at buffets, picnics and lunch parties. Ambitious chefs on a budget would knock out a few falafels to impress their uni-mates. In short, the popularisation of the falafel was where it all went wrong.

I’m sitting in one of the many falafel joints on Leather Lane, waiting for the chubby Kurdish woman behind the counter to finish pressing my wrap on the griddle. I have only recently, tentatively started to eat gluten again. I treat myself once a week and steel myself for the horrific side effects that follow.

The wraps at all of these joints are cheap and vegan. The one I got today was just £2.50 and is stuffed with red cabbage, peppery falafel balls, tomatoes, a thick spread of hummous and a spicy red harissa paste. I shook my head to an offer of yoghurt: the woman behind the counter was happy to keep my wrap dairy free and she reassured me that the falafels were both gluten and egg free.

And this falafel hole-in-the-wall is not a one off. There are at least five along Leather Lane and all of them provide crisped-up wraps, finished off by being pressed down on a hot griddle.

It’s the antidote to hunger, and the perfect pick-me-up for an afternoon hard at work. The protein from the chickpeas staves off the need to indulge in an afternoon snack and the salad makes it light enough to avoid feeling full of stodge.

The King of Falafel is my personal favourite: their harissa is spicy enough to make you want to eat bite after bite without stopping and the paste works so well with their tangy red cabbage.

If you’re feeling disillusioned with falafel because you’ve eaten too many dry counterfeit snacks from supermarkets, then head down to one of these joints. For the same price of a Taste the Difference box of falafels, you can try a decent, fresh take on your lunch.

Here’s how you can make your own if you live too far from Leather Lane to warrant a trip to get falafel. Although the ingredient list is long, most are store-cupboard essentials.

Ingredients:

For falafel-

Can of chickpeas

2 cloves of garlic

1 onion, very, very finely chopped

1 heaped teaspoon of cumin

A shake of cumin seeds

A shake of dry mild chilli powder

(If you have any, a pinch of ras al hanout wouldn’t go amiss)

3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped finely

A good squeeze of tomato puree (this makes it less dry)

Salt, pepper and oil for frying

Extras-

Gluten free wraps/wraps

Harissa paste

Fresh tomatoes

Chopped red cabbage, cucumber and salad

Method:

Put the chick-peas in a pan of boiling water and soak for five minutes.

Chop the onion and garlic very finely and then fry with the spices in another pan. When the chick-peas have softened, add all the remaining ingredients into the pan and cook all together for a few minutes.

Mash together into a paste. Heat some hot oil into a shallow frying pan. Roll the chickpea paste into balls and, when the oil is hot, place ball into pan and ensure they have a complete covering of oil. Turn the heat down so they cook through without burning.

While they’re cooking, spread a layer of hummus, harissa, salad and a grind of pepper. When the falafels are still hot, pop them into the wrap. Envelope it all up, and, to finish, put the wrap back in the hot pan that just cooked the falafels and press it down with the back of the spatula, making sure you do both sides.

Add more harissa and enjoy!