Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Smart, Cute and Vegetarian

Vegetarians are often asked, "But if you don't eat meat, why do you wear leather shoes?"

And, too often, the answer has been that it's hard to find cute, comfortable non-leather shoes.

Enter Ahimsa Footwear. Inside a little yellow house near the intersection of 17th and Park Avenues, Denver vegetarians can find shoes that match their beliefs and their sense of style. Prices range from $42 to $194 for women's shoes, and $25 to $170 for men's.

Ahimsa Footwear also sells vegetarian handbags, messenger bags, wallets and other accessories.

The Ahimsa website states that all of the store's products come from manufacturers who have pledged not to use sweatshop labor.

Ahimsa Footwear
1688 Marion Street
Denver, CO 80218
303-860-VEGI (8344)

Photos taken from the Ahimsa Footwear website

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Avenue Grill Has a Secret (Vegetarian Menu)

The Avenue Grill has a secret. You wouldn't know it from looking at the lunch and dinner menus posted outside the restaurant's entrance, which list a number of meat-based entries. And, you would never guess from the menu provided by the server, which is also predominately meat-based. But if you utter the secret password, and ask your server if the kitchen can prepare some of the entrées on the menu without meat, he or she will bring you a second, vegetarian menu. (In fairness, the vegetarian menu is also available on the restaurant's website).

It's unclear why the Avenue Grill has created a separate vegetarian menu, much less why it only provides the vegetarian menu upon request. The dishes on the vegetarian menu -- which include Wild Mushroom Risotto Cakes, an Artichoke, Feta and Calamata Olive salad, Crispy Butternut Squash Ravioli, and a Sautéed Vegetable Lavosh sandwich -- seem like they would appeal to meat eaters and vegetarians alike.

While the Avenue Grill relegates almost all of its vegetarian offerings to a separate menu, it doesn't appear to put any less thought or effort into its vegetarian fare. I'm reluctant to order sautéed vegetable sandwiches at restaurants, after encountering one too many unappetizing heaps of greasy vegetable chunks. Too often, these sandwiches seem to be created with the goal of getting a vegetarian option on the menu, rather than creating a flavorful and interesting meal. The Avenue Grill's Sautéed Vegetable Lavosh sandwich, with its warm chevre cheese and colorful blend of thinly sliced and grilled vegetables stacked between slices of sesame flat bread, was a pleasant exception to this trend. The fresh-cut fries which accompanied the sandwich were perfect.

I also enjoyed the Crispy Butternut Squash Ravioli, served with a soy ginger sauce and accompanied by red mashed potatoes and a fennel-artichoke salad. I'd like to try the Avenue Grill's Wild Mushroom and Chevre Ravioli, but unfortunately they are served with beef rib eye steak tips on the restaurant's standard lunch and dinner menus, and are not yet offered on the vegetarian menu.

If you can, save room for the Jack Daniel's Chocolate Bread Pudding. I'm not a bread pudding fan, but this was amazing. The Chilled Belgian Chocolate Cake, a dense and intensely chocolatey creation, is also very good.

Service at the Avenue Grill, while friendly, can be a little slow. Give yourself a little extra time if you need to be somewhere after your meal.

The Avenue Grill is a Colorado Proud restaurant, which means it uses local agricultural products whenever possible.

The Avenue Grill
630 E. 17th Ave
Denver, CO 80203

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Give (Fresh) Beets a Chance

A grad school friend of mine loved pickled beets so much that she would munch from an open jar as she walked home from the grocery store. While I sometimes snack on chips or candy on my way home from the store, I've never had this tendency with pickled beets. In fact, I think canned beets taste awful. For years, I assumed that I would feel the same way about beets in any form. However, after encountering a surprisingly good bowl of ginger beet soup, I began to wonder whether beets might deserve a second chance. Fresh beets, that is.

Fresh beets are really two vegetables in one. Of course, there is the root, which may be best known in its pickled, sliced and canned form. Roasting helps soften beet roots' earthy tones, and enhances their natural sweetness. Roasting is also the best way to preserve the nutrients in the beet root, which include folate, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Recent studies have found that beet juice may help lower blood pressure.

Although beet roots are packed with nutrients, beet leaves are actually the most nutritious part of the plant. They contain vitamins A, B-6 and C, as well as potassium and iron. Beet leaves are cooked in the same manner as kale or swiss chard, and can be substituted for those greens in recipes.

While my dislike of canned beets has not changed, I now enjoy cooked beet greens, and salads containing roasted beets. When you see fresh beets at the farmer's market this summer, don't pass them by. Give fresh beets a chance.

Ginger Beet Salad

Oranges and ginger compliment the natural sweetness of roasted beets. While I'm not sure I'd attempt to eat this salad while walking down the street, like my Beet Queen friend from grad school, I have to admit that I've found myself snacking on it throughout the day.

Use small to medium sized beets in this recipe. The beets that I used were small enough that I could roast them in my toaster oven, instead of heating up the big old standard oven.


3 medium sized beets, scrubbed
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon orange rind
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
two oranges, peeled and chopped, and juice reserved
red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Trim all but the last inch of the beet stems, and remove any dangling roots. Reserve the beet greens for use in another dish.
Wrap each beet in aluminum foil.
Bake the beets until they are easily pierced by a fork, 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes. (Smaller beets may be done sooner - check each beet individually).
Unwrap and cool the beets.
Working over a bowl in the sink, slice each beet in half, and slip off the skin. You might want to wear an apron or old shirt at this stage, as the beet juice could stain your clothing.
Cube or slice the beets, and place them in a bowl.
Add the ginger, orange rind and salt, and toss to coat.
Stir in the orange, reserved orange juice, and red wine vinegar to taste.

Serves 4 as a side dish, or as a light meal when paired with fresh bread and goat cheese.

Beet Greens with Chickpeas and Tomatoes

This colorful dish uses both beet greens and beet stems. Serve over couscous.


Stems and leaves from 3 beets (approx 4 cups when washed and trimmed)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Rinse beet greens in repeated water baths, until the water is no longer sandy.
Separate the stems from the leaves.
Tear the green portion of the leaves from the center veins. Set the veins aside. Cut the leaves into 1 inch pieces.
Chop the stems and veins into 1/2 inch long pieces, and set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.
Add the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté 5 minutes, until the onion and garlic are translucent.
Add the beet stems and veins, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 4 minutes.
Stir in the leaves, chickpeas and tomatoes. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Serves 4.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Passage to India

Many vegetarian cookbooks feature a vegetable or chickpea dish with Indian influences, made from ingredients you can buy at the neighborhood market or health food store. But in order to create an authentic Indian dish,* it helps to have an Indian cookbook, and to visit an Indian grocery.

My exploration of Indian cooking has been guided by Maya Kaimal’s cookbook, Savoring the Spice Coast of India. With a helpful glossary of South Indian ingredients, simple recipes, and beautiful photographs, this book makes it easy to create delicious Indian dishes in your own kitchen. Although not exclusively vegetarian (of the 8 chapters, one is devoted to fish, and another is devoted to chicken, eggs and beef), most of the recipes are meatless. My one complaint is that the sole samosa recipe is meat-based.

In visiting Indian groceries to buy ingredients for these recipes, I have encountered dhal in a multitude of colors and sizes. The word “dhal” encompass a broad array of dried legumes used in Indian cooking. Because there so many different kinds of dhal, it helps to write down the specific type that your recipe requires before heading to the store.

Indian groceries also stock a variety of spices, including cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek seed, star anise, tumeric, and black and brown mustard seeds (the milder yellow mustard seeds are not used in India).

Ghee is form of clarified butter, but you won't find it in the refrigerated section of an Indian grocery store. Ghee is made by simmering butter until all of the moisture evaporates. It can kept at room temperature for extended periods, so long as it is tightly sealed and does not contain any moisture. Ghee is composed almost entirely of saturated fat, so I generally use canola oil or sesame oil in its place when preparing Indian food. If you choose to use ghee, Maya Saimal recommends making your own, and provides a recipe in her cookbook.

Curry leaves are used to flavor a number of South Indian dishes, and were a staple at Indian grocery stores until a recent (and hopefully temporary) ban on the leaves. As long as this ban is in effect, the best source of curry leaves may be a home grown curry leaf plant (murraya koenigii). Curry leaves do not have any relation to curry powder.

Papadum is a thin wafer made from legumes. If you've ever visited an Indian restaurant, you probably received a complimentary basket of papadum before the start of your meal. You can buy packaged papadum -- in flavors including plain, cumin, black pepper, and green chili -- at Indian groceries. Just as store-bought tortillas should be heated before they are served, store-bought papadum should be roasted in a hot skillet, turning occasionally, until it is covered with bubbles, and then cooled before being eaten.

I recently visited three Denver-area Indian groceries: Indus Imports, World Bazaar, and Star Bazaar.

Indus Imports
3020 W. Mississippi
Denver, CO

Indus Imports is located just west of the intersection of West Mississippi and Federal Boulevard, in a neighborhood predominated by Vietnamese restaurants and Mexican grocery stores. Although it was the smallest of the three groceries I visited, Indus Imports was well stocked, with a variety of dhal and spices. Like the other two stores, Indus Imports also carries an array of rices, prepared foods (including papadum), curry pastes, chutneys, relishes and sauces, as well as some frozen and refrigerated foods, such as paneer. Indus Imports has a small selection of fresh fruits and vegetables.

World Food Bazaar
242 N. Havana
(North of First Avenue on Havana)
Aurora, CO

I missed World Food Bazaar on my first pass, as the storefront does not face the street, and the grocery sits behind Massa Auto Pawn. The largest of the three stores that I visited, World Food Bazaar had the biggest selection of products, and slightly higher prices. In addition to Indian imports, World Food Bazaar carries groceries from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. World Food Bazaar carries some fresh vegetables but does not appear to carry fresh fruits, although it had an extensive selection of dried fruits. A refrigerated case at the front of the store holds a variety of ready to eat sweets.

Star Bazaar
3102 S. Parker Road
Aurora, CO

Star Bazaar is located in a strip-mall on the northeast corner of the intersection of South Parker and Dartmouth. It carries a comprehensive assortment of groceries, and its selection of frozen foods appeared to be more extensive than Indus Imports’. Star Bazaar also stocks fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh chilies.

*Authentic, from this non-Indian, midwesterner’s perspective, means “like something I’ve eaten in an Indian restaurant.”

Bengali Spinach

This recipe requires some advance work, but it's minimal: the frozen spinach needs to be thawed, and the raw almonds need to be soaked overnight (soaking releases the enzymes and makes the almonds easier to digest -- to learn more, go here).

If you prefer to use fresh spinach, you will need two pounds, trimmed, washed and coarsely chopped. If you are using fresh spinach, you can omit the step in which the frozen spinach is pureed in the food processor.

I wash and freeze my ginger as soon as I bring it home from the store. This makes it easier to grate, and allows it to keep for a longer period of time.


2/3 cup raw almonds
2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons sesame oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger root
1 teaspoon seeded and minced green chilies (serrano or thai chilies will work, but not jalapeños)
2 10 oz packages frozen spinach, thawed and pressed dry
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons table cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

The night before:

Thaw the spinach. Soak the almonds overnight in two cups warm water.

The day of your meal:

Drain the almonds. Remove and discard the skins, then rinse the almonds. Store the soaked almonds the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

Puree the spinach in a food processor.

Heat the oil and mustard seeds in a covered 5 quart nonstick pan over medium heat. The mustard seeds will pop as they heat; keep the pan covered until the mustard seeds have stopped popping.

Once the mustard seeds have stopped popping, uncover the pan and add the sugar, fenugreek seed, and cumin seed. Fry, stirring constantly, until the sugar carmelizes and the seeds darken (about one to two minutes).

Stir in the ginger, chilies, spinach, nuts, coconut and salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, uncover the pan and stir, so that the spinach cooks evenly. Add 1/4 cup water if necessary, and cook for another 10 minutes.

Stir in the cream and nutmeg and heat for 1 to 2 more minutes. Serve over basmati rice.

Serves 4.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

In Which Beatrice Takes Tea

Green, black or herbal, loose leaf or bagged - I drink tea every day. However, before my visit to the Brown Palace Hotel, Tea was something that I had only read about in books.

Tea at the Brown Palace Hotel is served in the lobby, under an awesome stained glass ceiling. Each person selects a pot of tea from a list of organic teas, tisanes, black teas and green teas. Tea-goers then choose between the classic tea (classic tea pastries, scones, and tea sandwiches), the Chocolate Sensation tea (chocolate tea pastries, scones, and tea sandwiches) and the Royale Palace Tea (a combination of classic and chocolate pastries, scones and tea sandwiches, also served with Kir Royale). Wine (including champagne, sherry and port) is also available.

Although each tea-goer makes his or her own selection, Tea is served from a three teired stand placed in the center of the table, with plain and butterscotch scones on the bottom, crustless tea sandwiches in the middle, and bite-sized pastries on top. This was the first dining experience that I can remember where sugar substitutes were not on the table; instead, our table held a bowl of white and brown sugar cubes. Clotted cream and strawberry jam are provided for spreading on the scones.

Our party was split evenly between the classic and chocolate tea pastries, and so we got to sample some of each. The classic pastries included tiny mango tarts topped with key lime icing and a white-chocolate leaf, biscotti, and a creamy berry mousse served on a thin bed of phyllo dough. The chocolate pastries included chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate mousse layered between thin pieces of chocolate, and small squares of cheesecake topped with tiny chocolate mice (or rabbits?) with almond ears.

Generally, the Brown Palace serves a mixture of meat and cucumber tea sandwiches. However, our server provided a plate of additional cucumber sandwiches when she learned that I was vegetarian. While I would not want to dine on cucumber sandwiches alone, the tea sandwiches, scones and pastries were a very satisfying combination. Although I had always assumed that Tea would be a light afternoon refreshment, this was filling enough to be a meal.

In spite of the formal atmosphere, the Tea was surprisingly relaxing. There is something about the tiny hand-crafted pastries, warm tea and live piano music playing softly in the background that slows down time, at least for a little while.

Although I was worried about showing for Tea in pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, casual dress appears to be acceptable. However, the price ($27 per person for the classic Tea, $29 for Chocolate Sensation Tea, and $32 for the Royale Palace Tea) makes this something I would do only on special occasions.

The Brown Palace Hotel

321 17th Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

Friday, April 4, 2008

Budapest Bistro

From time to time, I crave the Hungarian dishes my grandma prepared when I was young. However, Grandma's cooking was meat-based, and vegetarian recipes for Hungarian food take some determination to find. Over the years, I've improvised a vegetarian dumpling soup using my grandma's dumpling recipe, learned to make mushroom paprikás from a recipe in the wonderful Olive Trees and Honey cookbook, and dined on cabbage rolls just like Grandma made (but without the meat) at a Ukranian restaurant in New York City. But until this weekend, I had never been to a Hungarian restaurant that served vegetarian food.

Budapest Bistro is tucked between shops on Old South Pearl. Its website promised home-style Hungarian cooking, but the fare is more what I would describe as modern Hungarian cuisine. For example, Budapest Bistro's cucumber salad takes the thinly sliced and marinated cucumbers that my family would eat as a side dish and sprinkles them over a small plate of mixed greens, along with thin slivers of red onion. The salad is then topped with a creamy tarragon dressing and a dusting of paprika. While definitely not the cucumber salad that my grandma would serve, it was an interesting way to update a Hungarian classic, and perhaps more palatable to people who haven't grown up eating the vinegary mix of cucumber and onion.

For an entree, I had spicy mushroom paprikás served over a mound of tiny spaetzle dumplings. While the mushroom paprikás I've made at home relies heavily on red bell pepper, in addition to paprika, the mushroom paprikás at Budapest Bistro was made with a blend of chopped mushrooms and onions, and a fiery sour cream paprika sauce. It was very good, and I expect that I'll be back to have it again -- and to try the breaded cauliflower.

Budapest Bistro's website indicates that the restaurant is family owned, and that owner/chef Anna Hellvig grew up in Hungary. The restaurant, which looks appropriately Hungarian with its red and white interior and embroidered tablecloths, was busy. The service was friendly and efficient.

Budapest Bistro

1585 S. Pearl St.
Denver, CO 80210
(303) 744-2520