A Little Word on the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival

The New Bite

Vendors gathered to promote the best vegetarian and vegan products on the market, and serve up a variety of delicious samples.

The Boston Vegetarian Food Festival is the longest-running event of its kind in the country, and it was back this weekend for a tremendous celebration of natural living.

Hundreds of exhibitors met to promote their products or ideas for living a healthy, plant-based lifestyle. Vegan and vegetarian cookbooks were onsale next to samples of toasted hemp seeds, alongside representatives from the Humane Society of  Massachusetts.

Taft Foodmasters offered bites of Vegan Seitan Gyros, with a delicious “Soytziki” sauce with dill, cucumber, and garlic. Seitan is an alternative to soy, that is commonly known as “meat of wheat.” It is a whole-gluten product, and is a great vegan meat-substitute. The Seitan Gyro came with tomato and onion, and demonstrated a creative way to make high protein meals that are high flavor and creative.

A wide variety of other meat substitutes were available for sampling and purchasing, including the Creative Chef Tofettes, which came in unique flavors, three of which were gluten-free. The May Wah Vegarian Market displayed their inventory, and Gardein’s Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick’n was very flavorable.

All-vegetarian diner Veggie Galaxy was serving up a variety of flatbreads, and I grabbed a slice of Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion with Rosemary, Sage, and Daiya Soy Mozzarella. The rich, autumnal flavors were a perfect example of the many ways that vegetarian food can be tasty and satisfying.

Chefs and vendors were excited to share their products and talk about their role in the vegetarian/vegan community. The team from local Boston restaurant Veggie Galaxy was no exception.

There were a lot of buzz-words at the festival – NON-GMO, vegan, dairy-free, raw, cruelty-free, were all represented and discussed. The Boston Vegetarian Society pulled together an exciting event that drew tens of thousands in order to educate and share information on these topics. The venue was jam packed, and it was amazing to see how many people were eager to connect with others who shared the same passion for natural, green lifestyles.

The Boston Vegetarian Food Festival was a remarkable demonstration of the drive and excitement fueling the health and lifestyle reform sweeping our nation. People are excited about vegetarian foods, about natural foods, about bettering ourselves and our environment. As I sipped a Vanilla Chai VegaONE Nutrition Shake, I looked at hemp-based  clothing and books printed with vegetable-based ink.

The message promoted by the festival was comprehensive, and not limited to vegetarian foods. There are so many small ways to make a difference for your personal health, your family’s health, your community and the world at large.

1. Drink Tap Water – The festival had a water fountain, to encourage the use of this free, healthy supply and minimize the waste created by bottled water.

2. Buy Local – Support your community by purchasing from local farms and vendors.

3. Try More Greens – Even if you’re not ready to go completely vegetarian or vegan, a plant-based diet is a wonderful way to support a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

4. NON-GMO – Avoid products made with genetically modified ingredients.

5. Cruelty-Free – Adopt practices that prevent the mistreatment of animals, via animal testing or other harmful practices.

These are just a handful of tips that visitors, including myself, picked up from the festival. To learn more, head to bostonveg.org.

A huge thanks to the Boston Vegetarian Society, all of the vendors who contributed to the event, and to all the visitors who took the time to participate in this year’s incredible event.

Melanie

Kaleidoscope Chard Salad with Rice and Toasted Garbanzos – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite, The New Bite

This gorgeous leafy green brightens up any salad with its colorful stems, and imparts a complementary bitterness.

Create Your Own Bite #13

For Kaleidoscope Chard Salad (1 serving):

1 Tsp Canola Oil

Salt and Pepper, To Taste

Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

1 Clove Garlic, Minced

2 Cups Chopped Kaleidoscope Chard

1/4 Cup Brown Rice, Dry

1 Tbs Dried Cranberries (Optional)

1 Tbs Crumbled Fat Free Feta (Optional)

For Honey Lemon Vinaigrette (3 servings):

1 Tsp Canola Oil

Salt and Pepper, To Taste

Zest of 1/2 Lemon

1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

1 Tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

1 Tbs Water

1 Tsp Honey Mustard

1/2 Tsp Splenda or Agave

For Toasted Chickpeas (2 servings): 

1 Clove Garlic, Minced

1/2 Cup Chickpeas, Rinsed

1 Tsp Canola Oil

Pinch of Salt

Estimated Calories: 300 (Or 260 without Cranberries and Feta)

At Trader Joes the other day, I happened upon a huge bag of Kaleidoscope Chard that I just couldn’t resist.  Chard is a slightly bitter, leafy green that comes in a variety of stem colors. When mixed, you get Rainbow, or Kaleidoscope Chard. Packed with Vitamin A, C, and K, this green makes a great substitute for lettuce. It can be eaten raw, but breaks down fabulously when sauteed.

With this dish I played with textures, and tried out another homeamde dressing recipe. This might have been a “dining-for-one” moment, but next time, I’d recruit a friend. The salad recipe could easily be doubled, and there’s more than enough chickpeas and dressing for two.

Start by preparing your chickpeas, as they’ll take the longest to cook. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees, while you drain and rinse a can of chickpeas. I used half, approximately one cup, and put aside the rest for another dish (tonight’s dinner, a Beet and Bean Burger). Simply pat the chickpeas with papertowel until dry, and toss in the oil, minced garlic, and salt. Roast for 30-45 minutes, or until crispy. Keep a close eye on the chickpeas in the last fifteen minutes, as they can burn easily.

Both the chickpeas and the garlic should be brown and crispy, bringing a satisfying crunch to every bite of salad.

While your chickpeas are roasting, start cooking your rice, and preparing the vinaigrette. For the dressing, zest the lemon first, before halving it and squeezing out the juice. One large lemon makes approximately a quarter cup. Whisk the vinegar, water, and oil together until all the liquids have been combined. Add in the salt, pepper, and honey mustard last. Here, you can adjust the flavors until the vinaigrette is the perfect balance of sweet and tangy.

Set aside your dressing and allow the flavors to develop while you pull together the rest of the ingredients. Remember to check your chickpeas occasionally as you move on to the chard-portion of the dish.

In a pan, heat your oil, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Wait until the garlic is golden brown, to ensure that the flavors have diffused into the oil. Add your chard, and stir, until the leaves are wilted and the stems are just beginning to soften. Add some fresh cracked black pepper and salt and take the chard off the heat.

Chard makes a beautiful addition to any dish, and works as a substitute for spinach, kale, or other leafy greens.

Take your garbanzo beans out of the oven and allow the rice to cool, before tossing them with your chard. Here, use only half of the garbanzo beans. Garbanzo beans are packed with protein, but they’re also high in calories.  Too many can undo this otherwise light and healthy dish.

Top your salad with fat free crumbled feta and dried cranberries. The creaminess of the feta, the chew from the cranberries and the crunch from the garbanzo beans make this dish a medley of satisfying flavors and textures. A wonderful balance of salty, creamy, sweet and nutty. One third of the honey lemon vinaigrette drizzled on top adds an additional tang to every bite.

This was my favorite, but just one of many dishes I’ve whipped up since making my colorful purchase.

At top, Sauteed Beets, Chard and Onion over Creamy Feta Polenta. At bottom, Indian-Spiced Chard with Browned Tofu.

For either of the above recipes, Write me, Bite me. Until next time, I’m off to find a delicious new bite.

Melanie

Where to Bite, and Listen – The Beehive [Boston, MA]

Where to Bite

Fun, dynamic dishes like the Mezze Platter, are a perfect counterpart to the trendy bar scene and live jazz music at The Beehive.

After dining at The Beehive, in Boston’s very trendy South End, I knew I had to share about it for my next Where to Bite. It’s not the kind of restaurant I’d typically write about – the vegetarian options were limited, and the menu was big on fried potatoes and cheese.

But The Beehive was about way more than just food – it’s an experience I’d recommend to any foodie or music lover. This ecclectic spot has a lively bar scene, a diverse menu, and features live jazz music every day of the week. My best friend Heather’s birthday was the perfect occasion to try out this highly touted spot, which I first heard of on the Food Network  – a trend, I suspose , as that’s how I discovered Deuxave, too.

beehiveboston.com

Sunflower seeds bring texture and protein to this light, seasonal salad.

Recommended Dishes: Heather and I started our evening with the Mezze Platter Deluxe. This plate, pictured above, is a huge array of Mediterranean salads and spreads – in addition to the standard hummus and baba ganoush, the Mezze Platter came with Muhammara, a roasted red pepper dip, carrot puree, a beet salad, a sweet English pea spread and a whipped jalapeno feta. Greek olives, pickles, sweet roasted peppers and toasted chick peas accompanied the spreads, as well as slices of toasted pita. All vegetarian, and vegan without the feta, this is an ideal dish for sharing.

The Not-So-Good Bite: It’s not uncommon, but the menu at The Beehive definitely features heavier dishes. Here, you can begin your evening with truffled potato and cheese pierogies, have a chicken schnitzel entree, and follow it with a side of cheese and gravy fries. The menu’s unique culinary perspective is ethnic comfort food – Morocco, Germany, France, and the good old United States are strongly represented. But as is usually the case with comfort food, the soul – not the body – is the primary consideration. Portions are large, and there’s plenty of cheese. Heather and I had appetizers as entrees, and were more than satisfied. Try this, or splitting a main with a friend, to keep things light.

The Good Bite: There’s something for everyone. With The Beehive, there’s no reason to have the pre-dinner argument about what type of food to get. There’s something for everyone, at least once. The Market Salad appetizer with local lettuces, artichokes, tomatoes, green beans, shaved fennel and a generous pile of sunflower seeds made for a satisfying and healthy dinner. Other vegetarian option include the Vegetarian Morroccan Couscous, Farm Fresh Eggplant and Spinach Parmesan, and the Frisee Salad (hold the duck bacon).

The Best Bite: For three hours, Heather and I sipped signature Beehive cocktails, tried to decide on our favorite Mediterranean spread, and listened to live jazz music. After the Dinner Jazz Set, Sinclair Jennings with the Abs took the stage. We watched the performance from our exceptional balcony seat, where we could watch clips from silent movies projected onto a brick wall. The atmosphere and the live music means, no matter what cuisine your craving, The Beehive is a must-do.

A priceless seat, funky jazz music, and good food made for a fabulous night out.

Make the trip to The Beehive for a meal worth splurging on. Eat something a little too comforting, spend a little too much time, and maybe spend a little bit too much – nothing is overly excessive, and everything is worth it.

Until next time, I’m off to bite, and listen to, another new bite.

Best,

Melanie

A Little Word on the Boston Local Food Festival

Create Your Own Bite, The New Bite, Where to Bite

Bringing local foods to the community supports the economy, and healthful eating habits. This is the message carried by those involved with the Boston Local Food Festival.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway today was flooded with 40,000 vendors, chefs, exhibitors, and local participants, all gathered to share and support local products and sustainable living. Now in its third year, the Boston Local Food Festival is a zero-waste event dedicated to building the local economy and feeding a healthier community. Developed by the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts, its primary goal is to share the virtues of eating local products, of minimizing waste, and of increasing the accesibility of healthy, local food to all socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages.

Chef Demonstrations, such as the one by Chef Josh Lewin of Beacon Hill Bistro, taught viewers how to harvest local ingredients for their plate (Goosefoot, for example, is a weed that grows in abundance in Massachusetts, and makes a great sustainable substitute for spinach – the sample Lewin brought in was picked right off of Beacon St.) Lewin was also serving up a beautiful crab apple and parsnip soup for lunch, indicative of his restaurant’s focus on local foods and vegetarian options.

Katrina Kazda, Managing Director of SBN, commented on the value of the demonstrations. “…Learning valuable take home skills can have a longer lasting impact,” she said, rather than simply tasting and purchasing local produce.

Specialty vendors gathered to share their goods, and many offered delectable samples. I was blown away by a variety of gluten-free and vegan macaroons by the very recently launched Arzi Foods. Their organic sweets were full of flavor, and good-for-you raw ingredients I couldn’t wait to share. My roommate and I love the natural coconut-based Organic Cashew and Caco Nib CocoBonbons I had the privilege of bringing home.

These gluten-free, raw, vegan treats from Arzi Foods are packed with nutrients and delicious flavors.

In a DIY demonstration, nutritionist and food writer PK Newby shared the secrets to making healthy salad dressings. Her Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with dried cranberries, roasted onions, mixed greens, used a housemade Maple Dijon Vinaigrette, and showcased local, seasonal ingredients.

Newby had a lot of helpful tips for leading a healthy lifestyle, while supporting local producers and without sacrificing any flavor. With her blog, The Nutrition Doctor is in the Kitchen, Newby is sharing advice on nutrition, fitness, weight management – all backed by science. Her recipes are health-conscious, and, as I tasted at the demonstration, delicious. So good, I went home and made the squash salad for dinner using her recipe for a homemade dressing. Because you’re controlling the ingredients, you can keep down the levels of sodium and sugar. “Convenience is a big thing,” Newby admitted. “We all want food to be convenient.” But, as she goes on to explain, taking the time to gather your unprocessed ingredients is healthier, and better for the local community.

This delicious salad features one of fall’s favorite ingredients, butternut squash, and is dressed with a housemade Maple Dijon Vinaigrette – high in healthy fatty acids, with no added sugar and preservative-free, this dressing adds intense flavor to any dish.

The day focused on sharing delicious, good-for-you foods, while local artists provided a vibrant musical backdrop. Farmers and artisans from across New England came to display their foods, and local companies came to share their message. The Boston Vegetarian Society attended to raise awareness for their own food festival, occurring at the end of October. City Feed and Supply came to sell their local foods and groceries, and Ocean Approved was serving up delicious, gluten-free kale slaw from one of their first winter harvests. Compost initiatives, green energy, and health education were also promoted at the festival.

As festival volunteer Angela Dewar said, “It’s so easy to make a small difference…it impacts everyone else.” Whether you’re supporting your local farmer by buying his or her tomato, rather than a tomato from Shaws, (an example offered by Glenn Gobeille of Associated Buyers) or minimizing the impact you have on the environment by chosing a plant-based diet, (another word of advice from PK Newby), there are a dozen and more small life choices you can make every day to help build a sustainable, healthy community.

Until next time, I’d like to thank PK Newby, Arzi Foods, Josh Lewin from Beacon Hill Bistro, Glenn Gobeille from Associated Buyers, Whitney with City Feed, Katrina Kazda from SBN and everyone else who took the time to speak with me today.

To read my full article recapping the event, click here!

And of course, a thank you to the Sustainable Business Network, for developing this zero-waste festival and sharing their vision for “Healthy Local Food for All.” Because that’s just about the best bite of all.

Melanie

Crispy Polenta with Zesty Peach Corn Salsa – CYOB [A Double-Dip Day]

A Little Double Dipping, Create Your Own Bite

The sweet, creamy texture of the polenta in this dish is in perfect contrast to the zesty, crunchy salsa. The bright flavors on this plate can make it feel like summer any time of year.

Create Your Own Bite #12

Crispy Polenta with Zesty Peach Salsa

For the Polenta: 

1/4 Cup of Polenta-Style or Fine Cornmeal

3/4 – 1 Cup of Water

1/4 Teaspoon Salt

1/4 Teaspoon Canola Oil

For the Salsa:

2 Medium Peaches, Peeled, Pitted and Chopped

1 1/2 Medium Beefsteak Tomatoes, Seeded and Chopped

1/2 Red Onion, Chopped

2 Tablespoons Green Chiles, Chopped

3 Tablespoons Fresh Corn Kernals

1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro Leaves, Chopped

1/8 Teaspoon Cumin

1/4 Lime, Squeezed

2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

1/8 Teaspoon Pepper

Salt, to taste

This recipe makes 1 serving of polenta [2 polenta cakes] and 6 servings of salsa [1/2 Cup]

Estimated Calories: 180

Yesterday, I left my apartment to buy a few ears of corn for today’s Little Word Bite, when I realized two very sad things: One, the weather is finally reflecting the season, and I need to dig up my scarves and sweaters. Two, because it’s no longer summer, it’s not easy to find fresh corn.

While it was more difficult than I was hoping it would be to gather my ingredients, I finally got all the components for my Crispy Polenta and Zesty Peach Corn Salsa – a true summer dish with which I will say sayonara to the season.

Get this dish ready by preparing all the ingredients for the salsa – because it’s such a small portion of cornmeal, the polenta will be a fairly quick process. Peel the peaches, seed the tomatoes, and chop them into very fine pieces. Then add the chopped onion, parsley, green chiles and whole kernal corn. Combine these ingredients in a bowl and let them rest while you ready the polenta. My salsa is very chunky – for a saucier, thinner salsa, feel free to bring out the food processor.

Meanwhile, start 3/4 cup of water boiling with the salt on the stove in a shallow saucepot. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat slightly and slowly add the cornmeal, stirring the whole time.

Polenta can be very tempermental – make sure to stir very frequently as the polenta cooks down.

Once most of the water has been absorbed, you can gauge whether or not you need the additional 1/4 cup of water. Stir the polenta until it begins to pull away from the side of the pot, approximately 5 minutes. For other polenta dishes, it would be here that you could add in a tablespoon or two of grated parmesan, butter, or milk. This will make the polenta creamier, and impart more flavor. But tonight, I’m keeping things vegan, and the flavor profile simple.

Pour the polenta into a shallow baking pan, and form it into a rectangle. This single portion will not fill an entire pan, but polenta cools quickly and can retain a shape. Make sure your polenta is about 1/2 inch thick all the way around. Pre-heat the oven and then let the polenta set for about ten minutes while you finish off the salsa.

Combine the cumin, salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar in with the salsa mixture. Stir until they have been fully incorporated. Finish off the salsa by squeezing 1/4 of a lime for the freshest juice. Make sure to squeeze flesh-side up, so that no seeds slip into the mix.

For a sweeter salsa, use Spanish onion instead of red, or green bell pepper instead of chiles. Ginger, garlic, and mint are other herbs that you can substitute for those listed. Feel free to play around, and always taste as you go!

Set aside the salsa to finish your polenta. Cut the block, which should now be firm and cool, into two equal squares. Brush the oil onto both sides of each block, and then put the polenta in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping the cakes halfway through. In about ten minutes, the polenta should have a crispy outer-layer and still be smooth and creamy inside.

Baking the polenta is a healthy way to add texture. If you have a mini George Foreman grill, or a grill plan, that’s another great way to crisp up the dish.

To plate, top your polenta-squares with half a cup of salsa. If you’re craving something a little richer, feel free to add a tablespoon or two of feta cheese or goat cheese – both work really well with the sweeter notes of the salsa, and add a creamy element to the dish.

This meal is crisp, bright, sweet, and zesty – all the notes of summer in one perfect bite. Now that I’ve had my fill, I’m finally ready to embrace fall. I’m taking the air conditioner out of my window, and packing away my sandals.

Until next summer, I’m off to find healthy, ambrosial autumn bites.

Melanie

A Little Word on Corn [A Double-Dip Day]

A Little Double Dipping, The New Bite

This sweet grain, when enjoyed in moderation, is a versatile way to add variety to a healthy diet.

As it has always been an abundant, cheap crop, corn has a legacy of sustenance throughout the history of civilization. “That which sustains life,” as it is known by Native Americans, has been a staple ingredient in many cultures.

After dining at Deuxave last week, I decided I wanted to learn more about corn, that sweet summertime grain with a vibrant history that’s had a tough time defending its reputation due to products like high fructose corn syrup.

Corn, when consumed in moderation and via healthy preparations, comes packed with fiber, potassium, and even protein. In fact, the levels of insoluble fiber are high enough to help aid with common digestive problems. The vibrant, yellow color of corn is also an indicator of the high levels of Vitamin A and C, as well as folic acid and carotenoids – powerful antioxidants linked to cancer prevention.

One concern with corn is that it is often mistaken for a vegetable, and thus indulged in as one. As a grain, corn is high in starch, calories, and carbohydrates – so be discerning when you’re consuming this product. It makes a wonderful meal-base because of these properties, but when it is mistaken for a sweet, buttery side (think creamed corn, or corn on the cob), it can have disastrous diet effects.

Besides simply preparing and eating the kernals, cornmeal is a wonderful byproduct of corn, made by grinding the kernals and removing the germ. Depending on the courseness or fineness of the grain, it can be used to make cornbread, pancakes, and a variety of other dishes, making it particularly useful for people leading a gluten-free lifestyle.

Bob’s Red Mill fine grain corn meal is perfect for polenta, and just one example of how corn can be more than a filler.

Polenta is one of those foods that I love to order, but have never wanted to take the time to make. Typically, when you order this cornmeal dish at a restaurant, it’s loaded with cheese or cream, sometimes even oil, and suddenly that tempting “healthy” side has a higher calorie and fat content than the main meal. That’s why I’ve decided to stay in and make this dish myself, forgoing the creamy extras and getting that extra flavor, instead, from a Zesty Peach and Corn Salsa.

Join me later when I say so-long to summer with these delicious corn recipes, all combined into one little bite.

Until then, I’m off to prepare another little bite!

Melanie