Toronto Vegan Weekend

Originally posted in late August 2010.

Eating (almost) completely vegan for an entire weekend was not as difficult as I thought it would be. At all. Of course, I cheated, by sneaking in my obligatory fill of cheese from time to time, but overall, the food was delicious, healthy and diverse during a recent trip to Toronto. My gracious hosts, both being vegan, greeted us on the opening night of the trip with an interactive soup-making adventure and the vegan fun didn’t stop there! We were delighted with vegan muffins, pizza, Asian cuisine, and finally… the infamous vegan cupcakes. Luckily I snapped some great shots of the great vegan eats, and also, my cheats!

The soup started off being a greens-based puree soup from a vegan cookbook, perfect for clearing out your fridge of any leafy green vegetables that are on their last leg. We chopped up our onion, celery and carrot for a bit of a base along with the vegetable stock, as well as cashews for a rich taste and texture. We then added our Swiss chard as a favourite green, some freshly chopped parsley, and both garlic and fresh ginger for a kick. After the first round of soup spoon dips we were in agreement that our deep green puree concoction was missing something. This elusive miracle ingredient wasn’t quite making itself apparent, so we started adding a variety of spices and seasonings, eventually deciding unanimously that paprika, red pepper flakes, and some cayenne might kick it up a notch. This helped our dear soup somewhat, however, the end product, basically consisting of nuts, fresh herbs, garlic and vegetables pretty closely resembled a pesto. We heated some Ace Bakery organic baguette with melted Earth Balance (vegan buttery spread) and dipped it in our pesto-like soup happily. The crispy buttery bread and thick puree soup combination turned out to be delicious. We also cracked the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc which as usual, was perfect.

A quick mention on the trip to a vegetarian and vegan emphasized pizza place, Magic Oven, where I cheated by indulging in mozza on my “Abby’s Magic” pizza (the menu was very magical –¬†www.magicoven.com). This marked the first time I had experienced having tofu, as well as beets, on pizza. I was happy with both items and would indeed order them again. If there were gluten-free, multigrain, healthy, organic and vegetarian pizza options like this available in Halifax (and delivery) I would definitely be kicking up my pizza ordering habits a few notches. Sadly I didn’t get any photos at this spot.

Skipping ahead to a very successful trip we made to a very successful vegan chain restaurant: The Loving Hut. This fast-growing franchise started in Toronto and is now spreading through our great land. (www.lovinghut.ca) The prices were amazingly decent, even cheaper than a non-vegan restaurant, service was friendly, company was delightful and the food tasted great.

Being a party of three, starving, and girls, naturally we decided to order several dishes and share them all. Starting off was a mango salad with crumbled peanut, thinly sliced red bell peppers, green onion and fresh cilantro. Simply, tasty and fresh. Not to mention healthy.

Second up – and I’ll admit I pushed this one to fill my grease craving (we may have indulged in some more of that Kim Crawford the previous night) – we opted for deep fried tofu. Being inexperienced in the ways of deep fried tofu, I was not expecting the dish to be as texturally satisfying and flavourful as it was. This is a new absolute favourite. The tofu crisps up perfectly while the inside stays creamy and light. Our server brought out extra hot sauce for this if the dish wasn’t spicy enough – the golden chunks were lightly covered in a spicy seasoning – almost enough to warrant not touching the additional sauce, however, my curiosity got the better of me.

For our shared main dishes, we selected the green Thai curry, and Singapore Star. The curry dish was prepare almost completely traditionally, save for the vegan substitute of some sort of faux beef. I loved it. The sauce was creamy, hot and rich with coconut flavour. The vegetables were perfectly crispy. I am not sure what the actual name for this item is, as I need to invest some more time in my vegan product research! This was accompanied with steamed brown rice.

The Singapore Star is essentially a spicy noodle dish made with vermicelli rice noodles, stir-fried with crispy vegetables, what I believe is seitan (the brown strips) and fake vegan shrimp on top (convincing huh?). This plate packed a lot of heat, consisted of several great textures, and tasted great. I enjoyed the taste and texture of both vegan products designed to take the place of the proteins in the dish.

We did order a beautiful, creamy vegan chocolate “cheesecake” for dessert, however, I did not get a chance to snap a photo of this before we attacked it with our adorable small spoons. Sigh.

Lastly, as a highlight of my vegan weekend, the S’mores Cupcakes which were skillfully prepared by my generous hosts. The moist texture of the chocolate cupcake was incredible, topped with a rich and creamy icing, sprinkled with homemade vegan graham cracker crumbs, a piece of graham cracker, and of course specialty vegan marshmallows. Incredible. These were fun and tasty. The marshmallows are one of the only things I have to say that it is hard to substitute the animal product in, and accomplish the same texture. Still, a beautiful and creative dessert, which I was very happy to both taste, and witness the construction!

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