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Restaurateurs and vegan cooks in the D.C. region say a growing interest in plant-based cuisine is fueling new restaurants and menu offerings at eateries from fast-casual to fine dining. Customers range from avowed vegans — for environmental, animal rights or health reasons — to those who are simply “veg curious,” wondering what it’s all about. With the annual DC VegFest coming up on Saturday, we explore the rising popularity of vegan cuisine.
- Sara Polon Owner, Soupergirl
- Ellen Kassoff Gray Co-owner, Equinox restaurant; co-author, "The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes for Traditional Dishes" (St. Martin's Press, 2013)
- Doron Petersan Owner, Sticky Fingers Bakery; Author, "Sticky Fingers’ Sweets! 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes"
- Erica Meier Executive Director, Compassion Over Killing
Chef Todd Gray of Equinox in Washington, D.C. shared these vegan recipes from the book “The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes for Traditional Dishes” by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray, with David Hagedorn.
Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes Latkes
Makes six 5-inch latkes
– 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes
– 2 medium sweet potatoes
– 1 medium yellow onion
– 2 tablespoons flax seed mixed with 4 tablespoons water
– 1/2 cup matzo meal
– 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1/2 cup canola oil
for serving (optional):
Freshly grated horseradish, tofutti sour cream substitute, applesauce or fresh or frozen cherries
1.Grate the Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes on the large-mesh side of a box grater or in a food processor. With your hands, squeeze out any liquid and transfer the potatoes to a medium-sized bowl. 2. With the same grater, grate the onion into the bowl with the potatoes.
3. Add the flax seed mix (2 Tbs at a time check for consistency before using all of it), matzo meal, thyme, salt, and pepper. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix together until ingredients are well blended.
4. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
5. Heat a 12-inch nonstick sauté pan over high heat; add 1/4 cup of the oil and heat until it begins to smoke. Working in batches to cook 3 cakes at a time, shape the potato mixture into 5-inch round cakes about 1/2-inch thick, adding each to the pan as you do so.
6. Lower the heat to medium and cook the cakes without moving them until brown on 1 side—about 4 minutes; turn them over and cook until the other side is brown—about 4 minutes more.
7. Remove the cakes from the pan and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.
8. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1/4 cup oil in the pan and shape and cook the remaining potato mixture.
When the first batch of latkes has drained, transfer them to a serving plate and keep warm in the oven. Serve with the topping of your choice.
Caramelized Cauliflower with Almonds and Raisins
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted margarine
- 1 head cauliflower (or the equivalent mix of several heirloom varieties), cut into 1/2-inch florets
- 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the raisins in a small bowl. Add hot water to cover and set aside to soak for 1 hour. Drain in a mesh strainer.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and cook without stirring until caramelized on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes (the less the cauliflower moves in the pan, the more evenly it will caramelize).
3. Turn florets over and caramelize the other side in the same way, cooking until the cauliflower is crisp-tender and its edges are golden brown.
4. Add the raisins, almonds, parsley, salt, and pepper. Toss well to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you wish.
Tofu Curry With Mustard Greens
Bryant Terry created this recipe for DC Veg Fest, set for Sept. 20 at Yards Park.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world, it's "Food Wednesday" and the joint is jumping.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAt one time, finding vegetarian or vegan dishes on restaurant menus was a challenge. The choices were limited and waiters often cringed if you asked for meat or dairy free alternatives. But now that a growing number of people eat a plant based diet, foregoing meat and fish and sometimes dairy and eggs, too, for a variety of reasons, the restaurant world is adapting. Several local vegan restaurants are expanding and a national vegan chain is about to open for fast casual eatery's in our area.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAt the high end of the dining spectrum, white table cloth establishments are beginning to offer vegan dishes that go beyond simply filling the plate with the veggie's that are everyone else's side dish. But some people are still weary of a diet they equate with hippies and tofu. They have yet to see the appeal of a cupcake without eggs and butter or a meal without meat or cheese. With the 6th annual D.C. VegFest on tap this Saturday, we'll look at how a growing interest in vegan and vegetarian cuisine is affecting the local restaurant and food scene. And the joint is jumping in here today because we've got Sara Polon, owner of Soupergirl in studio. Sara Polon, thank you for joining us.
MS. SARA POLONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Ellen Kassoff Gray, co-owner of Equinox. Ellen, thank you for joining us.
MS. ELLEN KASSOFF GRAYPleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Erica Meier is executive director of Compassion Over Killing. Erica, thank you for joining us.
MS. ERICA MEIERThank you so much.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. Do you choose to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Erica, let's start with some definitions. What does it mean to eat a vegetarian diet and to eat a vegan diet?
MEIERWell, most people look at a vegan diet and the understanding is that this is a diet that is free of all animal foods. So it's dairy free, egg free, meat free. And a vegetarian diet is typically meat free and often the vegetarians will still eat dairy and eggs.
NNAMDIOkay. So that's the difference.
MEIERThat's the difference.
NNAMDIIn recent years, with the growing interest in farm to table cuisine, a lot of meat eaters and vegetarians alike are boosting their consumption of fresh produce. But all of you, each of you, has made a conscious choice to eat only plant based foods. Sara, I'll start with you, why?
POLONOh boy. Well, excuse me, when I started this business, I wanted to basically feed people responsibly. I wanted people to know where their food comes from. And when you talk about responsible eating, when you're talking about knowing the story of your food, and that's really my mantra, knowing the story of your food, when it comes down to it, you kind of have to go plant base because you want to know where your food's coming from, who picked it, who prepared it, how was packaged, how were the, you know, farmers treated, how are the laborers treated who made it?
POLONAnd then when you look at the industrial food movement of today and the meat industry, it's harder and harder to eat responsibly and have meat in your diet. And so I made that decision when I started the business and then for me, I, you know, eat what I make. So...
NNAMDIYou are in business with your mom?
NNAMDIAnd she -- it's my understanding is mostly a vegetarian?
NNAMDINow, Ellen, why?
GRAYYes. I started in the supply side of the industry. So I was a meat wholesaler, many years ago and saw, first hand, from production to plate, how our industry, the meat industry has had evolved and made a decision not to -- well, I haven't eaten meat or poultry in 20 years, Todd and I...
NNAMDITwenty-two to be precise.
GRAYRight. And Todd and I are domestic vegans. I do have a 15-year-old teenage son and so that conversation is a tough one with him. But we made a conscious decision when we opened our white table cloth, fine dining restaurant in 1999, 15 years ago, to always have vegan options available. And the high end dining sense, to follow along with our philosophy.
NNAMDIErica, for you, it started in high school.
MEIERYes. High school, I decided I wanted to be a vegetarian.
NNAMDIThat's where a lot of rebellion starts, isn't it.
MEIERI didn't know a single other vegetarian, it just felt like the right decision for me. I realized that there are other vegetarians out there in the world and eating animals always felt a little uncomfortable for me. So it was really about having a lighter conscious, to eliminate as much animal suffering from my diet as I could.
MEIERAnd then in college I discovered what factory farming really meant for chickens, in the egg industry, and dairy cows and I became vegan and I also learned, at the same time, that my, you know, my diet of eating plants is lighter for the environment with a lighter footprint and it also, you know, I felt more energetic within months of becoming vegan. And I lost a few pounds and felt more energetic. So it's had a lot of health benefits for me as well.
NNAMDIThere was a summer internship involved there at some point, in your life, wasn't there, at PETA?
MEIERYes, I -- it was in college and I decided that I wanted to learn more about what it, you know, what this organization, PETA, was, People For The Ethical Treatment...
MEIER...for Animals. I had only just learned about it. And I discovered people dedicate fulltime careers to helping animals. And at that moment, I knew, that that was the career path I wanted for myself and here I am today.
NNAMDIAnd we're off, in case you're just joining us, we're talking about putting vegan dishes on the menu. Erica Meier is executive director of Compassion Over Killing, she joins us in studio, along with Ellen Kassoff Gray, co-owner of Equinox and Sara Polon, owner of Soupergirl. You can call us at 800-433-8850, by the way, Soupergirl is spelled S-O-U-P-E-R-girl, 800-433-8850. What's your favorite vegan or vegetarian restaurant? Do you have trouble ordering vegan dishes at mainstream restaurants, 800-433-8850? You can send email to email@example.com or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDISara, tell us about Soupergirl. You and your mother started making vegan soups to sell online for delivery, six years ago. Now you have two stores, you've expanded into catering and your soup is sold in local whole food stores. Why vegan, why soup?
POLONWell, I guess, I'll start with soup. Soup is more than food. I find soup to be memory, it's comfortable, it's like -- it's almost like a hug from your mom but it's food. And basically we wanted to start a company that took my mother's style of cooking, which is just simple, not boring, but recognizable ingredients and then combine it with the local food movement. We wanted to cook seasonally, locally, healthfully, not use a lot of funky ingredients, you'll recognize everything on the ingredient list.
POLONAnd we wanted to make it convenient for people. And our goal was to start as green of a company as possible. We're still working towards that, we're not there yet but we're getting there. And we wanted to start as healthy of a company as possible. And a responsible company, a socially responsible company. We wanted to feel good about the food that we were putting out there and feeding people with. And, so, soup was a logical way to utilize all of the local produce in our area, 12 months out of the year. And in terms of being as green as possible and as healthy as possible, vegan was the obvious way to go.
POLONPeople don't want to talk about the fact that the easiest way to cut your carbon footprint is to eliminate meat or just reduce meat, you know, eating vegan is about as green as you can go. And when it turns to -- when it comes to lowering your carbon footprint. And it's working. We grew pretty quickly, you know, we opened us...
NNAMDIWho are your customers?
POLONOh boy. People who want convenient, healthy food. We have a lot of moms, the downtown store on -- it's on M Street, between 18th and 19th, gets a big downtown lunch crowd. So people who are looking for -- they don't want to sacrifice healthy eating when it comes to convenient. They need a fast lunch, they want to feel good about it, know it's cooked well. I've had customers lose 30 pounds by eating our soup. I had one customer who switched over to our soup for dinner every night and his cholesterol dropped 50 points. It's plant based, clean food. And people don't have time to cook it themselves.
POLONWith soup, you can get vegetables, protein, fiber, hydration, everything in one spoonful. It's -- and then when you add in the plant based aspect, you're making the healthiest food choice possible.
NNAMDIMore about that later. Ellen, at the high end of the restaurant spectrum, Equinox has been serving a vegan Sunday brunch at the Corcoran Gallery for a few years. Now, with the museum set to change owners, you move the brunch to Equinox. Who comes to your brunch? Are these die-hard vegans, die-hard fans of the chef, your husband, Todd Gray, they'll eat anything he makes?
GRAYA little bit of both. Actually, most of the people who come to our vegan brunch or order from our vegan tasting menus, which we offer every night are -- we've termed them, vegan curious. They are curious and then there's those who come because they love a vegan, have a relative who's a vegan, have a brother, a sister, a friend and they're always the one that go out to restaurants and feel bad because they have to tear apart a menu to get what they want.
GRAYAnd it sort of makes that uncomfortable moment at the table and they're getting glares from those servers or the, you know, they can feel the vibes from the kitchen. And this is a time where they can just sit down, order, be comfortable and not have to worry about recreating a dish for themselves.
NNAMDIWell, we have a lot more to talk about but there are, apparently, several of our listeners who would already like to join the conversation. So please don your headphones so you can hear them all. We will start with Kendall in Fairfax, Va. Kendall, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KENDALLHi Kojo, thanks so much for having this show.
KENDALLI tell you, you know, I've been vegetarian for over 20 years and it's next to -- it has been next to impossible to find, you know, vegetarian restaurants. I actually live in Manassas and they don't even know the word out there.
KENDALLYou know. Vegan, vege, what is that...
NNAMDIThey're listening, they're learning.
KENDALLYeah, I have to travel, you know, to place -- you know, to Fairfax, to like Sunflower Café and my favorite place in D.C., called Woodland's Bistro and there's another place in Rockville, Md., the Vegetable Garden. But it's very limited. You know, I travel to New York City a lot and vegetarian and vegan restaurants are on every block and I love it. And I was just out in San Diego, the same thing.
NNAMDIWell, we're expanding in this region and that's one of the reasons we're having this broadcast today, so keep listening for another, oh, 42 minutes or so and you'll hear a lot more.
KENDALLVery exciting, thanks so much.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Sara, neither you nor your mother has any formal culinary training. And your soups appeal to meat eaters and vegans alike. Describe some of the different soups, you've brought some along with you today and how home cooks can adapt their favorite soups to remove the meat, eggs and dairy.
POLONSure. Okay. So one of the things we do pride ourselves on is the fact that we didn't go to culinary school. So we don't know fancy cooking techniques, there's no foam, there's no -- actually go to Equinox and you'll see some amazing vegan cooking. We take it back to basics. Today I brought in some of our end of summer offers. We have...
NNAMDIChickpea sundried tomato.
POLONThat's a -- yeah. So we have three salads here. I have a kale, broccoli salad, broccoli is just coming into season and kale is the new black. So you can't go anywhere without kale. And then I have a roasted beat and barley salad. So those are some of our salad offerings. And then I have...
NNAMDIMiso-glazed broccoli, kale salad.
POLONYes, mm-hmm. That's health in a bowl, right there.
NNAMDIWell, the soup's -- what's fascinating me right now is the watermelon gazpacho.
POLONYeah, I consume, I would say, over the summer, about a gallon of that every two days. It's just local, seasonal produce pureed with some touches. But basically about soup, soup is very, very forgiving. So for the home cook who's trying to experiment, you can really play with soup. You -- the key is, to cook slowly. And that's one of the things -- I think, one of the reasons our product is growing a lot, the demand is growing, is that it takes time.
POLONYou need to, you know, take an evening, a Sunday evening and start cooking your onions slowly and your carrots slowly, and then add your spices and your herbs and just don't rush the process. Let the flavors come out. But if you discover it's too watery or if it's not flavorful enough, add some herbs, add -- play with it. And that's how, when you're trying to add more plants, more vegetables and even fruit, we have soups with fruit, into your diet, play with it. You know, create a black bean soup and throw in some corn and then, wow, right now at the market, you have corn and sweet potato. This is the best time of year at the market.
POLONSo maybe don't put in the beef. Try putting in some black beans and then throw in some seasonal produce and see what happens. It's soup. You can -- have fun with it and then the aromas will fill your house. It's a lot of fun.
NNAMDIEllen, in addition to the brunch that we mentioned earlier, Equinox has a vegan tasting menu at dinner. Is that common? Do most high-end chefs willingly accommodate vegan requests?
GRAYI do not see that very often when I dine out. I wouldn't say we're the only ones but we are definitely rare indeed in that we offer that. We've had everything from vegan Thanksgivings and New Years menus. And we're always trying to celebrate a plant-based diet everywhere we can. And the vegan tasting menus are very special because it gives people an opportunity to obviously dine vegan in the, you know, higher-end sense where they're getting a wine paired with each course. It's a five-, six-, ten-course meal, whatever they choose. And that it's celebratory and it's an experience.
NNAMDIWhat's on the vegan dinner menu at Equinox?
GRAYWell, right now we have a caramelized cauliflower which Todd has been sort of making -- mocking a risotto, which is very nice. We too have a grilled Saunders Brothers melon and moscato soup by the way. We have been playing with grilling avocados, which has been very nice, sort of mimicking that...
NNAMDICan't go wrong with avocados.
GRAYNo, you definitely can't go wrong with avocados. Our pastry chef has been really getting into the act too.
NNAMDIAnd he's Brazilian, isn't he?
GRAYHe -- exactly. And one of the interesting things is some of the cultures in our kitchen, which are not necessarily from the United States, getting them to sort of jump onboard and we do have a lot of people from the Latino culture. So we've dubbed another new term, nuevo -- or vegano latino nuevo.
NNAMDIYou've got a garlic confit?
GRAYWe do have a garlic confit. We also have a Vidalia onion and it's stuffed with...
NNAMDI...stuffed with cauliflower (unintelligible) ...
GRAYExactly. We're doing a roasted golden quinoa with grilled broccoli in it, which is coming out. So everybody's getting into the act.
NNAMDIStop, stop. I'm not going to make it through the hour if you keep talking like this.
GRAYA mango upside down.
NNAMDIErica, talk about the overall restaurant scene in this area. A number of ethnic eateries offer vegetarian and vegan foods. And the national chain Native Foods which serves all vegan fast casual food is coming to Washington, D.C. this month. Contrary to what our earlier caller said, is D.C. a good place to eat vegan these days?
MEIERD.C. is a wonderful place to eat vegan, and it just keeps getting better. And if you visit our website VegDC.com you can find hundreds and hundreds of restaurants, some of which are all vegetarian or all vegan, and others which are just -- they're expanding their menus because consumers are asking for more vegetarian and vegan options. And the restaurants are responding. You can go to Silver Diner, a place you wouldn't normally think of as vegan-friendly, and find phenomenal vegan meals on the menu and vegan milkshakes.
MEIERYou know, you can go to Bus Boys and Poets and they continue to add more and more plant-based options to their menu. So almost anyplace you go in the D.C. area you can find options available. They might not be as amazing as Equinox offers on their tasting menu, and it is -- something I think the D.C. area still needs to work on a bit is some of the higher-end restaurants catering to that demand for vegetarian and vegan food. But there are so many options available out there today. And we're going to be showcasing a lot of them at the D.C. Vegfest this Saturday.
GRAYActually our catering company, our catering division has gotten a lot of vegan requests for all vegan parties. We did a vegan Super Bowl party last year that was fantastic. So that was a lot of fun to do but...
NNAMDIWell, we're going to take a short break but a lot of people would like to join this conversation and have called already. So if you have questions or comments, you may want to go to our website kojoshow.org or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet @kojoshow. We're talking about putting vegan dishes on the menu. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing vegan and vegetarian dishes in Washington, D.C. with Sara Polon, owner of Soupergirl spelled S-O-U-P-E-R-G-I-R-L. Ellen Kassoff Gray is co-owner of Equinox and Erica Meier is executive director of Compassion Over Killing. We've been inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Muriel in Rockville, Md. Muriel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MURIELYes, thank you. I was just wondering if your guests, when they prepare their meals, their menus, how much sugar they use in their food.
NNAMDICan you talk about that, Sara?
POLONSure. We rarely use sugar. Sometimes in our tomato-based soups we add a touch of sugar just to temper the acidity. But otherwise there's plenty of naturally sweet produce that we use to create sweetness.
GRAYI don't know that you'd necessarily want to eat sweet soup all the time though.
POLONYeah -- no. We have more savory products so, no, again, only used to temper any acidity. But we're talking about maybe a pinch or two, nothing extreme.
GRAYWe don't use any, only in dessert probably. There's no reason for a lot of sugar.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Muriel. We move on to Hailu (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Hailu, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAILUThanks for putting this show. Great show. And I'm recently started experimenting with vegetarian dishes. I grew up eating vegetarian. I'm originally from Africa, Ethiopia, and diet tends to be primarily vegetarian. And just wanted to let your listeners know that there is this great Ethiopian restaurant right in downtown Silver Spring. I believe it's a chef-owned restaurant, the only one that I know. I know I can testify to the meal. It's really great. The lentil...
NNAMDIIt's on Georgia Avenue, is that correct?
HAILUNo. This one is, I believe, right on Coalsville, across the street from...
NNAMDIOn Coalsville Road. There are quite a few Ethiopian restaurants around town. There are several in Adams Morgan, on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. And you can find vegetarian dishes there. We got an email from Michelle who says, "I find Indian restaurants are a great destination for vegan foods. I like spicy tasty food and these restaurants make vegetable dishes that are complex and tasty. I live in Columbia, Md. and recommend Mango Grove and Royal Taj. Do your guests or callers have recommendations for good Indian restaurants featuring vegan dishes in D.C.," Erica?
MEIERMango Grove is on the top of my list, for sure. It's one of my favorite places to go.
NNAMDISee, there you are. I'd like to bring into the conversation now Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers Bakery in Washington, D.C. She joins us by phone. Doron Petersan will be joining us shortly. In the meantime, let's take another call. Here now is Emmanuel in Arlington, Va. Emmanuel is just joining us. Let's go to Chris in Gaithersburg, Md. Hi, Chris.
CHRISHi. Good afternoon. Great show, great topic. You know, you often hear people say that they stopped eating red meat but my understanding is that to help animals the most, and I'm hoping Erica Meier could touch on this, it's actually best to stop eating chickens first because they're smaller and they're more abused. If Erica could touch on that, that would be great. But if you want...
NNAMDIIf you want to make a political statement, Erica, he feels that there should be a priority.
MEIERThank you so much for calling, Chris. That's a great question. You know, people choose to become vegetarian or vegan for a wide variety of reasons. If it's for animals, like it is for myself, I've chosen to leave all animals off my plate. But it is true that when you look at the number of animals in our country who are raised and killed in -- you know, raised on factory farms, chickens represent about 90 percent of those animals. They are the smallest animal that we raise for food. And they are denied the most legal protection.
MEIERSo from a standpoint if you're going to eliminate just one animal from your diet to protect animals, chickens is the way to go. However, you know, there are so many wonderful foods out there that leaving all animals off of our plate or slowly eliminating these foods from our diet is probably the best choice altogether.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for your call, Chris. But you'll hear this a lot. An email we got from Mike in Baltimore, "I was a vegetarian in my early 20's with graduate school and then a busy career ended that. I tried it again recently for better health in middle age but I found my energy level just horrible no matter what I ate or did. So I added in fish and chicken one meal a day and still didn't feel great. So last month I went back to eating some beef a few times a week. I feel way better. Regardless of why a person chooses to be vegan or vegetarian, some people clearly evolved needing the micronutrients and minerals in beef and meat in general." Do you think that's necessarily true, Sara?
POLONWell, I certainly don't want to -- he knows his body better than me. I just think if you are experiencing trouble -- if you're committed to having a plant-based diet and you're experiencing trouble, you might want to go to a nutritionist or something. But I truly believe in 2014 we have evolved enough where we actually don't need meat. We can stick to a plant-based diet. There are so many new plant-based options on the market now ranging, you know, from quinoa to wheat berries to protein-heavy foods. He might have been iron-deficient.
GRAYAlso exercise is probably -- the thing I hadn't heard him mention was exercise (unintelligible) ...
POLONYeah, so some people it comes to really easily. When I went 100 percent vegan, my energy shot up. It worked really, really well for me. Some people it's a little bit harder. But when you find that right calculation of the fiber, the protein, the vitamins and nutrients, the minerals, all of that good stuff, I think you'll feel great. That's been my experience. Erica...
NNAMDICare to comment on that Erica Meier?
POLON...yeah, Erica can add...
MEIERYeah, you know, I'm not a nutritionist. I'm not a medical doctor. We definitely recommend if people have any issues with their diet, whether they're vegetarian or meat eaters, to talk to a nutritionists, a dietician. There's a great website NutritionFacts.org loaded with information like this. And, you know, no matter what we eat we have to watch what we're eating and be aware of getting all the nutrients we need.
MEIERYou know, our society today is loaded up on meat and dairy products. And, you know, when people become vegan, they all of a sudden start to, you know, have questions about their health, or friends and family, when you tell them I'm vegan, they'll ask you questions about your health. You know, how are you getting all the nutrients you need? But in our society today a lot of the main and common ailments we suffer from, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, a lot of these can be addressed, can be prevented and in some cases reversed by leaving animals out of our diet and choosing plant-based foods.
NNAMDIErica Meier is executive director of Compassion Over Killing. She joins us in studio along with Ellen Kassoff Gray, co-owner of Equinox and Sara Polon, owner of Soupergirl. Joining us now by phone is Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers Bakery. Doron, thank you for joining us.
MS. DORON PETERSANThank you. How is everybody?
NNAMDIWe're doing all well. We're having a ball. The joint is jumping. Doron, you opened your vegan bakery 12 years ago. You've expanded since then and you're getting ready to open a second eatery on H Street in D.C. What changes have you observed over the years and who your customers are and why they choose Sticky Fingers?
PETERSANWell, over the years we have seen our shop go from a tiny little hard-to-find kind of known-through-word-of-mouth little place where you could get vegan bakeries and sweets into the café or the bakery café that we are today. The demands have gone up significantly. When we started it was, you know, a handful of people coming in and the same faces. And again, it was word of mouth. So we didn't really have the word vegan in the window but we didn't hide it from anybody. But it was the people that were looking for an alternative or looking for vegan or vegetarian or a healthier option or people that had sensitivities. Now today, the people that are coming in are locals and people in the area that are just looking for good food.
NNAMDII imagine vegan-baked goods are tricky to make without either eggs or dairy. How do you make vegan pastries and cupcakes that can stand up to an egg-filled dessert with butter cream frosting? Would I be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test?
PETERSANWell, we do blind taste tests all the time. We do it almost every day. Every time we deliver a wedding cake, it's essentially a chance to highlight what we do without everybody knowing. It's not like the boxes say, look, a vegan wedding cake, you know, or a vegan cupcake. Sure, we're known as the vegan bakery now because that describes what and how we do what we do. But it's a cookie and it's a cupcake and it looks like a cookie and cupcake and it tastes like it. And it's not scary.
PETERSANI mean, I think you'd be surprised at how many things that you can just purchase on the market on any given day that are vegan by description but they're not marked vegan. Like for instance, maybe not the healthiest options but Oreo cookies and the majority of the bread that you can purchase at the store. Pop Tarts, the ones without the icing on it, the majority of the cereals as long as they don't have, like, marshmallows in them. You know, all those things are vegan but they're just not labeled that way. Peanut butter's vegan, water's vegan, apples are vegan. It's just a way to describe what we're doing and how we do it.
PETERSANNow, when you're talking about creating traditional baked goods without eggs and dairy, we recreate recipes so that we don't require those ingredients. And it's through nutrition and manipulation and knowing the science behind what we're doing and how to do it.
NNAMDIHow many people would you describe among your customer base now are what Ellen calls vegan curious, people who are non-vegetarians or vegans but are willing to try unfamiliar vegan foods?
PETERSANEvery day we get new people in the door who say to us, oh, I'm not vegan or vegetarian or, you know, I'm just curious about this or, you know, my son is or my child is. And I'm here picking up something, oh, I'll try this. So I would say that the majority of the people that eat our food, somehow they're -- the relationship that person who is vegan or the interest in that food brings somebody who's not vegan in there, if that makes sense. So it's maybe, you know, half of our customers directly coming in the store are vegan but they're taking a dozen cookies and a dozen cupcakes and cakes and, you know, sandwiches and salads someplace where there aren't necessarily vegans eating it.
NNAMDIWhat tips can you offer, Doron, for people who want to try some vegan cooking at home? You make a vegan grilled cheese sandwich at Sticky Fingers. Is that something I could make at home?
PETERSANSure. Yeah, we try and keep everything really straightforward and fun at our shops. So it's really fun comfort food like grilled cheeses and veggie burgers, quesadillas. The cheese that we use, the cheese alternative we use is actually made out of pea protein. And it's called Daiya, is the brand name. So we use that in place of cheddar or mozzarella. And we use different spreads or oils on our grill. And then the breads that we make are -- or that we use -- we just started making our own breads -- those are all multigrain. So we like to grill up our onions and grill up our tomatoes right on our grill and then put it onto the sandwich and then heat it up so it's super extra crispy.
NNAMDIWell, this question is for all of you. Erica, I'll start with you. What are your thoughts about using products like vegan cheese or sausage, direct substitutes for meat and dairy products?
MEIERPersonally I love them. They're very high in protein and flavor. And, you know, they're not for everybody though. They're great foods for newcomers to vegetarian and vegan eating. They offer familiar flavors, familiar textures. It gives people more consistency to what they're used to.
MEIERAnd then as we discover more and more foods, some people switch away and eat more of a whole foods diet with quinoa and vegetables and a lot of the salads and soups that you'll see at Soupergirl. You know, I enjoy those foods tremendously as well. I'm lucky that she's actually just about a block from our office, so I go there quite often. So personally, I love them and you can try a lot of them at the D.C. Vegfest this weekend. If you're too shy to buy them in a store and don't want to quite commit, you can come out and try some free samples.
MEIERBut I think they're wonderful options for people, and again, they're not for everyone. Some people don't like them at all and choose to not eat them. But they're wonderful familiar flavors and cruelty-free.
NNAMDIGot to like the flavor, got to like the texture, right, Ellen?
GRAYI'm going to -- I agree with a lot of that. I'm going to say I'm not a big fan of the processed food. I'm more of a whole foods consumer. So I agree with Erica, they're a great intro for people but I don't think -- I'm personally not trying to replace boloney or anything. Or people say, well, it tastes like chicken. Well, I don't really want any chicken so I'm okay with not having something that looks and resembles chicken. I like whole foods and vegetables.
POLONYeah, first I want to say Doron's cupcakes are just -- they are really something you all should try.
GRAYThey're the only -- her comments are the only reason my son would even say the word vegan.
POLONSee, so there you go. But in terms of -- I'm with Ellen on this. There are certain tricks you can use in the kitchen where you're recreating things, not necessarily meat, but for example cream. We use something called cashew cream. You can make it at home. Just grab a handful of raw cashews, soak them in your fridge overnight and then throw them in a high-powered blender and you've created a replacement cream that's very healthy, no saturated fat.
POLONAnd that's how we make something like a cream of broccoli soup, a cream of asparagus soup. It's, well, I was going to say, our little secret but I just announced it on the radio.
POLONSo it was on "The Kojo Show."
NNAMDIThank you. Here is Rhonda in Vienna, Va. Rhonda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RHONDAHey, Kojo. This is a great topic. One of the other things that I wanted to talk about for how mainstream vegan is in the D.C. area, is there's even a food truck. It's with Woodland's Bistro that a gentleman mentioned earlier. But we even had a party at our house and we tried to have it catered actually by Equinox but weren't able to. So we had the Woodland's truck cater to 100 people at my house.
NNAMDIHow'd that work out for you?
RHONDAIt was fantastic and honestly probably 12 of the people that were there were truly vegan and everyone else was pretty stunned by the skewers that they were eating and the delicious tastes that the people were able to make for them. And no one went away hungry, which was really important.
NNAMDIAnd none of those other 88 people who were not vegan complained at all?
RHONDAWell, not out loud to me.
NNAMDIAnd they all seemed to enjoy...
RHONDAI think one of the great things about D.C. is honestly, there are a lot of great places. And every place that you have mentioned, my husband and I have gone to. And there are even vegan restaurants all over the world. We travel internationally with two vegan kids who are 12 and 14. We just got back from a trip all over England and in Paris and were able to eat vegan the entire way.
NNAMDIAnd your kids enjoyed it also?
RHONDAWell, you know, the kids -- actually they're old enough to make their own choices now. And they are probably a little -- even more adamant about being vegan than we are. They also are -- follow it with passion.
NNAMDIYou've got militant vegan kids?
RHONDANo. And they take their lunch to school every day. And they are quite insistent that they eat clean and that they eat well. So again, they're old enough to make their own decisions. But going back to your question about being cheese and meat substitutes, they are all over those, by the way. Those (word?) for them.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for...
RHONDASo thanks for the show.
NNAMDI...thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. We're putting vegan dishes on the menu with you. If you call 800-433-8850, what's your favorite vegan or vegetarian dish? You can also shoot us an email to email@example.com or a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Sara Polon, owner of Soupergirl spelled S-O-U-P-E-R girl. Ellen Kassoff Gray is co-owner of Equinox. Erica Meier is executive director of Compassion Over Killing. And joining us by phone is Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers Bakery. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Erica, one of the goals of D.C. VegFest is to expose the curious but skeptical to vegetarian and vegan options. What does vegan cuisine offer people who don't want to give up meat or eggs or dairy completely? What's your advice for how best to, well, give it a try?
MEIERGive it a try. That's what the D.C. VegFest is all about. We make it free. We try to make it fun, if possible. It's family-friendly dog-friendly. We're expecting about 15,000 people this year to come out, hear speakers, cooking demonstrations, hear from vegan athletes, hear from nutritionists. So the food out there is going to be one of the biggest highlights for sure. We have free food samples.
MEIERWe have some vendors who are doing nothing but giving out free food samples. And then we have over two dozen restaurant vendors who will be dishing out great vegan cuisine. And it's an event that is intended to be a celebration, a celebration of the many flavors and the many benefits enjoyed of vegetarian eating.
MEIERAnd our goal is to bring out the vegicurious, what we like to call the pre-vegetarians, people who want to try these new foods. It costs nothing to come out. It's free. And so it's this Saturday at Yards Park. And we want as many people out there to just come try these foods. They foods are all plant-based. One of the benefits of plant-based foods is that there's no cholesterol. So it's definitely better for our health when we choose plant-based foods. Even if we're not ready to commit to a fully plant-based diet, we certainly can add these options to our diet. And by trying these foods, exploring some options you might've been reluctant to try in a grocery store or in a restaurant.
MEIERBy trying these foods you might discover your new favorite food that you want to add into your diet every day, or more times during the week. So it's a great way to do that.
POLONI just want to jump in and say sometimes that we kind of endeavor -- we set goals that are too high. So we might say, okay, I'm going vegan. That's it. I'm done, I'm going vegan. And then when you make an extreme statement like that and you slip up, maybe you slip up one day, oh, forget it, I failed, I completely failed, why not try it for a day? Try meatless Monday or lunch...
GRAY...or vegan brunch Sunday.
POLON...vegan -- exactly, but try. Take little steps and then you can kind of reward yourself and say, well, I made it two days. Oh, I made it three days. Oh, I made it four days and then you're not setting yourself up for failure. You're more rewarding yourself for your success. And I think that mentality really works well. And the VegFest...
GRAYIt does. And the VegFest is also great because you're going to meet so many other people who are in the exact same position that you are. They're just as vegicurious as you are and you might meet your new best friend too. And you go out dining at different restaurants and try new vegetarian and vegan meals. So you're going to meet a lot of like-minded people, a lot of vegetarians, a lot of vegans. But the overwhelming majority of people who come out to D.C. VegFest are the vegicurious folks who just want to try some new meals.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Doron. You were about to say...
PETERSANYeah, I just wanted to jump in and say something that we see in the shop a lot and the response that we've gotten and kind of what you guys talked about is going less processed. We notice -- I notice that the way that, you know, putting together salads and we were eating at the store, you know, grilled vegetables. And then we would kind of add on bits and pieces of what we do as our fun food.
PETERSANReally seems to be part of the general movement of where food and restaurants are going. So you can look on any newer restaurant's menu in the city and see these very straightforward, easily understandable menu options. And that is everywhere. So it's not just (unintelligible) eating for just with kind of a menu trend. That's also with the local food movement and the environmental issues that are at hand.
PETERSANIt's bringing us back to the original (unintelligible) source of food and plant-based. Nobody can ever argue that plant-based options are generally good for you if not better than other processed. And that's really a big part of what this, you know, eating vegan is about as well. It's not just the health, environmental aspect. That now we're getting a chance to really, you know, dive into a lot of -- like as Sara's doing, as Todd and Ellen are doing, really get back to the fundamentals of what we're eating.
NNAMDIHere is Susan in Alexandria, Va. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSANThank you so much for having this show, this topic.
SUSANI wanted to recommend two vegan restaurants or restaurants that have vegan and vegetarian alternatives plus mention another thing. The vegan restaurant that I love is Great Sage in Clarksville, Md. It is one of those you mentioned more upscale. I wouldn't call it upscale but it's not like just a diner. It's a wonderful restaurant. It's about an hour north of the D.C. area out by VWI. They have delicious vegan food.
SUSANAnd then Teaism which has about five locations in the area, has some great vegan and vegetarian options. I love their deep-fried tempeh. It's absolutely the only way I enjoy tempeh. And then...
NNAMDIYou -- go ahead, please.
SUSANOh, and then this other thing I wanted to mention, when you all were talking about people who choose to eat meat to get their amino acids, there's a wild food that I'm familiar with called wild organic blue-green algae which is a plant-based food. It's a plant food that has all these -- all the amino acids. And...
NNAMDIYou should know that Erica's writing this down.
SUSANOh, okay. Erica, I've actually shared this food at VegFest for a couple of years.
NNAMDIOkay. It's something that people will want to check out but we're running out of time, so thank you very much for your call. It's a question -- the question the -- the answer you just gave it a question I wanted to ask to all of our panelists about their favorite places, because it seems like a lot of people today have dietary restrictions of one kind or another. As vegans has it gotten easier for you to go out to eat with friends and find vegan offerings on the menu? What are some of your favorite local restaurants?
MEIEROh, it's a great question. Sometimes there's so many options today, even just in the past decade we've seen these options expand. Sticky Fingers Sweets and Eats is definitely a staple, especially when I have out of town guests. This is a vegan destination in the area but it's a perfect place to bring someone new to these foods. I love Busboys and Poets. I love Bread and Brew. I mean, these are -- you know, there are just so many options today. It depends on your breakfast, lunch, dinner, what you're hungry for, but so many options.
MEIERAnd you can find a lot of my favorite places are listed on VegDC.com.
NNAMDIKeep talking, you'll make Andy Shallal run for mayor again. Here is Ellen.
GRAYI too am a big fan of Doron's Sweets and Eats, Sticky Fingers, as well as Sara's Soupergirl. But I have a go-to dish here in D.C. just down the road from Spices Café and it's the ginger salad there. And it's a carrot ginger salad. And my son and my husband laugh because I get five orders every time they bring it so I can keep it in the fridge. But it is a really terrific salad. And it's only about $8.
NNAMDII'll just take a week's supply every time I go. Sara.
POLONAnd I'm going to give maybe some higher-end options because I have found -- I'm sorry, chefs, if I'm throwing you under here -- but if you call ahead, you can go to some of the best restaurants in the city and just give them a heads-up and they will help you out. So I went recently to Firefly, which is an amazing restaurant. And the chef prepared a fantastic vegan meal, ripple. Margie is -- she is a talented chef. And, you know, give them some heads-up (unintelligible) they say, call, give us a heads-up. They will, you know, prepare things.
POLONAnd then, like Erica was saying, if you stick to ethnic foods, Rasika has a -- that's an amazing Indian restaurant. You know, no need to call ahead. There's plenty of vegan food on the menu. So there's -- like Erica was saying -- I don't even know where to begin. There are so many places to eat.
MEIERStart with Soupergirl.
GRAYIt's not as hard as you think.
POLONRight. Well, of course.
GRAYAnd it's not as hard as you think it is.
NNAMDIHere is Simblan (sp?) in College Park, Md. Simblan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SIMBLANHi, Kojo. I just wanted to say, great show today. I'm a big fan of all of the restaurants and the places that you guys have mentioned. I just wanted to give a shout out to Soul Food in Wheaton. So they've recently opened up a permanent spot. They used to be a food truck that operated in and around Arlington. And they have fantastic (word?) and Mexican fusion, tons of vegan options, tons of vegetarian options. So they've got a great atmosphere going on there as well.
SIMBLANAnd all of their ingredients are fresh, locally sourced, organically grown. So it's, like, really wonderful. My boyfriend's vegan. We go there all the time. We love their homemade Kimchi. So I just wanted to make that recommendation to your listeners.
NNAMDIA relationship organized around food.
POLONOh, absolutely. You know, I do want to -- I want to give a shout out to vegan diners in general. I've been in the restaurant business for 25 years. Todd and I are so energized by our vegan clientele. They are the most grateful, the kindest diners, I will say, the most energizing and inspirational and happy people we -- every Sunday -- especially on Sundays. We look so forward to seeing them. But they honestly are a whole different category of diner from our point of view as well.
MEIERWell, when you bring a bunch of vegans into a restaurant and you can eat whatever you want on the menu...
POLONIt's a happy time.
MEIER...oh my, it's a party.
POLONIt's a VegFest.
MEIERAnd at Equinox, which is one of the best restaurants in the city, and then you just get to eat. Oh, they're very happy.
NNAMDIHere a tweet we got from Jerry, "How do these vegan restaurateurs address sodium levels in your dishes?
POLONOkay. So that I'm going to jump in here. One of the things when I founded this company with my mom when we said we wanted to cook as healthy as possible, that includes low salt. So we are very, very committed. When I said you've got to cook slowly, that's one of the ways you bring out the flavor. So when you add -- when you work with a lot of herbs and you work with a lot of spices and fresh produce and you cook it slowly, the flavor's going to come out.
POLONSo the thing with salt is every dish needs a little bit of salt. When you're using salt, once you can taste it you've over salted. You shouldn't be able to taste salt. Salt is a beautiful thing and that it brings out the flavor. And you just need a little bit. Once you've tasted it, too much. And so we are committed to cooking that way. So when you cook at home, you don't put half the saltshaker in your pot of soup. Neither do we. We put in just enough to bring out the flavor. And that's what we're 100 percent committed to as a company.
NNAMDIGot an email from...
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Doron.
PETERSANLet me touch on salt just for one second. Your taste buds adjust to salt...
PETERSAN...actually over anywhere between two and three weeks, depending on your age, right. So they regenerate themselves, just like every other cell in your body. So as you reduce your salt intake or your sugar intake or you're changing a diet, your mouth actually gets used to those flavor changes. So over time, if you're slowly reducing the salt, you'll get less and less inclined to put more and more salt on your food.
PETERSANAnd while we, of course -- you know, we do have a lot of fun, easy food in our shop right now. And we use, you know, quite a bit of, you know, salted foods, we also make sure that we have options on the menu that are low-salt. And in our new endeavors, including our pop-up that we're doing tonight, we actually have a supper club we're doing, absolutely everything from ravioli to our focaccia bread, we -- when you're preparing your own food, you really have much more control over that salt and you can use so many more herbs and spices to bring out the flavor (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIDoron, I'm afraid we're just about out of time. I just wanted to read this email from Bruce who says, "I wanted to give a shout out to Chipotle for the awesome Sofritas, a spicy vegan topping." I think Erica and Compassion Over Killing were a part of convincing Chipotle to introduce the Sofritas nationally, correct?
MEIERWe try to work with as many restaurants as possible, especially nationwide chains to make sure these options are available. And it is one of my favorite fast foods is Chipotle Sofrita.
NNAMDIErica Meier. She is executive director of Compassion Over Killing. Erica, thank you for joining us.
MEIERThank you. It's been a lot of fun.
NNAMDIEllen Kassoff Gray is co-owner of Equinox. Ellen, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISara Polon is owner of Soupergirl. Sara, thank you for joining us.
POLONThanks for having the show.
NNAMDIAnd Doron Petersan is owner of Sticky Fingers Bakery. Doron, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. Happy eating. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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