Although I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years, my mom and dad have still not ventured into cooking veg*an holiday food. So every year, I take a tofu ‘turkey’ to Montreal, frozen, and heat it up when they’re cooking their meal. It travels well, and it’s nutritious, tasty and festive.
You’ll probably have to spend some time at the store getting all the spices and other ingredients, but assembling the ‘turkey’ doesn’t take long. It needs to be made over three days, and takes about 15 minutes each day.
Enjoy! Serves about four people. Double the recipe to serve eight.
Homemade tofu ‘turkey’
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 large onion, chopped finely
2/3 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon celery seed
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/12 cups vegan herb stuffing (or use bread crumbs: crumble half a baguette that’s a few days old and dry)
Saute the onion, celery and mushrooms. When soft, add the garlic and spices. Cook for five minutes. Add herb stuffing or breadcrumbs, and mix well. When cool, roll into a ball, compress, cover with plastic film, and put in freezer until frozen.
1 pound firm tofu
1 pound silken tofu
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
Crumble firm tofu and add silken tofu: mix with hands. Add spices. Put a couple of 20-inch pieces of plastic film in a cross on a plate, and put half of tofu mix on the plastic.
Take stuffing from freezer, remove plastic film, and put on top of tofu mix on plastic. Pour rest of tofu mix over the stuffing ball, so it covers the stuffing completely. Make into a ball, press down on the ball so there’s a base (so it doesn’t roll around), wrap it in the plastic and put back in the freezer until frozen.
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon of vegetable base
1 tablespoon orange juice or syrup
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Mix, and put into a little glass container for traveling.
Cooking: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Thaw and put tofu turkey into baking pan, and pour half of basting mixture over it. Cook for 30 minutes. Add rest of basting mixture and cook for another 15 minutes.
Politely declining a slice of Auntie Bertha’s fruitcake over the holiday season is to be expected. But how do you “politely” justify turning down your mother-in-law’s pot roast or her home-made butter cookies?
Let’s be honest, it’s all about food for the holidays. It’s that time of year more than any that you find being veg is not so easy. And I’m not talking about cravings for the unsavoury foodstuffs. I am addressing the bewildered faces and sighs of incomprehension when you make clear that you will not be eating any animals or animal products for the season (much in line with your eating habits every other day of the year). Some people believe that just because it is the holidays, you should try to at least fit in and relax your anti-social eating tendencies just to make others happy. The question is, do we relax any of our other ethics during the holiday season? Why should you consume animal products only to appease a group of people whom–though you probably love–don’t understand you fully? You need not be a militant activist vegan to just say no to the bombardment of animal food options. We’re all pressured either by others or our own traditional upbringing or tastes to indulge on something we normally wouldn’t, but perhaps from experience you’ll learn that you don’t ever feel better after doing it. The problem is how to not come across as the weird one who has joined some hippie cult and is only at the party to make others feel bad about themselves. So what do you do?
My advice? Just say no, thank you. Be polite, but firm when you are presented with food you don’t eat. If you were allergic, it might be easier to say no, but as it stands, allergies generally are treated with more respect and understanding than not eating certain food items for the sake of veganism. I can’t recommend whether or not you should elaborate on your reasons behind saying no. You may be prompted or questioned in some way which gives you no choice, but nothing is stopping you from putting a smile on your face and saying, “Let’s just leave it there. I’m happy that I am able to eat what I want without feeling scrutinised by others”. People need to learn to let you live your life without feeling threatened. If you are comfortable enough going to a holiday dinner where they serve meat and where many people will be eating it in front of you, then you should be confident that others should also feel comfortable with you declining those options at the dinner table.
For those of you who are surrounded by vegans and vegetarians for the holidays, count yourselves among the lucky few. But if you’re like me and find it hard to resist the disapproval of your family and friends during this time of the year just because you won’t eat their food, keep in mind that you’re not alone. Stick to your morals, avoid confrontation and debate, and remind your family/friends that in the spirit of the season, you are thankful that you can be together, sharing this moment, and respecting everyone’s personal wishes wholly.
We’ve all seen the ad campaigns on television, billboards and in magazines. In fact, just about every editorial publication has an entire page dedicated to celebrities wearing the white moustache and endorsing cow’s milk as the “perfect food” for humans. The dairy industry is spending billions of dollars on marketing campaigns to coerce the public into believing that “milk does a body good.” This dedicated advertising campaign has been so successful that most people view milk commercials as more of a public service announcement than a shrewd attempt for corporate profit.
Milk’s main selling point is calcium, and North Americans are encouraged to drink several glasses of milk every day in order to prevent osteoporosis. No wonder we are such a dairy obsessed culture! We consume the highest amount of dairy products worldwide – ingesting the creamy white stuff multiple times a day – on its own, with cereal, cookies, in coffee, milkshakes – we even warm it up in order to get a good night’s sleep! But did you know that North America also has the highest incidence of osteoporosis?
The truth is, contrary to what the glossy ads proclaim, there are many studies indicating that drinking cow’s milk actually increases the risk osteoporosis. “Dairy products contain sodium and animal protein, both of which encourage calcium losses.” writes Dr. Neal Barnard, MD, and President of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.All animal products create an acidic environment in the body. Your body must neutralize this acid by leaching calcium – an alkaline mineral – from the bones. Eventually, this calcium is flushed from the body, which, over years, can result in osteoporosis. “It’s time [milk] ads stop pretending there are no health risks from drinking milk,” Dr. Bernard goes on to say.
What the ad campaign conveniently fails to tell us is that all dairy products (including organic milk, yogurt and kefir!) are loaded with high levels of cholesterol, and “skim” or not, saturated fat – contributing significantly to cardiovascular disease. Studies are also linking the consumption of casein – a protein present in dairy – to allergies, asthma, bloating, IBS, stomach pain, migraines, tumors, as well as breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancers.
As if this isn’t bad enough, cows are injected with artificial growth hormones and forced to produce many more times the milk than they would naturally. Hooked to electronic milking machines by their udders, the cows suffer electronic shocks, painful lesions and mastitis – a condition which can increase the amount of pus, for which the cows are given antibiotics. And where do you think these hormones, antibiotics, and pus subsequently end up? Yes — in that thick glass of milk.
So how do you get your calcium fill without consuming milk and dairy products? From the same place cows do! Yes, dark leafy greens – the vegetables mom used to make us eat: collard greens, broccoli, bok choy, and kale are all excellent sources of calcium. Sea vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini, chia, and figs are also high quality, calcium-rich foods.
Non-dairy “milk” alternatives such as soy, rice, hemp, coconut, oat and almond milks are a great way of providing the body with wholesome nutrition. Although they are much healthier options to dairy, keep in mind that they are still processed with additives, and create acid in the body. Remember, fresh is always best!
At our home, we prepare a large jug of (nut) mylk, and keep it in the fridge to add to smoothies or cereal. Nut and seed mylks are surprisingly easy to make. They are loaded with good-for-you nutrition without the cholesterol, hormones, fat, and mucus. Plus, they’re delicious too! Try the following recipe and leave the milk for the calves!
INSTANT HEMP MYLK (makes 2-3 servings)
* 4 cups water
* 1 cup hemp seed
* a few dates, or maple syrup (or a few drops of stevia)
* 1 TBSP alcohol-free vanilla extract
* Blend all of the ingredients until creamy and smooth. Refrigerate.
Natasha Kyssa is the author of The SimplyRaw Living Foods Detox Manual, as well as the founder of SimplyRaw. She has been living a raw vegan lifestyle for 20 years. www.simplyraw.ca
I’m still pretty new to Ottawa. It’s times like these when I attempt to get my feet wet in a variety of social scenes. Originating from Toronto, I was spoilt with the non-stop bombardment of social possibilities. Being vegetarian in Toronto was like being an official member of a popular club. Now in Ottawa, I’ve learned that to get my feet wet, I have to go to the water myself.
I was somewhat apprehensive at first, but mostly excited, to explore the world of the NCVA. Once I did, I realised that becoming a member was not only going to benefit me, but it was going to benefit many, and thus it was the right thing to do. Once I trained myself to stop calling the NCVA the “OVA” (which clearly doesn’t make sense from a vegan perspective), I was ready to fit in. That’s pretty much all it takes, because the organization is not-for-profit, volunteer-based, and vegetarian, whose mandate is to educate the public about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and more generally, to improve public health. This is one group that could easily mesh well with my own set of ethics and beliefs and, for that matter, anyone else’s. Whether or not you are vegetarian, promoting health of the greater public and of yourself is a worthy cause.
And then there’s the whole social aspect. I often feel alone as a vegan in a meat-eating world (shameless plug). Generally, going to work, socialising with acquaintances, friends, and family, doing the groceries, or whatever, I started to feel like I was the only vegan out there and no one would ever understand me anyway. It still baffles me that people still think it is ok to mock or slam vegetarianism right to your face, as if they can’t see how the derision is prejudiced and discriminatory. But then I attended a NCVA event and immediately let out a sigh of relief–Finally! a place where I knew that I wouldn’t be made fun of for being culinarily different or more ethically sound. It was like my own personal vegetarian haven, where like-minded people admire and support me and my vegetarian lifestyle.
There was also the fact that with the NCVA, part of my social life could align with my morality, which is a great coupling. Being veg was always a great way for me to show the rest of the world that I care about animals (and the environment, and my personal health), but I was presented with the opportunity to take it a step further. By joining the NCVA, I realised I was supporting the greater cause of promoting a plant-based diet to the rest of the world. I was chipping in, wearing the badge, taking a stand! Coming out of the proverbial vegetarian closet was great for my social life, but I hope it also made it that much easier for anyone else who wants to do the same. Supporting the NCVA arguably equates to an increased vegetarian presence in Ottawa and thus a happier, healthier city.
Finally, this was my way of giving back to the community. Although nothing beats the warm and fuzzy feeling got from my childhood teddy bear (Mr. Fuzzy Wuzzy, if you don’t mind), a close second for me is always donating to a worthy cause. The best thing about donating to the NCVA is that I not only got the incredibly highly-sought after warm and fuzzies from the act of giving, but I also get a membership in return. I figured my $20 membership was a donation to something I cared about deeply, as well as an opportunity to connect to fun social events and new, like-minded people (and get great NCVA member discounts at great veg and veg-friendly restaurants in Ottawa!).
So, although I’m far from the poster child for the animal rights movement, nor am I saving the planet on a daily basis, I at least knew that, yes, I could make a small, but significant, difference just by being a part of the NCVA. I already felt like I was becoming more of an effective voice for those animals among us who don’t have one. The good news for you folks is that you can do it, too! You don’t even have to wait till the next NCVA event to land yourself a hot new membership. You can do it now right here from the convenience of your own home and at your leisure: ncva.ca/membership
Silver medal at Gold Medal Plates just the latest accomplishment
Since opening in June 2009, ZenKitchen has quickly established itself as not just one of the hottest vegan spots around, but one of the hottest tables in all of Ottawa.
It’s not only the delicious food that is noteworthy, but also the way that Chef Caroline Ishii has contributed to bringing vegan cuisine to a mainstream audience. On any given day its tables are filled primarily by omnivores. While I wish everyone was vegan, every vegan meal that’s eaten is one less meal that involves the use and abuse of animals, and ZenKitchen has certainly done its part to reduce the number of animals being consumed in Ottawa.
ZenKitchen has received a lot of press and accolades for its innovation, including a 12-part television series called The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave that aired on the W Network last winter. But it hasn’t gone to their heads.
“All the attention from the media is great: it helps bring in new customers, and that means more people accepting animal-free cuisine as part of their everyday diet,” says Chef Caroline Ishii. “Dave (her life and business partner) and I see ourselves as a small, family-run restaurant. We struggle – every day – with the need to keep our food quality consistent, to develop new menu items, to pay our bills. We’re really surprised when someone says that we’re food celebrities or whatever. We see ourselves as a couple of naive restaurateurs doing our best to offer tasty food, to keep to our environmental, vegan and health values, and to make ends meet.”
They recently received another boost when Caroline was invited to participate in the annual “Gold Medal Plates” competition in Ottawa on Nov. 16. Gold Medal Plates is a celebration of Canadian Excellence in cuisine, wine, the arts and athletic achievement, that occurs in eight Canadian cities. It features superb wines and the premier chefs in each city, paired with Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes, in a competition to crown a gold, silver and bronze medal culinary team in each city, and subsequently nation-wide.
Remarkably, Caroline was one of the first female chefs ever to be invited to participate in the competition. She was also the first vegan cuisine chef. She was one of ten local chefs invited last spring.
“Ottawa has had a number of excellent women chefs. However, women chefs haven’t always had the “star” profile that male chefs have achieved. I hardly think of myself in that category, so no one was more shocked when I was invited to the Gold Medal Plates competition,” Chef Caroline says. “I am incredibly proud and honoured to be one of the first women chefs invited to the Ottawa competition and the first vegetarian/vegan chef invited in the history of the competition in Canada. I’ve learned that commercial kitchens are pretty much a man’s domain, and it isn’t easy bringing a feminine perspective to either the food or the way a kitchen is run. But I think it’s that very femininity and passion that makes my food stand out.”
And not only did she participate, she won them over, taking the event’s silver medal, in an event that typically favours heavy usage of cream and animal bodies.
The dish? Start with a little kale, sautéed and seasoned with a plum-kombu vinaigrette. On top of that sits a polenta cake, crispy outside and creamy inside. The polenta is topped with a thin disk of red pepper aspic. Add a teaspoon of fermented nut cheese, bruléed with a torch, and then place a “cigar” of more nut cheese wrapped in fried and smoked yuba (the skin that forms when cooking soya milk). A chile-mushroom sauce is swirled from the base of the polenta across the plate, and sautéed exotic mushrooms from Le Coprin are added to it. Three dots of spicy passila chile sauce finish the plate.
The ingredients – nut cheese, yuba, vegan aspic – all offered something new to most of the judges, and there was a range of textures, from crispy to chewy to creamy, tastes and colours. The chile sauce and aspic were bright red elements against the yellow polenta and brown mushrooms.
This may not be something to try at home!
“All together, the dish was very complex, but very interesting , I think. I was inspired by a zen garden when I created the plate,” Chef Ishii explains. “I created a dish I was proud to serve – beautiful, interesting and delicious – which is all I could do.”
It’s easy to hope that this could represent a change in thinking amongst Ottawa diners. “Throughout the evening, people kept telling us that they had heard our table was a “must” to visit. And a number of cooks from the NAC and other teams stopped by to try the yuba cigar and were really interested by it,” says Chef Ishii. “The judging wasn’t about which ingredients were used, but the totality of the dish itself – presentation, flavour and texture. And that’s what we see every day at ZenKitchen – omnivorous diners who come to our restaurant because they like the food, not because of what we do or don’t serve. I believe it expresses a sophistication and progressiveness in Ottawa’s food scene – the willingness to see beyond the ingredients and believe that good food is good food.”
So what’s next for Ottawa’s hottest meal ticket, which also happens to be vegan? They’re offering take-out now, and doing a bit more catering. “We’re also trying to develop some new products for take-out and retail. Eventually, we’d like to move into a slightly bigger space, but that might be a long time coming and would be dependent on investors,” Chef Ishii says.
For now, they’re simply focusing on the restaurant and ensuring the food and service are at the level they want. There are also some special events being planned: two seatings at New Year’s Eve, a Winemaker’s Dinner with Ravine Winery’s Shauna White on February 9, and of course Valentine’s Day!
And who knows, maybe ZenKitchen will be invited back to Gold Medal Plates next year!
Not sure what to give the anti-commercial, veg or veg-friendly person on your Christmas list? Consider giving them the gift of an NCVA membership.
It’s a gift that keeps giving all year: the $20 membership fee supports the NCVA’s work in the community. But not only that, it entitles the NCVA card holder member to discounts at many of Ottawa’s finest veg and veg-friendly restaurants. Plus, you’re not buying something that will go in a landfill or end up at a thrift store.
Your gift membership will include the membership card in a festive envelope, a list of applicable discounts and a cute little NCVA magnet to put to good use on the fridge! Gift memberships will be available at the December potluck, and at The Table Vegetarian Restaurant on Sunday, Dec. 12, betwen 11:30-1:30 and 5:30-7:30.
Cardholder discounts include:
The Table Vegetarian Restaurant
Green Earth Vegetarian Restaurant
Cafe My House
For a complete list, or to become a member online click here:
If you buy a gift membership online, please email ncva.avcn(at)gmail.com separately and immediately with the recipient’s name and contact info.
Wear your politics
The NCVA is also selling these fab “Eat like you give a damn” t-shirts, that would make a great gift!
The t-shirts are made by (sweatshop-free) American Apparel. At the moment, we have a full range of sizes for men and women. These normally sell for $21 + shipping + tax + customs through online stores, but we are selling them for $20 each.
They can be purchased at the December potluck (this Saturday, Dec. 11) or at The Table on Sunday, Dec. 11 between 11:30-1:30 and 5:30-7:30.
For those of you who don’t know, we host a Meetup at Green Earth on the first Sunday of every month. By “we” I actually mean Vaalea (from Ireland). But since Neil and I bring an NCVA sign, the NCVA gets the credit and Neil and I get endless accolades (well, mostly from Greg) for our tireless organizing.
Anyway, we had another one today. It was the usual fare. Brown and white rice (which I don’t touch), a couple of salads (which I hear are good but which I also don’t bother with), and about eighty pounds of fake meat at varying levels of fried-ness. This stuff and those heavenly little squares of cheesecake are where I focus my attention.
It was a complete madhouse in there today – Very few empty tables and at least one other large group. A bit loud, but I was so pleased to see Green Earth doing such cracking business despite its unfortunate eschewal of alcohol. Plus the proprietors kept the food coming fast and furious so we certainly didn’t suffer from the business.
There were many familiar faces, including local celebrities Joe Vegan and Alex the Carrot. Several lovely first-timers as well, who I hope to see at our next potluck.
Anyway, just a note to thank those who came out and to encourage those who didn’t to try to make the next one…East Africa Restaurant on Sunday December 19th at noon. The fake waterfalls alone are worth the trip!
The NCVA sent the following response as a letter to the editor:
Re: Canada’s transgenic Enviropig is stuck in a genetic modification poke
It is clear from this article that there is a widespread and growing acceptance that our current system of agriculture is environmentally unsustainable. For many people, this alarm was first sounded with the 2006 United Nations report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which emphasized the environmental degradation caused by much of the world’s love affair with meat. The livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions – 18 per cent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.
Acknowledging that a problem exists is the first step towards finding a solution. However, the solution that’s being touted—producing genetically modified, so-called environmentally friendly livestock—is an unnecessarily convoluted and problematic response, especially considering that there is a much simpler, safer, and kinder option.
Perhaps transgenic livestock have the potential to relieve some environmental burden, but that solution does little to address the additional environmental issues arising from raising livestock, and nothing to address the moral and ethical aspects that we must—as a thinking and supposedly just society—take under consideration.
There are plenty of protein and nutrient rich foods that people can eat and thrive on, and bypass all of these concerns, such as lentils, beans, rice, leafy green vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains and seeds, and hemp. Plant-based foods by nature require less resources to produce, and are less polluting.
A 2010 United Nations report ( the UNEP’s international panel of sustainable resource management) stated that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change. The report stated, “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products…A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
Unfortunately many people still associate meat with affluence, but their health, the environment, and the animals pay dearly for this perception. The good news is that there have never been more resources available to people who are willing to make this shift, and there’s never been a better—or more important time—to do so.
Is Ethiopian food the best vegetarian food you’ve never had? Quite possibly!
By Shaun Desjardins
We Ottawans are a fortunate bunch. No, not because we’re the shawarma capital of North America. We’re fortunate because we have not one, not two but FOUR Ethiopian restaurants in town. And guess what? They’re all GREAT!
Most large Canadian and American cities have one or two restaurants from the horn of Africa if they’re lucky.
Like many of you I had driven up and down Rideau Street countless times without seriously considering a meal at one of the three East African restaurants lining the street. (Ottawa’s fourth Ethiopian restaurant is Blue Nile on Gladstone)
Also like many of you I usually ended up spending my hard earned Canuck bucks at one of the seemingly dozens of Lebanese Restaurants in the area.
My infatuation with Ethiopian cuisine started about a year ago when I was bored with my usual rotation of restaurants and wanted to try something different.
My wife Amanda and I were meeting another couple for a sit-down meal in the market area and our friends being the good sports they are agreed to try out Ethiopian food with us at the East African Restaurant on Rideau Street. The rest, as they say, is history.
So you may ask, “Shaun–aka Ottawa’s self proclaimed Ethiopian cuisine expert–what’s so great about Ethiopian food and what’s the best Ethiopian restaurant in town?”
And I’d probably respond, “Well, fictitious person asking questions, the answers aren’t as complex as the flavour of perfectly balanced berbere, a staple spice blend in Ethiopian cooking. The reasons why I think Ethiopian cuisine is great are:
1. LOTS OF VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN OPTIONS
Ethiopians traditionally eat vegetarian more than 200 days a year which means that Ethiopian restaurants will have an abundance of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
2. A VARIETY OF FLAVOURS
East African cuisine also caters to the palates of spicy food lovers as well as those who don’t fancy needing a fire extinguisher table side. For example mesir wat (my favourite) is a red lentil stew made up of red lentils, onion, garlic, ginger and berbere spice is a delicious and SPICY stew while kik alicha (Amanda’s favourite) is a mild yellow split pea stew with some garlic, ginger and turmeric in there.
3. GREAT FOR SHARING
The wats are served on a large slightly sour crêpe type bread called injera which is placed in the centre of the table.
4. INEXPENSIVE AND EASY TO MAKE AT HOME
Ethiopian stews or wats as they are known are generally pretty easy to make at home and are SUPER easy on the wallet to boot! I buy my injera from either East African Restaurant or Habesha as it’s quite difficult and time consuming to make at home.
5. HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS
This is some seriously healthful food! Since these dishes are usually comprised of beans, lentils or legumes and spices you’re getting a bunch of fibre and complex carbs and that ever so important macro nutrient for vegetarians, protein.
6. FEWER DISHES TO CLEAN
When eating Ethiopian cuisine you break off a piece of injera and “scoop” up the stews or wats as they are known. Also, everyone eats from the same dish. No utensils and one plate mean fewer dishes to clean!
As for the best Ethiopian restaurant in Ottawa, there is no clear winner.
Seriously, I’ve had delicious food at all four of Ottawa’s restaurants. However, a special mention goes to East African Restaurant as they offer a 10 per cent discount to all NCVA members and they have an $8.99 Vegetarian lunch buffet from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. (seven days a week)
“Great Shaun,” you might say, “I’m sold on trying this supposedly scrumptious cuisine from eastern horn of the great continent of Africa but….WHAT DO I DO NEXT???”
Well luckily for you I’ve prepared a list with the answer to that very question!
Here’s what you do:
1. Pick one of Ottawa’s four Ethiopian restaurants
East African Restaurant (NCVA Members receive a 10% discount) 376 Rideau Street (613) 789-7397
The Horn of Africa 364 Rideau Street (613) 789-0025
Habesha 574 Rideau (613) 761-6120
Blue Nile Restaurant 577 Gladstone Avenue (613) 321-0774
2. Get some friends to come along with you. Remember, Ethiopian food is great for sharing!
3. Order the vegetarian combination plate (which is vegan) and enjoy!
4. Send the NCVA an email to thank us for introducing you to some of the most flavourful, healthful and just plain tasty food you’ve ever had.
I’ll be posting a few of my favourite tried and tested Ethiopian recipes in the coming weeks so stay tuned!