Sunday, February 28, 2010

Adventures in Veggie Dining: Red Bamboo


This is the kind of restaurant in that's paradise for adventurous vegetarians (and oddly enough, it's two doors down from a similarly awesome Chinese restaurant called Vegetarian Paradise 2.  More on that in a minute.)  If you're a veggie, you're used to the experience of going to a restaurant and opening up a glossy,  wide-ranging menu only to be segregated to a tiny box on the lower left-hand side of the back page listing "vegetarian options."  The menu at a place like Red Bamboo, on the other hand, completely inverts this situation.  While on first glance it looks like a traditional high end "soul food" joint with items like "Creole Soul Chicken," "Oxtail Stew" and "Codfish Cakes," but the kicker is the preface at the beginning of the menu:  it's all completely and totally vegetarian.  

About 12 years ago, Vegetarian Paradise 2 provided my very first experience in faux-meat dining and has held a very special place in my heart ever since.  I first discovered it again last fall during my first failed attempt to snag student rush tickets to David Cromer's Our Town at the Barrow Street Theater (there's a $40 deal on Playbill right now.  You won't regret it.)  But my traveling companion at the time was not in a gastronomically adventurous mood, so we passed on.  

Last night, however, I was on them move with my favorite veggie partner-in-crime Laura, up from DC.  I presented her with the idea of checking out a vegetarian Chinese place, and she was all for it.  As we approached our destination, we passed by Red Bamboo first on our right.  Drawn by the bright red-tiled exterior, she perused the menu and asked if I'd mind eating here instead.  Always up for an adventure, I eagerly stepped down the steps into one of New York's many little holes-in-the-wall.

Though the set-up of Red Bamboo is rather snug, the decor is tasteful with soft hipster music in the background.  For an appetizer, we decided to share the Cajun Fried Shrimp.  Now while I've been a veggie my entire life, I did dabble with some meat items during a rebellious period of high school, and fried shrimp was one of the few dishes I had actually sampled during that period.  So my evaluation of this dish carried a tiny bit of clout.  Visually, the dish was stunning.  Four breaded, shrimp-shaped pieces with cocktail sauce in the center.  Biting in, it was hard not to be impressed by the attention to detail in the pink tails and the white "meat." Taste-wise, Laura and I were both extremely impressed.  The "meat" was tender and the breading well-seasoned.  

For the entree, Laura and I both decided to avoid the many faux-chicken items, not because faux chicken isn't amazing, but it's so readily available and this was a special treat.  Laura decided on the Ginger Beef and I chose the Butterfly Soy Chops with fresh apple-raisin sauce served with collard greens, veggie ham and corn mashed potatoes.  Both dishes were elegantly presented and were generous portions.  While I found the ginger in Laura's dish a bit strong for my tastes, she liked it just fine, the tender "beef" strips stir-fried with garlic, ginger, scallions, carrots, sugar and snap peas served with white rice.  My butterfly soy chops were a site to behold:


When I read the words "apple raisin sauce" i had pictured something more liquid like and was delighted to see whole sliced apples and raisins.  The perfect flavor and moisture of the fruit provided a wonderful balance to the dryness of the chops.  The collards with "ham" bits and the sweet corn mashed potatoes were forgettable, but serviceable enough to provide a balance of textures to the breaded "pork" and the fruit.  

My only major gripe was with the service, which was on the slow side.  And the fact that they were out of the organic peach beer.  But if you're in Greenwich Village looking for a reasonably-priced vegetarian adventure with enough variety to please everyone in your party, save a place for Red Bamboo on your itinerary.

Red Bamboo
(212) 260-7049
(212) 260-1212
140 West 4th Street
(between 6th ave & macdougal)
12:30 to Midnight
Noon to Midnight
Last Seating:
Sun - Thurs: 11:15
Fri: 11:40
Sat: 11:40
Delivery Until 11PM Daily


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (Oh Yeah, They're Vegan)

As some of you might know, for the past few months I have been attending a weekly vegetarian dinner at my friend Sneha's apartment.  And every week, I make a different cupcake from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World  by Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romero (like Julie and Julia, but with vegan cupcakes).  If you're a vegan who enjoys baking, or just someone for whom the words Tiramisu cupcakes makes your mouth water, you must add this book to your library.  Not only are their recipes easy-to-follow (even if some of the directions seem a bit counterintuitive), but they have a keen understanding of texture, moisture, and flavor that many vegan bakers lack (the reason so many vegan baked goods come out dense and dry).  Many of the techniques they employ creating vegan desserts are applicable to non-vegan desserts, and I've found the skill set I've developed empowering.  Before I started baking with them, I never would have dreamed I would be able to whip up my own frosting or throw some fruit, cornstarch, and vanilla into a saucepan and have enough confidence to know that it would come out looking like pie filling.  (Hey this is all sounding really compelling--maybe Amy Adams should star in a movie about me!)

Now onto the main event.

To preface, allow me to rewind to say, Thursday morning.  I am frantically running around in preparation for what looks to be a fun-filled, friend-filled weekend.  That evening the Rutgers Bhakti club was hosting Sacred Sounds, with internationally known kirtan band Gaura Vani.  Friday, my friend Laura was coming in from DC and I was going to look like the coolest host ever by taking her to my veggie dinner and then hang out with all of my Mason Gross theater friends at Midnight Special.  

Then, disaster struck.

Now, I've been cool with all of the blizzard weather that has inundated the Northeast this year. Maybe I've been living near better scenery this year, or have just been listening to a lot of Fleet Foxes, but more than any other winter I've had little trouble fancying myself in an adaptation of the Snow Queen every time the snowflakes swirl around me. 

So I get it.  Winter Wonderland.  YadaYadaYada.

But then I kept getting texts that indicate my social life has basically been cancelled--first Midnight Special, then Sacred Sounds, then my veggie dinner (I knew a text from Laura couldn't be far off)--and I soon found myself curled up in a fetal position with hot cocoa and Bailey's listening to Joanna Newsome music.

Thursday morning, starved for human contact, I trudge through the tundra to work at the theater office.  Suddenly. my luck began to turn around.  First, Laura informs me she is on her way after all!  And Sneha asks me if I'm doing anything and would I like to have dinner.

Um. YES.

So with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf playing on my MacBook, I set to work deciding on this week's cupcake.  While my car was finally back from the hospital (long story), I was loathe to choose any recipe  that would require ingredients I would have to drive to procure, as the thought of finding street parking in the blizzard was not a pleasant one.  And for the sake of not repeating myself (I am determined to bake through the entire book eventually) I decided on the Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes.  The one substitution I did make was I ran out of frozen strawberries, so I ended up mixing in some chopped frozen mango and cherries, which added an extra dimension of flavor and color.

My only real hesitation with this recipe was the method for making the velvet icing, which in involves the kind of multi-step process that always makes me feel like medieval alchemist.  I trusted Isa and Terry, however, and the result kind of blew my mind.  If you ever need a vegan whipped cream recipe for anything at all, this should be the only one you ever use from here on out.  

 Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

1 cup dairy free milk (minus 1 Tbsp to counteract the juiciness of your berries)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, softened (like Earth Balance)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp lemon or orange extract (I just squirted some lemon juice, but I don't know if made any difference)
about 1 cup strawberries chopped into smallish pieces

Preheat your oven to 350F. Do your muffin liner thing or grease your muffin pan. Whisk the soy milk and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl and set aside 5-10 minutes to curdle.

Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Stir it up to combine. In a separate large bowl, cream the margarine and sugar for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and lemon extract. Now beat in the soymilk mixture and dry mixture in alternate separate batches just until combined. Don't over-beat or your cupcakes will get tough. You just want it to be combined.

Fold in the chopped strawberries. Fill your cupcake pan cups about 2/3 full. Bake 20 to 22 minutes. Set aside to cool on a wire rack. Make sure they're cool before you frost them!
Old-Fashioned Velvet Icing (from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup soy milk
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1/4 cup margarine
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup superfine, castor or powdered sugar

In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the flour and soy milk. Stir constantly until the mixture starts to thicken and has a pudding-like consistency, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and press plastic wrap onto the top of custard to prevent a skin from forming. Allow mixture to cool completely before the next step. (This is very important, as warm pudding will melt the shortening and margarine.) You can also put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes if you're impatient.

Cream together the shortening, margarine, vanilla and sugar then beat in cold custard. Beat with an electric mixer for 4 to 6 minutes; frosting should become lighter in color and have a very creamy texture, similar to very thick whipped cream.

To assemble, take a teaspoon and scoop out the center of the cupcake and set the scooped-out part aside.  Next, fill the cupcake with chopped fruit.  Take a dollop of frosting and spread it over the cupcake.  Place the scooped out part on top of the frosting and then put a tiny drop of frosting on top of that.  Finally, take a slice of fruit and place it on the very top.  If this all sounds terribly confusing, just look at the picture: