|Wally reclines among the winter squash at Fair Food.|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
A cook friend and I were discussing vegan-izing recipes the other day. He is a rather strict vegetarian, and was a vegan for years. "To make, say, a seven-ingredient recipe vegan, it will take at least 20 ingredients," he said, adding that eggs are the hardest to replicate, and that's why vegan baking can be very challenging. "That's why meat substitutes have such texture issues," I thought to myself. I never seem to enjoy meat substitutes. From spongy soy to heavy, soggy seitan, their textures are always so disappointing, no matter how assiduously flavor is applied.
The very next morning, I was shopping at the Reading Terminal Market's Fair Food Farmstand (soon to take over the primo former Rick's Steaks real estate) and spied a familiar-looking block with an unfamiliar label: Vrapple. A cheerful pig in a chef hat grinned out, next to the legend Vrapple: The Vegan Breakfast Treat. Wally says, "We kick the crap out of scrapple!"
With a tagline like that, I had to try it.
Sarah Cain is the evil genius behind Sarah's Savories, which produces Vrapple. When a vegan friend pined to Sarah that she missed the hometown pig-part treat, Cain began ruminating on ways to reproduce the porky patty. Her final product is constructed from a base of organic mushrooms, wheat gluten, cornmeal, buckwheat flour, a touch of organic cane sugar and plenty of black pepper. The breakfast non-meat is sold in familiar scrapple-ish blocks, frozen for freshness.
Once defrosted, I sliced my Vrapple in to serving-size slices, and fried it in canola oil in a very hot pan until both sides were crispy and browned. I forked off a piece of the hot meat substitute, closed my eyes and took the plunge.
It is freaking delicious. It's BETTER than scrapple. The crisp outside and soft inside perfectly mimic scrapple's characteristic texture. The slice yields immediately under fork and tooth pressure and has a meaty, mushroomy base and a sweet, peppery finish. It is satisfyingly spicy and rich. It was so good I stopped writing my impressions to fry myself another slice. A splash of organic Grade B maple syrup took the already-delightful Vrapple to an even more decadent place. I could not believe how good it was.
Cain has converted me to actually preferring one meat substitute to the real thing. As Wally, the pig mascot, smiles out of the package at me, I grin back, pleased to feel so virtuous while eating something so tasty. Then I go back for another slice.
Vrapple is available at the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch streets, 215-627-2029. It is sold by weight at an average of $5-$10 per frozen block.
|One, two, three, baby.|
|Photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Sabrina's Cafe is rightly famous for their ample brunch portions and epically long waits for said portions on the weekend. For a nominal upcharge, one can add their divine polenta fries with spicy tomato sauce to any sandwich. The crisp bricks of polenta are the most satisfying thing you can make with cornmeal and a little bit of water, and wonderfully cheap, as well. Minimal kitchen skills are required to covert cornmeal dust into happy little fritters — the ability to stir fast for 5 minutes is the main requirement.
Polenta served hot from the pot is an ideal comfort food, with all of the pooling butter and spoonablity of a good mashed potato, and none of the tedium. Hot polenta cooled in a shallow baking pan or casserole can be cut into bricks and then fried, for a great second-meal iteration.
Pick up a bag of Italian Instant Polenta from Di Bruno Bros. for $2.99 and ignore the totally useless directions on the back. One Tsp serving? What in the name of Fabrizio Moretti does that mean?
Recipe and method after the jump.
Polenta Fries A-Go-Go
Go Get This:
One cup of instant polenta
5 cups water
Olive or vegetable oil for frying
Little bit of flour for dredging
Now Do This:
Boil the water in a medium-sized pot. Once boiling briskly, whisk in a little of the polenta at a time, whisking away like mad continuously. No lumps! Keep whisking.
Keep adding polenta and whisking until all of the polenta is incorporated into the boiling water. Keep stirring away for about 5 minutes, until the polenta is thick, with a texture similar to Cream of Wheat.
Pour the hot polenta into a baking or casserole dish and allow to cool in the fridge, at least half an hour, until the polenta is firm to the touch. You should eat some hot, too, with heaps of butter and salt. So good.
Once firm, slice the polenta into little bricks, any size you like.
Heat olive or vegetable oil in a medium sauté pan until hot but not smoking. Roll the polenta bricks in flour to just coat, and place gently in the hot oil.
Fry for about 3 minutes per side, until crisp and brown.
Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse salt. Eat solo or with a spicy tomato sauce, hot sauce, or as the starch with a stew or soup.
February or March 2009 will see the opening of the third location of Byeong-gwan "Ben" Yu's Tampopo, which already has locations at 21st and Chestnut and Seventh and Sansom. It's slated for the corner of 44th and Spruce, right next to Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida's forthcoming Local 44 Beer Bar. Yu says the menu will be "almost identical" to the other Tampopos, with the addition of ramen noodle soups and an extended selection of tofu- and vegetable-based dishes. Tampopo's dual BYOB policy — meaning bring your own bottle and bring your own bowl (the latter saves you money on your order!) — will apply here, as well.
RELATED: Fishy business at Tampopo
|No seitan, either.|
|Landau and Jacoby|
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
|Dynise "The Urban Vegan" Balcavage with her husband, John "Omniman" Gatti|
|Photo | Steve Legato for New York Times|
|Photo | Greg Bezanis for South Philly Review|
|Photos | Drew Lazor|
Argan, a week-old restaurant at 132 S. 17th St. (215-873-6552), was described to me as a "Moroccan El Fuego," a reference to the reliable burrito rollers who hold it down at Seventh and Walnut and 21st and Chestnut. I could not really wrap my around what that meant so I popped in last night to check it out for myself.
Owner Mounir Draissi's Philly restaurant CV reads like an Old City nightlife directory: Tangerine, Cuba Libre, five years at Rococo (now Cebu). He most recently worked as director of operations for Bonte. Argan (that's a bushy tree native to Morocco), which was formerly a deli-type establishment called 17th & Sandwich, specializes in fast, affordable Moroccan-style sandwiches ($6.99) and salads ($7.99).
|Click to enlarge|
Here's where that Fuego Factor comes in: When ordering at the counter, choose your halal meat (slow-cooked lamb, roasted chicken, Moroccan meatballs, smoked salmon, etc.) and veggie options (roasted peppers, white beans, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, etc.). Your picks are stuffed into fresh Moroccan whole-wheat flat bread. Nicoise, beet and cous cous salads; veggie sandwich fillings include hummus and zaaluk, or roasted eggplant purée. Full menu at right.
They'll focus on the quick-serve lunch and dinner style for right now, but Draissi says he hopes to introduce a separate menu for BYOers in the next few months.
Argan Moroccan Cuisine, 132 S. 17th St., 215-873-6552. Open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Sun.
|Photos | Drew Lazor|
Can't decide between embarking on a windswept culinary tour of the Mediterranean or sitting and watching old heads toss bocce in Bardascino Park? Well I'll be — now you can do both. Mazag Café (1001 S. 10th St.), which opened Oct. 11 in the 10th and Carpenter space that formerly housed the Bella Vista branch of Mount Airy's InFusion, is cozycute brainchild of Dahlia Osman, with help from her mother, Nemi Assaad.
Osman and Assaad, who are Egyptian (Mazag means "good mood" in their native tongue), cook up Medi choices from multiple countries. Drop in for stuffed grape leaves with yogurt sauce; goat cheese-, almond- and veggie-laden couscous; Italian bean salads and panini; and salad-type dishes from Lebanon, Syria, their homeland (a fried rice dish with tuna and green peppers is one Egyptian specialty) and more. Baklava, spinach pie and various other bread-y offerings are baked fresh daily; plenty of vegetarian and vegan options are on hand, as well. The menu will continue to grow as customers become better acquainted with some of the more authentic offerings, Assaad says.
They're also doing a full range of coffee and espresso drinks in addition to harder-to-find beverages like Turkish coffee, hibiscus tea, and sahlab, a hot drink that's extremely popular in the Middle East. Derived from orchid root, the thick treat is served with milk and nuts, which you're meant to spoon out and eat prior to your first sip.
Mazag, which is still waiting on their phone line hookup, is open Mon.-Fri. from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Mi Lah's servers were making last-second preparations when I popped by Jason Lay's brand-new bilevel vegetarian restaurant, in the former Pita Pocket at 16th and Chancellor, earlier today. They're easing into their very first weekend of business. (I can't get Pictobrowser to catch for some reason — growing pains — but check out more interior shots here.)
Head chef Tyler Black, a Florida native, started his Philly cooking career at the Four Seasons before becoming head chef at Govinda's at Broad and South. He was last in the kitchen at Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby's Horizons. Black, who's been vegetarian for about three years, says he wants Mi Lah to fill what he feels is a void in the city's mid-range vegetarian dining options. (Prices are appropriate for such a task, with entrées topping out at just $17.)
|Click to enlarge|
Approach-wise, Mi Lah's menu touches on numerous disciplines. There's Mediterranean (grilled halloumi with tomato confit panzanella); African (sweet potato patties with harissa; a Tunisian chickpea stew called labi labi); Southeast Asian (braised lemongrass, ginger and coconut milk with brown basmati rice and banana leaf; tofu pad Thai); Caribbean (grilled seitan skewers in a housemade jerk made with Barbados molasses), etc.
Black wants to get away from the practice of simply swapping out fake meat for the real stuff and deeming the plate acceptable for herbivores. "Here, we want vegetables to be the focus," he says. "Not a single thing on this menu could exist as a vegetarian option at a [non-veg] restaurant." Almost all items are vegan and gluten-free, as well; those that aren't can be tweaked to accommodate.
Mi Lah's a BYOB, but they're tinkering with the idea of offering premade rum and vodka mixers (see the second-floor juice bar).
Mi Lah Vegetarian, 218 S. 16th St., 215-732-8888, milahvegetarian.com
Open for lunch* Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner, 5-10 p.m.; closed Sun.
* Lunch kicks off next Tuesday, Oct. 14. They'll begin serving lunch on Tuesday., Oct. 21.
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