Being an Anglo Vegan in Montreal

The absolutely delicious Lola Rosa vegan poutine. Sweet potato and Yukon gold fries with a rich black bean/mushroom gravy and Daiya, garnished with green onion.  This is the small, which is what I recommend you order if you're going to get the chocolate/avocado/coconut tart for dessert, as I always do.

The absolutely delicious Lola Rosa vegan poutine. Sweet potato and Yukon gold fries with a rich black bean/mushroom gravy and Daiya, garnished with green onion. This is the small, which is what I recommend you order if you’re going to get the chocolate/avocado/coconut tart for dessert, as I always do.

When I came to Montreal three years ago, I learned very quickly that food is culture, and I couldn’t presume that the way I had grown used to handling eating out as a vegan would be the same. I fell in love with the city before I knew much about the local food scene, or the veg scene. The way of life here is slower, smaller, and more relaxed than other cities. Picnicking is a favourite weekend pastime, and they have a special term for going out for drinks before a late supper at home throughout the week. Biking makes more sense than driving almost every time here, and public pianos are set out at subway stations for citizens to entertain each other during their daily commute- and they do! My life here is idyllic- I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. But as a vegan, it took some work to adapt to the local food climate. While Montreal has a few excellent vegan and vegetarian establishments, by and large, omni restaurants- especially of the pricier variety- refuse to cater to vegans on principal. It’s just not the Quebec way, I’m told; ordering off-menu is an insult to the chef, vegetarianism itself is insulting to the lard-laden palate of the Quebecois. While some of this can be accounted for by the difficulty of catering to vegans on the spot (since lard and butter is in eevrything, even the beans), not all of my experience can be accounted for by this. It was shocking to me to experience being literally turned away at the door of restaurants, since the chef refused to simply omit cheese from a menu item. Since I am not a native speaker of Quebecois and am conscious of the threat of English imperialism in the Quebec nation, I am not sure how much of what I have experienced was a result of nationalist indignation- perhaps the experience of native quebeckers is different. One can never tell if the ire of the barista is the result of asking for soy milk or asking for soy milk in English, or both.

By comparison when I lived in Edmonton, while there were very few vegetarian establishments, I had enjoyed the American-style hospitality that larger omni restaurants offered, including reduced prices for cutting meat out of menu items, and vegan meat and cheese substitutes for almost any dish. While sometimes I encountered hapless waiters and chefs who would offer me fish or chicken broth when I specified ‘vegan’ (I even had a pizzeria inform me that none of their pizzas could be made vegan, since there was flour and oil in the crusts), everyone was happy- even relieved- when I explained what veganism entailed and offered suggestions for vegan fare off their menus. Managers and chefs would invite me to come back on a quiet afternoon to review the menu and ingredient lists with them to help make their establishments more accommodating to vegans. I couldn’t ask for a more accommodating, friendly dining experience.

In other ways, too, Edmonton values seemed more open and commensurate with vegan values. They have one of the best (if not the best) no-kill animal shelters in the world, and it’s entirely funded by the community operating in harmony out of the same building complex as the city animal control service. Meanwhile in Montreal, city animal services are entirely privatized, sometimes run by for-profit companies who have a horrific track record of killing first and answering questions later. Public outrage at lost family pets being killed by unqualified personnel without being scanned for microchips or giving owners an opportunity to retrieve them first has inspired some interest in improving the state of things. However, by and large, Quebec remains a very dismal place for animals.

As an outsider, of a sort (I had two bilingual grandparents, one of whom was Quebecois) I realize that my capacity as an advocate for veganism is reduced here. First, because of the linguistic barrier- my French is barely passable. Second, because in an environment where the francophone majority militantly protects a culture threatened by English (and by extension, anglophones themselves), any attempts to promote veganism are seen as yet another presumptuous and imperialistic attack on Quebecois values and culture by les Anglais. As such, I just avoid eating out except at expressly vegetarian-friendly establishments. However, there is some evidence that the situation here in Montreal is improving. A few of the newer eateries that have popped up in the Mile End area have veg options, and new veg establishments are opening up or expanding regularly. I have hope for this little city that I love, and hope for the millions of animals that are farmed for their fur, flesh, secretions, and entertainment value in Quebec.

With that heavy post, here are some of my ridiculously adorable (and available for adoption) foster kittens.

Puff, Norbert and Toothless

Puff, Norbert and Toothless

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Veggie Pâté Sammiches

Veggie pate perfection! All it's missing is a pickle.

Veggie pate perfection! All it’s missing is a pickle.

I don’t think veggie pâté exists outside of Quebec, and even in Quebec it’s a bit of a culinary enigma. Across the internet you can find present and former Montrealers reminiscing and trying to recreate the staple food of the Quebecoise vegetarian, but no one seems to know the origin of this perfect vegan food in an otherwise very meat-centric culinary landscape. It’s presence in epiceries and menus throughout the province is ubiquitous, where it’s enjoyed by omnis and vegetarians alike as an appetizer with bread and pickles or in California-style sandwiches on seedy bread with tomatoes, sprouts, pickles, avocado and mayo. 

Veggie pâté was one of the first vegan things I noticed on my very first trip to the grocery store just after moving to Montreal from Edmonton, the only other place I had lived as a vegan. The shrink-wrapped plastic packages came in several varieties, nestled in a group beside the hummus and other spreads. I was delighted, as I had enjoyed pâté in my pre-vegan days and interpreted this as a sure sign that Montreal would be a very vegan-friendly place indeed. Sadly, I quickly learned that I was mistaken- but that is a topic for another post. 

My first impression upon trying veggie pâté was that it tasted like Thanksgiving. Specifically, it tastes like stuffing. Dense, creamy and somewhat crumbly, characteristic flecks of carrot stud the fine loaf, which is pressed and baked in bread pans before being sliced or scooped into rounds like ice cream. Traditionally made by finely grating carrot, celery, onion and potato, it’s often made in the food processor these days. Wheat flour and vegetable oil binds it together, and chopped sunflower seeds provide textural interest. Herbal notes of thyme, sage and rosemary pull together the flavour profile, sometimes with white wine, nutritional yeast and garlic. Variations, such as eggplant, sundried tomato and cranberry are common, but even these flavours are subtle additions to the overall toasted wheat and golden-baked mirepoix base.

There are several varieties available for purchase, and several recipes published by Quebecois bloggers and tv personalities, such as the ever-loveable Ricardo. I am working on my own, and will share it when it’s perfected. In the meantime, here’s a basic veggie pâté sandwich recipe. It served as lunch during camping at least twice. However, the overall experience was greatly diminished by the omission of a pickle, the standard pâté accompaniment. Putter’s is the best choice. It’s what they serve along the famous Montreal smoked meat at Schwartz’s, and alongside the veggie pâté at Aux Vivres, the institution most representative of the Montreal vegan community. You probably can’t find Putter’s outside of Quebec, in which case go for the sharpest, cloudiest fresh brine pickle you can find. 

 

Veggie Pâté Sammiches

2 slices of multigrain bread
1 tbsp Grapeseed Vegenaise (or vegan mayo of choice)
2 slices of tomato
1/4 sliced avocado
1 leaf romaine lettuce
1 small handful of sunflower or broccoli sprouts
1/4 sliced green onion
3-4 slices of veggie pâté, 1/4 inch thick
1 Putter’s Pickle, sliced in the sandwich or whole on the side
Herbamare and pepper, to taste

Assemble sandwich with mayo on both sides. Enjoy with a beer if you’re like me, or a kombucha, if you’re doing it Aux Vivres-style.

The quintessential veggie pate

The quintessential veggie pate

Vegan MoFo 2014 – The Outdoor Cookery Edition

vegan mofo 2014

Today we start another month of writing about vegan food! Today is also my first day back from 9 days of camping in the woods with 20 people, no oven, no microwave, and no dishwasher. The coolers are still packed (why did I buy all that salad?), I’m eating cold leftover vegan mac and cheese for dinner, and there’s a giant bag of empties waiting to be returned to the depanneur (Quebecois for convenience store). Everything, including me, still smells like campfires. The cats are giving everything the cursory sniff-down and threatening to never let us out of sight again.  

Over the next month I’ll be sharing my outdoor cooking adventures with you, with a substantial dose of nostalgia and recipes on the side. If you ever went on family camping trips or were a member of Guides or Scouts (I was both), you’ll probably get a kick out of these veganized versions of camping favourites. If not, hopefully the methods and recipes will inspire you on your next foray into the wilderness (or your local urban park). Mixed in with the camping stories will be the usual collection of random recipes from work, pictures of foster kittens, and insight into la vie Montrealaise. 

Ratatouille and fried portobellos in the making

Ratatouille and fried portobellos in the making

Taking in strays/Kimchi part 1

It’s been a whole week since I’ve written, and I feel pretty crappy about it. But I have the best excuses. Plus, I have several legitimately exciting food stories to share over the next few days, so that makes up for some of it, right? Well, you be the judge,

The first reason I was away last week is that we took in a stray kitten. If you’ve ever done this before, you know how those adorable fluffballs can just eat up any spare time you might have. This little one was part of a feral colony, but decided she wanted to adventure off on her own and consort with humans. She cried and cried outside my guy’s back door til we were finally able to trap her and get her spayed and dewormed and all those good things. She’d 4.5 months old and doesn’t know how to do anything other than snuggle and hide. But that’s ok. The rest will come with time.

World, meet Betty Boop (Boop for short, or sometimes Bloop, or McBlooperson)

World, meet Betty Boop (Boop for short, or sometimes Bloop, or McBlooperson)

The second reason I’ve been busy is that I have taken in a stray tourist from Japan! A friend of a friend’s lodging arrangements fell through just a couple of days before she was scheduled to fly to Montreal. Rather than cancel her trip, I gave her my room and am staying with my guy for the next couple of weeks. Needless to say, the sudden nature of this made things a bit hectic for a few days there- lots of scrubbing and packing and laundering happened. But now Tomoko is happily doing her thing out of my tiny little Plateau pad, and life is somewhat returned to normal.

In the midst of all this upheaval, I have managed to find some time for cooking, too. Mostly because if I didn’t, I’d go mad. Last Sunday, I had a fermenting/pickling day with a few lovely friends. We made kimchi and dill pickles. I won’t share all the deets until I get to taste the final product, but I’ll woo you with some pictures in the meantime.

Ladies at work

Ladies at work

It was actually a lot of fun, putting together all the little jars and stirring up big bowls of veggies with chili sauce for the kimchi. It would have been more fun had we made it through the day without one of us cutting herself and another squirting ginger juice in her eyes (that was me!) but, you know. The hostess graciously provided us with wine and baguette, which helped immensely.

Dividing the dill and garlic for the jars

The little countertop that could! Dividing the dill and garlic for the jars, grating turnip, carrots and ginger for the kimchi.

Pretty little jars all in a row, ready for their brine.

Pretty little jars all in a row, ready for their brine. Can’t forget the wine. Not for the pickles, for the pickle-makers.

I will report back with the finished results in a couple of weeks. I hope it will be delicious. I am sure it will be.

Pumpkin and Chard Risotto

If you’ve been reading this blog, you get by now that I work an awful lot, producing food for gazillions of people every week. You might think this leaves me totally sick of cooking and eating chickpeas out of the can for dinner most nights. But in fact, I only eat beans out of the can some nights! Weekends are usually reserved for cooking with/for my delightful friends. First, because otherwise I’d never see them, and second, because they have functioning kitchens that I can usurp.

On Saturday we had a Pumpkin All The Things! day with a few folks (who have a great kitchen). Originally we had planned on doing savoury pumpkin ravioli, but couldn’t find vegan wonton wrappers on a Saturday (they only sell them at the Kosher market). So, we improvised and came up with this great risotto.

Believe me when I tell you, this tastes waaaayyy better than it looks.

Believe me when I tell you, this tastes waaaayyy better than it looks.

The tangy, crunchy chard contrasts so nicely with the creamy, rich pumpkin. Mushrooms were added for some texture, along with my favorite ever Smoked Apple Sage Field Roast sausages. The end result was so delicious we all sat numb from overeating watching NFB videos until we could roll out the door.

Pumpkin and Chard Risotto

For the basic risotto:

Olive oil and/or Earth Balance, for cooking
A bottle of buttery, oaky Chardonnay
Vegetable broth
2 cups arborio rice
2 yellow onions, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced

To stir in near the end of cooking the rice:

2 cups pureed unsweetened pumpkin
3 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram, or 2 tsp dried
1.5 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp dijon
Salt and Pepper

To stir in just before serving:

1 large bunch of chard, any colour, thoroughly washed and chopped- Stems into 1/2 inch slices, leaves into 1-inch cubes
4 Apple Sage Field Roast Sausages, broken with your fingers into small, rough bites
1 pint mushrooms, halved and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp tamari
Juice from half a lemon
A splash of wine
Olive oil, for cooking.

Start by preparing your basic risotto. Fry the onions in plenty of oil til they are golden, then add the rice and garlic, stirring constantly until just toasted. Stir in a cup of wine, pour yourself a glass while you’re at it. Once the wine is absorbed, add stock a ladleful at a time, allowing it to be fully absorbed between each addition.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables and sausages to be stirred in at the very end of cooking. Sautee the mushrooms over medium high heat in the olive oil until almost all golden, then deglaze with a splash of wine. Once that wine is cooked down, add the chard stems to the mushrooms for a few minutes, and finally the chard leaves and the garlic along with the tamari and lemon. Set the vegetables aside, and in the same pan brown the sausages until mostly golden. Deglaze with a little more wine if things have been sticking. Set aside wit the vegetables.

When the rice is just barely soft enough to eat, but still slightly firm, stir in the pumpkin, marjoram, thyme, dijon, and nutritional yeast. Add another 1/2 cup of wine. Stir in the veggies and sausages that you have set aside, and adjust seasoning if required.

We ate this with delicious roasted red pepper and onion fougasse, but if were up for it we would have made a nice salad to go with.

Pho/Air-boat street food/etc.

Big bowl for pho for big Bear, little bowl of pho for little kitten.

Big bowl for pho for big Bear, little bowl of pho for little kitten.

When I was in my undergrad, I took a bunch of courses in the evening. There were two reasons for this, mainly that I refused to take morning classes, but also because the part-time studies department’s Philosophy classes tended to be more interesting. In those cool in-between months after the term started but before Winter came, I often failed to dress appropriately for the weather and would find myself shivering alone in the corridors waiting for evening classes to begin while sometimes falling asleep over my readings. It was at this time that I would get one of two things: a coffee and a chocolate chip oatmeal muffin from the only cafe that remained open for the night students, or a steaming-hot Styrofoam bowl of Pho from the little Asian vendor in the cafeteria.

I always asked for the vegetarian Pho, even before I was vegan, because it seemed like a much better deal- you got so many veggies! Tender-crisp bok choy, slivers of nappa cabbage, whole petals of oyster mushrooms, sprouts, carrots, peppers, and tofu, all in a fragrant broth with warming anise, clove, and black pepper. The whole thing was topped with a mountain of Thai basil and cilantro, and finally a wedge of lime. It was more expensive than the coffee and muffin, and while it had no chocolate in it, it was still the superior choice.

There is some controversy over whether Pho is related to pot-au-feu, the dish common to the French invaders of Vietnam. Westerners like to think of Pho as a fusion food. I think it’s more likely that the French simply assumed that their culture was the epitome of Culture, and thus interpreted the native Vietnamese dish in the only way their fragile egos could manage- as an approximation of the more familiar pot-au-feu. There is something decidedly un-French about traditional Pho as well, namely the way it was vended. No white linen table cloths, wine, or candles. Just hot street food, prepared with taste, nourishment, and efficiency in mind.

Pho was originally sold at dawn and dusk by roaming street vendors, who shouldered mobile kitchens on carrying poles (gánh phở). From the pole hung two wooden cabinets, one housing a cauldron over a wood fire, the other storing noodles, spices, cookware, and space to prepare a bowl of pho. Pho vendors kept their heads warm with distinctive, disheveled felt hats called mũ phở. (thank you Wikipedia)

I wonder if the Chinese food boat scene from The Fifth Element is at all related to the history of Pho? Some days, especially when it’s cold, I wish for certain conveniences out of sci fi like travelling Pho air-boats or teleportation.

It may be too early for you folks south of the border to be thinking of hot soups as an ideal comfort food, but here in the Great White North the nights have been getting quite chilly, and ominously gray skies have brought portents of Autumn and frost. Unless you have a magical Pho Boat coming your way, this recipe is the best thing to keep the chill out.

Come here, boat of tasty! I want all your deliciousness! But you can leave the terrible ethnic stereotypes behind...

Come here, boat of tasty! I want all your deliciousness! But you can leave the terrible ethnic stereotypes behind…

It took me a while to figure out how to make a good vegan Pho, and the trick is to take your time to treat the veggies right, and not worry too much about being traditional. This is your Pho, make it how you like it.

  1. Take a couple big yellow onions, peel the outer layer and halve them lengthwise. Cut a 5-inch stem of ginger root lengthwise. Blacken the outer layer both over a flame (broiler/element/blowtorch). Rinse away any flakes of char and set aside.
  2. Roughly chop five large, peeled carrots, and a couple cups of mushroom stems (any kind, preferably belonging to the caps you’ll use in the soup) and roast them in a pot with coconut oil until beginning to brown. This will take a bit of time, but keep an eye on it and have a beer to keep you occupied.
  3. Add to the carrots and mushrooms a couple of star anise, a couple of whole cloves, a 4-inch stick of cinnamon, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, a three-inch strip of kombu and several black peppercorns. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the onion and ginger, then about 5-6 cups of low- or no-salt mushroom or vegetable broth- enough to cover with an inch or two to spare.
  4. Simmer until reduced by 1/3, then add a tablespoon or two of good tamari and/or vegan fish sauce. Strain well through a fine sieve. This broth can be kept in the fridge or frozen until ready to use.
  5. Cook medium flat rice noodles til tender. Add to big bowls of freshly-boiled broth.
  6. Prepare vegetables. Firm tofu, mixed fresh or dried/re-hydrated mushroom caps, tender greens, snow peas and peppers can be sauteed ever so lightly, then divided among individual bowls.
  7. Toppings should be served on the side, to be added with chopsticks to the bowls by diners. Scallions and red chilies finely sliced on the bias, whole cilantro and Thai basil leaves, wedges of lime and bean sprouts. Vegetarian hoisin, chili-garlic paste/sriracha, and seasoned rice vinegar should be offered as well.

To Eat: Pile on the herbs, sauces, etc. and barely stir them into the piping-hot broth. It will wilt the leaves, while maintaining some of their texture and providing lovely contrast between the spicy/sour/cool/herbal notes of the garnish and the warm/earthy/sweet/savoury notes of the soup.

Bon appetit!

Easiest Pasta Salad

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can't be choosers.

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can’t be choosers.

Last summer, I lived for a while with some wonderful folks with an amazing patio. You know, the kind that is level with the widest branches of the trees and suspends you above the rest of the city, filtered through the greenery? This location magically inspired food with lots of fresh vegetables. I ate a LOT of salad. Something about being outdoors inspires further freshness. But because raw veggies can only take you so far, I started finding ways to mix grains into my creations. The pasta salad of my youth was an egg-ridden, totally gross swamp of cholesterol, dodgy food standards and sodium. This variation couldn’t be further removed from that science experiment of a side dish.

This little pasta salad is easy-peasy, varied, and filling enough to be a meal in itself. It follows a simple formula, and the secret is in the sauce. No gross eggy-stuff required.

  1. Pick a cute little pasta. I like bowties. Things like shells tend to stick to each other too much. Macaroni is good, if you’re down with the retro-feel of the uniform elbows.
  2. Pick fresh, flavourful vegetables in four different colours. Colour is important to the appreciation of this dish. It symbolizes the variety and abundance of harvest times. I like crunchy veggies and ones that suck up sauces thirstily, like broccoli.
  3. Use good herbs. I use dried marjoram, thyme, and tarragon. And then fresh parsley and/or cilantro. The fresh parsley really contributes to the flavour of this dish, so try not to ditch it. Use the flat-leaf kind, it’s tastier and has a nicer texture.
  4. Infuse your olive oil. Take a good olive oil, and brown a whole lot of minced garlic in it. It will infuse the oil with garlic flavour, which will then distribute evenly through the pasta. If you want some kick, use dried chilis in your olive oil infusion. Go ahead and add some capers, sundried tomatoes, or marinated artichoke hearts for tang and depth. Stir in some nooch, dijon and almond flour enough to make a cream. Add lemon juice and cider or wine vinegar (yes, both) until it is thinned enough to just coat the back of a spoon. Toss liberally with your salad.
  5. I like fresh greens, such as rough chopped arugula, spinach or chard stirred in at the last minute. It makes it all feel fresher and brighter.
  6. Go ahead and add some beans. Chickpeas, small white beans and green lentils are nice.

This recipe makes me long for summer days and crisp, cool Rieslings sipped on the porch. Also, it pulls together in maybe 20 minutes. Can’t go wrong.