Thursday, 10 February 2011

Spinach goes to Spain: Travelling as a Vegan

If off-season flight prices hadn't been involved, I probably wouldn't have chosed Spain as my first trip abroad after transitioning to veganism.  Spanish food is often cited as the worst for vegetarians, let alone vegans, with Spanish vegetable dishes often containing hunks of pigs.  But when my boyfriend proposed a trip at the end of January, flights to Madrid were so cheap that I kind of forgot I was vegan.

I'm not going to tell you that Spanish menus aren't mostly made up of pigs and squid, because they certainly are.  But at every meal, I wondered if my task of finding vegan food in Spain was about to become arduous.  It never did.  I was never told that a restaurant couldn't accommodate me, and most restaurants had several things on their menus that were already vegan. 

This happy experience occurred in part because of the wondrous miracle that is, a very useful site that lists the vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants in pretty much every city in the world.  I just printed off the listings for our two destinations, Madrid and Granada, and shoved them into our travel guide.

Because I was travelling with my meat-loving boyfriend, I didn't solely visit vegetarian restaurants, but I did go to a few, and I'm very excited to tell you about the three delicious, veggie restaurants we found.

1.  For lunch our second day in Madrid, we went to an awesome vegetarian cafe called Viva la Vida (they have two locations, we went to the one in La Latina), that was my favourite place for the whole trip, so much so, that we ended up going twice.  Viva la Vida is a buffet place (you pay by weight), and there are plenty of clearly marked vegan options.  Over the course of two visits, I stuffed my face with polenta, paella topped with a really delicious smoky tomato sauce, roasted potatoes, vegan croquettes (swoon), sushi with a creamy, dreamy carrot mousse filling, Thai rice paper rolls, spanish rice, and a seitan dish. 

2.  For dinner that same night, we went to another vegetarian place, called El Estragon.  Because vegetarians like to move in packs, El Estragon is in the same square in the La Latina region as Viva la Vida. I had a really good dish of soy and lentil meatballs with a paprika-seasoned tomato and bell pepper sauce, and perfectly crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, sliced potatoes.

3.  Our first day in Granada, we got lunch from a take-out salad bar called El Piano.  This place was all vegan, all gluten free, all organic, and you get your selection of salad in a little biodegradable wooden boat!  You heard me right, a vegan, gluten-free, organic, environmentally conscious salad bar IN SPAIN.  It was also all delicious: I had a seitan estofida and rice with eggplant, and a brownie.

If you are heading off to Espana, I would remember a few things.  Firstly, there are several traditional Spanish delights that are already vegan: freshly squeezed orange juice; green olives; fresh oranges, figs, and other fruit; gazpatcho; and other cold soups (not always prepared vegan, but traditionally should be).  Secondly, you will want to learn the names of things you don't eat and just ask for the dish without them, rather than assuming waiters will know exactly what vegano or vegetariano means.  No one made a fuss when we asked for a dish without something.  Lastly, your life will be so much easier if you just research ahead.

If you remember from Mon Histoire, travelling and still being able to enjoy different food from different cultures was one of the things I was most concerned about when becoming vegan.  The pleasant irony of the trip was that food was the thing I was concerned about when we set sail, but thinking back on the trip now, our culinary experience was one of the best parts.  Buen provecho!


Vegan Churros with Chilli-Orange Chocolate Sauce

The only thing I really regretted in Spain was not being able to have churros!  Churros, if you are sadly unacquainted with them, are little Spanish doughnuts that are fried, and then rolled in cinnamon sugar, and served with a thick chocolate sauce.  Interested?  Since I couldn't eat these in Spain, I couldn't wait to get home and make a vegan version of them.

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup boiling water

3 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup dark chocolate pieces
1 cup soy (or other non-dairy) milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp orange zest
1 dash cayenne pepper

Canola oil for frying

Mix together the flour, salt, and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.  Pour in the cup of boiling water and mix together quickly.  Stir constantly until a firm dough forms, about five minutes.

In a small plate or bowl, combine the 3 tbsp of sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon with a fork.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a small saucepan.  If you drop a small piece of bread in the oil, it should be brown in about 30 seconds.

You have two alternatives: piping the churros onto a plate first and chilling it before frying, or piping them in shapes directly into the oil.  Not trusting my ability to pipe into boiling hot water without losing a hand, I chose the former option, if less pretty, option.  If you have a pastry bag, now is the time to break it out, and use a large star tip.  If not, just cut the tip off a plastic sandwich bag.  Whichever method you choose, churros are usually made into long oval shapes.  If you pipe them onto a plate, carefully lift thim off the plate with a knife (you might want to brush the plate with a bit of oil first), and carefully drop them into the oil.  Fry them for a few minutes, until golden brown on each side.

Lift the shapes out of the oil, and place them on a plate covered in paper towels.  Once cooled for a minute or two, roll them in the cinnamon sugar, then put them aside.

To make the chocolate sauce, carefully melt the chocolate pieces either in a double boiler, or over low heat in a saucepan.  Watch the chocolate carefully or it will burn.  Add the soy milk (or any dairy alternative you like), and whisk together.  Add the cornstarch and whisk together.  Add the orange zest and dash of cayenne, and continue to whisk constantly until the mixture thickens up a bit, about 5 minutes or so.  If you want it thicker, whisk for longer, or add a bit more starch, but I find that I don't like it too thick.

Serve the sauce in a small bowl or cup (if you have cappuchino cups, this is a perfect use for them) for dipping, and the churros on the side.