Winding Down the Summer Season With Italian Vegetarian Magic – Kale & Zucchini Couscous Salad at Mela Cafe

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I have a confession to make.  I love Mela Cafe so much that I was thrown into conniptions a little over a month ago when I made plans to go for lunch and found the cafe closed with its lights off, its chairs off the floor, its shelves normally stocked full of tomato sauce completely empty and bare, and its signature “garage door” storefront covered with newspapers.  I smushed my nose against the glass door, peered inside, and nearly had a heart attack.  I turned around to face my boyfriend with my mouth gaping open, speechless for about a minute before I found my vocal cords and started babbling like a hysterical nut.  “Oh my god…oh my god…why aren’t they open?!  They couldn’t have packed up, that doesn’t make sense!  People love it here!  I love it here!  There would be a sign!  But why are the tomato sauce cans gone?!  Are they renovating?  I’m panicking.  Am I panicking?”  I walked around in a daze for the entire day and had no idea what to do with myself. 

Fast forward two weeks later.  I was in the area again during the day so I took a deep breath, and went over to Yorkville Ave. to see my beloved Mela.  To my utter relief, delight, and elation, Mela’s storefront was open with a smiling Roberto and a fresh coat of paint inside.  They had closed for renovation!  I skipped on inside, got a hug from Roberto, and was grinning from ear to ear – crisis averted.  I could go back to eating myself silly!  And just think, with fall upon us, I’m positive Roberto has a host of new menu items to dish out with fall fruits and vegetables.  I’m mega excited.

Tomorrow marks the 1-year anniversary of my very first visit to Mela.  Exactly one year ago, I walked along Yorkville Ave. like any other regular day in the neighbourhood, saw Mela’s bright orange storefront, saw the words “Italian Vegetarian Magic”, stepped into the Italian vegetarian and vegan eatery, and never looked back from that day on.  This past year at Mela has created so many sweet memories and as my favourite vegetarain and vegan place in the city, I can’t imagine it ever being absent from my life.  I took my mum, brother, and best friend here for the first time during the spring, got my best friend obsessed with their ravioli and vegan banana cream pies, made a sweet friend named Jennie who frequents Mela on a weekly basis, got to know Roberto and the other ladies who help him make his mouth-watering dishes, asked my boyfriend for his metropass while he was working at school so I could eat ravioli in the dead of winter, and had so much delicious food, including this salad!

Last time, I showed you all Roberto’s quinoa salad with crunchy cabbage, green beans, tomatoes, olive oil, and lots of parsley, and the time before that I proudly displayed his springtime salad with watercress, green beans, Shanghai bok choy, cauliflower, chickpeas, and olive oil.  THIS time, I have for you a sunny summer salad of fluffy couscous with zucchini and leafy kale!  It was a summer salad chock full of juicy tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, celery, cabbage, zucchini squash, and lots of fresh, crunchy kale.  When I saw the mountain of salad up on the food counter, I had to restrain myself from grabbing the large metal spoon used for scooping and just going to town with it.

I ate kale for the first time last winter (funny enough, I did so at Kale Eatery by Yonge & Eglinton) and I bought my first fresh batch from the Trinity Bellwoods Park farmers’ market earlier in the month and these days I just think to myself, “where have I been all this time?  I’ve been missing out!”.  Mela has not only been a place to make great friendships and to eat happy wiggling-inducing food but it’s also been a place to learn, specifically about all sorts of vegetables and yummy ways to pair them up with other vegetables, grains, and proteins.

I could eat the salads here endlessly and what I really love about the food here is the variety of vegetables and the ways that they’re paired together.  You’ll find everything from sweet potatoes to kale, rapini, beets, watercress, green beans, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, asparagus, and more.  Not to mention there’s always a grain or a protein involved (chickpeas, quinoa, and couscous thus far I’ve seen) which bulks up the salad even more in its nutritional levels.  Mela’s salads aren’t overladen with dressing, they’re not dry and boring (lettuce and tomato does not make an exciting salad, ever), and there’s always something different.  This is the 3rd salad I’ve tried and I anticipate there will be a hundred more to try as time goes on!  Oh, and if you’re wondering about the plates of food on the table, no, they were not all mine!  I love to eat, yes, but I do not have the stomach to eat 3 plates of food!   

Summer might be winding down, but the memories of food and friends last forever.  Thanks for the memories, friendship, and an amazing delicious year, Mela.  I can’t wait to see what another year will bring.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

Scrapbooking materials used: neon green, goldenrod yellow, indigo, and cobalt blue cardstock (Recollections); red paper; Grass & Flowers patterned paper (Sandylion); burgundy, beige, and black alphabet stickers (K&Company); green-and-brown alphabet stickers (Make It Special Crafts by Dollarama); olive green alphabet stickers (Recollections); violet flower stickers (Sticko); yellow jewel adhesive gems (Sandylion Essentials); red and black adhesive gems; scalloped edge scissors (Provo Craft); black felt tip Sharpie.

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