Bean & Butternut Squash Vegan Chili – Ate by Ate Cooks Fall Comfort Food!

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Ate by Ate is baaaack!  Taking a week off was one of the weirdest feelings in the world.  I haven’t stopped blogging for more than a day in the last two years so with the exception of posting some photos to Ate by Ate’s Facebook galleries, not blogging at all for a week was a complete 180.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when I’ll feel completely caught up, but a week off was exactly what I needed.  It took the pressure off, I got to do a little bit of holiday planning with friends, and while I still feel like there are a million things to do for Ate by Ate, at least I’m a tiny bit caught up on sleep at the very least!

And now we’re ready to dive right into the holiday blitz!  I’m so, SO excited for Christmas and the holidays.  I’m excited to see friends, to give my family and friends their presents, and of course, to eat!  I’m currently working on the December Food Calendar (the 1st draft went to Food Bloggers of Canada last night!) and I’m planning my weekends of food the best I can.  I forsee Christmas cupcakes, vegetarian yummies, tea, hot drinks, peppermint and candy canes, cookies, baking, and hopefully lots of special winter menu items and comfort food!

Cooking up a storm!

My week off from blogging not only allowed me to do some heavy-duty planning for the month of December, it also allowed me to cook for the very first time!  I KNOW!  The girl who has only ever baked has finally cooked a great, hearty meal all on her own from scratch!  For those of you who don’t know, my mum has always done the cooking in my family and shoos me out of the kitchen.  Always has, probably always will so long as I’m living under the same roof.  I consider myself lucky when I can take out my baking sheets and mixing bowls without so much as a frown.  Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.  Point is, I’ve read food magazines since the age of 8, have watched more cooking and food shows than I have anything else, have been fascinated by cooking and baking and the culinary arts for years, but have never truly cooked!

Boiling water for pasta and noodles doesn’t count.  Making sandwiches and salads don’t count.  Or eggs.  I’m not discrediting the preparation of those foods at all because goodness knows making food isn’t a skill you’re just naturally born with, but it’s just different for me because of how I’ve grown up.  I’m not a food blogger with a wealth of cooking experience under her belt and I don’t have a plethora of recipes (although I do hope everyone enjoys the cookie and baking ones I do post!); but what I do have is a willingness to learn and a passion that sees no end.

So, what did I end up making as my very first, real foray into cooking?  VEGAN CHILI!  I cannot tell you how happy and elated I feel about this meal!  I couldn’t stop smiling for the entire day after I made it.  I feel so proud that I did it all on my own and that it didn’t taste awful – I got the thumbs up from both my brother and my mum and I thoroughly enjoyed it myself!  I took a cue from this vegetarian chili recipe from All Recipes.com, modified it, and made it my own.  And best of all, I used the most amazing, delicious and fresh butternut squash from the Evergreen Brick Works farmers’ market to make it!  And if you can believe, it feeds 4 hungry stomachs and is incredibly hearty!  I hope you all enjoy it as much I did!

Bean & Butternut Squash Vegan Chili recipe

Serves 4 to 6

(adapted from “The Best Vegetarian Chili in the World”, allrecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 fl oz/796 mL) no-salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 can (19 fl oz/540 mL) no-salt added red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 can (19 fl oz/540 mL) no-salt added mixed bean medley (white kidney beans, chickpeas, romano beans), rinsed
  • 1-1/2 cups peeled, chopped butternut squash
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper/chili flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 can (12 fl oz/341 mL) corn kernels

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in large, deep nonstick skillet on medium heat.  Stir in onion and garlic; cook 3 min. or until onion is tender.  Add tomatoes and oregano; cook 5 min., stirring occasionally.
  2. Add beans, butternut squash and spices; stir until evenly combined.  Add water, bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 25 min.
  4. Stir in corn, cook 5 min.  Serve with hummus or avocado.

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Vegan Food Fairy Tales – Winter Kale Salad & Mushroom Barley Risotto with Sage at Prime at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Part II

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Food fairy tales are hard to come by.  You know, instances when you have the perfect food served in the perfect place in a gorgeous setting with a wonderful atmosphere with fabulous service and music to boot.  It’s hard to have everything rolled into one!  But food fairy tales do come true and when they happen, you cherish them and hold them dear to your heart.  Even though my list isn’t very long (I love many places and things I’ve eaten, yes, but we know only the knock-my-fuzzy-socks-off spectacular get to be on a list like this), there’s always room for more.  The latest addition to the storybook?  Vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms Hotel!

Luring me in with their delightful afternoon tea service just wasn’t enough, they had to bait and hook me with an ENTIRE VEGAN BRUNCH, LUNCH AND DINNER MENU too!  When I first found out about the magical weekend vegan brunch menu a number of months ago through the online food community grapevine, I thought it was too good to be true.  Especially at a fine dining establishment like Prime restaurant which brings about visions of steak and wine and other dishes that are as far from vegan as you could imagine.  But it wasn’t a myth and if that wasn’t enough, there was an accompanying vegan lunch and dinner menu on the Windsor Arms Hotel website in all its shiny glory, just waiting for me to pounce on it.  And so I did.

Admittedly, I was hoping to do chocolate afternoon tea at the King Edward during the Toronto Chocolate Festival but got on it a little too late and couldn’t get a seating.  So I thought to myself, “well, I still want to be in an afternoon tea type setting…oh my goodness, I can do vegan lunch at the Windsor Arms!!”  Hurray for lightbulb moments and thinking on my feet!

Dining at the Windsor Arms in Yorkville is one of my favourite luxuries.  It makes me feel like a princess every single time.  It’s so beautiful and majestic and regal and I feel like I’m being transported to a far away land where everything is sugar and spice and everything nice.  Sitting in a plush, cushion booth in Prime was so relaxing I felt like I was in a spa.  Soft music floated through the dining room, soft sunlight filtered through the curtained windows, and I was about to have a fab fall comfort vegan meal with a pot of hot mint tea and my sweetheart sitting across from me.  It was perfect.

Prime’s vegan lunch and dinner menu features a bounty of seasonal ingredients and what’s great about it is that it’s so easy to mix and match your dishes because the menu is divided into 4 sections – appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts – and each category has its own flat price.  Appetizers are $12, entrees are $18, sides are $7, and desserts are $14.  You could easily choose two appetizers as a meal, an appetizer and a side, an entree and a side, just an entree, and all of the above with dessert – if you can eat all of it!

Dishes include cornmeal crusted tempeh steaks with spiced sweet potato coconut mash; zucchini and carrot spaghetti with almond parmesan cheese, vegetables, and ground “walnut” meat; marinated winter kale salad with sundried tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, hemp seeds and more; nori rolls stuffed with a creamy ginger dill sunflower seed pate; teriyaki tempeh and vegetable stir-fry with steamed quinoa; raspberry cashew cheesecake; almond butter chocolate truffles, and SO much more.  I’m telling you, their vegan menu is a divine specimen sent from heaven.  There’s just nothing else like it in the city and I love that.

Meals come with a basket of fresh, soft-as-pillows bread with butter (and the bread is garlic crusted!) and while I don’t know too much about the selection of beverages, I went with my Windsor Arms tried-and-true loose leaf tea in a pot, this time going for refreshing mint!  I wanted to try more than one dish so I went with the two appetizer route: marinated winter kale salad tossed with hemp seeds, walnuts, raisins, sundried tomatoes and avocado in a creamy lemon dill tahini sauce with shaved apple, and the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto with crispy sage and truffle oil.  The menu just radiated with warmth and comfort and I chose these two because 1) I love kale, 2) I love risotto, and 3) I wanted something light and then something hearty.  Done and done.

First, the winter kale salad.  It is so light and refreshing.  The kale was shredded into long, crinkled leaves and the dressing was absolutely delicious.  It wasn’t heavy but it was noticeable enough to give the kale that bright punch of creaminess and flavour that complemented the creaminess of the avocado.  The avocado was diced into the most adorable tiny cubes, the big chunks of walnuts worked perfectly with the salad to give it crunch (and I LOVE crunch in my salads), and the sundried tomatoes gave the dish additional body to make it fuller and more meal-like.  While I would’ve gone lighter on the sundried tomato front (they’re great but the cured flavour can get overwhelming!), it was lovely dish with so many textures and dimensions of flavour.  And the apple?  I pawned that off to my sweetheart.

Now, the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto.  OH.MY.GOD.  I have to say, I love my kale to pieces but oh my word did this dish ever knock it out of the park!  First off, the smell of the dish made my mouth water even before I dug my fork in (yes, I eat rice-like dishes with a fork.  Because I like to and because I can).  It smells SO AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Like a mix of warm cream with bit of parm and cheese and nuttiness.  If you love creamy, this is your dish.  Everything just melts in your mouth and it was so delicious having a risotto that utilized something other than the traditional arborio rice just because it’s always nice to have something different.  I’ve never had a barley risotto before and it was such a different texture but a good one because it made the dish feel even more hearty and comforting.

The mushrooms were creamy and so soft, the truffle oil provided that extra hit of richness, and crispy sage?  THIS made the dish!  Herbs as just a garnish?  Please.  I ate the crispy sage right off the top, eating a few leaves on their own and mixing the rest into my risotto.  It was so delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever had.  The crispiness cut through the richness of the dish and it had a forest type of flavour to it with a tiny hint of mint.  It’s hard to explain but trust me when I say that it’s fabulous, especially in this dish.  I didn’t have any room for dessert after, but I had no doubt in my mind that I would be back for many rounds to come.  Food fairy tales do exist and the wonderful thing is that there are no limits on how many times you can go back to the storybook and retell the stories, experiencing in a different way each time.

*****

The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.   In addition to their afternoon tea service, Windsor Arms Hotel is also known for their fine dining and most recently, their newly added vegan menus at Prime restaurant!

Corn Chips, Breakfast Potatoes, & Moroccan Flavour in a Tofu Scramble – Weekend Vegan Brunch at Disgraceland!

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Appearances can be deceiving.  There are some places that are decked out to the nines, but their food?  Nothing particularly special.  And then there are the diamonds in the rough.  The no frills, rough around the edges type of establishment with hidden gems and amazing food just waiting to be discovered.  The spots that completely take you by surprise in the best way possible because you’d never think, just by looking at them, that they would dish out such magnificent culinary brilliance.  And I have my dear friend, Wini, to thank for this latest scumptious epiphany!  With all the recent talk of the Vegetarian Food Festival going on at Harbourfront (this weekend y’all!) and the return of Veggielicious, it’s incredibly timely that I would make this post on vegan breakfast and weekend brunch today!  Yes, vegan brunch!  With veggie brekkie posts on Fresh, Table 17, Lady Marmalade, and Sadie’s Diner, it was due time to add another one to the mix.  And is this ever a fabulous one!  Make way for vegetarian and vegan brunch comfort food at Disgraceland in Bloorcourt Village!

Disgraceland is what I would describe as a dive bar.  If you didn’t see the booths from across the street, you would totally mistake the space for a motorcycle related shop.  I sure did.  And that’s if you see it at all.  It’s easy to miss because you just can’t tell from its exterior that’s a place to gorge on food!  And when you come up closer, all you really see is darkness.  Until it lights up at night according to Wini.  In short, Disgraceland would fit perfectly into Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in the dive category because they have the look (jukebox, games, bar, booze, booths, diner fare and comfort food!) and they have the food to prove it!  My friend Wini told me about Disgraceland after a great dinner out and I quickly looked them up and was delighted to find that they had the full monty of menus on their site.  Perfect!  I can daydream about what I want to eat when I eventually go!  And there was certainly plenty of options to consider including meat, vegetarian, and vegan dishes.  A triple threat of a weekend brunch and dinner spot!

 

Disgraceland’s weekend brunch serves up 11 different dishes with a copious amount of brunch sides to choose from!  Prices for mains range from $8-$11 (most coming in at $11), additional sides from $2-$4, and the tax already included in all the prices.  They also only accept cash, so keep that in mind if you plan on coming!  Disgraceland is SO PERFECT for groups of friends and family with different tastes, preferences, and diets.  Not only can you customize your meals with different proteins, you can substitute a number of the items for meat or meatless equivalents.  Win-win for everyone!  Meat lovers, vegetarians, and vegans can all dine here without feeling like they’re being left out, without feeling like they need to sacrifice, and without feeling like they need to order something they’re really not into just for the sake of having something meaty or meatless.  

Not only does their menu cater to different diets, it also caters to different sweet and savoury brunch cravings.  We have the savoury English breakfast ($11) with eggs, pork or vegan sausage, baked beans, fried tomato, sauteed mushrooms, potatoes, and toast; brekkie burrito ($11) with vegan and non-vegan cheese, proteins, beans, and veggies; eggs benny with strip or vegan bacon and hollandaise over poutine ($11); cinnamon French toas ($8); and a BLT bagel with sides ($9) in both meat and vegan forms!

Because I’m totally smitten with tofu scramble, I pounced on their tofu scramble dish ($9) complete with a scramble of tofu with peppers, onions, spices, black beans, and jalapenos served with crunchy corn chips, fruit, and a choice of breakfast potatoes or greens.  Ever since that fateful first tofu scramble at Sadie’s Diner last year, I’ve been completely devoted to scoping out every single last tofu brunch item in the city and I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far!  I’m itching to do a tofu brunch post for the Flavour Favourites series, but I’m going to hold off on doing one right now just because I really want to get in a few more dishes before I do a big comprehensive post for it. 

I love tofu and I always have, even as a kid.  Granted, the way I ate it as a child is vastly different from the way I eat it now.  Growing up, my mum would put tofu in our Chinese soup and she would cook it up soft with meat and vegetables.  Now I have tofu “deli” slices that I can slap on the grill, egg tofu that you slice in coins, grilled tofu wedges, tofu scramble, you name it.  I feel so super fortunate that my soy allergy only extends to milk; I’d be so sad if I couldn’t eat tofu anymore!

There was so much to love about the brunch here and about this dish.  You get your money’s worth on fantastic portions, there are so many ways to customize it just the way you like, and the food is just darn good.  I loved my tofu scramble because of it how different (and of course, delicious!) it was from other tofu scrambles.  Disgraceland’s was almost like a tofu stir-fry scramble with their tofu chunky and cubed with their sauteed vegetables chopped and diced and woven in throughout the entire dish.  The flavours were amazing.  Because of the cumin and spices, I felt like I was eating something straight out of a Moroccan place, it was so delicious.  It was unlike anything I had ever had before and it completely epitomized warmth and comfort.  This is definitely a yummy fall and winter type of dish, and combined with the scrumptious corn chips and chunk, starchy, foodgasmic breakfast potatoes, it’s a hearty meal that surprisingly doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re in food coma afterward! 

I’m so happy there’s another fantastic vegetarian and vegan brunch eatery in the city for me (and many others!) to go to and the great food here just proves that you don’t have look red-carpet ready to give a star performance.

*****

Disgraceland is located at 965 Bloor Street West in Bloorcourt Village, between Ossington Ave. and Dufferin St. just west of Delaware Ave.  They are open only for dinner and weekend brunch from Monday-Friday, 4pm-2am and Saturday-Sunday, 11am-2am.  CASH ONLY.  You can view their site HERE.

Garlic Collard Greens, Sauerkraut, and a Pumpernickel Rye Sandwich Piled High – The Vegan Reuben at Hogtown Vegan!

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It’s about time Hogtown Vegan made its appearance here!  I’ve been to Hogtown Vegan a few times since its official opening back in July (I know, I know, what in the world has taken me THIS long to dish out the goods?!) and I’ve been itching to post my photos and my foodie experiences for ages now.  I think you all instinctively know the reason why I haven’t written about them.  It’s the reason for all my “delayed” posts.  That’s right, I have a scrapbook layout in the works and I won’t be able to post photos of the layout until my second Hogtown Vegan post.  Sigh.  At least you all know there will be a follow-up to this delightful vegan diner of food heaven!  And I’m not even making up those words.  They come straight from my friends and other Hogtown Veganites who have proclaimed food ecstacy while eating here.  It’s barely half a year old and it has taken the city, vegetarian and vegan community, and even meat-eating carnis, by storm. 

Hogtown Vegan is the sister restaurant of Kensington Market’s Hot Beans Vegan.  While Hot Beans Vegan serves up vegan Mexican fare in the form of tacos, burritos, nachos, and burrito bowls, Hogtown Vegan takes care of the classic North American diner favourites, nailing comfort foods with a vegan punch.  The name of the establishment is incredibly tongue-in-cheek as it refers to Toronto’s long-standing history as a meat-packing and manfacturing hubbub during the industrial boom.  Thus, the vegan restaurant not only pays homage to its distinct location (you clearly know you’re in the T-dot!), but it also subverts meat and animal eating and turns it on its own head by providing meat and dairy classics without the meat and dairy.

Hogtown Vegan is a vegan diner through and through, churning out beloved diner favourites such as biscuits and gravy, chicken and waffles, mac n’ cheese, po’ boys, and reubens, sans the meat and dairy and with a tip of the hat to Southern style cooking and cuisine.  It’s what I call “naughty vegan food”, food that’s meant to be indulgent.  Their menu boasts appetizers: fries smothered in vegan cheese and cashew sour cream, baked vegan mac n’ cheese with bread crumbs, tofu wings with hot sauce and creamy dill dip; salads: chickpea salad, tortilla salad; sandwiches and burgers: TVP po’ boys, seitan reubens, sweet potato on rye, soy patty burgers with Daiya cheese; and mains: biscuit veggie sausage sliders with fries and gravy, and unchicken and waffles which is comprised of deep-fried soy cutlets sandwiched between waffles and dripping in maple butter.

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The Vegan Chili Series – Gluten-Free Bread, Sandwiches, Desserts, and Tomato Vegan Chili at Organic Oven

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It feels SO good to scrapbook again.  After being scrapbook layout-less on the blog for a month (god, it makes me cringe), I finally got a batch of photos developed yesterday and I got right down to business cranking out a new bright and fun foodie layout for today!  I’ve been meaning to blog about Organic Oven for a long time now but the perfectionist in me didn’t like the photos I initially took back in March (yes, in MARCH!) and to make matters worse, I took said photos and tried to create a decent scrapbook layout out of them which I also did not like.  That scrapbook layout sat in my “these pages are not good enough” pile for months and recreating a new one sat on the backburner for awhile.  Enter the Vegan Chili series I started back at the end of September.  I knew Organic Oven had a vegan chili on their menu and it was perfect opportunity to go back and try some more yummy eats and to give myself the creative kick in the butt I needed!  So here we are with the 2nd instalment of the Vegan Chili series, my blog post on Organic Oven, and a brand spankin’ new scrapbook layout! 

Organic Oven, located on Yonge Street just north of Lawrence Ave., is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to the food that they serve.  First off, they’re not just a bakery with desserts.  They’re a lunch cafe, a coffee spot, and a retail shop with grocery items, all in one.  They sell a number of sweets that can either be purchased as single desserts, prepackaged take-away packs, or custom designed and ordered.  They’re sweets menu includes brownies, biscotti, muffins, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, and pies.  For lunch, you can sit down to a hot bowl of soup or chili, a freshly made sandwich or bagel, salads, quiches, and a host off coffee drinks, smoothies, juices, and milks, and while you’re there, you can pick up a few gluten-free grocery items to add to your bread basket.

Furthermore – and this is the kicker – you could literally have a group of people comprised of a vegetarian, a vegan, a meat-eater, and a gluten-intolerant come here to eat, and all four people would be satisfied with the food because their menu caters to all four diets!  For the vegetarian: goat cheese quiche, pizza bagels, egg salad, grilled cheese, and veggie sandwiches.  For the vegan (and vegetarian): multigrain, cinnamon, raisin, and poppy seeds bagels with vegan butter, vegan chili and soups, veggie sandwiches, and vegan brownies and cupcakes.  For the meat-lover: chicken and turkey sandwiches with veggies and cheese, as well as tuna salad.  Finally, for the gluten-intolerant: everything! 

Their focus is on serving healthier alternatives with dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free options.  They’re best known for their gluten-free breads, bagels, and pizza crusts and all three items can be purchased from their grocery shelves.  Their gluten-free breads are crunchy rice buns that are dairy-free, egg-free, and certified organic and they use these same buns for all of the sandwiches on their menu.  The rice buns are made from certfiied organic flax meal and quinoa flakes and they come in packs of six.  Pop them in the toaster and you have yourself a healthy breakfast and lunch!  In addition to their rice buns, they also carry gluten-free cheese, cinnamon raisin, multigrain, and poppyseed bagels which come in packs of five, as well as gluten-free pizza crusts.  Aside from the breads, their grocery shelves also carry cereals, ice cones, rice snacks, milks (a variety of soy, almond, and rice), and other goodies.

Now, onto the vegan chili!  Their vegan chili is served either on its own with a side of rice bread ($5.70) or in a combo alongside a salad, quiche, bagel, or sandwich.  Prices vary depending on which combo you choose, but generally speaking lunch at Organic Oven will come out to around $5-$10, with most items averaging $6-$7.  Their vegan chili isn’t super spicy so for those who shy away from chili because of the level of heat, have no fear because the vegan chili here isn’t an alarm setter.  I’d say that the vegan chili here is a good cross between a thick soup and a chili in texture, consistency, and flavour. 

It’s a tomato based vegan chili made with crushed tomatoes, green bell pepper, sweet onions, red and white kidney beans, and chunks of sweet potato.  It’s such a hearty, warm, comforting dish.  It’s exactly the type of meal you’d want to eat on a chilly day, with a cheese sandwich (I know that would defeat the purpose of a entirely vegan meal if that wasn’t vegan cheese, but I’m not vegan so work with me here!), relaxing with the paper or a book.  It’s that type of meal.  The robust tomato flavour was savoury and the whole bowl was overflowing with veggies.  Oh!  And I added a side of avocado to my chili.  I love avocado like nobody’s business and since there was an option to add avocado for $0.50, I took it, which is why you see slices of creamy avocado on my chili.

And the bread!  It wasn’t my first time having Organic Oven’s rice bread, but for whatever reason, it tasted extra delicious this time!  Wedges of toasted rice bread were included on the side and I had the choice of having the bread spread or brushed with vegan butter or olive oil and I chose olive oil this time around.  I could not get over how amazing the bread with olive oil tasted!  Even though it was toasted, it was so incredibly soft on the inside with crispiness on the outside.  The olive oil soaked into the bread really nicely so the bread ended up having these yummy herb flavour to it.  I could have eaten an entire loaf because it was so yummy and scrumptious and all sorts of heaven in my mouth.  I am definitely planning on picking up a pack of rice buns to take home sometime.  Between myself, my brother, and my mum (my dad isn’t really into bread), I envision the pack being devoured in two days.  Or maybe even in one.

Organic Oven is a great lunch spot because the menu caters to so many different diets and the food is wholesome, healthy, and delicious.  You can bet I’ll be back for their cupcakes (I know, shocking how I didn’t blog about them already!  I’ll get to them, I promise) and I’ll profile their sandwiches next time around too.  For the time being, bookmark this post and Organic Oven as your uptown vegan chili station.

       

*****

Organic Oven is located at 3189 Yonge Street, just north of Lawrence Ave. on the east side of Yonge Street just steps away from Lawrence subway station.  They have several other locations around the city, which I will update once I get the addresses.

Scrapbooking materials used: to be added!

The Vegan Chili Series! First Up: Vegan Chili Brunch With Grilled Tofu Steaks at Niche Coffee & Tea on Queen West

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I’m not quite ready to unleash Ate by Ate’s Fall Harvest series just yet, so I thought it’d be fun to do a bit of a lead-in to get us all revved up first!  The best thing about fall food is the warm and fuzzy comfort factor and chili and stews are some of the best meals to induce that great cozy cocoon feeling.  Enter the vegan chili series to Ate by Ate!  Over the past year, I’ve come across a number of places around the city that serve their own unique interpretations and versions of vegan chili and I’m so excited to start this new series, not only as an individual series, but also as tie-in to the upcoming Fall Harvest series on the blog. 

Why the interest in vegan chili though, and how did I become interested in vegan chili in the first place?  Let it be known that I absolutely hate beef chili.  I may not be vegetarian or vegan, but that certainly doesn’t mean I enjoy all meat dishes and beef chili is one such meal I’d turn the other cheek to.  I can see myself enjoying turkey chili and I’m actually really looking forward to making some of my own in the near future, but for the time being, vegetarian and vegan chili is my way to go.  I have so many vegetarian and vegan friends (some of you might be reading this right now!) and I thought this would be a great way to introduce some veggie meals and the places that serve them to you all so you can tuck the information away for future reference.  Or if you’re really into what I post, you might just run on over right now and try the dishes out for yourself!

The first time I had vegan chili was 3 years ago when I was a newbie grad student eating lunch at The Grad Lounge at York.  As an every day, permanent menu item, the vegan chili was one of the most popular meals and I was constantly seeing people order it with the cute little corn muffins for lunch.  Growing up though, I was never the biggest fan of chili (I blame the beef varieties for turning me off) so even though I knew so many of my friends and classmates enjoyed it, I shyed away from it at first.  Then temptation and curiousity took over and I said to myself, “to hell with it, I’m getting me a bowl!”  And from then on, my chili ways changed forever and their vegan chili became one of my favourites, especially during the fall and winter.  Granted, my chili remained vegetarian as opposed to vegan at times because of the side of sour cream I’d order, but the meal itself is vegan through and through and a well-loved meal among the graduate student community.

Now, let’s get started with the first post of this vegan chili series!  First up, the grilled tofu on vegan chili brunch at Niche Coffee & Tea Company!  I mentioned this brunch dish in my first Niche post almost two weeks ago and I was itching to have this showcased in the series the second I found out the dish existed on the menu.  Niche is a coffee, tea, and brunch cafe located on Queen Street West just west of Bathurst St. with everything from eggs benny to French toast to omelettes to banana bread with Nutella and cinnamon sugar.  Their vegan chili is served two ways: vegetarian with eggs, or vegan with grilled tofu, and both styles ($10.50) come with your choice of either homemade grilled foccacia or cornbread.  I was so excited to order this that I was fidgeting in my seat and probably grinning like a fool when the nice waitress came around to take my order.  And that excitement wasn’t die down when my food came.  Behold!

What we have here: a nice big bowl of chili made with spiced tomato curry puree, chickpeas, red kidney beans, diced carrots, celery, and corn, served with 4 grilled tofu steaks, strips of crunchy baked tortilla chips, a slice of fresh tomato, arugula (no guacamole for this time unfortunately, but that wasn’t a big deal), and grilled wedges of fresh foccacia.  Oh my goodness, there were so many wonderful things about this meal.  First, the chili had some kick to it!  If you can’t tolerate heat in the slightest amount, this might not be the most comfortable meal for you to eat, but if you’re like me and you can take a bit of kick, you will LOVE this!  The flavour is so different because it’s not your run-of-the-mill crushed tomato chili.  It’s almost like a fusion of curry, tomato, and chili and I enjoyed it so much. 

The grilled tofu steaks were perfection.  They were so cute, like mini decks of tofu cards 😀  The texture was firm, the flavour was savoury, and there was that slight crispness around the edges from the grilling that made it even more delicious.  The crunchy tortilla strips were a fabulous addition and the foccacia…oh man.  I think the grilled foccacia wedges I had with this meal might have been some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever had.  The edges and outsides were crisp and the insides were amazingly soft and the bread just melts in your mouth.  It had a wonderful rosemary-thyme and olive oil flavour and I literally said, “ohhhh my god, this is so good” out loud after I took my first bite of it.

The whole vegan chili and tofu dish worked so well because of all the different textures (soft, crispy, juicy, moist, etc.) and all the flavours.  Even though I was drinking water with my meal, the tofu and foccacia is the perfect complement to the heat from the chili because it mellows it out and you get the best of all the flavours when you alternate between all the items of food.

If you try this out, I hope you’ll all enjoy it as much as I did.  If you have suggestions or requests for the series, feel free to leave a comment!  This is the first of hopefully many more vegan chili posts to come!

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Niche Coffee & Tea Company is located at 626 Queen Street West just east of Palmerston Ave. and west of Bathurst St.  They serve brunch during all hours of operations and are open 7 days a week at 8am on weekdays and 9am on weekends, with closing hours at 5pm on all days.