A Delicious Butter Tofu, Red Lentil, and Spinach Rice Indian Lunch – Cooking, History, and Philosophy at Veda, Part II

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Let it be known that I have a mini foodie journal with pages inside to write down favourite meals, restaurants, and gastronomical experiences, as well as little pages that have thought-provoking food-related questions to jog those creative writing juices.  Let it also be known that I haven’t had the heart to write in it yet because the paper looks so crisp and clean and pretty and I’m scared my writing will ruin the aesthetic of it.  Instead, I’ve been jotting down messy, scrawly notes in my blue fashionista Muffymade notebook and at the moment it looks as though it went through the wringer.  Pages are coming out, there are rips and wrinkles; it’s a little beat up. 

Which means I may have to turn to my little foodie journal after all.  And for good reason because I can now easily fill out a spot on the “favourite meals” page, without a doubt.  I had one of the best meals of my life (Indian and otherwise) this past week at Veda in Yorkville and I am so amoured I want to eat here every week for the rest of my life.  It was – and is – that amazing. 

I’ve wanted to eat at Veda for the longest time.  With its bright orange restaurant front and it’s small, but welcoming and cozy-looking  interior, it was a place I knew I had to visit.  My lunch here turned out to be one of the most delicious, nicest learning experiences because as I mentioned yesterday, I got a glimpse of Indian cooking, culture, history, and philosophy at work right before my eyes and I can thank my boyfriend and Veda’s decor for that!  I learned that the Veda refers to the anthology of texts that are devoted to Indian history, philosophy, and knowledge.  Thus, the name Veda is incredibly significant to the way the restaurant integrates important historical moments in India’s food culture into their product and cooking philosophy, and, in their words, “knowledge of healthful living” (emphasis added).

One of the ways in which Veda incorporates authentic Indian food culture into their restaurant is their serving style and meal sets.  As a popular lunch and dinner option, Veda serves a Tiffin Thali meal set complete with a choice of rice, protein, and vegetable.  Now, I know that doesn’t sound out of the ordinary; getting in your healthy food groups is a good thing!  However, what makes this particular meal set significant in terms of Indian history and food culture is the way in which it is served. 

Tiffin Thali literally refers to the type of servingware it is served in and the style of meal placement.  I’ll start with the thali since there’s a story behind the tiffin which I’ll get into shortly.  Those of you who are familiar with Indian food culture will already know this, but a thali generally refers to either a round tray with different compartments that food is served on with a number of different dishes on it, or a specific type of meal set such as a vegetarian thali, a meat thali, and others.

The term “tiffin” didn’t resonate with me until after I came home though.  Then the lightbulb went off.  There was a reason why it sounded so familiar and I realized it was because I had seen it at the Leslieville farmers’ market when I bought my lentil samosas from Tiffinday Inc., the Indian vegan catering company in Toronto!  The tiffin thali meals are served on a roundish, oblong stainless steel tray with adorable little stainless steel bowls to hold the vegetables, and the protein and meat. 

The cute stainless steel bowls are Veda’s nod to India’s historical, cultural past with food because tiffins are “food containers in transit”, so to speak.  Tiffins were used as a mode of delivery, bridging the gap of food accessibility between urban and suburban areas in India.  Tiffins were, and are, containers that are often stainless steel to be clean, convenient, and environmentally-friendly used to deliver take-out in and food in a quick and efficient way.  Hence why Tiffinday, as an Indian catering company, has the appropriate name that it does.

I’ll talk about Veda’s other menu items in greater detail next time, but I really want to focus on my tiffin thali because it was so delicious and memorable.  During my first meal here, I had the tiffin thali meal ($6.86) with spinach basmati rice, red lentils, and – wait for this – BUTTER TOFU!  OH.MY.GOD.  You all know I love butter chicken.  But butter tofu?!  I have NEVER come across butter tofu before and I was in absolute conniptions because I love tofu and I was so happy that there was a vegetarian protein option as delicious as THIS!  I added a giant piece of naan for an extra $0.99 and practically rolled down the street after my meal.  The portions are fantastic and so filling and the prices are incredibly reasonable, especially compared to other Indian places in the city.

The spinach basmati rice was light and fluffy with pieces of cooked, wilted spinach and cumin seed in it, and the red lentils were so delicious because it was a mildly spicy cross between a daal and paste.  The red lentils were so nice and thick and it was the perfect consistency to dip naan in it (and speaking of which, the naan was soft and chewy and scrumptious) and to mix the rice in.  And the butter tofu?  Creamy and soft and savoury and all sorts of amazing.  The tofu, cut into cubed chunks, was perfect because it wasn’t rubbery or mushy, and the butter sauce was rich, smooth, and full of rich tomato flavour.  I could eat a whole plate of this without even batting an eye.  I loved the textures and consistencies of the food, from the airiness of the rice, to the crunch of the cumin seeds, to the thick chili-like red lentils, and silkiness of the butter sauce over the tofu.  The food is mildly spicy so you’ll definitely feel some heat, but not so much you’ll need to chug liquids down or mop your forehead.  It’s the type of spicy that’s yummy and clears up your sinuses at the same time, let’s put it that way. 

Along with the spinach basmati rice, Veda has a vegetable biryani yellow rice, and vegetables include vegetable curry (broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, etc.), chickpea curry, and spiced lentils.  Butter chicken, chicken curry, and beef madras round out the meat options, and vegetarian proteins include the saag paneer (spinach cheese) and butter tofu.  I love the menu choices at Veda and I’m so looking forward to rotating my way around the different items and trying the different meals!  This was a fabulous meal and one that’s going into the books. 

*****

Veda is located at 874 Yonge St. at Davenport Rd., just north of Yorkville Ave. in the Yorkville neighbourhood.  The restaurant is located on the west side of Yonge St. and is only several blocks north of the Yonge & Bloor intersection and subway.  Their hours from Monday-Friday are 11:30am-9pm, 12pm-9pm on Saturday, and 5pm-9pm on Sundays.  They are both dine-in and take-out.

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A Delicious Meal to Remember – Indian Cooking and Philosophy at Veda, Part I

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The best meals create the best stories and blog posts.  I recently had one of the most delicious Indian meals – wait, scratch that, make that one of the most delicious meals ever– at Veda on Yonge Street in Yorkville and I had to share these snippets with you first before I dove into all the amazing details.  I wanted to do a scrapbook layout of this meal so much but alas, I can’t develop photos and scrap at the speed of light, so my scrapbook layout is going to have to wait.  Which may not be a bad thing.  It’ll give me another excuse to come eat here (not that I need one, but justification for stuffing my face is always nice), that way I’ll have even more beautiful, yummy photos to work with!

There’s so much I want to flush out, but I want to gather my thoughts a bit first because this was a meal like no other.  Not only did I have a wonderfully tasty lunch that left me rolling down the street afterward, but the meal was also a learning experience because I was able to catch a small glimpse of the philosophy, history, culture, and vibrancy behind Indian cooking and cuisine.

I’ve been berating myself for not featuring more Indian food on the blog (the only blog post I have is the one for Amaya’s Bread Bar during this past year’s Winterlicious.  Foreshame!) and I finally told myself it was time to give the Indian section of the blog some love.  I’ve been to fantastic places thanks to some friends and my boyfriend, and have eaten many a meal since my days in university, but the perfectionist in me, as always, didn’t like the photos I took of previous meals (let it be known that several years ago I couldn’t take a decent food photo to save my life) and to be perfectly honest, I wanted to learn more before I started blogging more.  

Indian food wasn’t food I grew up eating and I didn’t want to start posting up a storm pretending like I knew everything there was to know when I so obviously didn’t.  My foray into Indian food didn’t even begin until I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed grad student.  I wanted my journey and growth on this blog to be as authentic and organic as possible and I’m so grateful that I’ve had these opportunities to eat and learn and to learn from others.  I feel like I’ve taken away nuggets of knowledge from friends over the years and I know they’ve taken away some from me as well (why yes, there are over five dialects of Chinese and just as many regional cuisines to go along with them) and even now, I’m still learning about food that I have grown up with.  I’m excited as ever to share this wonderful gem with you all and I guarantee that after I’m done, you are going to trip over yourself to eat here.

A Look at This Summer’s First Tasty Thursday at Nathan Phillips Square – Channa and Rice!

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As much as I would love to go to Tasty Thursday tomorrow, there is just no way I can.  Tomorrow is expected to be the hottest day of the summer and even though I love my food, even I have limits!  I don’t know how many Tasty Thursdays I’ll be able to attend this summer, but rest assured I’ll make the effort to eat my way through one or two more.  Last Thursday kicked off the first Tasty Thursday of the summer at Nathan Phillips Square and I have the goods to show you all!  I took a bunch of photos of the outdoor food fest’s first day last week and it was great seeing this foodie event get off to such a busy, bustling start.  By 11:30am, there were lines curving around the picnic tables!  I got to Nathan Phillips Square at 11am sharp and got to work snapping pictures and eating 😀

I wasn’t sure what the arrangement would be this year.  Would all of the participating restaurants be there every week?  Would they take turns?  Not all of the participating vendors were present last Thursday, so I’m assuming this just means that the vendors are operating on a rotating basis where some will be there every other week, as opposed to every week, during the duration of the event.  If you’re dead set on grabbing lunch from one particular vendor, this set-up may not make it easier for you, but I actually really like it as it ensures that there’s a different combination of eats every week.  It was really fun jogging from booth to booth seeing the metal trays and bowls being filled with food, snapping photos of said mountains of food (a thank you to everyone who let me snap away!), and hearing the sizzling sounds of grills being fired up. 

There were Caribbean jerk chicken sandwiches, Chinese pork and beef ball skewers, dumplings, Thai mango salad and vegetarian pad thai, Indian butter chicken, and a host of other dishes.  If you’re looking for vegetarian options there are certainly a number of meals to choose from, but I’d say that the options might feel a bit limited depending on which vendors are there during a particular week.  Most of the vendors have one or two vegetarian options, so even though the choices aren’t exactly endless, I’d give the event a look-see regardless.  I sure enjoyed my vegetarian meal of channa and rice last week and I’m curious to see what the other restaurants have to offer.  I’ll definitely write out a list of veggie options and report back the next time I go.

I know with so many options it can feel a little overwhelming, but after giving the vendors a quick once-over, you start narrowing down your choices really quickly.  It boils down to what you feel like at that moment and how hungry you are and for me, these feelings change on a regular basis so I never rule out a specific vendor for the entire summer.  So, onto my process of elimination!  I rarely eat burgers now, so I automatically eliminated that route.  I didn’t feel like anything particularly meaty, so I passed on the Caribbean jerk meat and the Greek souvlaki, pork, and gyros.  My tummy wasn’t craving anything  Chinese or Thai that day and although the Peruvian food was calling my name, I wanted to try something I hadn’t already tried last summer.  After some careful consideration and a lot of running back and forth between vendors, I chose the channa and rice meal with salad from Kathmandu’s as my first Tasty Thursday meal of the summer.  And I’m really glad I did!

Their channa and rice meal was priced at $5 and I got bang for my buck with this one!  I was given a large square container with basmati rice, a green salad with lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and green bell pepper, and heaping spoonfuls of hot chickpeas smothered in sauce that tasted like a mixture of tomato, cream, and spices.  I’m not sure what the combination of spices were in the channa, but I’ll find out the next time I go.  The channa wasn’t overly spicy and the level of heat was perfect.  There was just enough kick to make it really yummy and even my brother, who has a low tolerance for spicy food, really liked it when I gave him some to try.  I really wouldn’t worry about the spiciness with this meal as they give you plenty of rice and salad to tame the existing heat and to mop up any extra sauce.  The chickpeas were tender, the rice was soft and fluffy, and I even thoroughly enjoyed my salad (I know, it’s just salad!) which was fresh and crunchy.

Even though I lamented at the fact that they raised the maximum price point for certain items from $5 to $7 this summer, this was definitely a great kick-off and I’m really looking forward to trying out a bunch of other dishes!

*****

Nathan Phillips Square is located at 100 Queen St. West at the intersection of Queen and Bay St.  Tasty Thursdays takes place every Thursday from 11am-2pm from July 14th-September 1st, 2011.  All food items are $7 or less.  For more information on which restaurants and vendors are participating this summer, click here.

Vibrant, Delicious Indian Flavour – Winterlicious at Amaya’s Bread Bar

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Simaltaneouly fresh and vibrant with a quiet, sophisticated ambience, Amaya’s Bread Bar is a beautiful Indian restaurant with delicious flavourful food, arranged and cooked with painstaking attention to detail and presentation, and gorgeous decor to boot.  Sections of walls are covered in brick and stone, lush cushioned seats surround dining tables carefully arranged with plates, napkins, and drinking glasses, and bold pops of orange and fuchsia contrast the pristine white of shiny floor tiles and long communal tables.  You walk in, take one look around and know you’re in for a special, memorable dining experience. 

I’ve been looking forward to Winterlicious for weeks now, months even, and I was really excited to go through the list of restaurants participating in the price fixe event to find something unique, something that would be worth the extra buck.  I wanted to be picky, not just with the price (as I was only looking at lunch menus in the $15 price point this time around) but also with the food being offered in the menus.  Amaya’s Bread Bar, located at 3305 Yonge St. north of Lawrence Ave, fit the bill with a wonderful menu comprised of familiar Indian comfort foods and sophisticated twists on other nibbles.

While my sweetie Richard ordered the malai chicken tikka to start off, I began my meal with a set of four swiss chard pakoras as appetizer: crispy, spicy battered vegetable fritters with chopped swiss chard (a leafy green vegetable with large ribbed leaves) and caraway seeds strewn throughout, and seasoned with green chillies and cumin.  Funny enough, I had only learned of swiss chard several weeks beforehand in my Food & Wine magazine and was delighted to try some in a vegetable fritter!  The batter was deliciously crispy, with a slight salty spiciness to it that made me want to devour a whole platter of them.  I mopped up the drizzle of sauce real good and lamented that I could not have another three plates.  The presentation was beautiful for both our appetizers, especially Richard’s which was served with a small, diced salad of carrots and beets.

After our dishes were cleared and our water glasses refilled, I eagerly anticipated my chosen main: one of my favourite Indian meat dishes (and one of the most common, to my knowledge), butter chicken, swimming in all its succulent and creamy, buttery tomato pureed glory.  Butter chicken was one of the first things I ate when I first tried Indian food almost 3 years ago and I instantly fell in love with it.  The smooth, creaminess of the sauce made me wiggle with happiness and the chicken is so good because it’s so soft and tender, without that awful disgusting rubbery texture that chicken has when it hasn’t been marinated or cooked well.  

I’ve had butter chicken at a few different places (Indian Flavour on campus and Samosa King Embassy restaurant in Scarborough most notably, both of which I will blog about in the near future) and although it’s a staple in Indian and Persian restaurants, each one has their own unique interpretation, with slight differences in heat (i.e. spiciness), smoothness in sauce, and texture of meat.  Amaya’s Bread Bar did not disappoint and I was greeted with an adorable pot of butter chicken in creamy sauce garnished with a sprig of cilantro.  Oh!  And our rice was brought to us in what I could only describe as a copper bucket.  It was beautiful and all sorts of awesome and the rice itself was delicious; light, airy, and fluffy.  I refer to my meal as the pot of butter chicken gold and my copper bucket pail of yummy rice.  It was just so cute and unique.

And no meal is complete without sweets, so to end off a fabulous dining experience I had myself the carrot toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and was I ever delighted with this sweet morsel of dessert.  It was served in the most adorable vase-like bowl with the teeniest little spoon.  My vanilla bean dotted ice cream was scooped into a perfect sphere and placed on top of some super warm carrot, gingery mash.  The dessert took me by surprise and the phrase “big things come in small packages” totally applies here.  The carrot pudding had a very interesting texture.  It was not pudding in the same sense as custard, yet it wasn’t a crisp or a smooth whip like mashed potatoes.  It was freshly grated carrot bits mixed in a juicy, gingery liquid with a soft yet crunchy texture.  And the pairing of it with the vanilla ice cream was hot and cold, juicy and melty, smooth and crunchy.  Amazing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Winterlicious meal and I’m so glad I came.  Although those who have very hearty appetites may look elsewhere with huuuge portions, the attention to detail here is obvious and the flavours here are fabulous.  You can truly taste the quality in the food and it is both wholesome and comforting, and trendy and different at the same time.  The service is great (I think I had my water glass refilled about 4 or 5 times!), the atmosphere is wonderfully peaceful and serene, and if you’re a photo nut like I am, it is a feast for the eyes and camera lens.  A Winterlicious meal well done indeed.

*****

Amaya’s Bread Bar is located at 3305 Yonge St. north of Lawrence Ave. E.  It is several blocks north of the Lawrence subway station off the Yonge-University-Spadina line, on the east side of Yonge where Glenforest Rd. begins.  Amaya’s Bread Bar is also the sister restaurant to Amaya the Indian Room.  Winterlicious in Toronto goes until February 10th (this Thursday), so feel free to share your recent Winterlicious experiences and musings in the comments section!