A Vegan Meal to Remember – Spinach and Arugula Salad Bowls With Crunchies and Veggies at Urban Herbivore

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Have you ever had a meal so wonderful and delicious you daydreamed about it into the next day?  Because I sure have and now that I’m writing about it I’m getting lost in my food daydream all over again!  I had one of the most amazing vegan meals this past week.  The meal was full of lush green vegetables, pops of colour, and crunchie munchies, and the meal was devoured in Kensington Market’s beloved vegan haunt, Urban Herbivore.  Urban Herbivore has been on my “to-go” list for ages and I’m ecstatic that I finally crossed it off!  I’ve known about their vegan sandwiches for a long time and I always knew I would get around to trying them out eventually, but I never anticipated falling head over heels in love with their salad bowls.  That’s right, I’m a girl in love with a bowl of leafy greens, legumes, and crunchy munchies and I’m already looking forward to my next date at Urban Herbivore.  What can I say?  I get around.

Urban Herbivore is the sister restaurant to vegan dinner and tapas bar, Fressen, on Queen St. West.  Open for business at 9am, Urban Herbivore is the morning, lunch, and afternoon counterpart to Fressen, serving vegan sandwiches, salad bowls, grain bowls, Moroccan stews, coconut curries, fresh smoothies, veggie juices, and vegan baked goods and sweets!  When I finally hunkered down and made the decision to go to Urban Herbivore, I went in with the intention of inhaling one of their vegan sandwiches and featuring it the Vegetarian Sandwich Series.  I looked up at the menu board, mentally tossed around the option of having either the BBQ tofu or the avocado sandwich, and then looked over at the 2nd menu board with the sandwich, salad bowl, grain bowl, and curry bowl descriptions.  And that’s when everything changed.

At Urban Herbivore, you can be the creative master behind your vegan meal!  You can mix and combine vegetables, proteins, beans, legumes, and grains to your heart’s content and in the end, you have your very own custom designed salad or grain bowl specially put together by you!  Urban Herbivore isn’t set up the same way as Kale Eatery though.  It’s not a self-serve buffet.  Much like Freshii, you choose your ingredients and someone mixes it all together for you.  However, instead of making your choices on menu papers like you would at Freshii, you simply tell whoever is serving you what you want and they put it together in front of you as make your choices. 

I was captivated by the possibility of putting together my own special salad bowl combinaiton, so I dropped the vegan sandwich plan like a hot potato.  I admit, part of me felt a little guilty for ditching my initial sandwich date for greener pastures, but I made the sandwich date a future rain cheque promise that I was fully intent on keeping so the bad feelings didn’t last for long.

Salad bowls, which are priced at $8.50, start with a leaf base.  There are 3 green leafy salads to choose from: mustard greens, baby spinach, and spinach and arugula.  After choosing your leafy green mix, you add your choice of 6 different ingredients from the vast array of yummy choices on hand.  The selection of vegetables and protein is fantastic!  Think green beans, mushrooms, sprouts, roasted peppers, shredded carrots, chick peas, red cabbage, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, beans, tofu cubes, lentils, broccoli, kimchi, pickled vegetables, and so much more.  Then, you finish off your special salad bowl with some texture and crunch in the form of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sliced almonds, and finally, your choice of dressing. 

Okay, so let’s break my salad bowl down.  I chose a baby spinach and arugula green leaf mix because they’re my favourite leafy greens and to that I added snow peas, whole mini button mushrooms, roasted red peppers, alfalfa sprouts, lentils, and some delicious cubes of tofu.  I went wild for the sunflower seeds and topped it all off with some lemon tahini dresssing.  This salad was, by far, one of the best vegan meals I’ve ever had in my life.  I know a salad seems very simplistic and dare I say, a little boring to some people, but I’m telling you, this salad bowl was so incredibly delicious I devoured it all and still wanted more.

The salad bowls are big and lush and so full of energy and life.  I don’t think you could ask for a better meal.  The textures and flavours were fantastic.  The sunflower seeds, lentils, alfalfa, and baby spinach leaves amped up the crunch factor ten-fold and the lemon tahini dressing was creamy and refreshing and flavourful.  Ever since I had tahini sauce with falafel several years ago, tahini has been one of my favourites and it totally gave the whole salad that extra bit of richness and creaminess.        

Even though I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I love the versatility of it all.  There are so many ways to integrate fruits, grains, legumes, proteins, and vegetables into delicious and filling meals and I’ve been lucky enough to mix and match and try out new foods and combinations in the company of vegetarian and vegan friends who live by these foods and only these foods.  Going to places like Freshii and Fresh have been so much fun simply because of the creative freedom I’ve had over my food and Urban Herbivore is exactly the type of vegan eatery that feeds my love of food and creativity all in one.

*****

Urban Herbivore is located at 64 Oxford Street in Kensington Market, with a second location in Eaton Centre’s Urban Eatery.

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A Vegetarian Discovery to Rememeber – Italian Vegetarian Magic in Yorkville at Mela Café

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One of the things I love most about exploring Toronto is being surprised and confused by my sightings and discoveries in neighbourhoods I’ve been to a hundred times over.  I know it sounds strange, but it’s true!  You’re walking around an enclave you’ve been to so many times before and BAM!  you catch sight of an adorable, snazzy little café or store or restaurant and you immediately do a double-take and wonder: how in the world did I miss this??  You can live in an area and still be unaware of the gems just around the corner and it’s actually not as weird as it sounds.  At times we’re either caught up in our own day-to-day hustle and bustle, drowning things out, or strolling along in our own little bubble, alone with our thoughts, completely oblivious to our surroundings.  But trust me, when you find that special something and realize it’s been under your nose the whole time, it’s like stepping into a goldmine.  It’s so rewarding and this is exactly how I felt when I discovered Mela Café, an adorable Italian vegetarian and vegan eatery in Yorkville, just west of Yonge, this past fall.

Yes, you read right.  Italian vegetarian! 😀  A place that serves authentic delicious Italian pastas and sandwiches and soups and desserts, all free of meat and incredibly affordable.  I love this place so much.  Not just because the food is amazing and so fresh and wholesome, but because of where the passion for the food comes from and the feelings of comfort the café evokes.  If I had to choose one word to describe it, it would be “homey”.  The decor is very cute; bright blue, green, and dark orange paint on the walls, huge cans of crushed tomatoes are stacked on the kitchen shelves, and a blackboard menu shows the day’s vegetarian and vegan eats.

As for the passion, chef and owner Roberto Granata was born and raised in Italy*, and transforms simple vegetables and ingredients into authentic Italian fare.  The kitchen is clearly visible from the dining area and Roberto shows off his cooking skills from morning to night, preparing the day’s dishes.  The daily menu changes, but think fresh vegetarian lasagna with lentils, broccoli, and carrots, ricotta stuffed ravioli, breaded eggplant panini, potato and mushroom pie, mashed sweet potatoes mixed with rapini, and tiramisu and freshly baked muffins.  Oh, and lots and lots of fresh tomato sauce.  And this list isn’t even exhaustive!

Just recently I enjoyed the eggplant panini sandwich and oh my goodness is this ever delicious to the max!  Sandwiched between a crusty baguette are lots of crispy, mouthwatering wedges of breaded eggplant and fresh basil leaves, served on a plate with lots of tomato sauce for dipping!  This panini sandwich is all sorts of amazingness.  It packs so much flavour and eating it is seriously like having a flavour boxing match in your mouth.  The large basil leaves give the sandwich a punch of spicy freshness, the breaded eggplant has a delicious crispy saltiness to it, and the soft crusty bread sops up the juiciness from the tomato sauce.  I could eat here every day for a month and not miss meat. 

The prices here are also fantastic.  Every dish is under $10 with most of them hovering around $6-$8.50, and soups and desserts come in at around $4.50.  This place is lovely and so cozy and homey and even though the space is small (definitely keep that in mind during lunch and dinner rush hours!), it’s the perfect place to have enjoy a quiet meal on your own while perusing through Yorkville and to enjoy a lunch date with a friend.  Or in my case, with my boyfriend 🙂  Along with Kale Eatery and King’s Café, this is an absolute vegetarian & vegan goldmine and one of the best foodie discoveries ever.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.

* = source from The Toronto Star, April 18, 2010

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