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.

The Freshest, Lightest Tomato Sauce: Homemade Ravioli at Mela Café

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Spring is upon us (I begrudgingly set my clock forward by an hour last night and lost an oh-so-precious hour of sleep, grrr) and that means garden fresh ingredients and light and savoury food!  It’s understandable to eat warm and hearty in the winter, especially if you live in snowland like me.  The heartier meals give you that “cozy” feeling and during the warmer, summer months, we shred the clothes as well as our heavier appetites (well, at least some of us do, ha!).  Our eating habits reflect this kind of cyclical nature throughout the year because a lot of us also eat based on what’s available seasonally.  It’s exciting thinking ahead to all the amazing outdoor farmer’s markets that will be setting up in the city, and when I think of all things fresh and light, I think of Mela Café.  The first time I set foot in Mela Café was last September and my very first entry on Mela Café was written back in January.  And what strikes me about this amazing vegetarian eatery after having eaten here a few times now, is how the food reflects both warm and hearty dishes, and yet maintains a level of lightness and freshness in its taste and ingredients.  Case in point: Robert’s homemade ravioli swimming in delicious tomato sauce.

The homemade ravioli dish is the epitome of lightness.  Words that describe it: airy, delicate, bright, flavourful.  You ask, “but how can that be??  It’s pasta!”   True.  Pasta dishes traditionally have a reputation for being heavier food fare.  It’s a starch after all, and functions much the same way rice and bread do in terms of filling up an appetite.  But let me tell you, the ravioli, with its homemade ricotta cheese, is so soft and the pasta just melts in your mouth.  The ricotta cheese is smooth, light, and creamy and doesn’t overwhelm the ravioli, but rather complements it.  Along with the tomato sauce, (which is truly one of Mela Café’s most special and defining touches) it goes down the hatch like you wouldn’t believe.  When you’re eating this, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to collapse into a food coma.  It makes you feel satisfied and healthy and GOOD.  Even though I ate this back in January in the dead of winter, it had the effect of making me feel like I was eating inside a spring garden with the sprinkling of herbs and bright green snow peas.  And the wedge of breaded eggplant on top was the perfect touch of crispiness and savouriness to round out the whole dish.

So many of their dishes have this dual nature to them where you can eat them during the winter and still feel as though they were plucked straight out of a garden.  Sweet potatoes and rapini.  Black rice and vegetables.  Stuffed bell peppers.  Fresh vegetable lasagna.  Banana muffins.  Beet risotta pie.  Red lentil and split pea vegan soup.  Mushroom and potato pie with broccoli and asparagus.  And the menu just continues on and on from there.   Even eating here makes you feel revitalized.  Bright light streams in through the large window, bright green, blue, and orange are splashed on the walls, and you sit back and feel like you’re in a bustling Italian kitchen with wonderful people around you to talk to and eat with.  Genuine Italian homemade at its freshest and finest 😀

*****

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

Scrapbooking materials used: buttercup yellow, emerald green, tangerine orange cardstock (Recollections); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); cardboard and cardboard frame embellishments; aluminum foil; corner paper rounder.