I am really impressed by British/Irish chefs. Yotam Ottolenghi, Denis Cotter and now Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I had never heard of him before I saw praise for his new vegetarian cookbook, River Cottage Everyday Veg.
What I love most about these chefs is that they turn humble vegetables into something extraordinary. First, I tried Hugh’s quinoa salad with caramelized onions and zucchini that was a sleeper hit. I loved the sweetness from such simple ingredients. Then there was the Appaloosa Bean Summer Chili which used red wine with zucchini, red peppers and tomatoes to make a savoury chili.
Tell me which vegetable you like the least. Probably something local that comes up in overabundance in the summer. You can tolerate it in moderation, but week after week of the same vegetables can get boring. I would probably pick green beans. While I have made some great dishes with them, I don’t find them that versatile. Zucchini, on the other, doesn’t taste like much, but can be used in so many creative ways.
I was drawn to make Hugh’s tahini-dressed zucchini and green bean salad with sun-dried tomatoes as a spotlight to local, seasonal ingredients. I wasn’t sure it would be a filling meal, but green beans are beans and along with the lemon-tahini dressing, this voluminous salad was perfect.
While this may seem initially like a finicky salad, look at it as a main course to soothe your qualms. Relish in cooking each component to bring out its best: lightly sear the zucchini until golden, then dress in some lemon juice and chile flakes. Steam your green beans until tender crisp. Plate on top of your favourite baby greens, sprinkle with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and drizzle with your dressing. The dressing is nice and light, without being too oily or heavy (I reduced the oil and sugar since I used Meyer lemons). Enjoy this best as a warm salad directly after preparing it. Leftovers are nice cold when slathered in the dressing.
Did you do a double-take when you saw my Thai Noodle Salad with Mango and Lima Beans? It had some exotic ingredients: Kaffir lime leaves, galangal, shallots, tamarind, etc.
I know, I thought this was going to be the year of shopping at the Big Box Grocers, too, but it turns out I found a local ethnic grocer, Welcome, that meets the majority of my needs, including all my Thai ingredients, and falls within my budget.
It ain’t no Sunny’s though. Sunny’s has bountiful fresh produce at low prices. Even some of the discounted produce is great quality. Welcome, however, is like a transplanted Chinatown grocer. Some great prices but the quality is not always the best. I never know what I will find on their shelves. Sometimes it can be 4 bunches of leeks for $1, or 2 HUGE bunches of Swiss for $1, or 10 limes for $1 (this one seems to be a perpetual sale), sometimes advertised, other times not, especially if the produce is priced to sell pronto (if you know what I mean). Then I’ll come back a few weeks later to discover they have no Swiss chard, or kale or collards at all. The produce is random. Kind of.
Like most Asian grocers, they seem to have a regular collection of well priced mushrooms (shiitake, oyster and Portobello), broccoli, citrus, cilantro, coconuts, peeled garlic and some Asian ingredients. Grape tomatoes can be hit or miss. Their cauliflower has never looked good. But, they have Kaffir lime leaves and galangal! They have green mangoes! And when I spotted some green papaya, I leaped at the chance to try something new.
Itching to go try something authentic with the green papaya, I made the Green Papaya Salad from Taste of the East. I quickly realized that if I had to shred the papaya and carrot by hand, this could take a while, so I whipped out my food processor to help. I added long beans to the recipe and bruised them with the blade, which seemed to be in more traditional recipes. The rest of the dressing was tangy from the Kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, fresh garlic and chile flakes. The nuts offered a nice textural contrast in the tangle of noodly vegetables. Adjust the dressing to suit your own tastes. Trust me that the salad will have a great mixture of hot, sour, salty and sweet. Refreshing during these hot summer days.
And yes, as a fore-warning, I think I will be cooking with mushrooms a lot more. I should capitalize on Welcome’s good produce, right?
I know many people had their doubts, but yes, you can travel to Colombia as a vegan! Meat and fish abound on resto menus, but thankfully beans are a common vegan staple which were my savior. Fruits and fruit juices abound, and simple salads are also a common feature. Veggie sides are usually fried plantains, yuca or potatoes. Rice, although white rice, is a plenty.
Because I wanted to minimize the fried resto foods, and continue to eat vegan, Rob and I planned for a successful vegan-friendly trip to Colombia. I thought I’d share with you our strategies for vegan eating in Colombia (and no, Rob did not only eat vegan on the trip, too).
1. Plan Ahead – Book accommodations with refrigerators and kitchens
For general Colombian travel advice, definitely plan ahead. All of our accommodations had fridges available and the majority gave me access to a kitchen, as well. Staying in private rooms in hostels is a great way to get the perks of a hostel (kitchen, fridge, social events) as well as the privacy you want from a hotel room. Our hostel‘s kitchen in Salento was so well-stocked it even had a blender and sandwich press! Definitely the marker of a great hostel.
2. Bring snacks and protein powder
I brought a few meals and snacks with me to tide me over on the plane and after our arrival. See my new favourite non-traditional hummus recipe, below! I also brought some protein powder as an emergency if I needed a meal replacement, but also to add to whatever breakfast may be. Thankfully I was never without a vegan meal so I just used it with breakfast, as per usual.
3. Bring some cooking essentials
Planning on eating leftovers? Bring some containers to hold them. I was really impressed with my collapsible containers which were leak-proof, sturdy and collapsed easily when empty. I also cannot travel without a small paring knife that I protect with a knife case (obviously needs to go in checked baggage). Ziploc bags are also essential for oodles of things. Just make sure you know which bags had your sunscreen and which were holding food. Do not mix.
4. Figure out where you can eat
First, you need to know how to ask for vegan eats which you can find at most restaurants. Happy Cow was also great for locating vegan-friendlier restaurants and health food stores, even if limited in number. Sol del la India was a favourite of ours in Cartagena. I also consulted a few other blogs with vegetarian reviews from Colombian restaurants. Definitely scope out local fruit and vegetable markets as well as grocery stores for other purchases if cooking yourself. The typical Colombian breakfast is coffee/tea/juice, toast, eggs in some form (omelet or scrambled), sometimes an arepa, and fruit. Our B&B in Bogota was kind enough to make oatmeal specifically for me. We ended up cooking our own oatmeal at places that didn’t supply an adequate breakfast.
5. Do a cooking class
We started off our trip in Bogota and as you know, I was really excited about the cooking class. While we needed a Spanish translator (Juan was a vegan, to boot!), we were able to cook with a native Bogotan, in her humble abode that even had fruit trees within her courtyard. This was Dona Elsa’s first vegan cooking class and she was receptive to my requests to make a surplus of food for me to take home with me as leftovers. I was excited to try some new-to-me vegetables prepared ala Colombiano. We ended up making the traditional Colombian salad with avocado, a huge amount of vegetable soup (sancocho without chicken, filled with fava beans, green peas, green beans, squash/pumpkin (auyama), green plantains, carrot, corn, spinach and cilantro), frijoles (Colombian beans), yucca frita (fried yucca), patacones (refried plantains), papa fritas (fried criolle potatoes), fresh lulo juice along with a dessert that I forgot to write down. I was antsy about eating the fried foods but they were great. In fact, these were one of the best meals of the entire trip. The patacones and yucca fritas could not be duplicated elsewhere, in ay resto or when I made them myself in a hostel (I went for a non-stick, low-oil option). Sadly, I know the secret: frying in lots of oil. Twice. Not only was I armed with leftovers, I was now more familiar with the local ingredients and how to prepare them.
Here for the hummus recipe, instead? I don’t blame you…
I don’t know why, but I don’t make hummus on a regular basis. I break it out for parties and when I am travelling. This is currently my favourite non-traditional hummus. It takes a bit more work than your standard hummus, but the results are great. First, you need to saute some shallots (or onion) with rosemary to infuse a small amount of oil for your hummus. Ground pistachios and a touch of tahini are the base for this version that is also spiced with maple syrup and cinnamon. I didn’t think rosemary would pair so well with this, but it was a phenomenal hummus. Sweet, yet savoury. Lighter with the additional water, it isn’t as creamy as a decadent hummus, but you could add more tahini or oil to taste. In short, perfect for me. Enjoy!
Other hummus flavours:
Rob and I did a 5-day hike to La Ciudad Perdida while in Colombia. You need a guide and we picked Magic Tours since they responded to our emails and assured me I would have vegan options on the trek. We started off with 4 other hikers, our guide, a cook and a porter (with 2 mules) for our 5-day 44-km hike.
We hiked through the Colombian jungle, with a well-delineated path, up and down many hills and through a river quite a few times! Gorgeous scenery with a great ruined city at the end. An unparalleled experience, to say the least.
I won’t lie. It was hard. We hiked in hot and humid weather, over 30C with at least 80% humidity. Shade from trees was a welcome treat after hiking in open sun. I also found the terrain difficult with many river crossings and steep hills. I wish I had had better ankle support on my hiking boots! By the fourth day, we reached The Lost City. There were 1200 steps to climb to reach the actual Ciudad Perdida with a further 800 steps within the ruined city, itself. Going up those stairs was not so bad; going down was worse! If you don’t like heights, this also won’t work well for you.
Before I left, I made a few energy snacks. This was one of them which was a great source of protein when all I had to eat was fried rice and avocado for dinner (only once).
I was drawn to this recipe immediately after Cara posted it. It reminded me of a souped up Raw Brownie with a heavenly base of walnuts, dates and cocoa. However, to make this a protein power star, there are hemp seeds and protein powder as well. I ended up increasing the mint extract and substituting agave for the brown rice syrup. Absolutely delicious straight from the mixer. I dehydrated them at 110F for 7-8 hours hoping to make them more portable. The sharp flavours diminished slightly but my snacks were now able to come with me to the jungle! Sadly, I didn’t wrap them individually so they kind of smooshed together towards the end of my trip. Still good, though.
I will admit that Rob and I overpacked for our hike, but I would still travel with my snacks again. I still need to share the winner of the energy snacks, so stay tuned. I had some bona fide Larabars as well, which also seemed to ooze some oily stuff under the heat of the jungle. If you are planning for a similar trip, definitely consult your tour operator to see what they recommend you bring. While Magic Tours had an extensive list of stuff to bring (sunscreen, hat, water bottle, clothes, etc), this is what I also found useful:
Foot talc powder- We didn’t bring any but if you are prone to sweaty feet or slipping into rivers, this is for you!
Sanitizer- We didn’t bring any, but considering the lack of soap and toilet paper, this would have been great to have to not get traveler’s diarrhea.
Compact camera- You do not want to bring a big D-SLR with you on this hike. We actually don’t have too many photos because we were more focused on hiking then taking photos.
After bite & antihistamines- We had deet (although only 30%), and were still bitten by bugs. Lots of bugs. This helped.
Ibuprofen- You may be sore. You may get a headache.
Travel pillow- On the hike, you sleep in hammocks and the occasional bunk bed. No pillows. I am VERY picky about my pillow. I often travel with my day-to-day feather pillow because I have a hard time sleeping without it. This pillow, albeit not exactly what I am used to, was a godsend, even outside the trek in other B&Bs.
Hiking poles- I love my collapsible hiking poles.
Non-cotton clothing- Want your clothes to dry? Make sure they are not cotton.
Water purification tablets- You want to make sure you are drinking potable water. These tabs add no taste to the water.
What else do you like to bring with you on long hikes?