From the Archives: Summer 2006 Issue of Lupus Now
Vegan Delight - Cafe serves up savory dishes with a healthy twist
By Melanie D.G. Kaplan
Soul Vegetarian Cafe & Exodus Carryout is generally a peaceful place. The vegan cafe, located across the street from Howard University in Washington, DC, is filled with vibes of well-being, and the regulars know that eating Soul's food fills their bodies with a sense of calm and harmony. But once in a while, a disturbance ripples through the small, two-floor, cafeteria-style restaurant.
"People come in here, and they put the debate on the table," says manager Ahkibah Ben Yehuda, talking about customers who argue over dishes such as BBQ Twists or Country Battered Steak. "One will say, 'This is meat.' And the other will say, 'Don't tell me it's meat!' "
The fact is, the food at Soul Vegetarian is so savory that there is sometimes no telling what is underneath all the flavors. It is especially tough to discern when tofu-a staple ingredient here-can mimic the consistency of meat just as easily as it can cheese or eggs. But as a vegan establishment, patrons can be sure that what they consume is made completely from plant products.
"All the harmful things that most people find themselves getting ailments from have been removed," says Yehuda. "You won't be eating anything here that will raise your cholesterol."
Soul Vegetarian Cafe's menu items are free from animal products, animal byproducts (such as honey), hydrogenated products, canned foods, and processed sugar. Instead, Head Chef and nutritionist Zvenah Israel buys from organic providers, and in the kitchen (which she calls the Nutrition Room), she uses sea salt, turbinado sugar, and whole grains.
The cafe opened in 1992 as part of a small chain that started in Atlanta, and Israel joined the kitchen in 2001. Many of the customers are Howard students and medical professionals from the university's hospital. Some of the regulars have transitioned from a meat diet to a vegan diet and say they now feel more energetic.
The restaurant changes its menu seasonally, based on what produce is freshest. Each night of the week, a different entree is offered, such as wheat loaf, pepper steak, tofu teriyaki, or spinach quiche. Side dishes include tofu nuggets, Jerusalem bakes (baked potato wedges), and veggies such as kale and collard greens. Shakes and smoothies have a strong following. The drinks are made from soy milk, natural sweeteners and fruit, peanut butter or carob.
A couple of the favorite sides are the creamy macaroni and cheese and the perfectly spiced curry cabbage. She may love cabbage today, but growing up in Arkansas, Israel says she was not fond of the vegetable at all. "I remember the days we would cook cabbage all day, and after you cook it two or three hours, it was nothing but mush," she says. "My parents weren't bad cooks, but now I realize you don't have to cook it for that long, and it tastes much better."
Israel says one of the joys of her job is taking the time to cook slowly and deliberately (for example, she soaks beans for 24 hours before cooking them, rather than serving canned beans) and knowing that she is taking care of her body and helping others to do the same.
Nathaniel's Power Shake
Serves one (yields a 16-ounce serving)
3/4 cup organic coconut milk
1/2 cup soy milk
unsweetened 1/2 banana, medium
1 ounce carob powder
1 tablespoon brewer's yeast
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
3 ounces sweetener of choice (for example, maple syrup, agave nectar or turbinado sugar)
20 ounces of ice
1. Place all ingredients in blender, except ice.
2. Blend, while gradually adding ice, until thick and frosty.
3. Serve immediately.
Country Battered Steak
1-pound package of seitan (whole wheat, sliced gluten)
1 cup Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 cup water
Oil for pan
4 cups of organic unbleached flour
1 cup of nutritional yeast
1/2 cup granulated garlic
4 tablespoons granulated onion
4 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
3 tablespoons cumin
3 tablespoons dried basil leaf
2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 cup Jamaican curry powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon nutmeg
Sea salt to taste
Mix all dry ingredients together thoroughly. Marinate the seitan slices in the water and amino mixture for about 30 minutes. Once the slices are marinated, dip them into the batter mixture. Arrange on an oiled oven pan and spray the tops of the slices with oil. Bake at 350o for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.
1 large head green cabbage
1 tablespoon Jamaican curry powder
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon granulated onion powder
1/2 tablespoon dried basil leaves
1/8 tablespoon nutmeg
1/8 tablespoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
4 tablespoons soy oil
Sea salt to taste
1. Remove outer green leaves from cabbage and wash with the head of cabbage in 1/2 cup of salt.
2. Rinse thoroughly, removing all traces of salt. Drain.
3. Cut green leaves in thin slices, keeping them separate from cabbage head, which is also cut thinly.
4. Heat oil in wok over medium flame.
5. Add green leaves first, stirring briskly for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the cabbage and seasonings, stirring briskly for another 5 minutes or until cabbage is slightly wilted. Serve.