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Friday, May 22, 2015


May 17, 2015

We've had an eye on Zaatar since it opened a couple of years ago, and we've noticed it earning seals of approval from Cate's Cates, Green Gourmet Giraffe and Veganopoulous in that time. We squeezed our first visit in before their 8pm closing last Sunday night, following an afternoon gig at the Post Office Hotel. We'd spent the duration steadfastly resisting the myriad bowls of fries floating around us, focusing on the falafel to come.

The set-up is accessible and family-friendly at Zaatar, with clear display cabinets and counter ordering, dozens of quick-wipe tables that can be rearranged by customers, and a grin on the face of every staff member. Dietary indicators weren't marked on the menu, but there's plenty for vegos to choose from. Given that they make their own bread products on site, coeliacs might be more wary.

We shared a combination meal of 3 mezza with dip and salad ($8.50), which was excellent value. The last falafel in the display was still pretty good, and the mini cheese pie sat safely between the tasteless ones at Tiba's and the A1 gold standard. The pumpkin kibbeh held a surprise filling of chickpeas and spices, and was even better dipped into the super-smooth, tahini-heavy humus. The fattoush was fresh and on the acidic side.

It was all upstaged just one bite into the vegetarian pizza ($6). I've never had a sweeter, fresher crust! The grated haloumi was springy and salty, and in between were crunchy arcs of caspicum, discs of tomato and rings of red onion. Even the olives failed to bother me, such was the perfection of this Middle Eastern-style pizza.

We hear good things about the breakfasts here too, but it'll be tough to tear me away from another bread-based order. Either way, you can expect us to report on a daylit Zaatar meal next time we're in Coburg.


Fellow veg bloggers Green Gourmet Giraffe and Veganopoulous have already given Zaatar positive reviews. It's also won fans on Cate's Cates, Melbourne Cafes Photo Blog, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t)!, Howie's Melbourne Food Blog and grazing panda. Consider the Sauce and Food, Eat, Repeat thought it was just OK.

365 Sydney Rd, Coburg
9939 9494
menu board

Accessibility: Zaatar seems to have put some thought into it! The entry is flat, wide and opens automatically. Tables are moderately spaced, and the staff don't seem to mind shifting them around to accommodate groups. Displayed food is at low-medium height. We ordered and paid at a low-medium height counter, and food was brought to our table. Toilets are gendered and include a third unisex fully accessible option.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Vegan baked potato soup with mushroom bacon

May 16, 2015

We had a spare Saturday afternoon and thus decided we finally had the time to commit to one of the overly complicated recipes that Serious Eats put up during their recent vegan month. I'm pretty keen to have a crack at the mapo tofu or the creamy ramen, but they both required fancier ingredients than we could lay our hands on at short notice. Instead, we went for this wintery roasted potato and cauliflower soup, with the added bonus of some mushroom bacon.

This is still a time-consuming and complicated recipe - I'd guess that we spent more than two hours putting everything together and we dramatically simplified the original (no stove-top smoking, lots of stick-blending and no soup straining). The mushroom bacon could be made well ahead of time, although you've got a good hour to do the laborious mushroom slicing while the veggies are roasting, and the oven's already on so you can pop them straight in. 

I'd say the pay-off was just about worth it - the potato and cauliflower soup was rich and had a cheesy texture thanks to the blended up cashews and cauliflower. It was quite mildly flavoured - you could boost the chipotle/adobo levels if you wanted more of a kick, but otherwise just season it heavily to make sure it doesn't turn out bland.

The mushroom bacon really kicks things up a notch too. I'd probably up the liquid smoke in the marinade next time and try to find bigger mushrooms to avoid the fiddliness of chopping and flipping hundreds of little mushroom slices, but the recipe in general is a winner. Keep in mind that the mushrooms shrink an awful lot, so you might as well do a big batch - we started with three full oven trays and wound up able to squeeze everything onto a single tray for the final roast.

I was very impressed by this recipe - we'll definitely be going through the Serious Eats vegan archives again when we've got an afternoon spare.

Crispy mushroom bacon 
(based on this recipe from Serious Eats)

500g Swiss brown mushrooms
spray oil
salt and pepper
4 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Slice the mushrooms really finely, just a couple of millimetres thick.

Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper and grease it up with spray oil. Lay out the mushrooms (we had to do things in a couple of batches - there was too much for even two full trays). 

Generously season with salt and pepper and pop them in the oven. After 20-25 minutes, take them out and flip each mushroom piece over. Give them another light spray with oil and some more salt and pepper and put them back in for another 25 minutes. You want them to dry out and crisp up - don't be afraid to go for longer than 25 minutes if you need to.

While the mushrooms are cooking, mix together the syrup, garlic powder, paprika and liquid smoke in a big bowl. Once the mushrooms are ready, stir them all through to coat them with the marinade and lay them back out on a baking tray (they'll have shrunk such that 3 tray loads will now fit on one!). 

Give them another 5-10 minutes in the oven to caramelise the sugars in the marinade and pull them out when they're a bit crunchy and a bit chewy.

Fully loaded vegan baked potato soup
(based on this recipe from Serious Eats)

1 head of cauliflower, halved
2 large floury potatoes, scrubbed and with a few holes poked in them with a skewer
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large leek, sliced finely
2 ribs celery, sliced finely
6 green onions, sliced finely with white and green parts kept separately
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, plus a bonus teaspoon of the adobo sauce
1 cup roasted cashews
1 litre almond milk
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 small bunch chives, sliced finely
1 head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed (for serving)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C and roast the potatoes and cauliflower for about an hour, until they're very soft but not burnt (the cauliflower will brown up a lot, but that's okay). Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan and add in the leek, celery, garlic and the white parts of the green onions. Cook over low-medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until everything is nice and soft but nothing is browning up. Stir through the paprika.

Combine the cashews with about 1 cup of the almond milk, and the chipotle and adobo sauce, in the spice grinder attachment of your food processor (or a blender if that's your preference). Give it a good whizz, you want it as smooth as possible.

Pour the rest of the almond milk and the liquid smoke into the saucepan and scoop in the cashew paste, stirring everything together thoroughly. Whizz the soup mix up with a stick blender - you want the leek and onion bits to blend into the soup as much as possible.

Peel and dice the potatoes and cut the cauliflower into bite-sized chunks, discarding the stem. Throw the veggies into the soup mix in batches, stick-blending as you go. Add some water along the way to keep things at the texture you want - we added about a cup. 

Once you've blended everything together as smoothly as possible, stir through the chives, season with salt and pepper and add in about a third of your mushroom bacon. 

Serve, garnishing with some more mushroom bacon, the broccoli and a sprinkling of the green parts of the green onions.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sichuan House

May 16, 2015

On Friday night we were in the city for a gig at the Forum, and keen to try something new for dinner. I pulled up a year-and-a-bit-old bookmarked post from vegawesome! and suggested we give Sichuan House a shot. I had no problem snagging a table for two at 6pm, but they steadily filled up as we ate. I've since discovered that this restaurant is a favourite of many chilli-loving Melbourne bloggers (see link list below).

The menu's generally very meaty but we were able to spot several veg options that correspond closely with the Dainty Sichuan menu: cold noodles, potato shreds, garlicky cucumber and the two dishes we ultimately ordered, stir-fried spicy dry tofu and chives ($19.80) and fish fragrant eggplant ($17.80).

The dry tofu is firm and smoky, stacked high with lots of wilted greens and a few dried chillis. It was the right counterpart to the slippery battered eggplant, as sweet as it is spicy. A bit of steamed rice on the side ($2 per person) and we were well sorted. In fact, it was far too much food for the two of us, and they would have boxed up the leftovers if we'd been able to take them.

Sichuan House is BYO, and we contented ourselves with some of their cooling non-alcholic drinks - coconut juice for Michael and aloe vera drink for me ($3.50 each).

Sichuan House didn't distinguish itself strongly from our past Dainty experiences, but it didn't suffer badly from the comparison either. Service was friendly and fast, and we enjoyed our meal. Our only regret was that we didn't arrange to eat with friends and order more from the menu. 


A review from fellow veg blogger Vegawesome! inspired our visit to Sichuan House. It's also won many omnivorous fans, see Couture Foodie, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t)!, From The Cockroach Trap, A Spotted Blog, Spoonfuls of Wanderlust (twice), DolceBunnie, Let's Get Fat Together, Foodie About Town, Sweet & Sour Fork and The City Lane. There's just one ambivalent review, on Diary of a Pampered Housewife.

Sichuan House
22-26 Corrs Lane, Melbourne 
9650 8589
menu samples 1, 2, 3

Accessibility: Entry includes about six steps, and we didn't see a more accessible alternative. Tables are densely packed. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. Toilets were gendered, flat-floored and narrow.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bo De Trai III

May 3, 2015

We spent a lovely weekend down at Ocean Grove with a gang of friends and the drive back through Melbourne seemed like a good excuse to stop by Bo De Trai for some lunch. It's a cosy little Buddhist vego place in Footscray, and one that we visit far too infrequently. On this visit we stumbled across their special monthly full moon menu, which offers a narrower range, presumably for religious reasons.

Cindy ordered the Com Ga Sa Ot, imitation chicken in lemongrass and chilli on rice ($10). It was just what Cindy was after, tender and nutty with a mild curry powder flavour. A watery sauce tipped over the rice brought it all together well.

I ordered off the specials board - a mock duck noodle soup with greens, mushrooms, some little berries (maybe goji berries?) and a few other bits and pieces ($10). It was rich and warm, with a powerful kick from the birds-eye chilli pieces I sprinkled through.

Bo De Trai is a decent vego option in Footscray - the staff are friendly (although not always particularly efficient - the place is run by volunteers!), the food is cheap and everything we've had has been good. It's not a place for a fancy meal or somewhere that exudes ambience, but it's worth stopping in if you're after a quick, tasty meal.


Read about our previous visits to Be De Trai here and here. Since our last visit, MEL: HOT OR NOT has given it the thumbs up, but Chef John Smith was very unimpressed.


Bo De Trai
94 Hopkins Street, Footscray
9689 9909

Accessibility: There's a small step at the door, and fairly close-packed tables but a clear wide passage through the middle. Ordering is at the table with payment at a low counter. The toilets are out the back past the kitchen via a slightly narrow passageway. They're unisex, but not particularly designed with accessibility in mind.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dense vegan brownies

May 1, 2015

Well, of course I couldn't set off on a weekend away without taking something chocolatey. I went for another recent locally published recipe, this one for brownies on quinces and kale. I prepared it late in the evening, after the lentils had simmered and the biscuits were cooling on the bench. I ground up the flax seeds, perhaps not quite as finely as I should have, and set them to gooifying with some water. I piled up the almonds in the grinder but they weren't so keen to powderise. After a couple more attempts I powered down the grinder and discovered this....

I'd snapped the seal, and it was performing some kind of python move on the blade. I sent Michael this frustrated photo, set the grinder aside and retrieved our hand blender. It struggled to smash the almonds, and they were pretty chunky.

I proceeded with the rest of the recipe, causing a little mess but no more mishaps. I wondered if my lax grinding might make for coarse, badly textured brownies. When their prescribed 35 minutes of baking had passed, they completely failed the skewer test and I baked them longer - I really needed something that I could slice cleanly and travel with. At the 50 minute mark I gave up, cooled 'em off, and popped the tray in the fridge for the night. Had I just wasted a lot of time and chocolate?

I had not. These brownies were definitely coarser and firmer than Rosalie's, but they were nobbly and chewy and very, very chocolatey. They travelled exceedingly well. When I want another batch at home this winter, I'll try dialling down the bake time to the original 35 minutes and get to know the gooier version.

But before that can happen, I need a new seal for my spice grinder...

Dense vegan brownies
(slightly adapted from quinces and kale)

spray oil
1 1/2 tablespoons flax seeds
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups almonds
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
5 tablespoons margarine
1 cup dark chocolate pieces
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons soy milk
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper and spray it with oil.

Grind the flax seeds to a powder in a spice grinder. Transfer them to a small bowl in stir in the water. Set the flax mixture aside.

Grind the almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor, then transfer them to a large bowl. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and bicarbonate of soda to the bowl and stir everything together. Set this bowl aside too.

Over medium heat, melt the margarine in a large saucepan. Add half of the chocolate, stirring it regularly to ensure that it doesn't burn as it melts. Take the chocolate off the heat when it is completely melted and thoroughly mixed. Whisk in the flax mixture, then the sugar and vanilla. Finally, stir in the soy milk until it's fully incorporated.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and stir them together until they're well incorporated. Fold in the walnuts, and then the remaining half of the chocolate pieces. Pour and spoon the brownie mixture into the cake tin, smooth over the top as best you can, and bake them for 35-45 minutes, until they have a firm crust. Don't worry if they don't pass the skewer test.

Allow the brownies to rest for an hour or two (you might even consider refrigerating them) before slicing and serving.