Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mantra Lounge

September 10-11, 2014

Recently reader Natalie alerted us to a new vegetarian cafe just a few doors down from Animal Orchestra. Lucky for me I had a couple of quiet lunch breaks to check it out right away. Mantra Lounge is doing its level best to attract students from the neighbourhood, advertising its $7.95 main/salad/dessert special with pamphlet distribution and travelling trailer signs. It's going for a funky, chill-out atmosphere and doesn't hide its Eastern spiritual leanings - there's a soundtrack of chants, inspirational quotes on the wall, plus yoga and meditation events on the notice board.

The menu is on chalkboard and changes daily, with all foods clearly on display at the counter. In addition to the three course special there are a few wraps and snacks, salads, sweets and drinks. Gluten-free options are marked and almost everything is vegan - I think just a couple of the drinks contained dairy, but even their chai latte is based on rice milk.

On my first visit I tried their vegelicious chickpea wrap ($4). Though it looked small, the chickpea masala was filling. The tomato sauce I was offered on the side didn't do the subtle spices of the filling any favours. I was surprised that my lemon mint lagudi drink ($3) turned out to be pink, with fragments of dried mint - it was refreshing and sweet, but not necessarily something I'd order again.

I felt ambivalent about the 'amazing apricot slice' ($4) too - the apricot filling had a jellied texture (but also pieces of real fruit) and the coconut cream top was fatty and bland.

The $7.95 meal deal proved much more successful the following day - it was a huge plate of pasta dotted with salty soy meat, covered in a sweet saucy lentil and pumpkin tagine with a little lightly dressed salad. An unassuming square of coco-lemon cake was the surprise star, with an open coconutty crumb shot through with sweet-and-sour lemon syrup.

It seems that we should heed Mantra Lounge's advertising and make the most of their cheap meal deals - these plates are simple, filling and fresh. The staff were friendly, aren't inclined to rush you through, and the setting is cheerfully coloured. This cafe will surely become a student staple in Carlton.


Mantra Lounge
167 Grattan St, Carlton
0433 531 345
menu: visit one, visit two

Accessibility: Mantra Lounge has clearly given accessibility some thought - there's a ramp up from the footpath (see photo above) and plenty of space around the counter, where ordering, payment and food pick-up occurs. There's a unisex toilet with wheelchair accessibility signage on this level. There are a few moderately spaced tables downstairs; the stairs themselves are wide and sturdy with a new hand rail.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gnocchi pesto soup

September 8, 2014

This week I pulled out Isa Does It for weeknight dinner inspiration. I was quite taken by the pesto pasta dish that Linda made recently but we'd just had pasta ourselves; instead I transferred my pesto enthusiasm to Moskowitz's recipe for pesto soup with gnocchi, beans and greens.

The thickness of this soup comes from blended cauliflower and basil with a touch of arrowroot, so it's not excessively rich. Then it's dotted with white beans, gnocchi and chard (or in my case, spinach), providing lots to get your teeth into. Like the book's sweet potato and red curry soup, it comes off as much a stew as a soup.

I used homemade stock so I increased the amount of salt in the recipe. While I loved the textures of this soup, I thought that the flavour was lacking a bit of depth - again that might be down to my vege-scrap stock, but I reckon I'll try stirring a bit of white miso into the simmering broth in future. Otherwise, the only thing preventing me from making this all winter long will be the unseasonal basil - I guess it will be better savoured as an autumn recipe.

Gnocchi pesto soup
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Isa Does It,
which also appears on PPK)

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
1L vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt (add some white miso next time?)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
250g fresh gnocchi
400g can cannellini  beans, drained and rinsed
1 small bunch spinach leaves, roughly chopped
toasted pine nuts, to garnish

Pour just enough olive oil into a large pot to cover the base; set it over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook it, stirring, for about a minute, ensuring it doesn't burn. Add the cauliflower and 3 cups of the stock. Stir in the thyme, salt and pepper (plus future miso). Place a lid on the pot and bring it to the boil, cooking for around 10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.

Place the arrowroot in a cup and gradually pour in the remaining stock to form a smooth paste. Remove the lid from the pot and pour in the arrowroot-stock, stirring it around and cooking for 5 minutes until thickened (mine never did). Turn off the heat and stir in the basil leaves. Blend the soup until smooth, preferably with a stick blender.

Return the soup in the pot to medium heat. Add the gnocchi, replace the lid and cook for 3 minutes. Pour in the beans and spinach leaves, stirring everything together gently, until the leaves are wilted. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with pine nuts.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Banana oat slice

September 7, 2014

I've been valiantly snacking on all the bananas that arrive here by vege box, but the most recent cohort were a particular challenge - they numbered a dozen and were all destined to ripen at precisely the same time. This called for some serious baking. Not just subbing an egg in a vegan cake, or even a standard banana bread; no, I needed Clotilde Dusoulier's four-banana breakfast slice.

With a couple of substitutions - coconut flour instead of almond flour, peanut butter instead of almond butter - I found that I had everything I needed right at home. It all mixed together into a thick dough with little fuss and baked in precisely the directed time. It's simultaneously kind of banana-gooey in the middle and crispy-oaty on the outside, and impossible to slice neatly.

Bananas and coconut and chocolate go well together, but I found that the flavour here was lacking a little oomph. The sweetness is very understated, and I wonder if some dried fruit might do the trick. Alternatively I'd consider swapping out one of the bananas for some extra peanut butter. I'm at some risk of just converting it into this other slice recipe, but I reckon it's worth persevering. There's the foundation of a fine everyday snack, not to mention a banana-buster, here.

Banana oat slice
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Chocolate & Zucchini)

2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 medium bananas
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
120g dark chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 180°C and line a small baking tray with paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the rolled oats, coconut flour, shredded coconut and salt.

Peel the bananas and drop them into a large mixing bowl. Mash them thoroughly with a potato masher or fork. Whisk in the peanut butter and vanilla. Pour in the dry ingredients from the medium bowl and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Tip the mixture into the baking tray and use the back of a spoon to even it out. Bake the slice for around 25 minutes, until it's golden brown around the edges. Let it cool completely before slicing.

Monday, September 08, 2014


September 5, 2014

We've been more baffled than enticed by the new Emporium shopping complex in the city, but news of a vegan eatery on facebook managed to draw us in. Supercharger lacks an online presence of its own for the moment but owner Paul Mathis helped us out on twitter, informing us that they're open until 7pm every day and through until 9pm Thursdays and Fridays. That gave us plenty of opportunity to sneak in for dinner before a movie.

Once you find it IRL (tucked behind Jimmy Grants on level 3), the Supercharger MO is clear - fresh mix'n'match vegan bowls, beverages and desserts. Though there isn't clear dietary labelling, each dish's name is pretty instructive and almost everything looked to be gluten-free. Bowls start with a grain or spinach base, and then it's time to choose 3-5 extras ($10-14) - veges served raw, smashed, fermented or simmered.

I started with a steamed quinoa base and built up green peas and avocado smashed with lime, coconut oil and mint, some gently fermented cauliflower with black sesame, and thinly sliced seitan braised with shiitake mushrooms.

Meanwhile Michael ploughed through steamed brown rice, a raw blend of beetroot, carrot, radish and ginger with Bragg's apple cider, a smash of sweet potato and broccoli with tahini and barley, a yellow parnsip khadi with coconut, turmeric, lemongrass, galangal and lime, plus lightly caramelised tempeh in tamari.

We didn't think we wanted a beverage but the jars of apple, lemon, makrut/kaffir lime and lemongrass ($8) looked too good to miss - this was blended up for us on the spot for maximum impact (... and blended makrut lime leaves do make quite the citrussy impact!).

We ordered jars of the two available desserts to takeaway - raw cocoa mousse with coconut agar and berries on top, and a blueberry cashew 'cheesecake' with a jammy top and a date-and-nut base ($5 each). They're definitely some of the smoother, tastier raw desserts around. The jars were great for packing but less easy to eat from, causing sticky fingers and struggles to reach the base (maybe shallower receptacles would work better?).

We were otherwise very impressed by Supercharger. All the food was in rude health even towards the end of their shift, with the colour and crunch of produce just picked. The prices measure up favourably against other bowl-based vego venues around town. When we want a quick meal in the city we typically call on Shandong Mama, but Supercharger will stand out as a fresher alternative.

Level 3 Emporium, 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne
menu: one, two

Accessibility: The entry from Emporium is flat and wide. All ordering options are visible from low counter height; we ordered and paid at this counter. We picked up food from a high bench, though I'm sure accommodations could be made. Toilets are elsewhere in the Emporium complex.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Potato waffles

September 1, 2014

I worked from home on Monday, and it gave me a little extra time for housekeeping around my report-writing; slow cooking a big batch of stock, picking up a few groceries, and preparing dinner in stages. It was a nice opportunity to pull out my copy of Veganissimo, mixing and matching dishes with the vestiges of our vege box.

Look, it was mostly an excuse to make the potato waffles again. I think they're terrific - crisp around the edges and fluffy inside, but not greasy like a hash brown. A lot of parsley and a little chickpea flour set the savoury tone. I'd highly recommend them to anyone with a waffle iron (and suggest that anyone without try frying this batter as pancakes and report back).

To round out the meal and use up my veges, I whipped up small batches of Veganissimo's chunky beet dip and chive and cashew creme cheese. I couldn't believe how easy it was to handle pre-baked beetroots compared to peeling and grating raw ones, and their sweetness really gets to shine here - there's no filler, just some onion and garlic sauteed with red wine vinegar and a piquant dose of white pepper to add some complexity.

The chive and cashew creme cheese took me by surprise too. I've been around the mock-cheese block a few times, and this one uses ingredients I'm familiar with, but there's something deeply right about the quantities that Leigh Drew sets out in this recipe. I'm not going to give it (or the beetroot dip recipe) away here - grab the book and try 'em for yourself.

I'll share the potato waffle recipe (very slightly adapted below) as a taster. We previously ate these waffles with the Veganissimo scrambled tofu, yet another tasty reason to acquire this cookbook for yourself.

Potato waffles
(slightly adapted from Leigh Drew's Veganissimo!)

2 medium potatoes
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
3/4 cup plain flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup soy milk

Scrub the potatoes and place them in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover them with water and boil them until they're cooked through but still reasonably firm, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set them aside to cool. 

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, grate them into a large bowl. It's fine to let the skins in, though I fished out a couple of larger pieces. Stir in the parsley, chickpea flour, plain flour and baking powder. Once the potato is well coated in the dry ingredients, add the oil and milk and stir well to combine.

Heat up a waffle iron and grease it as necessary. Pour in and cook the potato batter in batches, until the waffles are golden and crispy on the outside.