Meatless Goes Mainstream In Boston
Vegetarians and vegans used to be the anomaly. But the plant-based lifestyle is trendier than ever, and local restaurants are stepping up to meet the growing demand.
Admitting that you were a vegetarian 30-some years ago elicited reactions that ranged from deep concern and bewilderment, to sheer horror. “You’ll fade away into nothing!” my grandmother would scold at every meal I shared with her. She had lived through World War II in England where meat was scarce and heavily rationed. So to her and many besides, meat had become somewhat of a status symbol, a sign that things were better, and not something to eschew. “Meat and two veg” was the standard for anything considered a meal, and the fact that I chose to only eat the “two veg” was as incomprehensible to her as an alien visitation during dinner.
Having survived my meatless childhood, I’ve since witnessed a steady change in attitude towards vegetarianism. There’s been a rising tide of reports about the overall health benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as the unmistakable, negative environmental effects of the meat industry. Processed meat has also been connected to cancer and the link between red meat consumption and various diseases is now widely known.
For some, vegetarianism is simply a cheaper way to live, but many have been put off by the widespread dissemination of dismaying images showing the cruelty to animals associated with factory farming. Athletes and celebrities have also helped to popularize meat-free lifestyles, motivated by political and or health reasons.
The role of social media in helping to disseminate all this cannot be understated. Millennials are espousing plant-based diets in droves, adding to the rapidly growing population of non-meat eaters. No longer just for radicals, health nuts, and hippies, veganism and vegetarianism is a common lifestyle and “green cuisine” has become a thriving industry.
This is certainly true in the Boston area, where the choice of meat-free dining options is increasing exponentially. Here are just some of our favorite vegan and vegetarian meals around Boston. Hearty, nutritious and absurdly delicious, these meals are sure to delight even the die-hard omnivore.
Just walking into Oasis Vegan will instantly raise your health and happiness index. Truly an oasis in Dorchester’s Four Corner’s neighborhood, it is an inviting, vibrant and warm spot where co-owners and chefs Nahdra Ra Kiros and Jahriffe MacKenzie insist that you can taste the love they put in the food.
Customers concur, and rave about the meals, the mood, and fact that it’s affordable and healthy, two things that often don’t go together.
Two dishes in particular are house favorites; the Vegan Mac and Cheese, and the Miser Wat. Jahriffe is the master of the Mac and Cheese, which he makes with Daiya or cashew cheese, turmeric, garlic, onion, seasoning and nutritional yeast, with almond milk– though cashew milk, hemp milk, or unsweetened coconut milk work too. It’s deliciously creamy without being too heavy. And if Oasis Vegan opens at 11am on a weekend, you can bet the orders for Mac and Cheese start flying in at 11:03!
The Miser Wat (Miser is pronounced like Mister, without the ‘t’) is Nahdra’s specialty. Inspired by her Ethiopian roots, this dish involving red lentils and Ethiopian spices, sounds simple but is out of this world. Once a special on the menu, it’s become an everyday item due to demand. Nahdra says it’s popular at her home too. She and Jahriffe have 5 children, all of whom know how to cook the dish.
Open since August of 2016, Oasis Vegan also serves vegan stews, healthy sandwiches and wraps, and fresh squeezed juices and smoothies. More than just a restaurant it is becoming a place for the community to come together, to learn about healthy living, to heal, and to be inspired. “Yes, we’re making food,” says Nahdra, “but our focus is to raise the vibration of the community, of everyone who walks through the door.”
340 Washington St., Dorchester, OasisVeganVeggieParlor
Whole Heart Provisions
Whole Heart Provisions, nestled in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood of Boston, has a simple, rustic-chic ambiance. The kind where you just know the food is healthy and fresh, and the dishes are so pleasing to the eye, it’s a given that they’re delicious.
It’s tough to choose just one menu item, so we went straight to the chef, Rebecca Arnold, who opened Whole Heart just over 2 years ago with Roxy’s Grilled Cheese owner James DiSabatino. Rebecca admitted that the Cassie Bowl tops her list of favorites, with its intensely satisfying balance of flavors and textures.
The Cassie was inspired by the Turkish tastes at Sarma, the restaurant in Somerville where Rebecca used to work. The bowl, named for Sarma’s chef Cassie Piuma, has fast become a customer favorite at Whole Heart Provisions.
"Eating the Cassie Bowl is like meeting your soulmate," raves a Cassie devotee.
Like most of the dishes here, it’s filling in a way that’s not too heavy. The bowl is a mix of roasted Japanese eggplant, pickled cauliflower, savory green beans, currants, fresh basil and chickpeas. Sweet and sour, spicy and crunchy, fresh and herbaceous; this just starts to describe the experience. Apricot jam in the harissa dressing gives it a little sweetness (while the harissa paste gives it heat). There’s lemon for tang, and while some chickpeas are cooked, there are also crispy ones for a gratifying crunch.
The Viet Bowl is also massively popular, with its spicy peanut sauce, peanut crumble, roasted broccoli, savory green beans, smashed cucumber, tomatoes and basil.
There's only one thing on the Whole Heart menu that's not gluten free, and that’s the bun on the Falafel Dog, a play on a Chicago style hot dog with falafel in place of meat. (And by the way, it’s really good!) In fact, the food here has been so well received that Whole Heart is opening two more locations this year, one in Central Square, near MIT, and the other in Harvard Square.
487 Cambridge St., Boston, wholeheartprovisions.com
A touch of elegance provided by chandeliers and sumptuous paint colors gives a hint of the culinary treats in store when you dine at Walnut Grille in Newton. And chef and owner Siva Kumar has been in the restaurant business for 20 years and knows a thing or two about plant-based cooking.
Hailing from a family of vegetarians in Chennai India, his mother–an accomplished cook–was his inspiration, and he says he was always interested in cooking. Prior to coming to the U.S., Siva attended culinary school in India, and then worked in restaurants in Texas and Georgia before opening Walnut Grille in 2013.
You need to be hungry when you walk in the door, because the portions are ample, and some of the appetizers are not to be missed. A huge fan favorite is the Gobi Manchurian; cauliflower fried in chick pea flour and seasoned with a sweet and spicy tomato sauce of minced ginger, garlic, carrot, scallion, onions, and cilantro. Liquid aminos and tamari make this dish gluten free.
For an entrée, even meat-aholics are blown away by Kiva’s Seitan or Tofu Masala; grilled seitan or tofu cutlets, perfectly portioned atop truffle Yukon mashed potatoes, served with garlic scented greens, sautéed mushrooms, candied shallots and marsala reduction.
Another dish that’ll make you a regular is the Nutty Tofu. Hand pressed organic tofu is encrusted with macadamias, cashews and pistachios then served over brown rice risotto cake with wild mushroom gravy, wilted green and sweet pepper aioli, and cilantro chutney. Light but filling, it's deliciously creamy on the inside with a satisfyingly crispy outer edge.
1203 Walnut St., Newton Highlands, walnutgrille.com
For those wanting the fine dining experience, True Bistro will not disappoint. Recently expanded, the restaurant provides a modern but cozy charm, complete with white napkins and tablecloths.
Chef Stuart Reiter, a vegan since the early 90s, studied in San Francisco at the renowned vegetarian eatery Greens. He’s an expert in creating beautifully prepared dishes full of flavor and texture, where the meat simply won’t be missed.
There are many sensational dishes on this menu; True Bistro stays true to its name putting a French spin on many dishes, and has responded to the trend for small plate dining in America (but also offers large plates). If Stuart had to choose, he’d tell you that the Phyllo Purse, or Phyllo Triangles, are long-standing favorites.
“Wrapping things in phyllo has worked for vegetarians for decades,” he explains.
The wine braised seitan and roasted winter squash compliment perfectly the red mole and piña pico de gallo (grilled pineapple salsa). The house-made pastas are also wildly popular. The sweet potato ravioli just melts in your mouth with its fresh turmeric pasta, lemongrass coconut cream and crispy shallots.
Another treat for the taste buds, the Red-Red Black-Eyed Peas combines jollof rice arancini, sautéed greens, plantain and spicy tomato salsa. When it comes to vegan, True Bistro nails it.
1153 Broadway, Somerville, truebistroboston.com
Healthy fast-food is no longer an oxymoron. And by Chloe proves that nutritious and delicious can be synonymous as well. You can tell the difference between the two locations in Boston, by the swinging basket chairs in the windows. At the Fenway location, they are red and white–a nod to the Red Sox, while the Seaport venue has the more nautical, blue and white color scheme.
Samantha Wasser, co-creator and creative director of by Chloe, explained that this kind of hip, fast-casual eatery appeals to her and her friends, millennials who are ok not being waited on and are happy to get a text when their food is ready. They would rather forgo extravagance for an affordable meal that takes up less time.
They are also more interested in where their food is sourced and want plant-based food that’s approachable, but that fuels and energizes without compromising flavor, taste or satisfaction.
And by goodness by Chloe delivers! Take, for example, their Guac Burger; hugely popular and enormously satisfying, the patties are made from scratch out of quinoa, black beans and sweet potato. They are topped with corn salsa, then the guacamole, and tortilla strips. It’s a dream come true for avocado lovers!
The quinoa salad is another much-loved menu item with its spicy seitan chorizo, and salad topped with tofu crema made in house. With the vibrancy of flavors and colors, this might just be one of the best salads you'll ever eat.