Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"Naya", the Lebanese word for "new", is the most appropriate description for the tiny, futuristic looking resto that opened earlier this month in Midtown East. And new is what my hungry honey and I were looking for last week, along with a solid vegetarian section on the menu. Breaking away from the typically heavy designs and deep, bold colors that adorn most Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurants, Naya's interior is very chic, with shimmering white and silver booths, bright backlit walls, and a Buddha Bar-style soundtrack. It's definitely not yo' mama's Lebanese restaurant.

And luckily, you won't find yourself jumping over the moon with exorbitant prices that run like the dish to a stylish eatery's spoon. Naya keeps their share-able small plates to no more than $9, and even entrees don't venture past the $23 mark. We split a parsley-heavy tabbouleh salad, the perfect sweet & salty combo of pan-seared halloumi cheese with pomegranate sauce and tomatoes, fassoulia (roman beans in garlic & olive oil), a bit dry but flavorful stuffed eggplant, and a very creamy labne & pita. There are lots of vegetarian mezze to choose from- this definitely earns The Friendly Veg's seal of approval! And though they'll serve you Lebanese wine and beer, among others, Naya misses the mark with the, well, missing bar. I'll happily sit at a restaurant bar while I wait for my table, but considering the wait time for a walk-in and no space to wait within the restaurant, your best bet is to make a reservation.

But it was worth the wait.

With several new and cool looking bars and restaurants opening in my neighborhood as of late, I might be less inclined to flee the lame monkey-suit and tourist packed after-work scene that Midtown is generally known for... fellow foodies, let's keep the revolution going to take back Midtown!

Naya Mezze and Grill, 1057 Second Avenue, between 55th and 56th Street; 212-319-7777

Friday, October 24, 2008

Spinach-Ricotta Dumplings with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Sometimes, half the enjoyment of cooking is getting messy. The Friendly Veg will admit that these little balls of goodness are a bit time consuming, but is there really anything more satisfying than letting your hands sink into a bowl of warm, gooey ricotta and spinach and then eating the fruits of your (fun) labor? You can also serve these dumplings in broth for a hearty winter soup.

Spinach Dumplings

The Whats:

* 2 packages of frozen chopped spinach, completely thawed, and squeezed to remove excess liquid
* 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
* 1/4 cup unsalted butter
* 1 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
* 1 tbsp. parsley
* 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 eggs, lightly beaten (or egg substitute equivalent, like Ener-E)
* 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
* 1/2 cup grated parmesan
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook garlic for 2 minutes. Stir spinach into the butter and garlic, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in ricotta and parsley and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

2) Place the cooled spinach-ricotta mixture in a large bowl, and add the eggs, flour, parmesan, nutmeg, salt, and pepper; mix well. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.

3) Prepare red pepper sauce as detailed below.

4) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Flour your hands, and make 1-inch balls of spinach-ricotta mixture; drop a few of the balls into the simmering water to cook. When dumplings begin to float, remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a plate or on paper towels.

5) Spread 1/3 cup of the roasted red pepper sauce across the bottom of a large pan or baking dish. Place the cooked dumplings into the pan; drizzle with more red pepper sauce, and top with some shredded parmesan or mozzarella. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The Whats:

* 2 large red bell peppers (to save time, I bought some roasted red peppers from the deli counter)
* 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
* 1 medium onion, diced
* 1/4 cup white wine
* 1 tbsp. paprika
* 3/4 cup creme fraiche, or heavy cream
* salt & pepper to taste

1) If not using roasted peppers, slice the red bell peppers in half, and roast over an open flame or under a broiler, turning occasionally, until charred on all sides, about 15 to 20 minutes. Place peppers in a paper bag and seal. When cool enough to handle, coarsely chop pepper halves.

2) In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium low heat. Add onion and saute until softened. Add the chopped bell peppers and paprika, and saute for about 5 minutes. Add white wine, and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in cream and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

3) Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, or in a standup blender, puree the mixture until smooth. Add salt & pepper, and keep warm in saucepan until ready to use.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

2008 Vendy Awards, Saturday October 18th

The classiest awards ceremony that you've all been waiting for... Iron Chef-style street food awards! Bring it on!

And while you may equate street vendors with phrases like "dirty water dogs", the finalists are vendors that even The Friendly Veg can get behind- ones with quality munchies and vegetarian options (falafel is one of my faves!). This year's Vendy's also debut the new People's Choice Award for best dessert vendor! (Treats Truck anyone??)

The 2008 Vendy Awards will be held at the Tobacco Warehouse in Dumbo, and each $80 ticket is tax deductible, and includes all-you-can-eat street food, drinks, and can you really argue with the whole Iron Chef spectacle? Priceless... just like that amazing falafel cart that's always just a few steps outside your building right when you need it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Edible Manhattan Forum, Tomorrow Night

I won't be able to make it, but if you can, check out another Food Writing Forum at New School University. Much like the Gastronomica panel I attended last month, the editors of the new Edible Manhattan will be on hand to read from the new addition to the Edible brand.

Info is as follows:

Location: Alvin Johnson/J. M. Kaplan Hall, 66 West 12th Street, room 510

Admission: $5; free to all students and New School faculty, staff, and alumni with ID

Box Office Information: In person purchases can be made at The New School Box Office at 66 West 12th Street, main floor, Monday-Friday 1:00-7:00 p.m. The box office opens the first day of classes and closes after the last paid event of each semester. Reservations and inquiries can be made by emailing boxoffice@newschool.edu or calling 212.229.5488

If you can't get enough of food-related panel discussions, you can check out another panel, "The Food of Immigrants" at New York University, which delves into the old and new foodways in immigrant communities, at 4pm (and you can still make it to the New School panel!) at the Fales Library in NYU's Bobst Library at 70 Washington Square South. Suggested donation is $10.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Totally COOL

And by COOL, I mean Country-Of-Origin-Labels, a new law put into effect on September 30th. I finally noticed COOL labels on some of the produce while stopping at the supermarket this afternoon- products of Mexico, Guatemala, New Zealand, hello world!

By March of 2009, retailers will be fined if their foods are not labeled; this goes for meats and fresh and frozen produce, even for foods grown in the U.S. For you locavores out there, it will be easier to pick out locally grown veggies, and the next time there's a spinach/tomato/pepper/etc recall, companies can pluck specific products off the shelves, and sickened consumers can more readily identify where they bought any tainted food.

Though the law isn't going far enough by not requiring labels on processed and pre-packaged foods, like pre-washed salad mixes, bags of trail mix, or boxes of chicken fingers or fish sticks (which I think is an equally important issue, considering how many Americans opt for easy and quick meals to feed their families), I'm a fan of these new labels- after all, knowledge is power, and every consumer has a right to know where their food comes from and what they're putting into themselves.

Check out this CNN article for some quick info on COOL.

Vegan Pumpkin Muffins

I love a good carb overload in the morning. This woman cannot live on caffeine alone. A piece of fruit or yogurt just won't suffice either. Just give me a big muffin, a whole wheat bagel with tofu cream cheese, or a stack of pancakes with real maple syrup. Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day.

That being said, "the most important meal of the day" should also be relatively healthy, filling, and a lot of flavor, just like any other meal you'd spend time preparing. Making your meal vegan, of course, is definitely a step in the right direction. It's no secret I'm a choco-holic, and an even bigger fan of cinnamon and other spices, so I couldn't resist putting chunks of my fave Dagoba bar infused with chili powder into my muffin mix. Everyone deserves a little spice in their A.M hours, don't they?

The Whats:

* 1 cup unbleached flour
* 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1/4 packed light brown sugar
* 1 tsp. baking powder
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
* 2 tsp. ground ginger
* 1 tsp. nutmeg
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1 cup canned pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
* scant 1 cup soy milk
* 1/4 cup canola oil
* optional: 1 2 oz. bar Dagoba Xocolatl bar, chopped or broken into small pieces (or 1/3 cup dark chocolate or carob chips)

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin or cupcake pan with paper cups. In one large bowl, whisk together the flour, pastry flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

2) In a separate medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, soy milk, and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Fold chocolate into the batter, if using.

3) Spoon batter into baking cups, and fill 3/4 of the way. Bake muffins for 30 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool muffins on a wire rack after removing from oven.

This recipe makes about 16 muffins.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Just something I thought I'd share with my fabulous readers: for a more interesting spin on the celebrity gossip that you pray you don't get caught reading at your desk (hey now, I know I'm not the only one with this guilty pleasure), check out Ecorazzi, a site devoted to eco-conscious fashion, celebrities, shopping, and of course, environmental causes, animal rights issues and related events.

It's a guilty pleasure that you'll feel a little less guilty about. Besides, where else would find out about Travis Barker dropping his vegetarian diet following his near-death experience in a plane crash a few weeks ago (shock!!), or tidbits on Titantic's environmental message, or news about Bette Midler opening a community garden in Harlem?


Monday, October 6, 2008

Butternut Squash Lasagna

You might be one of those reluctant cooks that think, "If I'm going to spend a few hours in the kitchen preparing a meal, then it better be damn good!"

And to those of you who refuse to be bound by stainless steel chains, this just might be the time to declare your surrender.

All jokes aside, traditional Italian lasagna is known for being a really heavy dish, completely overloaded with meat & cheese, and with butternut squash starting to debut at every stand in the Green Market, I couldn't think of a better way to ring in fall and satisfy my craving for something hearty, creamy, and somewhat light. Because I've made a really creamy butternut squash filling, you can even cut down on the amount of cheese you fill the lasagna with- fresh fall veggies should be the highlight of this dish! And if you're looking to cut a few more calories, you can easily make the bechamel sauce with soy milk and soy butter- it thickens just as much as the milk-based sauce.

Wave the white flag, you just might want to stay in the kitchen with this one :)

The Whats:

* 2 large butternut squashes, peeled, and cut into large cubes
* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 2 tbsp. rubbed sage
* 1/2 tbsp. ground nutmeg
* 1/2 tbsp. ground ginger
* 1 cup mascarpone cheese
* salt & pepper to taste
* 1 box lasagna noodles
* 2 medium sized zucchini or yellow squash, cut into thin slices
* 1 large bunch of spinach, arugula, or any of your favorite leafy greens
* 1 cup shredded mozzarella
* 1/2 cup shredded parmiggiano reggiano
* about 2 cups bechamel or your favorite cream sauce

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat; cook the butternut squash until easily pierced by a fork, about 10 minutes. Drain the squash, and place in a large mixing bowl.

2) Drizzle the squash with olive oil, and add the sage, nutmeg, ginger, salt and pepper. Mix to coat the squash. Using a fork or a potato masher, mash the seasoned squash until smooth. Add the mascarpone cheese and whip into the squash mixture. Your squash-cheese mixture should be light and smooth. Set aside.

3) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil; cook lasagna noodles until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. Fill a medium bowl with cold water, and place lasagna noodles in the bowl until ready to use.

4) Prepare your bechamel- melt 4 tbsp. of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and whisk in 1/4 cup all purpose flour. Reduce heat to low, and whisk in 2 cups of milk. Simmer until mixture begins to thicken- about 8 to 10 minutes- and whisk in 1/4 tsp. nutmeg.

5) Spread about 1/4 cup of bechamel sauce across the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking pan. Cover with a layer of lasagna noodles; spread 1/3 of the squash mixture over the lasagna noodles. Layer 1/3 of the zucchini, the greens, 1/2 cup of bechamel and 1/4 of the mozzarella over the squash mixture. Repeat with two more layers; finish last layer with the remaining bechamel, mozzarella, parmiggiano reggiano, and sprinkle with ground nutmeg. Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes; remove foil and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until top layer is browned. Allow lasagna to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vegetarian Awareness Month

If you're already veg or vegan, it's time to take your veg pride out of the closet; if you're just soy-curious, there's no better time to check out the city's many vegetarian restaurants throughout October. Founded by the non-profit North American Vegetarian Society in 1977, World Vegetarian Day is celebrated nationally... though I'm sure you'll see more events here in NYC than, for example, where my parents live in Arizona.

So check out the following veggie & veg-friendly events this month, or take the pledge to go veg for 30 days. Or click here to find more ways to get in on the action.

Food Network's Wine and Food Festival- running October 9th through October 12th, it'll be tasting and TV chef heaven and the proceeds go to Food Bank of New York and Share Our Strength.

Natural Products Expo East- this one's only a Fung Wah ride away. Held in the Boston Convention & Expo Center from October 16th through 18th, with 1,200 manufacturers/companies of organic and eco goodies.

Brooklyn Goes Veg- the vegetarian spin on Restaurant Week from October 19th through 25th. Check the site for the list of participating restaurants.

Vegan Drinks- Thursday, October 30th. Vegetarians & vegans unite... over drinks! Can it get any better?

And because one good celebration deserves another, mark November 1st on your calendars- it's World Vegan Day!