Maoz is vegetarian heaven — and Kosher to boot!

Maoz Falafel sign black and whiteDid you ever find one of those restaurants that looks so simple that you don’t expect much, only to find fresh ingredients and tons of flavor? That was my experience with Maoz.

We were meeting there for a planning session for the Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook Off. The simple store front in a strip mall setting at the back of the Triangle (Lamar and Guadalupe) looked perfectly ordinary.

Maoz Austin Texas

 

When we stepped inside, I started to think I might have been wrong. In front of me was a falafel topping bar like I hadn’t seen since I feasted at a tiny, incredibly delicious place in Adams Morgan (a lesser-known area of D.C. filled with great ethnic food and I-could-get-lost-in-here bookshops.)

Toppings bar at Moaz

The drooling started when I saw this!

There are boards to help the Moaz beginner order…

order board at MoazAnd more to help you pick the right size…

How big a meal at Moaz

Go for the big one. Seriously!

The food at Maoz is vegetarian (a big plus for me!) and it’s even certified Kosher (another plus for us and for anyone who keeps Kosher, Halal or just wants a guarantee that the “Vegetarian Lentil Soup” on the menu isn’t made with chicken broth!)

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There’s inside and outside seating, so Maoz is dog-friendly, too. They even brought out a falafel ball for my dog, saying all their guests should eat well!

There’s only one thing wrong with my visit….my decked out falafel looked so amazing that I ate it — all of it — before I remembered that I was supposed to take a picture of the food for my blog!  Oops!

Oh, no wait!  That means I have an excuse to go back soon for another!  OK, not on purpose at all…I get to go back for more. So watch this space for an update. Maybe this weekend….?

The specs:

Maoz Austin
4601 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78751
Tel: 512.323.2259

Hours
Monday – Thursday 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Friday 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Saturday 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Sunday 12:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Maoz on Urbanspoon

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Hope Market offers freshest produce on “Find it in Austin Friday”

close up of okra in basket

Fresh okra….

Every Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm, Austanites can by-pass the tasteless, mealy textured produced served up by  grocery stores and experience the real thing at the Hope Farmer’s Market located at East 5th and Comal.

The Market began in October 2009, a challenge in a city known for stores selling organic and local produce. But almost four years later, it’s still going and growing, bringing Austin residents a weekly destination where they can connect with the farmers who grow the food instead of just a clerk who’s stocking it.

baskets of persimmons

Ripe persimmons….

Shoppers can find all sorts of fresh vegetable, fruits, nuts and herbs in season. Vendors also sell fresh milk and dairy products (including my favorite goat dairy products from Swede Farm), honey, syrup, eggs, meats and baked goods.

Radishes

Just picked radishes….

And while you shop you can also listen to live music, and maybe snack on some of the treats you just bought. If you go, please bring plenty of reusable bags — remember, no more plastic bags in Austin. Personally, I like using one of those old-lady folding carts, too. Hey, veggies get heavy!

Most of the stands accept EBT/SNAP and WIC benefits, making it easier for people in need of a hand to get the healthy food they really deserve. You can find out more about that at the Hope Farm Stand at the market. Most vendors don’t accept credit or debit cards, so if you’re not using one of the food assistance programs, do bring cash.

Kale

Fresh kale…

The Farmer’s Market is also a great place to take your kids shopping. Once they see all those brightly colored, tempting veggies and fruits you might have an easier time getting them to try them.

pecans in basket

Well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome, too.

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Vegetable Tortilla Soup

When we moved to Austin, I started seeing Tortilla Soup on menus all over the place. It sounded amazing, and when friends ordered it, it looked even better. But as a vegetarian, the chicken broth and chunks of meat kept it off my table.

But not one to be discouraged, I decided to experiment and create my own version. Just without the meat. And I’m happy to say, with endorsement from my resident meat-eater, I think I’ve finally got it right! The recipe is at the bottom of this post. But first, here’s the process.

I started the soup by making a pot of brown rice, and setting that aside to steam. I also put some cooked black beans into a pot to warm with some crushed garlic and lime juice.  You can use beans you’ve cooked from scratch, or use plain, unseasoned canned black beans. Your choice.

beans and rice for soup

The soup itself starts with coarsely chopped peppers and onion and several whole cloves of garlic, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil.

peppers and onions cooking

To that I added my seasonings…cumin, black pepper, oregano and cayenne pepper. Once they had sautéed for a couple of minutes, I stirred in a can of diced tomatoes.

bowl of diced tomatoesNext came the broth. I used a Kosher vegetarian broth mix that has a chicken-style flavor, but you could use your favorite homemade or commercial broth.

vegetable broth mixAnd then the Morningstar Farms Meal Starter strips and a can of yellow and white corn.

morningstar farms vegetarian meal starter strips

Then in went some fresh cilantro.

cilantro

 I let that all simmer together for about a half an hour. It smelled heavenly!

When the soup was almost done, I sliced a couple of fresh, ripe avocados, and drizzled them with lime juice.

Avocado halves

I chopped a whole bunch of fresh cilantro (never can get enough!  I love cilantro!)

fresh cilantro

And then it was ready to assemble. I like to use large shallow soup bowls for this. First I added a scoop of rice, then topped it with a tumble of black beans. Soup was ladled into the bowl and then the whole dish was dressed with avocado and cilantro.

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I put the tortilla chips on the table for everyone to garnish their own dish (soggy tortillas are nasty!) I also put out a selection of hot sauces for people like me who like a little extra kick. And finally, I had my very own Austin-style, vegetarian-friendly Tortilla Soup!

Ready for your own? Here’s the recipe:

Vegetarian Tortillia Soup

Makes 4 generous servings or 6 side servings

2 cups cooked brown rice, warm
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large green peppers, coarsely chopped
2 large yellow (not sweet) onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled, but not crushed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, plain or seasoned
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cayanne pepper (or more to taste)
Generous amount of fresh ground pepper (at least 5 or 6 turns of the grinder)
8 cups chicken-style vegetable broth
15 ounce can white and yellow corn
1 package Morning Star Farms Meal Starter Chik’n Strips
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 large ripe avocados, halved then sliced
2-3 tablespoons lime juice
Cilantro for garnish
Tortilla chips or strips
Hot sauce for the table (optional)

Put the black beans in a pot on low.  Add the garlic, lime juice and water, and cover. Allow to warm slowly, stirring once or twice while cooking.

In a large, heavy bottom pot, add olive oil, peppers, onions and whole garlic cloves. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions just start to become translucent and peppers are slightly softened.

Add cumin, oregano, black pepper and cayanne and stir to coat vegetables. Cook for one minute.

Add canned tomatoes, broth, Chik’n Strips, chopped cilantro and corn. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Scoop rice into a ball at one side of the soup bowl. Top with drained black beans. Scoop soup into bowls but not over top of rice and beans. Garnish with avocado slices and cilantro. Pass tortilla chips and hot sauce at the table. Yum!

Veggie Heaven is indeed all it claims!

Veggie Heaven Austin TexasFor several months, my daughter has been pushing me to try a place called Veggie Heaven she had seen on one of our downtown forays.  But the time was never right when we were nearby — so we kept putting it off.

That had to be one of my sillier moves since moving to Austin!  It’s not fancy.  It’s not spacious.  But oh is it delicious!!!

First of all, as a vegetarian, I loved that absolutely everything on the menu was open to us.  But even more importantly, I loved that everything the four of us chose was delicious! I had the mock shrimp dish, extra hot (and yes, they believed me when I ordered extra hot!  Thank goodness!)  My daughter chose a kung pao and my husband (usually a meat eater) pronounced his eggplant garden amazing, and we all shared delicious steamed buns, spring rolls and Bubble teas.

And there’s more! The food is made-to-order, so small changes in a dish were no problem. The prices were amazingly low. The service was fast and friendly. And the owner made time to come to our table to chat after I asked about some art work on the wall.

I loved the fact that the customers weren’t all the same, too. When we walked in, there was a large tattooed man in bike leathers, several couples ranging in age from college to retirement, and a number of families of all shapes and sizes.  The diversity made it feel even more welcoming…everyone fits, everyone belongs.

The restaurant is tiny, so I imagine there are times when you have to wait for a table.  Do it. The plate set in front of you will be well worth the time.

I did not see a kids’ menu, but with prices this low, your kids can feast on almost anything on the menu for the average price of a fast food meal! Now that’s a great family deal!

Blue Baker brings a fresh take on bread, sandwiches and breakfast to Austin

The Blue Baker Austin Texas

I was in the mood to try something new for lunch the other day, and I remembered that my husband had brought   home a menu from a new place called “Blue” something opening in the Arboretum.  I’d just come from the gym, so I was hoping for something tasty and healthy…no use undoing all that time on the elliptical, right?

A few minutes later, and I was walking into The Blue Baker.  The first thing I noticed was that it was really, really blue.  From the ceilings to the fixtures to the walls, this place was an oasis of blue-ness.  But the second thing I noticed kept me walking further in — the smell of wonderful, fresh, yeasty breads.  Right there on the counter there were big baskets of sample breads (you have to try the rye!  Trust me on this!)  I skipped the brownie sample (the gym, remember?), but they looked so rich and so delicious….if you try them, please tell me how they were!

I grabbed a menu while I sampled.  Not a lot of vegetarian options, but I decided to ask.  The woman at the order area immediately jumped into action, offering me a veggie sandwich they had at one of their other two locations.  When she mentioned artichokes, spinach, roasted red peppers, goat cheese and a balsamic dressing, I was ready to order.  When she said a price UNDER $6,00, I was thrilled.  She also told me I was free to create my own masterpiece from their menu of veggies, cheeses and freshly baked breads — a definite option for future visits!

The sandwich was amazing.  The veggies were crisp and abundant, the dressing was light but flavorful.  And the bread…no premade dough from central distribution.  This family owned three-location restaurant (the other two are in College Station) believes in making everything from scratch.

After I ate, I talked with Sarah, the Marketing Manager, (and sister-in-law of the owner), about the restaurant.  She told me about their family standard for the freshest ingredients, with all batters and doughs made daily — now I understood the wonderful smells that had greeted me when I walked in!  “This is a family place,” she said. “We brought down some of the staff from College Station to get things started. We want to keep the standards the same for all three places.”

On the way out, I stopped to buy a long baguette, a few bagels and a cookie for my daughter.  All of those were as good as my lunch. 

The Blue Baker also offers hand-crafted pizza, boxed lunches, party platters and office/meeting catering.  They’re open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and they do have WiFi.  Seating is indoors or on the patio out back, and there’s plenty of room for larger groups for lunch or a breakfast meeting.

The East Side Cafe Takes Fresh to a Whole New Level

East Side Cafe Austin

Lots of restaurants say that their food is fresh.  But I doubt most of them can hold a candle to the East Side Cafe.  Here the salad you’re served might have been still attached to the plant an hour before and the eggs may well have been warm from a nesting hen when the sun came up.

What that means is that Seasonal Garden plate you order today might be very different from the one you get next month.  That’s because owners Elaine Martin and Dorsey Barger are committed to only serving the freshest and tastiest choices from their organic gardens. And that means you’ll never get bored with the fare!

The setting itself is something special, too.  Instead of dining in a bland restaurant-esque room, you’ll be seated at tables in a restored Craftsman home, creating a feeling of being a guest rather than just a customer.

After your eat, be sure to allow time to wander the gardens, with their unique twist on “flower beds” (the reason this places earns a “Keeping Austin Weird” place on my list), and the Pitchforks and Tablespoons gift shop where you can buy anything from organic seeds to unique gifts and cards.

I bought some of the seeds — after eating that super-fresh fare, I was inspired to try the same thing at home!  Now if only the Texas weather will cooperate…..

Sweet Treets from the Better Bites Bakery

Better Bites Healthy Austin Texas Bakery

It’s not often you’ll see me put something into both “Ice Cream, Sweets and Treats” and “Healthy”, but when I tasted the treats at Better Bites Bakery, there was no doubt that they deserved double billing.

First, there’s the taste.  I sampled two of their choices.  The first one was dark and rich.  Chocolatey.  The second was bursting with pumpkin flavor. Both were without question sweet treats.

The twist comes in the way bakers Leah and Crystal bake these scrumptious treats. Much to the surprise of my dairy-and-wheat-loving taste buds, all of their baked goods are made without a trace of dairy or a smidgen of gluten!

WHAT?????  How could it be?  These were not the saw-dust textured, oddly flavored pseudo-baked goods I associate with gluten-free.  They were tasty (in fact, they still are…I bought two brownies to bring home, and I’m eating one now…trust me, my keyboard is well crumbed at the moment!) Clearly, these two women know something the rest of the “healthy” baking world has missed!

The great thing is you can have their cupcakes, brownies, cakes and more delivered almost anywhere in Austin. And they are more than willing to create exactly what you need, from cupcakes for a meeting to a cake for a birthday party.  They’ll even do healthy, yummy cupcake trees for weddings.

The bad news is that for the most part, you need to plan ahead.  Better Bites Bakery doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location (although you can get their treats at a few locations around town, like the People’s RX.)  But that’s okay…once you order once, odds are you’ll want to order again and again.