Back to Basics: How to Cook with Tofu

back to basics -- how to cook with tofu; how to use tofu

The very first time I cooked tofu was, to put it mildly, an unpleasant experience. I’d been a vegetarian for nearly five years at that point and really should’ve known better, but alas: I made the classic error of purchasing silken tofu instead of regular tofu. (Not sure why that’s such a big no-no? This post is for you — read on!)

There I was, a college senior excited to be mostly off the meal plan and to cook for myself at the townhouse I shared with two of my best friends. My college was in walking distance of a lovely co-op, and I’d purchased the tofu with stars in my eyes, ready for a meat-free meal I’d share with my friends to wow them. As I basted the slices of tofu with barbecue sauce, their squishy jiggliness should’ve been a dead giveaway that something was amiss. “Maybe they’ll firm up in the oven,” I thought.

Of course, there was no magic firming action, and my baked tofu slices came out just as jiggly as their unbaked selves… except they now had a very thin, chewy crust of barbecue sauce on them. Not exactly the gourmet dinner I’d been envisioning.

Needless to say, this was not a meal I shared with my friends.

Seven years later, I’ve come a long, long way in my tofu knowledge. It’s now a staple in my kitchen, and I use it every which way, in all its forms, for savory and sweet recipes alike.

So today, let’s get back to basics and talk all about tofu! Read on for tips on how to cook with tofu, which type to use, and how best to take advantage of everything this beautifully neutral protein has to offer.

Green beans and tofu in a spicy sauce -- how to cook with tofu.

A much better use of tofu.

What is tofu?

Simply put, it’s bean curd. Less simply put, it’s “a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) It’s been used for thousands of years in various East Asian cuisines, and happily made its way to the western world in the late 19th century. That’s good news for us western vegans, because tofu is high in protein (with about 40 grams in a 14 ounce block) and often calcium (because it’s frequently treated with calcium sulfate, a coagulant).

Tofu comes in a few varieties, which can be hard to keep straight at first.

  • Silken tofu. This is very soft and almost gelatinous in texture. It’s quite delicate; silken tofu falls apart easily and easily blends into something like a cream. (And it’s what I mistakenly used in place of regular firm tofu!) Within the category of silken tofus are different levels of firmness. For example, you can find soft silken tofu and firm silken tofu, but remember that any kind of silken tofu will be softer and more delicate than regular firm tofu. Silken tofu is available in both shelf-stable and refrigerated varieties. I personally use them interchangeably.
    • Shelf-stable silken tofu comes in small boxes and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. You can keep it in your pantry for quite a while.
    • Refrigerated silken tofu needs to be, well, refrigerated. The block of tofu is packed in water in a sealed plastic container.
  • Regular (firm) tofu. This is much hardier than silken tofu and almost grittier. It’s always refrigerated, packed in water in a sealed plastic container. The most common varieties are firm and extra-firm, although you might see super-firm. You can also find sprouted tofu, which is made from soybeans that were allowed to sprout first.

Where can I buy tofu?

Good news — most grocery stores sell tofu. Even big-box chains usually have at least one variety. Fresh tofu needs to be refrigerated, so it’s typically shelved by the dairy or veggie section. (If the store sells faux meats, they’ll usually be here too.) Shelf-stable silken tofu is typically housed with the Asian foods. (Mori-Nu is the most common brand.)

At health food stores, co-ops, and other specialty stores, you might want to check the faux-meat/non-dairy section to find refrigerated tofu. Just ask if you can’t find it! Shelf-stable tofu will likely still be alongside Asian ingredients.

At Asian markets and some health food stores, you might get lucky enough to find fresh tofu. You can get it in the refrigerated section, usually stored in a big bucket filled with so-called tofu water. In this case, the store will usually have plastic bags available for you to transport the tofu. (You could also bring your own container.)

Finally, recall that not all silken tofu is shelf-stable — in other words, you might find silken tofu in the refrigerated section, right alongside the firmer tofu. Always double-check the label, or you might end up making a mistake similar to my college-era error! ;)

What kind of tofu should I use?

To avoid mishaps, follow these general tips:

  • If using a recipe, heed the author’s advice! Any quality recipe will tell you what kind of tofu to use. It’ll usually be written like “extra-firm tofu” (meaning the extra-firm variety of the refrigerated kind) or “soft silken tofu” (meaning the soft variety of the silken (usually shelf-stable) kind). So you need to know the kind (regular vs. silken) and the level of firmness (e.g., soft, firm, extra-firm).
  • If a recipe calls for extra-firm regular tofu but you can only find firm, don’t sweat it. You can usually substitute a softer tofu by being a little gentler with it and making sure to press it. (More on that below.)
  • In general, savory recipes use regular tofu (because the tofu is a specific component of the meal, designed to stand on its own) whereas sweet recipes use silken (because it’s going to be blended up to create a creamy texture, like in a pudding or cream pie). This is not a hard and fast rule, of course, so always read the recipe and ask the author if you have questions.
Eggless tofu sandwich -- how to cook with tofu.

Tofu for lunch.

How do I prepare tofu?

  • Press it. If you’re using firm or extra-firm regular tofu, the recipe might call for it to be pressed. Why would you do this? Well, pressing the tofu squeezes out the excess liquid, improving the texture and getting the tofu ready to soak up more delicious marinade or seasonings. Is it necessary? Strictly speaking, no. But it does tend to improve the overall consistency and mouthfeel, especially when it’s a main component of your meal. How do you do it? There are a few methods:
    • The old-fashioned way. Wrap a block of tofu (the regular, refrigerated kind, remember?) or individual slices of the tofu in either a regular towel or paper towels. Put it on a shallow plate and put something heavy on top of the wrapped tofu. People often use books for this. The goal is to squeeze and drain all the water you can. The longer you press your tofu, the better, but if you don’t have 24 hours to spare, any time at all will help.
    • The new-fangled way. Get yourself a fancy-schmancy tofu press! There are a few designs on the market, but I use a Tofu Xpress Gourmet Tofu Press. It served me well for years, although recently the plastic spring housing broke and I’ve yet to replace it. There are some simpler, less expensive options available (like this EZ Tofu Press), but I can’t vouch for them personally.
  • Freeze it. When you freeze tofu, the texture magically changes into something a little more toothsome. Simply take regular tofu out of the package, drain it, press it (or not), and freeze it in a freezer-safe container. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the fridge for about 8 hours ahead of time. (You can also try to thaw it in the microwave if you’re short on time, but I don’t recommend this.)
  • Marinate it. People like to describe tofu as a sponge because it’s always ready to soak up delicious flavors. I personally find that description a little off-putting, but it’s also spot-on. You can use any marinade or flavor combo you’d like (see below for suggestions). Here are some tips for infusing your tofu with as much flavor as possible.
    • Slice or cube the tofu to increase surface area. Marinating a whole block won’t be as efficacious as marinating individual pieces.
    • Use a fork to poke tiny, not too deep holes so the marinade has more of a chance to permeate.
    • Start marinading as early as possible, but don’t sweat it if you only have 15 minutes. It’s better than nothing, and it’ll still help!

How do I cook tofu?

Pshhh, don’t cook it at all — eat it raw! Just me? Okay then. If you’re set on cooking your tofu, here are some basic methods.

  • Bake it. You can’t go wrong with baked tofu. I like to bake marinated cubed or sliced tofu at 400˚F for 20-30 minutes, flipping once on each side. To get nice crispy edges, be sure to use a shallow pan (better yet, one without rims) and use a little oil or aluminum foil underneath the tofu.
  • Dry-fry it. If you’re avoiding oil or just want a super-simple way of preparing tofu, this is the method for you. At the end, you’ll have chewy, golden-brown tofu. Keep in mind, though, that this is for plain tofu, not flavored, so it’s best in a recipe with lots of other flavors going on. This is the method I use.
  • Pan-fry it. Unlike the previous method, this one uses a little oil and works great with marinated tofu. It couldn’t be simpler: Heat 1-2 tablespoons of your favorite oil (vegetable, olive, or coconut all work, although coconut will add a little flavor) in a nonstick or cast-iron pan, then add the tofu and cook for 7-10 minutes, flipping every so often, over medium. Every pan and every stove is different, so keep a watchful eye on your tofu as it cooks. You don’t want it to burn, but you do want it to start crisping up. Once you get the hang of how your setup works, you can adjust the amount of oil and heat level.
  • Scramble it. Vegans freaking love scrambled tofu. It’s a protein-packed stand-in for eggs that can be prepared so many ways and with so many different flavor profiles. I’ll include some recipes below, but at its core, scrambled tofu is just what it sounds like: crumbled tofu mixed with seasoning and often additional liquid, cooked like you’d cook scrambled eggs.
  • Grill it. Got a grill? You’re in luck — tofu stands up well to heat! Marinated tofu is great on the grill, but make sure to keep the slabs nice and thick so they don’t fall apart. You can also use it in kebabs with lots of veggies! For tofu cooked directly on the grill, make sure the grill is well-oiled and opt for lower heat and a longer cooking time (~20 minutes should do it). Remember to flip occasionally, especially if you want sweet cross-hatch action.
Marinated Tofu Sandwich -- how to cook with tofu

A tasty way to enjoy marinated, pan-fried tofu.

Okay, sold — I’m ready to cook! What are some great tofu recipes?

Yes! Here’s the fun part. These are some of my favorites.

  • Scrambled tofu. There are two main styles: egg-like and, well, tofu-like.
    • For a classic vegan tofu scramble, start with this recipe (yes, you can use soy sauce instead of the shoyu). Once you get the basic method down (sauté veg, add tofu and spices, scramble till your preferred level of doneness), you can play around with ingredients and flavor palettes. Try this one for a full-bodied scramble packed with veggies, or this red-curry version for something Thai-inspired.
    • For a more scrambled-egg-like tofu (one that doesn’t included added veggies and works great as a side dish for brunch), you just can’t beat the Tofuevos recipe from Vegicano. (Tip: reduce the soy sauce if you’re salt-averse.)
  • Tofu that stands on its own. Ready to show off your mad tofu-cooking skills? Read on!
  • Tofu that shares the spotlight. Tofu is an integral part of these recipes, but it works alongside other ingredients to create a final product that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Tofu that’s masquerading as something else. This versatile protein easily plays many roles.

Where can I learn more?

Books, duh. Here are some you should check out from your library. (I haven’t personally read or used them all, but they seem worth a look!)

  • 101 Things to Do with Tofu by Donna Kelly and Anne Tegtmeier. I owned this book for a while and was impressed by the range of recipes. It’s vegetarian, not vegan, but many of the recipes are easily veganizable.
  • The Great Vegan Protein Book by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes. The dynamic duo is at it again with recipes that focus on protein — and unsurprisingly, many of them feature tofu. We own this cookbook and it has quite a few neat ideas.
  • Making Soy Milk and Tofu at Home by Andrea Nyugen. I know, I know — we just covered how to use tofu at all, never mind how to make it from scratch! But this looks like such a neat deep-dive into soy-based foods, and I’d imagine that homemade tofu has a depth of flavor unmatched by its store-bought counterpart.
  • The Tofu Cookbook for Vegans: 50 Vegan-Friendly Tofu Recipes by Veganized. (Yeah, I dunno what’s up with that byline either.) This is a bit of a wild card, but I love the idea of a cookbook dedicated solely to vegan tofu recipes. If you try it out, let me know what you think!
  • Tofu Cookery (25th Anniversary) by Louise Hagler. I’m almost ashamed not to have at least looked through this book — it’s a bit of a legend. Even Isa Chandra herself name-drops it on occasion!

But isn’t soy bad for you?!?

Nope. See here, here, here, and here.

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Okay — what did I miss?! Or do you feel ready to conquer tofu cookery? Let me know!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through my link, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies. I’m not looking to make a fortune, just to cover hosting costs. :)

Simple Spicy Green Beans and Tofu

Two  months ago, Steven and I bought a house. We’d been looking for for something old, with lots of character, in the country(ish).

We bought an early ’70s midcentury-inspired, contemporary-as-all-heck house in the suburbs. And we love it.

What I love perhaps most of all is having a beautiful backyard where I can garden and my pups can hang out. My wonderful parents came down to help us move, and my dad built us two raised garden beds. He also brought plants galore and taught me all about the best ways to transplant various little plantlings. (It pays to have a master gardener who spends most of his free time at a greenhouse for a dad!) We planted relatively late in the season and had a little deer-eating-all-the-baby-tomatoes incident, but things are finally starting to pick up out there. I have more basil than I know what to do with, and everything is coming in beautifully. I love it. Just look at these sweet filius blue peppers — aren’t they cute?!

Cutest lil peppers that you ever did see.

A photo posted by Kelly (@kelmishka) on

 

I also love living a mile from a wonderful weekend farmers’ market. On Saturday mornings, I walk over to the market to stock up on lush fresh veg and fruit, then treat myself to a cold-brew coffee from Brewing Good Coffee Co., a local craft coffee roaster that just happens to be run by vegans. (Their motto is “Drink coffee. Save animals.” Done.) By the time I get home, I’m extra sweaty from being weighed down by all that veggie goodness, but at least I’m caffeinated!

This Saturday, I picked up a big ol’ carton of green beans and knew I had to gobble them up right away. They starred in a spicy dish alongside some tofu and hot peppers from the garden (not the ones in the photo above). I finished everything off with a nice spicy sauce and served over brown rice. Yes, this recipe is super simple — in fact, it’s barely a recipe at all. But this time of year, when all this gorgeous produce is in its prime, I like meals that are simple enough to let the veggies shine. Plus, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when the sun is shining and you’ve got a backyard calling your name?! :)

Green beans and tofu star in this simple, spicy vegan dinner.

Simple Spicy Green Beans & Tofu
Serves 2-3

  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1 T freshly grated ginger
  • 2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 small purple cayenne hot peppers, diced OR 1-2 t dried red pepper flakes*
  • 2 T low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 lb extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 lb green beans, chopped or snapped into roughly 1″ pieces

Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the ginger, garlic, and pepper/pepper flakes. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic starts to brown, then add the tofu.

Cook the tofu over medium-low for 7-10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until the cubes start to get crispy and golden. Keep the heat on medium-low so the tofu doesn’t burn.

Add the green beans to the saucepan and cover. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Remove the lid and pour in the sauce. Stir to coat, and cook for another minute or two until the sauce is absorbed. Serve immediately over brown rice.

*You can really use any fresh hot pepper you’d like — I just happened to have two of these little guys ripe and ready to go.

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What’s your favorite easy summer veg-forward dinner?

Back to Basics: Making the Vegan Transition

You’ve flirted with veganism, but have never been able to fully commit. You want to try it out, but you’re not sure where to start. What if you eat cheese accidentally? What if you have a team lunch at a steakhouse and you don’t want things to get too awkward? What if you can’t achieve vegan perfection?!

basics_transition

Chill out and take a deep breath. I’m here for you. Something I’m passionate about is supporting people who want to become plant-based, and to that end, I’m writing up a series of “back to basics” posts. If you’ve been considering going vegan but aren’t sure where to begin, I’ve got your back. Read on for five tips on how to go vegan, and please email me (girlinthegarden@gmail.com) if you want to chat further. And if you’re one of my fellow long-time vegheads, rock on.

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Today, let’s talk about transitioning to a vegan diet and lifestyle. These five guidelines are not the end-all, be-all, of course, but I think they’ll help just about anyone who wants to go veg. Try them out and let me know what you think.

  1. Come up with a plan that fits you.
  2. Be prepared.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  4. Ask for help.
  5. Know why you’re making the change.

Come up with a plan that fits you.

No two people live their lives the exact same way, and no two people will have the same exact motivations and methods when they transition to veganism. If you’re the type of person who makes decisions in a split second and dives straight in, you might do just fine ditching animal products in a single leap and becoming vegan overnight. And that’s awesome. Go you! If you know you’re that kind of person, your transition might involve less planning and more doing.

On the other hand, you might be a diehard planner. If schedules and research and preparation are an essential part of your life, you might transition to vegan slowly. And that’s awesome too. Go you! If you fit somewhere in this category, planning will obviously be a larger part of your transition.

Personally, I need to ease myself into big life changes. I didn’t become vegan overnight; I spent the better part of a year being vegan in practice but not in name. I needed to show myself I could do it before applying the label and making it official. To be honest, I didn’t want to fail or make a mistake (perfectionist much?). If this sounds familiar, here are some ideas for easing into your transition.

  • Try the “vegan before six” option (or something similar) for a while. Show yourself that you can do it while allowing yourself an out in case you get stressed.
  • Eat vegan on your own, but not necessarily with others. If you go out to a restaurant and your salad is topped with cheese, it’s cool. Don’t broadcast your change to the world until you’re comfortable doing so (not that you ever need to “broadcast” it at all!).
  • Host vegan dinner parties (without necessarily drawing attention to the fact that they’re vegan) to show yourself and others that it’s not so bad being vegan in a crowd. Drink some wine, chat with your friends, and show yourself that your life won’t change all that much just because you aren’t serving a (dairy-based) cheese plate anymore.
  • Cut out animal products by category. Ditch the dairy, then eggs, then honey.
A backpack with food spilling out of it: Five Larabars, one Halo candy bar, one apple, a bag of coconut-covered date rolls, and a container of homemade trail mix. There's also a reusable cloth hand towel with a flower and the word "SUSTAIN" printed on it. All items are labeled in the photograph.

Always be snackin’.

Be prepared.

Even if you’re the dive-right-in sort of person, do some research as you go. Read up on vegan nutrition. Browse your favorite recipe site for plant-based options. Subscribe to blogs that have lots of recipes that look appealing and doable.

Jumping into vegan cooking doesn’t have to be overwhelming, especially if you put a little forethought into the transition. Think about how you like to cook now, and then research how to make it vegan. If you’re the type of person who gets tired after work and wants no-fuss dinner options, make yourself a Google doc or a few Pinterest boards or a bookmark folder (or even a hard-copy binder!) with meals you know you could handle. If you have non-vegan standard meals or staples you feel totally comfortable cooking, look up vegan versions of them (e.g. bean burritos instead of beef burritos, pizza without cheese, spaghetti and non-meatballs). The way you cook doesn’t have to undergo a huge shift once you’re vegan — only the ingredients need change.

Preparation is also key when you can’t plan in advance. Road trips, days out with friends, work lunches with suspect catering… lots of opportunities might leave you wondering when (and what!) you’re going to eat next. And if you, like me, tend to find yourself suddenly hungry and suddenly very, very irritable, you’ll want to keep yourself stocked with travel-friendly vegan snacks. Clif bars, Lara bars, trail mix, and any purse- or glove box-friendly snack will do the trick.

Traveling can also set new vegans into a panic, but with a little prep work you’ll be able to keep yourself nourished anywhere on the globe. I have some tips for travel snacks, along with eating guides for a few airports. And if you haven’t checked out HappyCow, hie thee hence without delay! HappyCow is the best resource for finding vegan-friendly eateries all around the world.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Despite that perfectionism I mentioned, I am a big believer in personal forgiveness (theoretically, at least — in practice, it can be difficult to apply!). If you accidentally slip up, it’s okay. It happens to everyone. Just because you accidentally ate bread made with margarine that contains a tiny amount of casein or whey doesn’t mean the rest of your commitment is worthless or somehow negated. Nope. That’s not how it works. Even if you consciously eat something you know is suspect, you don’t have to beat yourself up. Live, learn, and move the heck on. Mistakes happen.

Ask for help.

Yes, the vegan community sometimes gets a bad rap. But in my anecdotal experience, nearly every vegan I know is warm, caring, empathetic (duh?), and willing to help. If you’re struggling during your transition or you just have questions, reach out! The Post Punk Kitchen forums are a great place to start. I also love the Reddit Vegans Facebook page; it’s one of the most inclusive, welcoming groups I’ve seen.

Pig at Poplar Spring animal sanctuary

A sweet piggie at Poplar Spring animal sanctuary.

Know why you’re making the change.

Obviously you should know why you’re choosing to go vegan before you commit to it. But I’d argue that it’s just as important — if not more important — to continually remind yourself why you’re doing it and to stay up to date with what’s going on the vegan world. Once you see that first slaughterhouse video, you might be tempted to avoid so much as scrolling past a similar video in the future. But if your resolve starts to flag or you’re getting frustrated that you can’t eat the pancakes at your favorite brunch spot, you might need a kick in the pants to remind you why you made the choice to stop eating animals.

Even if your commitment never wanes, it’s still instructive to keep yourself educated. Follow some of your favorite vegan or animal welcome organizations on Facebook, or scour your library for books about the ethics and practice of veganism. You will get into conversations about your choice to eschew animal products, and it can be useful to have a wealth of arguments and knowledge ready for those discussions.

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So — what do you think? Are these tips helpful? Are you ready to go vegan? Let me know, and remember that you can always ask for help or reassurance if you need it. My email address is in the second paragraph, and I’m always happy to talk.

Vegan in Prague (+ free shareable Google map!)

vegan in prague, vegan travel, vegan in the czech republic

After visiting Vienna and Prague in the same trip, I’ve come to think of Prague as Vienna’s slightly more rebellious and slightly cooler cousin. It’s a little rougher, a little edgier, a little less staid. I loved it.

I also loved its food. Based on my experience, there weren’t quite as many vegan options, nor was the food as consistently good as it was in Vienna. But there are some stand-outs, and there are many more places I haven’t tried.

Etnosvět

This vegetarian eatery is a great, affordable option. Although it does have a set restaurant menu at certain times, we visited mid-morning on a weekday and were limited to the brunch buffet, a pay-by-weight bonanza with quite a few vegan options. I really appreciated the mix of heavier foods, like a rich seitan dish, and lighter options, like raw salads and slaws. The combination was the perfect antidote to a rough-around-the-edges morning after a late night out in Prague.

etnosvet

Although there is a written chalkboard menu by the buffet, you can ask the staff what’s vegan just to be sure — I found it a little tricky to decipher which menu item corresponded with which actual food. I kept my meal relatively simple: a cold noodle salad, a heavier seitan dish, a grain salad, a light slaw, and some slices of jicama for crunch. Other than the surprisingly bland noodles, everything was tasty and filling. I definitely recommend stopping by for a quick varied meal!

Moment

Easily my favorite restaurant in Prague! This surprisingly spacious bistro seems to be a popular spot — we visited three times, and other than during a morning visit, it was packed. Located in Praha 2, it’s a little bit of a hike from the city center, but is totally worth it. I recommend staying close by (like we did) to make for easy visits. ;) Everything on the menu is vegan, and there are lots of tempting options. On our first visit — immediately after settling in to our AirBnB — Steven and I both chose burgers. He had the smoky tofu burger, while I selected a more generic-seeming veggie burger. But generic it was not — it was made with peanut butter, which was an unexpected and welcome surprise.

Our second visit was less than 24 hours later, this time with Ian and Pragathi in tow. We started off our first full day in Prague with brunch at Moment, and what a filling brunch it was. I selected an amazing omelette, studded with potatoes and mushrooms, and I was blown away.

moment2

So filling and so savory delicious! My only complaint? It was a little salty. Ian had a similar comment about his scrambled tofu, while Pragathi’s gorgeous pancakes were a super-sweet delight. Steven chose the seitan bagel, which was disarmingly simple: a bagel, some ginormous slabs of seitan, vegan cheese, and some veg and sauce.

Steven sampled my omelette at breakfast and liked it so much that he ordered it for dinner when we returned a few days later. Alas, it was a second-rate version, nowhere near as aesthetically handsome or as tasty. We hypothesized that only the breakfast cooks could do it justice, so be warned — breakfast for dinner at Moment is not wholly advised. I opted for the smoky tofu burger instead, a much better dinner choice. For dessert, Pragathi and I shared a chocolate cake with strawberry frosting — beautiful, but a little underwhelming. The frosting was very greasy. But that was really my only complaint with Moment — I’d say it’s a must-visit on your trip to Prague!

Plevel

Ah, Plevel. This was one of my most anticipated restaurants, but I never made it there for dinner. On our first night in Prague, the four of us were desperate for a meal. We walked to one place, only to be told it was reservation-only. Our tummies rumbling louder, we walked to Plevel, only to be told the kitchen was closed. We finally succumbed to a Thai restaurant that could make dishes without the fish sauce, but I was itching to return to Plevel.

Well, I did return a few days later– but only for dessert. Steven and I had eaten dinner at Loving Hut* and had had the worst restaurant meals of our lives.  With our stomachs upset from frankly disgusting food, we followed Ian and Pragathi to Plevel, where those two lucky ducks got to enjoy beautiful dinners. I opted for a pot of green tea and an apple cake, simple food that would settle my stomach. Both were great, but I wished I’d been hungry for a full dinner!

plevel apple cake prague

Vegan’s Prague
(formerly LoVeg)

The restaurant on a hill! We saw the Vegan’s Prague sign from afar while visiting Vyšehrad, Prague’s historical fort located above the city center. Can you spot it in the photo below?

vegans1

After a morning traipsing around the fort, we decided to head over for lunch. We were quite excited for this restaurant since we knew they offer vegan versions of traditional Czech dishes. I ordered a traditional potato goulash, Steven selected the svíčková with smoked tempeh, and both Ian and Pragathi chose the Old Bohemian feast, a mish-mash of various traditional dishes and dips.

Despite our dishes’ impressive appearances, we were all a little underwhelmed with our meals. My goulash was surprisingly bland, as was the svíčková (traditional Czech bread dumplings served with gravy and meat, or tempeh in this case). If I recall correctly, none of the elements in the Old Bohemian feast were standouts either.

On the bright side, the restaurant itself is beautiful. It’s a bit of a climb up a few flights of steep stairs to reach, but inside it’s classy and comfortable, with an upper level reachable by a spiral staircase.  And the prices are right — Prague is inexpensive in general, and the favorable exchange rate helps keep costs down. You can get a big lunch for ~$7. If you’re in the area and need to fill your belly, go ahead and give this place a try — but don’t expect to be blown away.

Other options

Needless to say, I didn’t manage to visit every vegan eatery in Prague — we only visited for a few days. Here are a few I never got around to trying. I’m saving these for my return trip to the Czech Republic! (Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.)

  • Country Life: Small chain of grocery stores featuring organic and healthy food with some vegan options; there’s a small deli/restaurant attached to the store in Praha 6
  • Lehka Hlava: Super popular but small vegetarian restaurant — be sure to make a reservation ahead of time
  • Momo Cafe: Coffee shop and bakery with delicious-looking pastries and some light meals
  • MyRaw Café: Raw vegan eatery with a rotating daily menu and lots of beautiful raw desserts; also has an extensive drink menu (including coffee, tea, alternative hot drinks, and alcohol)
  • Radost FX:  Vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options in many styles (Italian, Mexican, burgers, Asian, pizza, etc.); offers a popular vegan brunch on weekends

General tips

  • Many of these restaurants are cash-only, so be sure to have a substantial stash of Czech koruna with you. If you’re able to use a card, consider a debit or credit card without foreign transaction fees so you don’t get dinged a small fee every time you use it.
  • If you’re in need of a quick bite, don’t overlook simple bakeries. While waiting at the Florenc metro/bus station for our bus to Pilsen, we found a bakery stand with ingredients clearly labelled. We were able to snack on some beautifully fresh breads to tide us over till we got to Pilsen.
  • As part of the EU, the Czech Republic labels 14 common allergens on both commercially packaged foods and restaurant menus. Since milk and eggs are included in that list, vegans can use those labels as a clue to whether a given item is vegan-friendly. It’s not a perfect system (honey could easily slip by unmarked), but it’s a good way to identify potentially vegan items and rule out options that are clearly unsuitable.

Google map of vegan options

If you’re planning a trip to Prague, I have a little treat for you! I’ve created a Google map you can use with lots of vegan-friendly eateries plotted out. You can find it here. If you’re like me and disable cell data while you’re abroad, note that you can download the map to your Google Maps app so you can still access it while you’re on the go.

If you’ve got updates to my map (closures, new places, whatever!), just leave me a comment and I’ll update it. Vegan travelers gotta help each other out!

*A note on Loving Hut

I’ve eaten at quite a few Loving Huts, and I hadn’t had a bad experience until eating at the one on Plzeňská 8/300, Motol, in Praha 5. I ordered schnitzel, curious to see Prague’s take on vegan schnitzel. And it. was. horrible. So gross.  Oily as heck, with very little flavor, it sat in my stomach like an anvil. On the side was mashed potatoes served with some kind of thick soy sauce as gravy. Maybe that’s a local thing, but it did NOT agree with me. I’m not one to waste food, but I couldn’t finish this meal at all. Steven couldn’t finish his burger, either — it was tasteless, with way more mayo than any human needs.

I’ve heard good things about Loving Huts in Prague, but this one was just a total waste of money. Maybe we ordered poorly, but the menu didn’t feature as many Asian-inspired dishes as Loving Huts usually do, and I wanted to try that schnitzel. What a mistake!

Vegan in Vienna (+ free shareable Google map!)

Vegan in Vienna

Wow, wow, wow. That pretty much sums up my feelings about the state of vegan eats in Vienna, Austria. I recently returned from spending a little more than five days there (and a few in Prague, but that’s another story for another day) and ate like a freaking vegan queen. I’ve heard that Europe in general has been experiencing somewhat of a vegan food revolution in the past few years, and it feels true to me. Vegan food is everywhere.

Along with dozens of dedicated vegetarian/vegan restaurants, you can find animal-friendly options in the most unlikely eateries around the city center. Sandwich shop with lots of meaty options? Surprise; there’s a vegan sandwich that’s tasty and filling! Ice cream joint with mouthwatering flavors? Bam — they’ve got the words “VEGANES EIS” painted on the walls and offer lots of vegan varieties. Although these particular restaurateurs are likely offering vegan food from purely economic motives, I’m not complaining. Demand, meet supply.

All said, Vienna is easily one of the most vegan-friendly cities I’ve visited. Steven and I were there with my brother and his girlfriend, both of whom are vegan too. They live in Seattle and thus have access to all sorts of veg goodness, but even they were highly impressed with Vienna.

Read on for my reviews but keep in mind that I simply didn’t have the time to try everything — there’s just so much! To that end, I’ve put together something helpful for vegans planning trips to Vienna. Check out the very end of the post for that!

BioBar

A semi-hidden gem! I’ll admit that BioBar wasn’t initially at the top of my must-visit list, but we decided to try it purely by virtue of its proximity to our location one drizzly day. And I’m glad we did! Although it’s unassuming from the front, it’s cozy and inviting inside. The vegetarian menu rotates, and the waitress was happy to translate the daily offerings to us and clarify which ones were vegan. (Unfortunately, none of us speak German.)

I wasn’t particularly hungry when we stopped here for lunch, so I got a bowl of celery cream soup and a beer (obviously). My dining companions ordered full meals, and we enjoyed our choices across the board. My soup was lovely and flavorful, creamy without being too rich or salty. I split a dessert with Pragathi (my brother’s girlfriend), but truth be told, I can’t remember what we got! I think it was some kind of chocolatey tart. Whatever it was, I know we enjoyed it. BioBar is a great option for healthy, filling meals to shore you up for an afternoon of sightseeing.

Blueorange

For a quick breakfast to start your day, you really can’t beat Blueorange. This deli and bagel shop has an extensive vegan menu, and they clearly mark which of their delicious bagels are vegan. Although you could just pick up a half-dozen bagels and some vegan cream cheese and munch on them throughout your stay in Vienna, you should really try the Vegan Power breakfast spread. For just under 9.00€, you’ll get a fresh-pressed glass of orange juice, a hot drink (espresso, thank you very much), and a bagel sandwich that will knock. your. socks. off.

blueorange1If I had a photo of the assembled sandwich, it would not be terribly pretty — because you get a LOT of spread to fit in one bagel, and it all ends up mooshing out the sides. That’s regular hummus, spicy beet hummus, and avocado creme, along with two slices of a lovely non-dairy cheese, tomato slices, cucumber slices, and a little pile of sprouts. When you smoosh everything together, you get a ridiculously tasty sandwich with lots of textures and flavors.

I enjoyed that beetroot hummus so much that I ordered a beetroot sandwich the next time we visited Blueorange. Although I’d wanted it on a bagel, there was a miscommunication and it arrived on whole-wheat bread. No worries; it was still delicious, if not quite as filling as I’d wanted. It came with arugula, onions, pickles, and sweet mustard. I need to recreate this at home!

Blueorange has two locations in the city. Steven and I were lucky enough to be staying just down the street from the Margaretenstraße location, and it was actually the very first place we visited in Vienna. Ah, nostalgia! Hot tip — if your German is a little shaky or you’re having trouble deciphering the menu, just ask for an English menu; there are a few behind the counter.

CupCakes Wien

This is a twee cupcake shop tucked behind Mumok, Vienna’s modern art museum, in the MuseumsQuartier. Although it’s not fully vegan, CupCakes Wien offers quite a few vegan flavors. Steven picked up a couple cupcakes for us to share after we’d visited the Leopold Museum, and we enjoyed them while taking a stroll around the Ringstraße.

CupCakes Wien

That’s a straciatella cupcake and a caramel cupcake, from left to right. Both were massive, dense, sugar bombs — and that’s a good thing. The straciatella was a tiny bit dry, but the super creamy frosting made up for it. Steven had the caramel, but he thought it was fantastic. Based on the one bite I tried, I agree!

Delicious Vegan Bistro

What an odd little place. Tucked into a row of shops opposite the Naschmarkt, this tiny restaurant is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it small. Inside the cramped quarters is a single table with two chairs agains the right wall, a counter attached to the left wall, and a small kitchenette at the back. When we arrived, it seemed to be in a state of half-completion (despite being open since late autumn), with paint cans and other detritus further cluttering the small space. Plus, the owner’s two large labs were snoozing in a very large crate against the wall.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I love that dogs are welcome inside restaurants throughout Vienna and Prague, and I really enjoyed meeting the resident canines at Delicious Vegan Bistro when they woke up from their naps and came out to say hi. But they definitely took up a lot of space in an already small area.

Although there’s a chalk menu listing multiple options, the owner told us upon arrival that she only had a few things available for the day. Steven and I both selected black bean soba noodles with veggies and coconut cream sauce, and we chatted with the owner while she prepared the food in full view in the tiny kitchenette. Unfortunately, she ran out of coconut cream but didn’t adjust the tamari levels to match, so both of our noodle dishes were far too salty. (I can’t find our photo of the noodles, unfortunately, so use your imagination!) The owner did acknowledge the issue and water down the dishes a bit when we both admitted we found the soba too salty, but it didn’t really solve the issue; I still couldn’t finish all my noodles and had to get a to-go box. The owner reduced the price of our dishes by 2€ each, but the meal ended up being pricier than it was worth.

I’m not linking to the Delicious Vegan Bistro website because (1) it’s not complete, and (2) I want to give the owner the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’ll finish all her painting projects, offer a full menu, and ensure she has ample ingredients ready for patrons… but for now, I can’t fully recommend this place.

Easy-Going Bakery

Vienna is legendary for beautiful, delicious pastries, so much so that there’s an entire category of baked goods named after the city. Sweet treats are front and central at nearly any café you might visit, but most of the traditional coffee houses don’t have vegan sweets on offer. So if you’re looking for a sugary snack to cap off a lazy afternoon spent sipping espressos, Easy-Going Bakery is a good place to find one.

easygoing1

I opted for a rather unconventional treat when we visited: a chocolate nougat-filled cake pop. I’d never really understood the cake pop trend, but this dense, not-too-sugary treat — something between a fudge cake and a truffle — was the perfect accompaniment to my espresso. In the background you can see Pragathi’s beautiful bright green matcha latte.

Easy-Going Bakery also offers cupcakes and cakes, a bit of a departure from the traditional sweets found in Viennese coffee shops. But as desserts in their own right, they’re perfect for vegans with a sweet tooth.

Landia

Landia was one of our very favorite eateries in Vienna — I’d go so far as to say that it shouldn’t be missed. Located in the 7th district, they offer veg versions of traditional Austrian dishes in a cozy, welcoming environment. Everything is vegetarian, and all vegan items are clearly marked (along with dishes that can be made vegan).

We all loved everything we tried here… in fact, we enjoyed our first visit so much that we decided to come back for our very last meal in Vienna! On my first visit, I ordered the pierogies. They were fantastic — beautiful, big dumplings filled with savory onion and potato and topped with fried onions. On the side came a salad with some light dressing, a big pile of red cabbage, and a mix of various grated veggies. All those raw vegetables were the perfect complement to the heavier pierogies, and I finished the dish easily. I had a ginger Radler beer and loved the light gingery zing.

The second time we visited, I ordered the red lentil balls and received six surprisingly large balls alongside a big ol’ salad and shredded veggies. Although they’d been fried, the balls weren’t terribly heavy. They were reminiscent of falafel, but had a less crumbly texture. The big serving of tahini sauce was perfect for dipping the balls and for drizzling over all my veggies. Just like with the pierogies, the side salad really helped balance this meal.

My dining companions tried various dishes: Steven ordered a traditional goulash, which featured dense, tasty bread dumplings alongside seitan in a very savory, tomato-based sauce that he compared to a masala. He described it as “very heavy, but very good — very hearty.” In fact, he liked it so much that he ordered it again the second time we visited! Ian and Pragathi tried the schnitzel and a mushroom-based goulash and enjoyed those dishes too. Note that the schnitzel and goulash don’t come with side salads, so they skew towards heavier, more “meaty” meals.

Our group had the same waitress both times we visited, and she was gracious enough to point out dishes that could be made quickly when we accidentally arrived right after the kitchen had closed on our second visit. Friendly service and great food — what more could you want?

Minipizzeria Pinocchio

This was an accidental find, and it was a gem. While walking around one day, Steven and I spotted an unassuming little pizzeria with a surprising message on the sandwich board out front: VEGAN PIZZA. We already had lunch plans, but we filed away Minipizzeria Pinocchio for future bouts of hunger.

A few days later, we returned with Ian and Pragathi in tow. Thanks to Steven’s fantastic sense of direction, we were able to find it without knowing the address. And when we did, we were thrilled to discover an extensive vegan menu alongside the traditional meat-and-cheese options.

After placing our orders with the single employee working the oven, we grabbed a few beers and settled in to wait for our pizzas to cook. This is truly a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint, with extremely limited seating, but we were lucky to snag a table to ourselves. After 15 minutes or so, our pizzas were ready for us to devour.

And devour them we did. I’d ordered the Pizza Funghi, a simple variant with sauce, vegan cheese, and lotsa mushrooms. This isn’t gourmet pizza by any means, but it’s quality thin-crust pizza with lots of fun topping options. It was delicious and totally hit the spot. Steven and I each ordered a pizza to ourselves, while Ian and Pragathi split one (they had just indulged in some ice cream from Veganista). If you’re very hungry, you can probably finish a pizza yourself; otherwise, consider sharing with a friend.

Pirata

Say it with me: fish-free sushi. This all-vegan sushi joint in the 7th district is perfect when you want something lighter for lunch or dinner. Steven and I stopped in for an early dinner and each ordered a 12-piece set. The owner showed us all the rolls that were available, and we got to choose what we wanted. Check out my (gorgeous!) platter.

pirata1

I’m not a sushi connoisseur by any means, but I really enjoyed these rolls. The flavors were fresh and clean, yet filling — a couple rolls featured quinoa instead of rice, offering a little extra protein. I loved the mango roll and those beautiful pink beet-infused maki! In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with any of their options.

If you don’t have time to sit down and enjoy the full sushi-eating ritual, consider buying some of the day-old trays Pirata has on offer. For half-price and a zero-percent chance of eating rotten fish, why not?!

Swing Kitchen

An all-vegan burger joint?! Be still, my heart! With two locations, Swing Kitchen is a hop, skip, and a jump away from either the Karlzplatz or Zieglergasse U-bahn station. And it’s well-worth the visit. Yes, it’s vegan junk food. But it’s delicious, filling vegan junk food. Although Swing Kitchen has burgers, wraps, and salads on offer, c’mon — you know you’re going to order a burger. You can get burgers alone or as part of a menu/meal, along with a side (fries, cole slaw, or salad) and a drink.

I kept my order simple both (!) times we visited: the Swing Burger and then the Vienna Burger with a drink (elderflower soda and then cherry soda) and a side of fries. I’m not really a soda drinker, but I had to try these! And they were good. As were the fries — thick, nearly steak-cut, with just enough salt. Note that dips (including ketchup) are an extra 0.80€. And the burgers themselves? YUM. The patties are flavorful and tender, with lots of tasty toppings that create a unique bite. The Swing Burger was a classic American-style burger, although it features sweet-ish gherkins instead of dill pickles (heresy!). And the Vienna Burger is a fun take on the burger, with a schnitzel patty, veg, and lots of a garlicky mayo sauce (a little too much sauce for me, but I’m picky).

You probably can’t see it in the photo, but the menu also lists onion rings and vegan nuggets. I was dying to try the onion rings, but these burgers and fries are just so filling that I had no room! I did, however, sneak a taste of the vanilla soft serve that Steven ordered, and it was fantastic — super creamy, like a vanilla custard. You can even get it dipped in chocolate shell. I have a feeling I’ll be dreaming about this ice cream for a while.

Veganista

Speaking of vegan ice cream… hello, all-vegan ice cream shop! In writing this post, I realize a tragic truth: I never actually got ice cream from Veganista, despite visiting it twice! Both times, I was still full from my previous meal and didn’t want to make myself sick on ice cream. I realize my mistake, now that it’s too late! I should never pass up the chance to eat vegan ice cream. Never!

Steven at Veganista

Steven, clearly, knew better than I! He got a cup of black forest ice cream, which features a vanilla base studded with cherries and chunks of chocolate. He loved it; I stole a bite and also thought it was great. Our second visit was with Ian and Pragathi, who got black forest (his favorite flavor) and chocolate, respectively. The chocolate is soymilk-based, while other options use ricemilk or oatmilk. Both were super tasty.

On my next trip to Vienna, I’m going to go straight to Veganista to ensure that I don’t make the same mistake again.  I’ll probably have to go for maple pecan, but strawberry agave also sounds mighty tempting!

Veganz

You cannot miss Veganz. You just can’t. The all-vegan supermarket chain, based in Germany, has a location in Vienna on Margaretenstraße, and it should be required visiting for all vegans in Vienna! Despite all the veg-friendly grocery stores that exist in the US, I’d never been to an all-vegan market before visiting Veganz… and honestly, I’m still dreaming of it! I could’ve spent an hour there, browsing the shelves and picking out new-to-me products to try.

Veganz

Although the store isn’t huge, it’s respectably sized. I was in awe at the two fridge sections full of vegan meats, cheeses, and non-dairy products. In awe! There’s also a freezer section down the middle, a small produce section, and a large dry-goods/pantry items section. Although some of the products are imports (with high price tags to match), most are European brands that are priced quite affordably. And Veganz itself has its own brand with extensive options! This was the only place we visited for souvenirs — we stocked up on chocolates, gummies, and Tartex-brand pâtés to share with friends and family. I was pleasantly surprised at the prices on these snack items. In the US, high-quality vegan chocolate will easily run you $4-6 a bar, but we paid less than 3€ for some seriously amazing chocolate. Even with the exchange rate working against us, that’s a great deal. Veganz also has a fresh bread section, and Steven and I picked up a super yummy poppy seed-filled bread to nibble on for breakfast.

The icing on the (vegan) cake was when we saw a little piglet on a leash on our second visit to Veganz. A customer had brought his pet pig into the store, and everybody ooed and ahhed over its cuteness. Although my somewhat cynical nature leads me to grump about the ethics of a pet pig, I’m going to pretend it was a rescued piglet living a life of luxury and educating others that pigs aren’t pets. ;)

Other options

Needless to say, I didn’t manage to visit every vegan eatery in Vienna! Here are a few I never got around to trying. Alas for the finite size of my stomach! (Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.)

  • Deli Bluem: Vegetarian café/bistro with lots of healthy vegan options; most entrees appear to be vegan
  • Dr. Falafel: Falafel stall in the Naschmarkt with many vegan options, including bulk foods (olives, etc.)
  • Harvest Café-Bistro: Vegetarian eatery with primarily vegan dishes, though dairy milk is available for coffee
  • Mikkamakka: All-vegan self-service bistro with traditional local dishes
  • Rupp’s: All-vegetarian Irish pub (!) with lots of cheap vegan options
  • Vegetasia: All-vegan Taiwanese food with reasonable prices
  • yamm!: Pay-by-weight salad bar with some vegan options; also advertises vegan breakfast

anker_brot_vegan_pastry

General tips

  • Many of these restaurants are cash-only, so be sure to have a substantial stash of euros with you. If you’re able to use a card (like at Swing Kitchen or Pirata), consider a debit or credit card without foreign transaction fees so you don’t get dinged a small fee every time you use it.
  • If you’re in need of a quick bite, don’t overlook chain bakeries like Anker or Ströck — there’s seemingly one on every corner, and they have a shocking variety of clearly marked vegan options. While catching an early(ish) train to Prague, Steven and I were thrilled to find clearly marked vegan pastries at Anker. I enjoyed a spontaneous apfeltascherl (an apple-filled puff pastry) in the train station — a luxury I’ve never experienced in the US, because we’re much worse at both offering vegan options at chain bakeries and labeling them as such.
  • Speaking of labeling, a newish law in the EU requires the labeling of 14 common allergens on both commercially packaged foods and restaurant menus. Since milk and eggs are included in that list, vegans can use those labels as a clue to whether a given item is vegan-friendly. It’s not a perfect system (honey could easily slip by unmarked), but it’s a good way to identify potentially vegan items and rule out options that are clearly unsuitable.

Google map of vegan options

If you’re planning a trip to Vienna, I have a little treat for you! I’ve created a Google map you can use with lots of vegan-friendly eateries plotted out. You can find it here. If you’re like me and disable cell data while you’re abroad, note that you can download the map to your Google Maps app so you can still access it while you’re on the go.

If you’ve got updates to my map (closures, new places, whatever!), just leave me a comment and I’ll update it. Vegan travelers gotta help each other out!

A Better Batch Winner!

Hello, all! Just popping in to announce the winner of last week’s cookie giveaway. Thanks for all your comments, but alas — there can be only one. The winner of the box of cookies from A Better Batch is A.J., who said:

Mm the chocolate chip cookies look amazing! Great post!

A.J., I’ll be emailing you shortly to get your mailing address.

Thanks for entering, everyone!

Review, Interview, and Giveaway: A Better Batch

Picture this: You’re sitting in a conference room after a daily hour-long meeting ends, catching up on a few emails and chatting with a couple coworkers. In walks another coworker, Sarah.

“Hey, do you guys want a brownie?” Sarah asks.

Something to note about Sarah: She and her husband Hanes run a vegan baking company.

With that in mind, is your answer going to be anything but a resounding YES? I think not.

You proceed to try the fudgiest, chewiest brownie you’ve had in ages. You tell Sarah how amazing it is.

“Oh, yeah? This was Hanes’ first attempt at a brownie!” she says. “Thanks so much for the feedback! We’re hoping to add it to the line soon.”

Jaw. Drop.

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One of the little perks of my job is getting to meet people like Sarah and Hanes, entrepreneurs who offer quality cruelty-free products to the world. Their company, A Better Batch, sells ready-to-bake vegan cookie dough in three delectable flavors, and they occasionally have fully baked products for sale at events like vegfests. If you’re a VegNews reader, you might’ve seen A Better Batch reviewed in the “Cookie Dough Taste Test” in the April 2016 issue! (Read on for a chance to try them yourself!)

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

Although A Better Batch is based in Maryland, their cookies are available to anyone in the United States thanks to their unique business model. ABB sends you frozen cookie dough that you can bake in your own kitchen. By shipping the dough quickly and packaging it with dry ice, Hanes and Sarah make sure that it will arrive still frozen and ready to bake.

Right now, ABB offers three flavors: mocha oatmeal, lemon poppy seed, and classic chocolate chip. I can say with no reservations that their Lemon Poppy Seed cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted. Bursting with bright lemon flavor, they’re absolutely fabulous. Hanes and Sarah have managed to distill this flavor combination into a perfectly chewy, moist cookie that’s not to be missed. Mocha oatmeal is probably my second favorite — it’s another beautiful cookie, bursting with chocolatey goodness. Chocolate chip comes last, but not because of any defect — it’s a darn good classic cookie that anyone would enjoy.

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

But good-tasting cookies aren’t all that ABB offers. What sets A Better Batch apart from its competition is Hanes’ and Sarah’s dedication to providing the best possible products for people, the animals, and the environment. Here’s how:

  • Hanes and Sarah carefully source their ingredients, using fair-trade and organic options whenever possible. And by virtue of being vegan, these cookies are free of cholesterol.
  • Everything is vegan — no animals harmed here!
  • The cookies are shipped in biodegradable packaging instead of styrofoam containers, which we all know are horrible for the planet. And the individual wrappers are recyclable.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying ABB’s cookies a few times, but I wanted to know a little more about their business. So I reached out to Hanes, and he graciously answered all my questions and sent me a box of cookies to sample. Read on for his thoughts!

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

 

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Kelly: Let me start by saying how much I LOVE your lemon poppy seed cookies — they’re the best! Right now, you only have them and two other flavors available (chocolate chip and mocha oatmeal). I like that you have a few flavors that you do really, really well, but are you planning to expand your products in the future?  
Hanes: I’m glad to hear you love the Lemon Poppy Seed cookies! Yes, we do have plans to add more flavors and possibly different products such as brownies in the future. In fact, we just re-released a Peanut Butter cookie that we featured back in August for a limited time; it was a crowd favorite, so we brought it back!

K: Why vegan cookies? How did you get started?
H: My passion for baking started when I was growing up. I loved helping my Mom in the kitchen, and this carried over into adulthood. On the weekends I would get in the kitchen and make biscuits, cakes, cookies, pancakes etc. from scratch. I enjoyed it and found it to be a great creative outlet for me. About 9 years ago, my wife stumbled upon some information online about factory farms and how we treat animals in the current agricultural system. It was pretty shocking and we were completely ignorant to it before that. She started reading more about the subject and sharing a lot of the practices and statistics with me. Over the following few years we both continued to decrease our consumption of animal products and eventually went vegan.

This created a new challenge for me: how do I continue to bake and enjoy a lot of the comfort foods that I love making so much without animal products like butter and eggs? I got in the kitchen and got to work. I tried lots and lots of different recipes and found that I love vegan baking! I find that the vegan baked goods taste even better than the traditional counterparts, and they’re certainly better for animals, the environment, and even our health. I received rave reviews for my vegan cookies. They were being requested anytime we would go to friends’ houses or events. A couple of years ago, I started A Better Batch to make them available to people seeking amazing plant-based desserts everywhere.

K: What makes your batches better, i.e., what distinguishes your cookies from similar brands? 
H: At A Better Batch, we work hard to make sure that our cookies are the best vegan cookies on the market — not only in flavor but also in all aspects of our decision making. We are constantly seeking the best ingredients, which to us means using organic, GMO-free, and socially responsible products. For example, the coffee we use in our Mocha Oatmeal flavor is made by Brewing Good Coffee Company which is organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, and UTZ certified (a sustainable farming certification that covers farming practices, environmental impact, and social and living conditions). Also, their company donates a portion of proceeds to animal charities each month — how great is that! We refuse to use palm oil because of the devastating impact its production has on orangutan habitat. Our sugar, vanilla, and salt are all fair trade. Our boxes are made of 100% recycled material, and we don’t use Styrofoam in our shipping boxes; instead, we use an eco-friendly, biodegradable insulation. We take the taste of our cookies seriously, and we also take caring for the environment and animals seriously.

K: What’s the process like for developing new products? How long does it take?
H: It usually starts with me wanting a particular flavor and then I try and think about how that would look. Then I get in the kitchen and try to make it happen, which really is the fun part, as I get to eat lots and lots of test cookies. Sometimes it’s a very quick process, as with my Peanut Butter cookies (it was the very first attempt that I ended up going with!). Other times, it takes much longer. I’m currently working on a refrigerated cookie dough that you could either just eat with a spoon or bake; it has taken over 3 dozen attempts so far.

K: If you could select any flavor cookie to magically have developed and ready for production, what would it be? 
H: Salted Caramel! This is a cookie I have worked on before and plan to return to. It has proven tricky. I would like a nice soft sugar cookie that has little bites of gooey caramel with a slight sprinkling of sea salt on top to bring it all home. I’m a huge huge caramel fan!

K: I noticed that all your packaging is eco-friendly — how is that tied to your business as a whole? Does that ethic inform everything you do?
H: We want to be the best vegan goodie, not only in flavor and quality, but also in all the little decisions in between such as the packaging.  It’s important for us to make our products the very best way we can and that includes taking our impact on the environment into consideration.

K: Are you a full-time cookie baker, or do you have a(nother) day job?
H: I work during the week as an accountant. A Better Batch is my passion project, which is what I work on in the evenings and on the weekend. It does create a busy schedule sometimes, but the cookie business doesn’t really feel like work!

~~~

I really appreciate how much thought Hanes put into his answers — and I’m dreaming of the day those salted caramel cookies become a reality! (Not to mention those brownies I tried a few months ago.)

Happily, A Better Batch generously offered to share the vegan goodness with one reader. Just visit the ABB website and let me know in a comment which flavor you want to try! One lucky winner will receive a box of all three flavors (worth about $58 including shipping). Sorry, my international friends — U.S. readers only this time! I’ll randomly select a winner at 5:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

If you don’t win but want to try these yummy cookies anyway, just sign up for the ABB newsletter to receive 15% off your first order. You can also check out ABB on Facebook and Twitter.

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*Disclaimer: After tasting their cookies on a few occasions throughout the past year, I reached out to A Better Batch and asked if they’d like to be profiled here. Although they did provide me with some cookies to taste for this post, all opinions are 100% my own. I enjoy supporting local, vegan-owned businesses and will never promote a company I don’t believe in just for the sake of some free samples.

All photos in this post courtesy Rebekah Collinsworth.