Armenian Thanksgiving Pumpkin

Photos of cooked pumpkins by Raffi

Photo: Raffi

What should you prepare with all those apples and pumpkins? Many people confront this question after the celebratory hayride and apple and pumpkin-picking excursion. I love to try exotic recipes with my pumpkins. This year I am making a fall dish from Armenia called Ghapama. This vegan dish, dramatically presented inside a whole roasted pumpkin, can be the star of your Thanksgiving table.

Ghapama is a harvest dish with its own special rituals. First, a fresh pumpkin is picked. Then the whole family helps to clean the pumpkin, stuff it with rice, fresh apples, dry fruits, and nuts. Then they enjoy each other’s company while the pumpkin bakes. When it is ready, everyone eats it straight out of the oven while it is piping hot. [Read more…]

Vegging Out at Miss Rachel’s Pantry

Miss Rachel's Pantry

Miss Rachel’s Pantry
1938 South Chadwick Street
Philadelphia, PA 19145
Hours: Friday 7am-6pm, Saturday 8am-3pm, Sunday 8am-3pm, Closed Monday-Thursday


South Philly is home to a kosher vegan treasure. It is Miss Rachel’s Pantry. This establishment is a market, a catering company, a host of communal dinners, and a cooking school. Chef-owner Rachel Klein and her team prepare and deliver meals to homes as well.

The specialties of the house include “cheeses” made from cultured cashew nuts. I had never tasted nut “cheese” before. I smeared some cashew butter “cream cheese” on a bagel. It tasted surprisingly cream cheesy.

Miss Rachel’s serves creative homemade soups. I tried the honey crisp apple and celery root bisque and the tomato bisque. Both use vegan creme fraiche to achieve the right consistency. The flavor combinations were unexpected, sweet and tart and creamy all at the same time.

11951929_1083286115032390_1707358112680740726_nFor dessert, I had the house baked vegan sticky buns. I got them fresh out of the oven, hot, fragrant, sweet, and yeasty. I don’t know how they turned out so well without eggs or butter. To conclude my meal, I had a fresh cup of Green Street Organic coffee with some almond milk. The coffee was piping hot, with a rich mellow flavor. It was the perfect end to a delicious meal.

The pantry is certified kosher by the International Kosher Council. The restaurant is BYOB, and diners are encouraged to bring wine, beer, sparkling juice, or kombucha (a type of fermented, effervescent sweet tea).

Homemade Raw Butterfingers

Nestle's Butterfinger. (Photo: Evan Amos.)

Nestle’s Butterfinger. (Photo: Evan Amos.)


Homemade Butterfinger.

— by Challah Maidel

Healthy butterfingers are candy bars that defy all logic. They are perhaps one of the most underrated chocolate candy bars in the market. Many people claim that they are palatable and nothing more.

My homemade raw butterfingers have the same toffee-like crunch as do the commercialized butterfingers, but unlike the original version, these butterfingers candy bars are whole grain, high in iron, and completely void of high-fructose corn syrup. Plus, the filling does not stick to one’s teeth as much.

Learning how to make homemade butterfingers is not a far stretch from making homemade snickers bars. The methods are quite similar and the flavors are comparable.

This vegan butterfingers recipe does not get any easier. Unlike many vegan butterfingers recipes, mine does not require any cooking. Peanut butter and peanuts are recommended for this recipe, but you can use almonds and almond butter if you have a peanut allergy.

Ingredients for 8 to 10 bars:

  • 1 1/2 cup of bran flakes, corn flakes, or dried white mulberries. (You can use rice cakes, although the texture would not be as authentic.)
  • 3/4 cup of peanut or almond butter
  • 1/2 cup of pitted, soaked  dates
  • 1/3 cup of chopped peanuts or almonds
  • 2 tablespoons of agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  • Bittersweet chocolate chips


  1. Pulse the bran flakes, corn flakes, or dried white mulberries in a food processor until crumbly.
  2. Add the remaining six ingredients and pulse until large, sticky clumps form. Add more agave or syrup if the dough is not holding together.
  3.  Pour the dough and spread it out evenly onto a prepared 8×8 pan.
  4.  Cover and freeze for 15-20 minutes, or until firm.
  5.  In the meantime, melt chocolate chips, in a microwave or over a double boiler, and set aside.
  6.  Remove the dough from the freezer and cut into bars while they are still in the pan.
  7. Gently pour melted chocolate over each bar.
  8.  Return them to the freezer and freeze for an hour before serving. Store them in the freezer if you wish to retain their crunchiness.

Challah Maidel blogs about healthy kosher eating.

Karpas Soup

Photo: Candice Eisner. ©Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

— by Ronit Treatman

Passover offers so many opportunities for creativity in the kitchen.  On point of inspiration is the Seder plate.  Its ingredients may form the basis of many satisfying dishes.  Chef Moshe Basson, the proprietor of Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem, has created a delicious spring soup centered on the karpas, or green vegetable, which is dipped in salt water at the Passover Seder.

This velvety soup begins with fresh celeriac (celery root). Some of the celery stalks are separated from the roots, washed, and displayed on the Seder plate, to be dipped in salt water. The rest of the celery stalks, leaves, and roots are blended with almond or coconut milk to prepare a rich and creamy soup. This versatile soup is inexpensive, easy to prepare, low fat, and vegan.  It complements almost any Passover meal.

Recipe follows the jump.
Karpas Soup
Adapted from Chef Moshe Basson

  • 2 large celeriac roots, with stalks and leaves
  • 2 potatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup unflavored, low-fat almond or coconut milk
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Peel the potatoes and celery root.
  2. Dice them into small cubes.
  3. Pour the vegetable broth into a stockpot and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the potato and celeriac cubes.
  5. Boil the vegetables for about 30 minutes, until tender.
  6. Chop up the celery stalks and leaves.
  7. Add the celery stalks and leaves to the boiling soup for one minute.
  8. Remove the pot from the fire.
  9. Pour all of the contents into a food processor.
  10. Blend well.
  11. Add the coconut or almond milk.
  12. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and ground nutmeg.

Blackbird Pizzeria: A Fresh Perspective on Vegan Food

— by Ronit Treatman

How good can vegan pizza possibly be?  

Skeptical omnivore that I am, I was sure that I would leave Blackbird Pizzeria not feeling satisfied. I must admit that I was wrong.

I discovered the pizzeria’s kosher food last year, when I presented at Hazon’s Philadelphia Food Conference, where the restaurant’s offerings were featured at the lunch. My lunch was so good that it inspired me to visit the restaurant.

Full review after the jump.
The restaurant reminded me of the pizzerias I had gone to in Vermont. Everything is made from scratch, using only the finest ingredients.

The chefs are fanatical about the quality of the food they prepare. While conversing with them, I discovered that they are all vegans at home as well.

My pizza and salad were prepared to the highest standards. The chefs use the finest quality high-gluten flour for their pizza crusts, and fresh ingredients for their sauces.

The secret to their success is the Daiya vegan “cheese.” This product is kosher and free of all animal products. The “cheese” on my pizza melted like dairy mozzarella. It had great mouth feel, and I loved the flavor. Their specialty pizza menu is very creative, borrowing flavors from the Far East, Mexico, and Italy.

The restaurant also offers a wide array of vegetarian sandwiches. The bread is very fresh, and each sandwich is layered with crisp vegetables, daiya cheese, seitan, or tofu. It also offers seitan “chicken wings,” which have a wonderfully crunchy exterior, and are very spicy.

The salads at the restaurant are composed of mainly raw vegetables, which taste as though they were all sourced from a local farmer’s market.

I tried the beet salad. It was a beautiful combination of red and golden beets over arugula. Orange segments and smoked shallots added to the flavors, and pumpkin seeds were sprinkled over it for crunch. It came with a delicious shallot-thyme vinaigrette.  

The final surprise came when I tasted their brownie. Although it was baked without eggs or butter, it had a very dense, decadent chocolate flavor. I don’t know how they did it, but I will definitely come back for more!

Blackbird Pizzeria
507 South 6th Street

Hours: Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Phone number: (215)625-6660

Hashgacha (supervision): International Kosher Council (IKC)

Bryn Mawr Vgë Café Gets Kosher Certification

— by Hannah Lee

I first wrote about the vegan Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr when it just opened last spring. On a visit some time later, the Brazilian proprietor, Fernando Peralta, expressed to me his interest in obtaining kosher certification because his customers were asking for it. I advised him to speak with the owners of other vegetarian establishments. Lo and behold, I was delighted to hear right before Pesach that he is indeed now certified kosher.

The kosher supervisors are Rabbis Eli Hirsch and Zev Schwarcz from the International Kosher Council, the same agency that certifies other local establishments such as Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant, Blackbird Pizzeria, and Sweet Freedom Bakery. The IKC is based in New York (it supervises the popular Blossom restaurants) and they’ve recently expanded to Mexico, Portugal, and Ukraine. It was Rachel Klein of Miss Rachel’s Pantry who led Peralta to IKC.

More after the jump.
“We are a vegan restaurant and already had proper procedures in place for cleaning vegetables, so the process was quite simple,” said Peralta. He only had to change the balsamic vinegar that he was using. The inspection covered all the ingredients and products used in his establishment. His café will be inspected on a biweekly basis, with no advance notice. Being non-Jewish, Peralta was not asked to close on Shabbat.

Vgë Café, located at 845B West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 AM to 8:30 PM and Sundays, from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Catering is available. Phone: (610) 527-3091.  

Wasabi Eggplant

— By Ben Brewer

I was trying to think of a new way to make roasted eggplant more interesting, glanced over to my spice shelf and saw some wasabi paste.

So… while roasting the eggplant I whipped together a tahina based wasabi sauce and the result was really tasty. Try it out and let know what you think about this Israeli/Japanese fusion-ish dish.

The full recipe after the jump.
Wasabi Roasted Eggplant Salad

Ingredients: (all measurements are approximate)

  • Medium sized eggplants – 2, roasted
  • Cilantro – 1/3 cup chopped
  • Tahina paste (raw) – 1/2 cup
  • Soy sauce – 1/2 tablespoon
  • Canola oil – 1/2 tablespoon
  • Wasabi – 1.5 tablespoons
  • Pepper – to season


  1. Roast the eggplants on a gas burner until skin is charred and the inside is cooked and soft. 3 minutes per side should be enough. Once done, put in a bowl and cover with a towel to keep in steam. Once cook, scrape off charred skin and place the flesh in a mixing bowl.
  2. Mix tahina paste, soy sauce, wasabi, oil and pepper until mixed well and smooth. Add to eggplant and fold in well.
  3. Add chopped cilantro and serve with bread, pita or on its own. Can be served warm or cold.

Ben Brewer is the founder of Israel Food Tours, in which he brings us his unique and in-depth knowledge of the Israeli culinary scene.

From Peel To Seed: Making The Most Of Your Thanksgiving Pumpkin

— by Ronit Treatman

You picked or bought a pumpkin for Thanksgiving.  Now what should you do with it?  Here are three vegan recipes that make use of the whole pumpkin.  One pumpkin can produce an appetizer, a soup, and a vegetable dish for your festive meal.

Begin by cutting your pumpkin in half.  Scoop out the plump seeds from the center of the pumpkin.  From these seeds, you can prepare Sikil P’ak, an ancient Maya appetizer from the Yucatan Peninsula.

More after the jump.
Sikil P’ak
Adapted from Hugo Ortega

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Scoop the pumpkin seeds from your pumpkin (you should get about one cup).
  3. Wash with cold water.
  4. Place on a cookie sheet.
  5. Toast in the oven for about 5 minutes, until golden and fragrant.
  6. Place the toasted pumpkin seeds in a food processor.
  7. Grind until smooth.
  8. Spear one habanero chile with a fork.  Hold it over the flame of a burner or grill until it is charred all over.  
  9. Char 2 plum tomatoes in the same manner.
  10. Add the charred chile and tomatoes to the food processor.
  11. Add 3 tablespoons of minced cilantro.
  12. Add 3 tablespoons of minced chives.
  13. Season with salt to taste.
  14. Process all the ingredients together until you have a smooth paste.

Serve as a festive Thanksgiving appetizer with warm corn chips.

Next, separate the peel from the flesh of the pumpkin.  Make a hearty vegetarian soup from the pumpkin flesh, fusing this New World fruit with exotic spices from North Africa.  

Moroccan Pumpkin Soup
Adapted from Christine Benlafquih

  • 4 cups cubed pumpkin
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp. Ras El Hanout or make your own with the recipe below.
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Honey to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  1. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a pot.
  2. Add the onion and garlic.
  3. Cook over medium heat until golden.
  4. Add the pumpkin, chickpeas, broth, spices, and honey.
  5. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 15 minutes.

Serve with fresh, warm pita bread.

If you would like to make your own Ras El Hanout spice mixture combine:

  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

What can you do with the remaining pumpkin flesh and peel?  You may be inspired by a Japanese specialty called Kabocha No Nimono or Simmered Pumpkin.  It is traditional not to peel the pumpkin when preparing this dish.

Kabocha No Nimono
Adapted from Serakitty

  • 8 cups of diced pumpkin flesh and peel
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup dried mushrooms (preferably Shiitake)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  1. Place all the ingredients in a pot.  
  2. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes.  May be served hot or cold.

Kabocha No Nimono is wonderful side dish for Thanksgiving.  Its earthy sweet and salty mushroom flavor makes this a favorite fall comfort food.

The first way to demonstrate thankfulness for our bounty is by not being wasteful.  We say this blessing of gratitude for having a whole pumpkin:

Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-o-lam,
bo-rei p’ri ha-a-da-mah.

Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe,
who creates the fruit of the earth.  

Food Chat With a Seitan Master

— by Hannah Lee

Michael Cassady changed his diet in 1979 and got his niche in life.  He first thought eating only Chinese food would be healthy, but he did not know about the MSG used in restaurants.  He later tried the macrobiotic diet, but then he discovered the miracle of making seitan by hand.

Made with only flour and water, the glutinous mass is rinsed repeatedly — with cold and hot water, alternatively — to get rid of the starch, until only the protein remains.  First developed in China, seitan, also known as wheat gluten, is a healthy, low-calorie source of protein for vegetarians and vegans alike.  Herbs and spices can be added to simulate any ethnic dish in place of meat.

More after the jump.
Home cooks could use a short-cut method using vital wheat gluten (certified kosher, available in local stores such as Whole Foods), but both Michael and Fernando Peralta of Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr agree that it makes a tough product.

Michael now uses a Hobart mixer to turn out 240- to-250-pound batches of seitan at a time.  He recently switched to using smaller 50-pound bags of flour, to spare his back from the constant weight-lifting.  He uses a special bowl that’s perforated with holes.

The process requires a continual flushing of water.  Alas, the plumbing in his former-delicatessen space in Florence, NJ limits the speed of production.  Michael thinks he would be well-served by a French drain, which is sometimes still seen in old houses on the Main Line as was in mine.  (A French drain has perforated hollow pipes along the bottom to quickly vent water that seeps down through the upper gravel or rock.)  Between daily delivery runs, he keeps 15-hour days, because he kneads in the savory spices by hand.  Michael says, “You can’t rush the process.”

Michael supplies seitan to a variety of Philly restaurants, some of which also sell meat, such as Interstate Draft House in the Fishtown neighborhood, Sketch Burger on Girard Avenue, Monk’s Café on 16th and Spruce (which offers Belgian beer on tap), and POPE (for Pub on Passyunk East) in South Philly.  

He also supplies nine branches of Whole Foods, including the stores in Wynnewood, Callowhill, and Plymouth Meeting, which he says is the largest store in this area.

Michael lived in Florida for 16 years, making seitan by hand for friends and cancer patients, but he returned to the Philly area when his father got sick (he has since died).  Now, he lives in his childhood home and takes care of his ailing mother.  He dreams of running a vegetarian restaurant, much like Peralta’s Vgë Café, which relies on his seitan.

On June 20, he will be participating in a fundraiser for Philabundance, to be held at the Market Place Design Center.  He will be the only vegan chef in attendance.

Curry Masala Seitan (adapted from Michael Cassady‘s recipe)
Makes 4 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 4 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • ½ tsp minced ginger
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • ½ tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 lb seitan, drained and cut into small pieces
  • Salt, about 1 tsp or to taste
  1. Heat a skillet over high heat; pour in oil and fry the cumin and cloves.  
  2. Add the ginger and garlic.  Saute for one minute over a medium-high flame.  
  3. Add the tomato and onion.  Stir-fry until the tomato is almost pasty and the onions are translucent.  
  4. Add the remaining spices and let the mixture cook for 10 minutes.  
  5. Add the seitan and heat for 10 minutes.  
  6. Add salt to taste.

Food Chat: Vgë Café

— by Hannah Lee

Vegetarians, vegans, and diners on a budget can cheer for the opening of Vgë (pronounced vee-gee) Café in Bryn Mawr in late April.  People like me who like stories of second-chances can hope for the best for owner Fernando Peralta, a Brazilian who’d spent 17 years in finance when he decided to switch directions.  He went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh and, although he has been a vegetarian for seven years, he studied, prepared, and tasted the meat according to the curriculum.  Later, he did an externship in Akron, OH, at a Mediterranean-Italian vegetarian restaurant owned by Chrissie Hynde from the band The Pretenders.

More after the jump.
Why did he choose this location?  Peralta said the college-aged population and health-conscious residents in the area seemed like a great fit for his concept.  He said he’d traveled through most of the Northeast to do research and find a suitable spot for his restaurant.  “This area seemed like a phenomenal location,” Peralta said. “In the beginning, I was envisioning more sophisticated fine dining, but in this economy people can’t afford it.”

Peralta said that he and his friends have been frustrated by the shortage of affordable, fresh, and healthy choices for a casual meal.  Being vegetarians didn’t make it any easier.  “While some chains are making a true effort to bring healthier choices to their menus, the vast majority of quick-service options are based on empty carbohydrates (refined grains), bad fats, canned vegetables, and frozen or fried, highly processed foods,” said Peralta.  “Not to mention the excess sodium and high-fructose corn syrup, found in virtually every processed food in this industry.”

So, the new café offers whole grains instead of refined ones; baked foods instead of deep fried; natural sweeteners like applesauce or agave instead of refined sugars; dark leafy greens (richer in anti-oxidants than pale lettuces such as iceberg), and no canned vegetables.  The menu is animal-free and dairy-free, so the food has zero cholesterol.  They also eschew the use of saturated and hydrogenated fats.  Every item on the menu has less than 500 calories.
Peralta is developing a relationship with the local farmers to reduce his carbon footprint.  Items which are not available locally year-round, sometimes he buys frozen.  He said, “there are many studies indicating that quick-freezing vegetables will retain more nutrients and vitamins than transporting them at room temperature, when vitamins are more susceptible to oxidizing.”  Peralta cooks the food on location, from the scratch, from fresh ingredients, so he can control what goes into every item he sells.

Peralta has chosen for his café energy-efficient lighting and appliances, recyclable and compostable cups, packaging, bags and utensils. He is in the process getting the “green” certification from the Green Restaurant Association.

Vgë Café, located at 845 Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays- Thursdays from 11:30 am to 8:30 pm and Fridays-Saturdays from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm.  Catering available.