Sometimes it seems as though eating vegan food in New York City (or anywhere for that matter) requires numbed tastebuds. There’s a surprising lack of options in the city and out of those options, there’s only a select few gems. So when we arrived at the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene this summer, we were immediately intrigued by one stand, which had a sign that read, ‘The Regal Vegan,” where a lovely red-headed vendor was serving up colorful concoctions of julienned zucchini and plump cherry tomatoes smothered in a fragrant, almost creamy, beautiful green dressing.
We are not vegans nor vegetarians for that matter, but we prefer to eat veggies over meat whenever possible. So we ordered two plates of the stuff which, the lovely red-head, who’s name by the way is Ella, told us was a mix of veggies and her very own “Basilcotta” spread/dressing/whatever you want it to be. The dish was devilishly good. Creamy (just like ricotta) with deliciously potent hints of basil and warm nutty undertones.
So, wait, weren’t we suppose to be eating vegan, I thought? I lifted one of the cutely packaged tubs Ella had lying out on her table and read the ingredients: cashews, basil, lemon juice, Himalayan pink salt. No ricotta? No cream? No unbelievable mix of ricotta and cream? Nope, not a hint.
Ella also had her best selling “Faux Gras” spread on display, so of course we had to try that as well. And just as I suspected, it was also killer — none of the tofuey, sunflower-butter saturated, all out bland vegan food we had experienced in the past. This stuff had the goods that could tempt even the most hardcore lovers of fattened duck liver to at least alternate from time to time.
I purchased a tub of the Basilcotta and Faux Gras and asked Ella is she’d mind catching up with us to chat about her life as The Regal Vegan (I was also hoping we could pry one of her ingenius recipes from her — wink, wink). Check out what she had to say about her inventive business and how eating vegan can actually be healthful and enjoyable. (And yes, there is a fabulous recipe included).
Culture-ist: So tell us how you became “The Regal Vegan.”
Nemcova: It started with a post-travel cleanse back in ’07. I felt so great on it that I kept eating within its parameters, and cooking within its parameters. In a short time I experienced a great physical transformation. My friends wanted in, and started asking me to make extra food to share with them and their families. Then their friends asked. By the end of ’07, I was running a three-course, gourmet, vegan dinner delivery service. I was shopping, cooking and delivering all the food M-F – by bike! Soon enough, I found myself in business, and there I was, making regal vegan food.
Culture-ist: How do you come up with such innovative, healthy recipes?
Nemcova: I have been scouring cookbooks and cooking magazines since early childhood. They read like a storybook to me. Between that and revisiting the flavors in my travel history I tend to create recipes that make me feel a certain way, or as though I’m in a certain place. In terms of the health aspect, I just set myself up for the challenge. No gluten, no dairy, no meat + lots of tomatoes, + I have this hankering for herbs de provençe. Okay GO!
Culture-ist: When we sampled the Faux Grax and Basilcotta at the Brooklyn Flea we nearly signed up to be vegan on the spot. Are you planning on coming out with any other veg-tastic products?
Nemcova: Ha, Veg-tastic! Love it. I’m always developing something…I’d love to get a few grab and go salads I’ve been making for years into the market. In the fall, look out for my Ribollita – it’s an Italian White Bean & Tomato soup which always gets the kids riled up.
Culture-ist: We heard through the grapevine that you teach some pretty delicious classes. How can New Yorkers get the scoop on when and where they’re being held?
Nemcova: The Regal Vegan website is a great source, but doesn’t move as fast as our religiously updated facebook page. Of course, our twitter feed gives you our story 140 characters at a time!
Culture-ist: What advice would you give to people who want to be vegans, but are unsure of how to integrate a balanced diet of proteins, greens and fats?
Nemcova: I would say try to eat Mediterranean Vegan– get a load of colorful vegetables on your plate, making sure about half are greens. Fear not the avocado and the nut. Those fats are the kind that don’t make you fat. Eat a variety of foods — don’t skimp on whole grains (I am loving black rice these days), beans and add in a fair share of nuts and seeds throughout your day. If you follow these guidelines, you will be getting your protein cumulatively. 3gms from there, 6 from there, 5 from here etc, till your reach your requirements of 50-60 by day’s end. Do include your protein-rich foods as well, like tempeh, quinoa and lentils. If you’re worried you’re not getting enough, keep a rice or hemp protein shake in your mix.
Culture-ist: Would you be kind enough to share one of your delicious vegan recipes?
Nemcova: Here’s a summer favorite:
Kale Salad with Strawberries & Fried Basilicotta in Ligonberry Vinaigrette
1 pint of strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 bunch of curly kale
1 8oz container of Basilicottaâ„¢
1/2 cup of quinoa flour (use breadcrumbs in a pinch)
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil for frying (Sub Olive Oil if needed)
Ligonberry Baslamic Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 TBS Dijon mustard
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Ligonberry vinegar, (I got mine at Ikea!)
1 tsp sea salt
Few cracks of fresh pepper
1 1/2 cup of fruity, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First prepare the dressing by adding the first 6 ingredients and whisking in the olive oil slowly. Once creamy, set aside.
Holding one end of the kale stem, rip the leaves off the stem and stack each leaf on top of the other. Once you have a small stack of leaves, roll them into a sort of cigar shape and slice into ribbons. Continue till you have finished the bunch. Wash and spin dry. Add about half the dressing and massage into the leaves. Use a bit of elbow grease to really crush the kale and let the vinegars help break the leaves down. Add more dressing if necessary. Once it has turned a darker green and the leaves have wilted a bunch, set aside to rest.
Using a teaspoon, spoon out cold Basilicotta and roll into balls. Roll in a bowl of quinoa flour (or bread crumbs) and set aside till the container is through. Heat a skillet with an 1/8 of an inch of olive oil till hot. Carefully drop in the Basilicotta balls and fry until a golden brown crust forms on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Add the strawberries to the kale salad, crack some pepper, toss to combine and serve each portion topped with a few of the Basilicotta cakes. Enjoy!
Photos courtesy of The Regal Vegan