Think all-vegetation salads are boring, insubstantial without steak, or bacon, or at least a measly chicken breast? Maybe you should broaden your scope and consider the work of cooks who are on a mission to redefine the form.
Grains, tropical fruit and cross-cultural culinary references abound in these choices, found at well-known and fledgling operations across the greater Buffalo area. Most of these are vegan, with no animal products used at all. The rest can easily be made so if you ask nicely when ordering.
1) Raw sunflower seed “falafel” ($10) Israeli salad from Press Food and Juice
426 Rhode Island St., 464-3695
Esther Pica recently moved her vegan food and juice operation to the space next to Urban Roots. Lunch only for now, the most popular item is sunflower seed “falafel” on Israeli-style chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, red onion, radish and parsley, with paprika tahini dressing. Raw food includes items that haven’t been heated over 118 degrees, to preserve nutritional value, so the nutty briquettes are made in a dehydrator, not a fryer.
2) Skinny Thai El Camino ($6.99) from Lloyd Taco Factory
1503 Hertel Ave., 863-9781
When a burrito wrap is a daunting pile of carbs and gluten, it’s the El Camino to the rescue at this taco-centric counter-service restaurant. Chef Teddy Bryant will start with rice and shredded cabbage and top it with the contents of any Lloyd taco, writ large. This is the vegan Skinny Thai version, with fried organic tofu, Asian-style pickles, shaved radishes and peanut sauce, with cilantro and scallion.
Want something even skinnier? Go for the organic black beans.
3) Grain bowl ($11.50) from Organic 3 Café
4446 Main St., Amherst, 204-0031
In a recent week, Joseph and Kyle Orlando’s vegan grain bowl featured summer squash, zucchini, roasted peppers, asparagus and hummus, with organic spinach, on organic farro and lentils, touched with sundried tomato basil pesto and toasted almonds. The details of the bowl will change from week to week, but the insistence on organic grains and local, organic-as-possible vegetables won’t.
4) Spicy quinoa crunch bowl ($10) from Newbury Street Café
470 Elmwood Ave., 886-6466, and EXPO, 617 Main St.
Paul Tsouflidis’ fast-fresh operation offers salad seekers a non-GMO guarantee along with their roughage. This top-selling salad covers a bed of the grain with a riot of cucumber, carrot, tomatoes, avocado, raw organic corn, pumpkin seeds, spicy sunflower seeds, parsley and cilantro, topped with imported Greek feta cheese. The recommended housemade dressing is jalapeño-lime, bolstered with more cilantro and garlic. Vegans? No cheese, no problem.
5) Black rice salad ($8.95) from Sun Restaurant
1989 Niagara St., 447-0202, and EXPO, 617 Main St.
Amid a menu of Burmese cuisine, Thai dishes and sushi, Kevin Lin offers Asian fusion inventions like a salad based on black rice, which is chewier and nuttier than its white cousin, akin to long-grain wild rice. It’s festooned with colorful mango, orange, avocado, and red peppers, with cashews and peanuts, fried garlic, and a tangy-sweet palm sugar dressing with lime juice and a touch of fish sauce. Request a vegan version, and soy will sub in for fish sauce.
6) Insalata potenza ($12) from Osteria 166
166 Franklin St., 858-3118
Looking for a lighter choice amid the chicken cutlets, fried risotto sticks and platters of meatballs at this popular downtown Italian place? Chef Jeffrey Cooke Jr.’s Insalata Potenza (power salad) is hefty, but it’s all vegetable weight. Rainbow chard is tossed with red quinoa, ricotta salata, grilled asparagus, roasted pepper, tomato and a vinaigrette made with ripe tomatoes and shallots. Hold the cheese and it’s vegan.
Marathon bowl ($14) from The Steer
3151 Main St., 838-0478
Erin Curtin has installed a broad and deep vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and raw food menu alongside the bacon cheeseburgers and chicken wings that have fed undergraduates for years in this University Heights spot. The vegan Marathon Bowl offers steamed kale tossed with red lentils, quinoa, pine nuts and dried currants, topped with slabs of tofu marinated in an orange miso dressing and grilled.
Email Andrew Galarneau at email@example.com