The Vegans Have Landed

As COP18 is going on right now, Doha is getting a taste of environmental awareness. While looking at one of the local English-language papers this morning, I came across this article from just over a week ago.

In a very general way, the article mentions veganism’s positive impact on the Earth and that Loving Hut is serving free vegan food at the Sustainability Expo that I plan to attend this week. It does not mention that Loving Hut is essentially run by a cult, which don’t get me wrong, isn’t in itself a problem. To each his own in matters of faith. I’m just really interested to see how the cultish aspect of their propaganda is toned down for use in a majority Muslim country. Based on my experiences in their restaurants, they come on really strong, but their food is yummy enough to ignore it. It’s really tasty!

Truth be told, the Quan Yin method has many commonalities with Islam: peace, respect for God’s creation, and abstinence from intoxicants and sexual “misconduct” to name a few. However, the figure head and guru in this practice, Ching Hai,  is portrayed as a goddess-like figure, which just doesn’t roll with Islam’s rejection of idolatry. Will this be ignored in the literature at the Expo? I’ll check it out and report back.

In other news, if you are reading and want to meet up with a group of Doha vegans (and future vegans) at the Four Seasons on Tuesday morning at 9am, check out the new Vegan Qatar Facebook page, which a reader shared with me only a couple of days ago! It seems that there is a slew of veg*ns crawling out of the woodwork (or concretework). How exciting is that?

Where have I been? Welcoming Omnivores

Several things have happened lately that have distracted me from blogging. I got engaged to the love of my life! ❤ This has led to a lot of day dreaming about vegan wedding parties and just general admiration of the sparkle coming from my left ring finger. I am trying to tone down my glow because I know it’s annoying to those who have yet to meet the fantastic made-for-them person who is just lurking around the corner, however long that corner might be. Nonetheless, I need the blogosphere to know I am very happy!

In November, I also hosted my first visitors in Doha, which meant that I had to make my apartment presentable. The thing is, even after all my tidying, my dad still said my apartment was a mess. I just don’t see what normal/tidy people see when it comes to mess. Maybe this is a cue for me to write about vegan/green cleaning supplies (one of my plans from the beginning of this blog). Are you a tidy veg*n? Do you have any tips?

Now that I think about it, this family visit which included my dad for about a week and my maternal aunt and uncle (her husband) for 3 nights was actually the first time I’d hosted overnight guests for more than one or two nights in quite some time. This is mostly because I lived in a small one bedroom apartment before coming here and there just wasn’t really the space for visitors.

One of the anxieties I had coming up to the trip was about food. I think it goes without saying that I keep a vegan kitchen. In years, the only meat I’ve allowed in my house was during a hurricane when our family dog (rip) was staying with me (she’s the only being I’ve cooked meat for in years and years) and a neighbor shared some meat with my parents. I may have allowed some left overs in my fridge on rare occasion as well. The key word is rare.

So, what do you do when you want to play hostess for a few omnivores? I compromised and provided milk and butter for them; even though, I know the dairy industry is in bed with the veal industry and enslaves cows until they ultimately become hamburger. They didn’t ask for it, but I knew they would feel more comfortable if there were milk for their tea and butter for their toast, and most people have no concept of the cruelty behind the dairy industry. Hospitality is one of those tricky issues because when I buy animal products for others, I feel guilty. I want to avoid supporting animal abuse to the best of my ability. For me, veganism is not just a question of avoiding animal foods for health or taste, it’s a moral imperative and navigating the line between standing up for what I believe and alienating those I love is no small feat.

I remember when my fiance (then boyfriend) and I were invited for a meal at the home of a couple he knew in a professional context, we had to let them know I was vegan beforehand. They were very accommodating, as I find most people to me, but one of our hosts did bring up the point that I would probably not accommodate his diet if he were to dine in my home. I realized this was absolutely the truth but mentioned that he was not morally opposed to the consumption of  vegetables; whereas, I was to animal products. I didn’t say more because I didn’t want to offend him or spark a debate, but I do find that it’s difficult to discuss this topic at times.

Personally, I do feel uncomfortable sitting with people while they eat animal products, flesh in particular. I see the flesh for what it was, a living being not unlike Desert Dog or my best friend. I do, however, recognize that I am in the minority in abstaining and would not refuse an invitation or make a comment about meat being served. Likewise, if I host a meal or celebration, I hope people have the consciousness to understand that the menu is directly tied to my core beliefs and veering from them to make people comfortable actually makes me uncomfortable in ways that are difficult to explain. I love and am friends with a great number of people who do not share my food ethics, and that is their choice, but if I said that I didn’t care that they aren’t on board with me, then I would be dishonest.

Eid Al Adha

عيدكم مبارك

Eid Al Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) is the second major festival in the Islamic calendar. It commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son after God appeared to him in a dream. As you probably know, God spared the son, who consented to the sacrifice, and a ram was sacrificed in his place.

Today most Muslims mark the holiday by getting some new clothes, spending time with family, and sacrificing a sheep or goat (or paying someone else to do so) in the ritualistic way. A key aspect of the festival is giving thanks as evidenced by the division of the flesh into three shares: one for the family, one for neighbors, and one for the poor.  It isn’t a sacrifice in the sense of an ancient pagan sacrifice meant to appease a god; instead, it represents faith in a higher power, thanks for nourishment, and that life should not be taken in vain. As stated in the Quran:

“It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.” (Quran 22:37)

While the greater meaning of this holiday is submission to God, for obvious reasons the underlying tradition of mass slaughter sits as well with me as the mass slaughter of turkeys and pigs at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And just as Thanksgiving and Christmas have become associated with gluttony and not just feasting, Eid Al Adha seems to suffer the same fate. Last year, 1300 Qataris were hospitalized for eating too much over the first two days of the festival. I haven’t looked into post-Thanksgiving or Christmas hospitalizations, but it is no secret that people pay thanks by eating themselves unconscious and, in my opinion, overeating shows about as much reverence for life as smoking or binge drinking. Still, I digress.

I won’t write much more about Eid Al Adha because I can’t really speak authentically and don’t pretend to be an expert; however, over the past few years, I have been looking into vegan and vegetarian discussions on the issue of sacrifice. Based on what I have read, the rules of proper Islamic sacrifice are very strict and seem difficult to follow when you consider that number of animals that must be killed to meet the increasing meat consumption worldwide. Currently, I am reading a book called Animal Welfare in Islam wherein the author discusses these very issues. When I finish the book, I’ll have more to share about that. For now, I will leave you with a cartoon I found a number or years ago and some links to sites that touch on Eid Al Adha from a veg*n perspective.

1. An Islamic Perspective Against Animal Sacrifice

2. A Vegetarian Eid Ul Adha

3. Islamic Concern (includes more links)

Snacks and More

Last night, I did a quick grocery run to Carrefour for a few items for the week, and I decided that these were worth mentioning to any vegan in or heading to Doha:

  1. Cherimoya: If you’ve never tried this fruit, you should. I first tried them in the USA, and I really don’t think I would have without a recommendation because they frankly are unattractive. What I tried is a unique and difficult to compare to any other fruit.  To me, the scent and flavor of its flesh remind me of tutti frutti, pineapple and lavender. The flavor lingers on your tongue and is quite perfumed. In Doha, these are sold as custard apples. Custard is not my favorite thing, and I don’t think that name does this fruit justice at all aside from somewhat describing the texture of the flesh at its ripest. I recommend refrigerating the fruit after slicing into wedges and eat the while flesh like you would orange wedges, watching out for the black seeds. I took a photo of the fruit (with a kiwi fruit for size reference), so you know what to look for. These are not a bargain, but a real treat at 33 riyal per kilo.
  2. Karrara Authentic Indian Snacks: I have tried several of this brand of frozen snacks over the past year; however, last night was the first night I noticed a “100% Natural No MSG For Vegetarians & Vegans” label on one of their products. It is somewhat difficult to find hors d’oeuvres without MSG here, so these are worth pointing out. I looked and saw the label on other items, so either I had never noticed it, or they have updated their packaging with vegans in mind. All Karrara snacks are vegetarian, and based on what I’ve seen, about half are vegan. Last night, I bought the Amritsari Samosa. The best thing about these is that in contrast to the samosas you tend to find here, which have a very thin pastry and are very small, these are the larger, thicker pasty sort common in Indian restaurants.  I don’t know what Amritsari means, but I suspect it refers to the filling ingredients: potato, peas, ginger, red chili, green chili, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate, coriander and mixed spices (these were very spicy). The package directions are for deep frying, but I practically never deep fry because I want neither the empty calories nor the mess to clean up. I popped these in the oven at 170 degrees Celsius for about 10 minutes, and they cooked perfectly. I think these were about 14 riyal for a packet of 8 (400g).

Enjoy and if you try these, let me know what you think! Also, if you’ve come across any good vegan eats in Doha, leave a reply! If you’ve come across the blog recently and would like me to cover or investigate a vegan-related topic or product in Doha, please let me know. I’ll try to help!

This week, I’ll be heading to a new Indian restaurant with a fellow Doha blogger, so I’ll be sure to blog about that. I’m also off to Amman for the weekend, so I’ll remember to take notes about the vegan food I find there. Are you ready for photos of falafel? I hope so! Have a nice week blogosphere!

7 years

My mother passed away seven years ago today. Those who knew me then, know we had a complicated relationship, something not atypical of mothers and daughters in itself. The root of our complication stemmed entirely from her disease, but that’s not what I want to write about here.

Last year, the anniversary of my mum’s death came and went, and only about a week later did I remember. I felt incredibly guilty.  I hadn’t forgotten her, but I had moved across the world and stepped into a new phase in my life. No longer was I living where she had spent a few of the last days of her life, nor was I sitting on the couch on which she had slept. I no longer drove near the house where we lived together for 14 years or visited the grocery store we had so often shopped in together. The physical reminders were few and Doha was so so fresh and novel. My new, Doha memories didn’t and wouldn’t include her.

You might wonder why would I write about my mother on a blog about veganism. Well,  a big part of my veganism stems from what I learned from my mum. She wasn’t vegan, not even close. In fact, when I went vegan, she tried her very best to convince me otherwise. This led to my researching and reading everything I could find on veganism, so I could convince her that I would not drop dead without meat in my diet. Her plot backfired and made me all the more knowledgeable and committed, and she eventually accepted my choice like any good parent would.

At the time of her death, my mother was a staunch omnivore, and despite our philosophical differences, I don’t think I’d have this blog if it weren’t for her. She showed me that animals were living, sentient beings. She showed me how to love cats and a dog as siblings, which later made me feel no shame in loving my own dogs in the same way I love any family member. She taught me that an animal is for life and not to fill a temporary void or to be abandoned when convenient. She also taught me that regardless of species, race or religion, living beings should all be treated with respect.

As clichéd as they might sound, these lessons, and others, shape every aspect of the life I live today, and I’m constantly reminded of the links between what I believe and something my mother told me once upon a time. My mother wasn’t perfect, and I don’t even think she practiced all that she preached,  yet I wouldn’t trade her for any mother in the world. I really wish I could have told her that.

Do So Unapologetically

 

“…I’m not suggesting that you become hostile. Nor am I suggesting that you always need to be the spokesperson (you don’t). But I am suggesting — encouraging, vehemently — that you find the strength to let go of your shame, your propensity toward people-pleasing, and your fear of making the other person uncomfortable. Sometimes, they should feel uncomfortable. And  let’s face it, these fears of yours, though understandable, are somewhat ego-driven. This is not, after all, about us. It’s about the 286 chickens who die every second in the U.S., round the clock. They need us to speak up for them, to act on their behalf, and they need us to do so unapologetically.” -Jasmin Singer on being vegan via The Hen House

This blog post just really resonated with me after reading it last night. I just wanted to share it, especially since I’ve been a terrible blogger over the last couple of weeks.

Bubble Tea Has Landed!

People either love or hate bubble tea. I admit that the first time I tried the gooey, gelatinous pearls, reminiscent of frog spawn, I wasn’t a fan. In fact, I nearly choked on one. However, I have long since been a member of the bubble tea fan club (I think I have a certain T-Rex to thank for that actually). So, when one of my colleagues mentioned a bubble tea place in City Center Mall for the second time, I realized (a.) there probably was one, and (b.) I had to try it.

Which brings me to this evening during which my main task was to buy a gift, and I did do that in the end. To my delight, however, I first came across the Pearl Bubble Tea kiosk! My face lit up; I even snapped some pictures. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try tapioca in Doha (has a good ring to it, doesn’t it?), so I allowed myself to indulge. I didn’t really want too much sugar, so I ordered an unsweetened green tea with tapioca. Tapioca pearls already have a lot of calories; I remember Julie C. telling me how many at one point, and I hope she doesn’t remind me. The tea was quite good, but the tapioca was a bit too mushy. I liked that this place has two sizes. Teahouse in Houston only has a large size, and it is really too big a portion for one; although, I always feel obliged to drink it all because of the cost. I would guess my cup was 14 oz. and it cost 15 QR. I won’t be rushing back for another cup, but I’ll probably give it another try. There was strangely no ice in my cup. The tea was cold, but I really like ice in iced tea (go figure), so I’ll be sure to ask for some the next time. The menu is unfortunately not available on the website, but I did take a copy. I’ll scan it tomorrow and add it to my Eating Out links. If you do go for a bubble tea, bring a friend. I have so many great memories of enjoying bubble tea with my favorite people. It was a little sad to be there alone. When you’re drinking such a funny beverage, you shouldn’t do it alone. Invite a stranger if you must!

While I’m writing about food, I would like to mention one really yummy frozen item I’ve come across in Doha: Vegetarian Stuffed Potato Kubbe. Kubbe, a Levantine snack, is traditionally made of bulgur pastry and stuffed with meat. These, however, are pure vegetable. I love them! They are a cross between french fries, mashed potato and the inside of a samosa. Actually, if you imagine a squashed sphere-shaped samosa filled with spiced peas, carrots and onions, covered with fluffy potato, and rolled in breadcrumbs, you have an idea of what these look like. They are made by a Jordanian company called Nabil with an iffy website (perhaps in development). The ingredients of these accidentally vegan snacks are simple and straight forward: wheat flour, potato, corn, onion, carrot, peas, breadcrumbs, white pepper, salt, cumin, coriander and corn oil. They aren’t oily at all, so I think that oil may very well be placed properly in that list. The directions say either to oven cook or deep fry. Since I’m not a deep fry kinda gal, I always put them in the oven, and they turn out perfectly every time. I have seen them for sale at Carrefour and Al Meera. Nabil also sells vegetable spring rolls and spinach pies, which I don’t really like. There is also a more traditional bulgur version made with soy, but I have yet to come across it in Doha. If you find them, buy me a box and I promise I’ll pay you back. These kubbe are the ultimate comfort food that you can actually feel relatively guilt-free about.

Photo: Nabil Australia

Movie and Cupcakes

I was tired this evening and nearly forgot that I had plans to see a movie at Katara Drama Theatre (check out the photo; it’s a unique venue). I’m glad I was reminded and made it out to see Robot and Frank, hosted by the Doha Film Institute. It was such a great movie. I really enjoyed it and recommend you see it if you haven’t already. It was released during the summer in the U.S., but the rest of the world will have to wait a little longer. The basic story involves a man with dementia whose son gives him a robot to help around the house. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to spoil the story.

After we watched the movie, we went over to Red Velvet Cupcakery, and I’m pleased to report that their vegan cupcake is as good as ever. They were offering a free beverage with the purchase of a cupcake, and I had a delicious pot of rooibos vanilla. The cake and tea was the perfect combination, and quite a good deal at 18 QR.

Plant and Produce Souks, Just Falafel and Mujaddara

I was looking forward to Friday morning all week, and it did not disappoint! Bright and early, I met my friends Patrick and Annie for our excursion to the wholesale market area of Doha. We were specifically headed to the veggie and fruit souks. I am slightly irritated with myself in that while I had every intention of taking photos at the markets, I totally forgot to! I was just too distracted by the pretty colors I guess. It was like a trip to a candy store!

We started our day at a couple of plant markets. I was looking for pots and Patrick, for rocks. The pots were easy to find, but the rocks were less so. In fact, even after an English to Arabic translation of rocks (الصخور) on my trusty Samsung, we only came across big ones and decided we would just scavenge some from this land of rock and sand at a later date. I found my pots, and in-between some of the thousands of plants came across this cute guy napping. You can see where my priorities are in terms of photography!

The plant souk is a great place to find pretty much any gardening material, and the plants are much cheaper than those in the supermarkets. I saw a lot of house and landscaping plants and few edibles, but that could be due to the time of year. Since I am creating an indoor herb garden, I didn’t buy any plants yesterday, but I will head back there at another time to have a better look around.

After the plant souk, we headed to the drive-through souk, which as you guessed does not necessarily require that you exit your car. We bought a couple of watermelons (2.50 QR per kilo), so we got out to choose them. This souk was a mishmash of dates, honey, fruit, veg, plants and various household items. It can best be described as including a bit of everything for the ultimate in lazy shopping, the drive-through supermarket of souks.

Next up, we parked the car, grabbed our reusable shopping bags and headed into the very busy market area. I scurried through after Patrick, who is seasoned in souk shopping in Doha, and marveled just how many people were up shopping on a Friday morning. The area where I live, in contrast, is deserted on Friday mornings. The vendors were very persistent, as were the men whose job it is to carry your purchases in wheel barrows. I was a bit confused as to how they wanted to help, as I had bought nothing at that point and later, when my bag was overflowing, they were out of sight.

We went to a vendor that Patrick frequents, and there I found the freshest looking lettuce I’ve seen yet in Doha and at 5 QR per kilo! If you recall, I paid close to 20 QR per kilo at Carrefour last week! I also got some spring onions for 2 QR a bunch, and when I asked how much for some ginger root, I was told it was a gift–score! Annie and I left Patrick at this point to head to the fruit stands. She was after sweet, blood oranges, and I wanted some figs. I love figs, and they’re in season right now. I bought two trays of figs for 28 QR (after a wee bit of bargaining down from 30). I also got a very sweet melon, which we taste-tested, for 6 QR per kilo and some yummy mandarin oranges for 12 QR per kilo. After Annie and I paid for our fruit, we went to look for Patrick who was buying some grapes. I remembered I was nearly out of bananas and bought a kilo for 5 QR and some grapefruit at the same price (although I talked the vendor down 1 QR).

After the markets, we set out on a hunt for a new veggie joint in town, Just Falafel. I first tried Just Falafel at Taj Mall in Amman, Jordan, and when I heard it opened in Doha over Ramadan, I put it on my must visit list. Eventually, after much driving around and poor directions from the store itself, we found it. I tried the Indian, which was like a regular falafel sandwich but with a very spicy chutney in place of the tahini. It was delicious. I also gave the baked falafel a shot, but I wasn’t very impressed. I have baked falafel at home with success, but it takes some time in the oven to achieve the crunchy outside that falafel is known for. I guess this just isn’t really conducive to a fast food joint, so I’ll stick to the traditional fried version in the future. We also tried the jalapeno pepper favored hummus, which was the best I’ve had in Doha so far. When I got home, I  added the restaurant and markets to my Google Map. Check it out:

After an afternoon nap, I woke up to prepare some food to take to a potluck 40th birthday party. I decided to make my own version of Mujaddara, a rice and lentil dish. Mujaddara is a really simple dish to make. I made a huge amount and it was gobbled up within minutes. Here’s a recipe for 2 to 4 (main or side dish).

Mujaddara

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of brown lentils (unsoaked)
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 1 veggie stock cube
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 large onion, julienned
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into rounds
  • 1 yellow zuchinni shredded
  • 2 tablespoons oil (can be replaced with water)
  • 2 1/2 cups water

Method: In a large saucepan, dissolve the stock cube in one cup of boiling water. Add the lentils, 1 T oil, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. While the lentils are cooking, saute the onions until transparent with slight browning; remove them from heat and put aside. Steam the zucchini and pepper until tender and remove from heat. Test a lentil or two; they should be al-dente before you proceed.

Next, add the all spice to the lentils (add additional cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes for a kick) and stir before adding the rice, carrots, peas and remaining water. Stir well and continue to simmer the mixture on low for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Keep an eye on the pan and add more water (1/4 c by 1/4 c) if it looks dry. When the rice is cooked, spoon the mixture onto a platter (or individual plates) and garnish evenly with the onions, zucchini and pepper. Enjoy!

Yummy Green Smoothies

A healthful drink that I notice has been getting really popular of late is the green smoothie. Now, I’ve been receiving weird looks over my pond-scum looking smoothies for 10 years now and even weirder looks when they end up brown (adding any berries will have this effect). There was a time when I’d drink a green smoothie every day and felt better for it; nowadays, I have one a couple of times per week, but I’m trying to increase the frequency.

Green smoothies are green because they contain leafy greens. You can add just about any green (lettuce, spinach, kale, bok choy) for a nutrient-dense kick. You can think of a green smoothie as part dessert, part salad with the benefit of optimal absorbancy of nutrients due to the total breakdown of the cellular wall of the ingredients. While chewing is an important exercise for our jaws and we shouldn’t drink all our food, we can never chew as well as an electric blender, so smoothies are a good option, particularly if you are in a hurry.

Some people put mostly greens and vegetables in their smoothies; others put fruit with some added greens. I tend to aim for more than 30% greens, but my recipes are never an exact science and depend largely on what I have in the fridge. Adding greens to any smoothie doesn’t mask the taste of the fruit, but it does mean that your smoothie will be far less sweet than you are used to if you are used to 100% fruit smoothies. For this reason, many people gradually increase greens over time, starting with a single cup, moving up to two cups and so on until they include a whole head of lettuce or bunch of spinach.

Since I started drinking green smoothies, spinach was my main ingredient. I love spinach and the fact that it’s high in iron and protein; it also doesn’t has a strong taste and is nearly undetectable even in large quantities when added to your drink. In Doha, romaine lettuce is my green of choice because its quality is generally better when compared to the spinach I find. Sometimes I find a good-looking box of baby spinach, but more often than not, a good portion of the pack already has rotting leaves.

I encourage you to try out green smoothies if you don’t like salad (What’s wrong with you? Ok, I’m a salad lover as I’ve said before). But if you are one of those people who really can’t stand salad, you can still get your raw greens in without having to chew for an hour. Give it a try. Here is the simple recipe for the smoothie I had this morning. Adjust your fruit to green ratio if you are a first timer.

Pawpawana Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 2 small bananas, broken into pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped papaya (AKA Pawpaw)
  • 1 small orange, peeled and chopped in four
  • 1 small head of romaine, chopped
  • 1 cup cold water

Method:

Pour the water into the blender, add the bananas and orange, and blend until creamy. Next, add the papaya and do the same. Finally, large handful by large handful, blend the lettuce into the smoothie until very finely chopped. Pour into your favorite glass and enjoy. Yields 5 cups.

NB: Many websites will tell you that you need a fancy $500 blender to make green smoothies. This simply isn’t true. I’ve never spent more that $70 on a blender, and I’ve been able to make smoothie after smoothie without burning out the motor. The trick is to pre-chop, add 1/2 to 1 cup of water, and add your ingredients gradually. You don’t need a high-powered blender to make great smoothies.