Teff luck: Rahel's Millennium Special

Teff luck: Rahel’s Millennium Special

To those whose approach to vegetarianism presupposes the endless re-creation of flesh foods through tofu, tempeh, textured soy protein, and gluten, we would like to propose an alternative: the time-tested recipes of traditional cuisines. Consider, for example, the stellar example of Ethiopian restaurants, where vegan options, far from being concessions to virtue, are typically a riot of color and flavor, and highly nutritious to boot. Los Angeles is especially fortunate to have its own Little Ethiopia, a block-long strip of restaurants wedged between San Vicente and Olympic, and though we suspect you can do well at any of the dozen or so establishments, your best bet may be Rahel (1047 S. Fairfax Ave.), a vegan but still largely traditional eatery that offers the added enticement of an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet every day from 11 to 3. We began with fresh mango juice, a thick, creamy, refreshing drink, with a natural sweetness cut by a subtle acidity. Then it was on to the cabbage stews, one pink and slightly sweet from tomatoes, the other yellow and savory, with carrots. For more yellow on the plate, there was a split pea stew, hearty like a dense, delicious soup. For a splash of green, we had simple, savory kale, with a pleasingly mild bitterness; wonderful whole green lentils; and tender string beans mixed with spiced-up carrots for a little heat. To add a burst of bright red to our plates, there was a mashed lentil stew powered by berbere, a classic Ethiopian spice mixture. Though this was the hottest item, it was far from incendiary; we could still taste the lentils under the chili powder. Among the cold items was a creamy sweet potato salad mixed with small strips of red onion for a little extra bite. All of these simple but elegant delicacies could be picked up with injera, a tangy teff-based sourdough flatbread that traditional Ethiopian cuisine uses in lieu of utensils (forks are also available). For dessert we had a raw blueberry cheesecake made with coconut, almonds, and cashews, with a nutty crust, a creamy center, and a blueberry-sorbet frosting—not exactly traditional, we admit, but tasty nonetheless. We washed this down with a bracing shot of Ethiopian coffee and left with an energized afterglow, pondering how much healthier and happier vegetarians (and non-vegetarians) would be eating food that is more like this and less like made-over McDonald’s.