It happened. My home town surprised me. On a recent visit to spend time with my parents I met friends in Cleveland for a too-brief reunion and a tour of the city. It was an uncharacteristically clear day for the North Coast. Neighborhoods were bustling with shoppers, window boxes overflowed with flowers, birds chattered from deep green and leafy trees; families had set up picnics all along the waterfront. The city was looking a lot more like a jewel at the edge of the sparkling waters of Lake Erie than a rusted and broken down Mistake on the Lake. What may have colored my perception – besides spending time with two really fantastic people – was some unexpected vegan-friendliness in Kielbasa Central.
We spent most of our visit in Ohio City, strolling through the packed (with people, meat, breads, spices, sweets, fruits, and veggies) West Side Market – and then stopped into a nearby cafe for coffee, and fresh kale and apple juice. My friends wanted to take a close look at the lake so after a very convoluted tour past Terminal City Center, the old May Company building (site of my first “real” job), Public Square and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we stopped at Edgewater Park to walk out on the pier.
After sufficient sun-burning, we realized it was way past lunch time and since we were close and it was a place I’d been wanting to try, we headed to the vegan-friendly (read: Daiya cheese) Melt in Lakewood. Unfortunately, there was a 45-minute wait, so we decided to hit choice number two, a tiny place on the West Side called Orale! Contemporary Mexican Cuisine, another eatery that welcomes us plant-eaters. We knew we were off to a good experience when some friendly diners shared a couple of bottles of Dogfish Head Festina Peche with us (it’s a BYOB joint). Then the waitress set down a beautiful flight of different salsas and a basket of warm tortilla chips and we all ordered the roasted vegetable torta on chipotle buns. The sandwich was delicious, but it was the bread that blew me away: soft and thick with the perfect amount of spicy heat. I knew I’d be making a version in my own kitchen.
The day only got better, however, because situated right next door to Orale! was Maggie’s Vegan Bakery. According to the waitress at Orale! it was a rare day indeed to catch the bakery open and she urged us to head over. When we walked in, Maggie herself was pulling hot baked goods out of the oven and the stainless steel tables behind the counter were covered in trays and trays of cupcakes waiting for frosting. Showing no discipline, I ordered a (giant) lime-coconut cupcake, an “everything” cookie, and an unfrosted chocolate cupcake. Both of the cupcakes were still warm and all three baked goods were outstanding. (Incidentally, Maggie’s is closing its doors soon and will only be offering baked goods online.)
I’ve always been proud of Cleveland – even when it was at its worse. The people of this city possess a lot of good humor, strength, and heart. Never-ending snow-buried winters, Dennis Kucinich, gray skies, The Browns, and outdated jokes about burning rivers will endow a person with those virtues. Still, at times I feel a little cynical about my hometown so it was gratifying to see it looking so good (especially in light of what’s happening in its cousin city, Detroit) – and to be happily surprised at some very positive changes.
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 cup boiling water (reserving 3/4 cup of the liquid)
- 2 tsp. instant yeast
- 1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal + 3 tbsp. water (whisk together and let sit for a few minutes)
- 1 Tbsp. chipotle chile peppers in adobo
- 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp. chipotle chile powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/4 cups bread flour
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and prepare a large bowl by spraying it lightly with cooking oil. Set aside.
- Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let sit for about 15 minutes or until softened. Drain the tomatoes but reserve 3/4 cup of the liquid.
- In a food processor, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, the soaking liquid, yeast, flaxseed mixture, 1 tbsp. chipotle in adobo, the smoked paprika, chipotle chile powder, and the salt. Process until very smooth.
- Scrape this mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer, and then add the remaining ingredients. Using the dough hook knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adjusting so that it's not too dry nor too wet. The dough should feel slightly sticky.
- Place the dough in the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for about 90 minutes. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 pieces (they should weigh about 4 oz. each), roll them into balls, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Gently press the buns down. Cover with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and let rise for about another hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375-degrees F. When the buns have nearly doubled in size, bake them for about 20 minutes, or until crusty and a deep reddish brown. Let cool completely before slicing.