We are obviously crazy about vegan food at Inhabitots -- and we enjoy spreading the word that a plant-based diet is delicious, healthy, and inspired all at the same time. Adam Sobel of Cinnamon Snail, one of the most popular and oft-awarded food trucks around, has made it his mission to bring people together with unbelievably tasty, meat-free food. Sobel began his transition to plant-based living a few decades ago, eventually becoming vegan the day his daughter, now 14, was born. His concoctions, including decadent donuts, stuffed-to-the-gills sandwiches with far-flung spices and flavors, and custom cakes and catering, have won over omnivores and vegans alike since Cinnamon Snail was created in 2010. Sobel continues to earn much acclaim for his culinary prowess as well as for his kindness (donating free meals to victims of Hurricane Sandy and raising awareness about the importance of going veg, for example). Cinnamon Snail now has a brick and mortar home in Manhattan as well as a traveling food truck that hits the streets and farmer's markets of New York and New Jersey, so getting your fix is easier than ever -- and Sobel also wrote a cookbook so you can create his delicious dishes at home. We checked in with Sobel recently to ask him about his influences, how vegan food is becoming more and more mainstream, and his family's favorite home-cooked meals. Read on for his answers (which provide plenty of food for thought) as well as for a peek at some of Cinnamon Snail's droolworthy offerings.
Inhabitots: Has your clientele changed over the years? Did it take people a while to warm up to the concept of vegan street food? How do you entice non-vegans or non-vegetarians to give Cinnamon Snail a try?
Sobel: I think when people see a line down the block and see a big display case full of extra tempting donuts and pastries, people just get really excited, whether they realize the food is vegan or not. A lot has changed over the last six to seven years that we have been in operation. More and more mainstream people are experimenting with meatless Mondays, or eating more plant-based food as a part of their varied diet. There is a lot less of a cultural stigma against vegan cuisine now than there was when we started. I like to think we had some small hand in helping shape the mainstream culture’s idea of vegan food, but maybe that’s taking it too far.
Inhabitots: When you first began selling from the truck, did you specifically chose parts of the city where you knew there would likely be a hungry vegan audience?
Sobel: I have always been sensitive not to encroach upon another established vegan restaurant, but mainly I chose locations where, whether there was a vegan option or not in the area, a lot of people would be especially excited about a once-a-week appearance of a delicious food experience that “just happened” to not harm animals.
Inhabitots: What are some of your go-to family meals for busy days?
Sobel: We eat a lot of “bowls” in our home as a nice well rounded easy meal. Usually brown rice, black beans, marinated or sautéed greens, and then tofu or tempeh with a couple yummy sauces and dressings in the mix. If you are extra lazy, find a good hot sauce to become addicted to, and it makes throwing a meal like that together super easy.
Being as my wife and I do a ton of yoga, eating a partially raw diet agrees with us, so we eat tons of salads, smoothies, and home made nut milks, some of which ended up in my cookbook Street Vegan. Since we have kids, tacos, burritos, vegan southern food, and vegan Thai meals end up happening a lot in our house.
Inhabitots: What are some of the recipes your daughters loved as young kids?
Sobel: My daughters are now 14 and 7. My younger daughter is a bean burrito addict, which we end up loading up with thinly sliced kale, avocado, flax oil, and refried beans. Both my kids have eaten some form of raw dark leafy green vegetable daily since they started eating. I sneak greens into everything!
My kids’ favorite meals include: kasha and fried onion blintzes with apple sauce and tofu sour cream, blueberry waffles (which I usually make gluten free using more nourishing flours), kimchi dumplings, and home made dim sum. I make a lot of fancy entrée stuff for my kids that probably a lot of other kids would be too fussy to want to eat and the parents would not want to have to deal with preparing! My older daughter makes pancakes at least once a week, and she also makes tofu buffalo wings a lot, since she is sorta a hot sauce fiend.
Inhabitots: What do you always have on hand at home in your fridge/in your pantry?
Sobel: Umeboshi plum vinegar, hempseeds, cashews, good quality extra virgin olive oil, nutritional yeast, kale, and lots of different kinds of dried chilies.
Inhabitots: Vegan food can run the gamut from super healthy to total sugar-loaded “junk?” How do you create balance in your menu and in your own life?
Sobel: My belief is that if you have to get someone to eat something fried for them to also willingly enjoy eating raw dark greens, then it’s an acceptable sacrifice. I never eat or serve highly processed food, but that doesn’t mean everything I eat or serve is necessarily health food. To me, getting the world to gravitate towards humane compassionate eating is more important than the eating being for optimal health (though that would be nice too). Not everyone aspires to be a super fit yogi. Some people just want a super decadent ice-cream sundae or burger that doesn’t happen to harm any other creatures, and how can you argue with that?
Inhabitots: Your grandmother and her cooking skills obviously had a big impact on you. What are the lessons about food and cooking that you hope to have shared/continue to share with your own family as well as with the people who eat from your food truck?
Sobel: I hope to encourage people through food to care more for one another. Food is just the most unavoidable action we all participate in, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. By becoming more kind to animals, farmers and the planet through compassionate food choices, hopefully people will start examining other areas of their life in which they could evolve more towards peace.
Inhabitots: For someone transitioning to veganism or simply wanting to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet, what have you found to be the most helpful resources?
Sobel: There are two important resources for someone transitioning to a vegan diet. First, they have to have access to absolutely yummy vegan food, to the point where its at least just as good tasting and satisfying to them as eating animal products. They also need to be aware of the level of suffering that eating a non-vegan diet causes to living creatures. Once you are free of the excuse that the food might not be as good if you went vegan, it’s very hard to justify to yourself continuing to participate in a diet that causes so much pain and misery to other living creatures. That’s exactly why we work hard to make amazing donuts. It’s not because we really want people eating deep fried dough, but if people realize, “Hey, this donut is just as good or better than the one made with factory farmed eggs and dairy in it” then it’s easy to enjoy the same kind of food that makes people happy, and simultaneously doesn’t hurt anyone else.
Kasha and Fried Onion Blintzes
Recipe reprinted from Street Vegan: Recipes and Dispatches from the Cinnamon Snail Food Truck. Copyright © 2015 by Adam Sobel. Photos by Kate Lewis. Property of Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.”
This is probably my family’s favorite breakfast that I make at home, and possibly the yummiest thing I can make. This is exactly how my nana would want me to cook this up, and I think of her every time I make them. Of course, you don’t have to flip your crepes by hand as my grandmother taught me to do, and if you don’t have Teflon fingertips, you probably shouldn’t. To flip the crepes, using a very thin metal spatula, make sure the crepe is fully detached from the bottom of the pan before flipping.
No matter how you flip them, these blintzes are delicious with a big dollop of the vegan sour cream on top, as well as a spoonful or two of my Perfect Homemade Applesauce (recipe follows).
Makes 4 blintzes with all the fixin’s
For the dilly tofu sour cream:
- ½ block extra-firm tofu, crumbled (about 1¼ cups crumbled)
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons umeboshi plum vinegar
- 4 teaspoons evaporated cane juice
- 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh dill
For the crepes:
- 1¼ cups unsweetened soy milk
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons evaporated cane juice
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 cups baby greens of your choice (optional; for serving)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional; for garnish)
For the kasha and fried onion filling:
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ²?³ cup kasha (toasted buckwheat groats)
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
1. Make the sour cream.
Add the tofu, both vinegars, evaporated cane juice, coconut oil, and caraway seeds (if using) to a high-speed blender. Blend on high for 60 seconds to produce a very smooth cream. Pulse in the fresh dill to evenly incorporate. Chill the sour cream for at least 30 minutes, to achieve a slightly richer consistency. (This can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
2. Make the crepe batter.
In a small bowl, whisk together the soy milk, vinegar, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and the evaporated cane juice. Whisk in the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Allow the batter to sit for 10 minutes, so that the flour becomes fully hydrated.
3. Cook the crepes.
Heat a crepe pan or very shallow frying pan over medium-low heat. Melt about 1½ teaspoons of the coconut oil in the pan. Pour about ¼ cup of batter into the pan, and tilt the pan around to spread the batter out as thin as possible, covering as large a surface as possible. Allow the crepe to cook for about 3 minutes, until the top shows bubbles throughout and is partially dry. Work a very thin metal spatula around the perimeter of the crepe, to fully loosen it from the pan. When the crepe is completely detached, flip it and cook the other side for only about 1 minute, just to seal the batter. Transfer the crepe to a covered plate or pie pan, and repeat with the rest of the batter, adding more coconut oil as you make each crepe.
4. Make the filling.
Toast the garlic and kasha in a frying pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the salt, pepper, and thyme. Pour 1 cup water into the pan, and cover the pan. After a minute or so, lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 7 minutes to allow to the kasha to cook until tender.
5. Cook the onions.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a separate pan over high heat. Once the oil is hot, cook the onions for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown. Scrape the onions and any remaining oil into the pan with the kasha, and fluff together with a fork.
6. Fill the crepes.
Lay each crepe flat out on a cutting board. Place about ¼ cup of the kasha filling in the center of each crepe. Roll each crepe up like a burrito, tucking in all sides so that no filling can escape. When all the blintzes are formed, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Carefully place all the blintzes into the pan, with the seams placed down onto the pan. Allow the blintzes to fry and brown longer on this first side to help seal them, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully roll each blintz one quarter of the way around to fry one side, and continue frying and turning every 2 minutes until all surfaces are well browned.
7. Plate, garnish, and serve.
Plate the blintzes over a bed of the baby greens, if using, and top with a dollop of the cool sour cream. Garnish the blintzes with the chopped parsley, if desired.
Bonus Recipe: PERFECT HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE
Makes about 2 cups
To make perfect applesauce, you need only two things: a food mill and great apples. Opt for a crisp local apple that has a strong balance of sweet and tart. I prefer Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or Pink Lady apples for applesauce. My mother uses Empire, which produce a beautiful pink applesauce from the color of the skins. Empire and Honeycrisp aren’t too easy to come by, though, so pick your favorite or a combination of varieties.
- 5 apples of your choice
- Dash of pure maple syrup or pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)
Quarter the apples, leaving the stem and seeds in. Place the cut apples and 2 tablespoons water into a large pot over medium heat and cover. Heat the mixture over a medium flame for about 8 minutes until it is actively steaming, then lower the heat to a simmer and allow the apples to steam for 10 minutes. Place a food mill over a bowl and dump the apples and any remaining liquid into it. Grind the apples through the food mill and taste; if you desire, you can add a tiny dash of maple syrup or a pinch of cinnamon. You can store the applesauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. I like to warm it up before serving it, and add a dash of cinnamon on top.
All images via Cinnamon Snail’s Instagram except the lead photo of Adam, recipe photo, and book cover photo © Kate Lewis, Reprinted from Street Vegan: Recipes and Dispatches from the Cinnamon Snail Food Truck. Copyright © 2015 by Adam Sobel. Photos by Kate Lewis. Property of Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.”