I HAVEN’T eaten Dinuguan (Pork Blood Stew) for the longest time. I’ve tried it, yes, but it was ages ago, when I was young and didn’t know any better. No offense meant for Dinuguan eaters, but I have refrained from eating red meat for decades now (although I do take a bite or two if I absolutely must, such as when I’m judging in a culinary competition and need to taste each entry to give a fair score to all contestants), and that includes blood, innards, tripe and other related stuff.
Last Monday (May 19, 2014), I did eat Dinuguan, but I didn’t feel any guilt because it was vegetarian dinuguan I ‘devoured.’ I finished the entire bowl of Dinuguan, a rich black stew teeming with black mushrooms, roughly chopped puso ng saging (banana blossoms) and diced soybean curd, served with puto (steamed rice cakes). Black, hair-like seaweed was used to blacken the stew, and, seasoned with vinegar and other meat-free condiments, the vegetarian dinuguan tasted really good.
The vegetarian Dinuguan actually formed part of the Meatless Monday menu being offered by Harina Artisan Bakery Café along Katipunan Ave., White Plains, Quezon City. The menu is so new that Harina, which is best known for its flavored Breadsticks and excellent line of artisan breads, has no signages yet to inform diners that Mondays are meatless days in the restaurant. Yet nobody’s complaining. Diners, who are handed a special Meatless Monday menu when they dine in on Mondays, happily order from the menu, and word of mouth – which has been spreading this early – hasattracted vegetarians to come in and try the healthy vegetarian choices available every Monday.
Harina’s Meatless Monday campaign is based on the international Meatless Monday campaign. Although Harina is not connected in any way to the proponents of the international campaign, it shares its aim to encourage people to not eat meat at least once a week to improve their health and help the environment, so it decided to adapt the name for its own campaign and choose Mondays as the meatless day of the week. Besides, Monday marks the start of the week so it presents itself as the best day of the week to rally people to begin something new and good.
The idea to offer a vegetarian menu at least once a week came from Harina owner, Atty. Marina Demeterio, who turned to a plant-based diet due to personal health concerns.
“Being vegetarian for a day every week is a good start. We also want people to change their mindset on vegetarian food. It can be as delicious or even more palatable than your regular food. Making delicious vegetarian food readily available is our contribution to human health and the environment,” Marina explains.
For Harina’s Meatless Monday menu, Marina collaborated with vegetarian friends Sally Yunez and Judy Lao. Judy and Sally’s husband Henry have been vegetarians for 12 years, while Sally has turned vegetarian four years ago. The dishes featured in the Meatless Monday menu are mostly products of these happy vegetarians’ experiments at home.
Harina’s Meatless Monday menu offers limited choices of soups, appetizers, pasta, main dishes, desserts and beverages, but the selections have been carefully thought of so much so that they satisfy not just the curiosity of diners but also their cravings.
For appetizers, the choices are Red Planet (Php180), a thick slice of warm watermelon, topped with cheese, arugula and crushed walnuts or pinenuts, drizzled with balsamic glaze; Melon Cherry Salad (Php160), a refreshing mix of melon cubes and crunchy celery with sour cream-yogurt dressing; and Bruschetta Platter (Php310), six slices of toasted baguette presented three ways – avocado, asparagus and arugula; herbed tomatoes; and sliced mushrooms with cheese.
Red Planet is a surprising and satisfying discovery. I never knew watermelon tastes good when served warm with melted cheese, arugula and crushed nuts on top. Even a certified meat eater like Businessworld’s Joseph Garcia, who joined the intimate group of media diners at Harina last Monday (May 19, 2014), enjoyed Red Planet immensely and finished his thick slice of watermelon.
For soup, there are two choices: Lentil Soup (Php120), a sumptuous broth with fresh vegetables and lentils; and Pochero Soup (Php120), alight and sweet broth with plantains, tomatoes and pechay.
Pasta lovers will find the lone entry in the pasta category, Porcini Mushroom Linguini (Php200), quite interesting and filling as a one-dish meal. It’s linguini aglio e olio with fresh porcini mushrooms, topped with Parmesan cheese.
The three main course selections are all good: Kimchi Fried Rice with BBQ (Php250), a generous amount of kimchi rice served with barbecued beancurd skin and grilled bell pepper; Arroz Cubana (Php230), a savory mix of potatoes, carrots and soy protein served with fried egg, plantains and steamed rice; and Dinuguan (Php230), which can be served with either two pieces of puto or steamed rice.
My personal favorite, of course, is the Dinuguan. It’s the only delicious, guilt-free dinuguan that I will allow myself to eat.
Finally, for dessert, which I believe is the best part of the meal, there’s Cocoro Chocolate Cake (Php850 per whole cake and Php125 per slice), a bittersweet chocolate cake made from 72% couverture dark chocolate and premium coconut sugar; and Apple Crumble (Php750 per big tray and Php375 per small tray), which is tangy Fuji and Granny Smith apples with cinnamon over sweet crust, topped with streusel and chopped walnuts.
To wash down the meal with, Harina’s Meatless Monday menu offers two choices of beverages – Green Electrolyte (Php150), a refreshing concoction of cucumber, lemon and lime; and Red Electrolyte (Php150), a thirst-quenching mix of fresh apple and watermelon juice.
“With our Meatless Monday campaign, people will be able to see – and taste – that there’s more to vegetarian food than just Adobong Kangkong and Nilagang Kamote. In general, what we are presenting in Harina is real food, what food should really be – all natural and handled responsibly, which means no artificial flavorings, no preservatives, no modified ingredients. As much as possible, we stay true to the product’s nature. We want to present it the way nature wanted it to be,” says Marina.
She adds: “We’re working on a lot more dishes. We will be rolling them out slowly to keep clients excited. Watch for more vegetarian dishes from different cuisines.”
(Harina Artisan Bakery Café is located at 118 Katipunan Ave., White Plains, Quezon City; with telephone number 352-6721.)