Vegetarian Ottawa: Hillary Lutes visits Green Earth

Ottawa's Green Earth

Hillary Lutes is an inherently cheap vegetarian journalist-in-training at Carleton. She consumes copious amounts of coffee and chocolate to fuel her writing endeavors and public-transit trips across the city.

On paper, I am the perfect hippie.

Local Tourist Hillary Lutes

A vegetarian for nearly five years, I practice hot yoga religiously, ride my bike to campus, and even work at a health food store. In reality though, I am a full-time, super-cheap student with a disdain for eating things that once had a pulse. But don’t get me wrong – I’m no holier-than-thou, granola-munching Birkenstock-wearer. Heck, I don’t even particularly like carrots.

My vegetarianism started with a concern for the environment. I read statistics comparing the amount of land and resources needed for an animal-based diet versus a plant-based diet. In my mind, rainforests were bulldozed while Ronald McDonald looked on and chuckled.

I consider myself a strict vegetarian: I don’t eat red meat, poultry, or fish. Also on the no-no list is gelatin, created by boiling hoofs and bones, used in many chewy candies and yogurts. I do eat eggs and dairy, which makes me an octo-lovo vegetarian.

Now, since I am admittedly the cheapest of the cheap (hey, student life), I’m by no means an expert on vegetarian cuisine in the capital. Most days, I carry enough food in my purse to sustain me for a week. But since the weather is nice and my schedule is a (little) bit more open, I’m making it my mission to meet more veggies and acquaint myself with mouth-watering meatless dishes and a variety of patios across the city (brews and sangria are definitely vegetarian).

Inside Green Earth (photo credit: greenearthveggie.com)

My first foray into Ottawa’s vegetarian scene was at Green Earth on Preston Street for the lunch buffet – for $10, the price was right to binge on tasty veggie food. Although the restaurant describes itself as “vegetarian cuisine”, the menu is actually fully vegan.

Fresh fruit and salad from Ottawa's Green Earth

With a choice of white or brown rice, salad, soup and a number of main dishes, there was a lot of variety. The rice was sticky and perfect to combine with the mix of dishes I piled high on my plate.

My favourite was deep-fried cauliflower, something I’d never had before. It looked like Chinese food chicken balls, with a crispy shell and a surprisingly creamy center. I didn’t particularly enjoy the chow mein, which was mostly noodles (a bit dry) and sparse vegetables. There were also large hunks of very bland tofu thrown in, which took away from the dish.

A heaping pile of vegetarian goodness from Ottawa's Green Earth

The one dish I found downright weird was the mushrooms: they were cooked in a sauce that resembled and tasted like loose-leaf tea. It had a distinctly floral flavour with a spicy aftertaste. I enjoyed the soup, which had a rich combination of tofu and vegetables in an oily, peppery broth. I don’t know what kind it was, and neither did the server. The salad was hearty, with a generous combination of mixed greens and sprouts with a sesame dressing.

I found overall that the food could have been warmer: you choose your meal from the open buffet trays, which lose heat fairly quickly.

The buffet at Ottawa's Green Earth

Green Earth’s regular menu is heavy with soy protein and tofu instead of meat. As a general rule, I’m not big on fake meat, so I would ask for a vegetable substitute.

I had actually stopped in at Green Earth to pick up a snack on my way to class the night before and tried chocolate vegan cheesecake for the first time. I was astounded. It was delicious. I didn’t know soybean curd could taste so creamy, chocolately and cheesecake-like. As frugal as I am, I shelled out $4.50 for a slice of tofu cake – but it was worth it.

Creamy, delicious "cheese cake" from Ottawa's Green Earth

Even if you’re an animal-eater, I recommend a meatless meal every once in a while. And if you have it at one of Ottawa’s veggie-friendly restaurants, bonus!

Up next: I will be giving Ethiopian cuisine a taste test at Horn of Africa. The Ethiopian diet is traditionally very vegetarian friendly, plus you get to eat with your hands!

Thanks for joining our roster of Local Tourists Hillary! We’re sure our vegetarian audience is as happy to have you as we are!