Your guide to plant-based dining in Madison

Boost your meals with more vegetables through a plant-based diet.
A spread of plant-based dishes from Maharani Indian Restaurant
A spread of plant-based dishes from Maharani Indian Restaurant (February 2021)
Photo by Larry Chua

Alongside vegetarian and vegan diets is a concept called “plant-based” eating. Lexie Palmer, aka @thehealthyavo on Instagram, says eating plant-based means incorporating lots of veggies and grains into her diet while avoiding packaged foods. Palmer has been eating plant-based for two years and started her Instagram account in September 2019 after starting on a healthier path.

“Plant-based is a lot less strict than being straight vegan,” Palmer says. “You can still be a vegan and still eat unhealthy, so to me plant-based is just eating what comes from the earth.”

According to a 2020 article from Healthline, the difference between eating plant-based and vegan lies in the decision to eat meat, seafood, eggs and dairy. Plant-based indicates a diet largely composed of plant foods whereas vegan could extend beyond food into clothing and personal care purchases. A Harvard Health blog post further explains that plant-based doesn’t mean that you never eat meat or dairy; it’s an increased focus on eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans and oils.

Palmer largely avoids meat, but she will eat fish from time to time as long as it has the best quality and sourcing. She was vegan for a six-month period, but it didn’t agree with her body. She says being plant-based focuses more on the ingredients versus making sure it’s vegan. In her definition of plant-based, packaged foods are out.

spread of dishes created by Lexi

Lexie Palmer shares plant-based recipes on her Instagram, @thehealthyavo. Some of her recipes include (top row then right) poke salad; blueberry mini waffles topped with yogurt and blueberries; the beet berry smoothie bowl; the cookie monster smoothie and (bottom row then right) pumpkin spiced cookies; oatmeal made with oats and riced cauliflower; gingerbread loaf. (Photos courtesy of Lexie Palmer)

Palmer creates and shares her own plant-based recipes on Instagram and the majority are breakfast foods.

“I’m a huge foodie, always have been,” Palmer says. “Any recipe I loved before being plant-based, gluten free, [I just try] to make it healthier and something I enjoy and doesn’t hurt my stomach.”

She says going plant-based can be easy if you start slowly and make swaps like switching to almond milk instead of cow’s milk. In Madison, she finds that so many places have plant-based options — like her favorites, Everly, Eno Vino, Bloom Bake Shop and Bar Corallini — but when you cook from home, the options are endless.

A Sweet Fix

doughnuts from Level 5 Donuts

Courtesy of Level 5 Donuts

While Bloom Bake Shop is not strictly vegan, its team delivers delectable vegan pastries and cakes. Anytime you look in the pastry case, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find both vegan and gluten-free goodies. Offerings change frequently, but past plant-based treats include cinnamon rolls, lemon blueberry scones and banana chocolate chip streusel coffee cake. 1851 Monroe St.

You can find Heirloom Bakery & Kitchen’s scones at Ledger Coffee Roasters, but the bakery specializes in custom orders. Baker Mickey Walker creates beautiful vegan cakes using as many organic ingredients as possible, with decorations derived from vegetables and fruits. If cakes aren’t for you, Walker bakes pecan rolls, cookies and tarts with fresh fruit. Instagram: @heirloombakeryandkitchen

Level 5 Donuts is 100% vegan and all about doughnuts. The pop-up-based business is working to secure a brick-and-mortar storefront, but luckily for us, they are available for pickup at Ledger Coffee Roasters Thursdays through Sundays. Level 5 also offers custom doughnut boxes with flavors like churro, Oreo and cherry almond.

When vegan actress and social media star Tabitha Brown puts her stamp of approval on a bakery, you know it’s worth checking out. LushLife Vegan Bakery is based in Madison but ships nationally. Treat yourself to a full cake, and if your loved ones are lucky, you might share a couple slices.

Veggie Havens

A spread of plant-based dishes from Maharani Indian Restaurant

Photo by Larry Chua

Photo by Larry Chua

If you’re nervous or not too excited about eating more vegetables, a great place to start is with Indian cuisine. Madison is home to many Indian restaurants with expansive vegetarian offerings. Eggplant, cauliflower, paneer (a fresh cheese), chickpeas, lentils and potatoes are staples in Indian dishes.

There are more than 30 vegetarian offerings at Maharani Indian Restaurant, and the vegetarian appetizers list is double the size of the nonvegetarian section. Many Indian restaurants in the area have traditional items like palak paneer (spinach and cheese), aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes) and chana masala (chickpeas in a tomato and spice sauce). Each dish is flavorful and filling, and will acquaint you with a variety of plant-based options.

As most Indian buffets are closed due to COVID-19 safety concerns, a combination dinner provides an introduction to Indian cuisine, or a great date night for two. Mirch Masala’s vegetarian dinner for two includes vegetable pakora, saag paneer, vegetable korma, chana masala, naan and kheer, a sweet pudding. If Monroe Street is closer to home, Taste of India has something similar — a royal dinner special with malai kofta, a vegetable ball smothered in a curried gravy, replacing the vegetable korma. Amber Indian Cuisine’s option allows you to pick any two vegetable curries and any paneer curry, so you can customize your experience. Swad, Swagat Indian Restaurant and Maharana Restaurant also have their own renditions of combination meals. Other Indian restaurants where you’re guaranteed to find vegetarian options are Hyderabad House, Dhaba Indian Bistro and Haveli Indian Restaurant.

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