From the Streets to Your Kitchen

Some of the most intriguing and exciting foods in the world are found on the street - hawker centers in Singapore, outdoor markets in Mexico, souks in Morocco and Turkey, ... the list goes on. These ethnic, geographic, or just plain portable foods tend to have terrific flavors. Most of the time, they can be made quickly for each customer or can hold for hours on heat or ice. Best of all, they can usually be eaten with one hand! Many of the street foods we found can easily be prepared vegan.

Here are just some ideas if you would like to throw a ‘street party’ for a summer weekend:

  • San Francisco Street-Style Kabobs: Whether Turkish, Uzbek, Persian, or another nationality, kabobs are popular! We found whole mushroom, bell pepper, pineapple, and tomato kabobs, as well as tofu, onion, garlic, and chili kabobs. Unfortunately, we were told that we were too late to try the roasted potato, summer squash, sweet onion, and pepper kabobs!
  • Los Angeles-Style Antojitos: These snacks, which translate into “little tantalizers,” include foods such as the tlacoyo, fried or toasted masa (cornmeal) cakes stuffed with beans and/or shredded vegan cheese and topped with chilies and roasted corn.
  • Chicago-Style Haute Dogs: Veggie dogs topped with sweet onions, sweet pickle relish, chopped cucumbers, ketchup, and Pepperocini (pickled Italian chilies).
  • New York City’s Dosas:The Big Apple’s finest street-food chefs vie for the Annual Vendy Awards. After a four-hour cook-off in Tompkins Square Park, the judges’ votes were tallied, and Thiru “Dosa Man” Kumar’s vegan cart claimed the winner’s cup. Traditional dosas (South Indian crêpes), stuffed with spicy potatoes, are offered, as well as mixtures of seasonal summer vegetables and lentils.
    • India by way of New Brunswick, New Jersey: At a summer street fair, we sampled some lovely chaats. A chaat is a plate of savory snacks, typically served from stalls or carts in India, Pakistan, and the rest of South Asia. They are a great mobile food and are prepared to order, so you can ensure your selection is vegan.
    • The ‘standard’ is a potato chaat, white potatoes quickly deep-fried and tossed with red pepper flakes and cumin, and then drizzled with tamarind chutney and possibly garnished with fresh cilantro or mint.
    • Peanut or pistachio chaat is made with roasted nuts tossed with crisped fried onions and flavored with cumin, turmeric, lemon juice, dried chili, and parsley.
    • Chickpea chaat uses cubed boiled potatoes tossed with boiled chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro, ground cumin, chaat masal (if available), black pepper, and dried chilies.
    If there is a South Asian grocer nearby, you can purchase chaat masala or chaat spices to use in your own chaat mixture.
  • Phuket Pad Thai: This is the ultimate street food. The food cart cooks in Thailand are in such a competitive situation. With limited space, ingredients, and tools, they need to specialize in only a dish or two. The best of these cooks have prepared the same dish day after day, year after year, constantly perfecting it. We were offered many vegan variations on the flavorful noodle dish, which has become Thailand’s unofficial ‘national’ dish. Steamed wheat or rice noodles are sautéed with the chef ’s ‘secret’ sauce, usually based in tomato, soy sauce, vinegar, and seasonings. Crumbled tofu, chopped tomatoes, soybean sprouts, mushrooms, and summer squash are just a few of the ingredients that can be added.
  • Guatemala goodies: I have a vegan friend who just returned from Xela, Guatemala, and he was amazed at the variety of vegan street foods he found. Here are just a few:
    • Vegetarian Thali: A street-side restaurant called Sabor de la India serves a vegetarian thali (a sampler plate) of all the vegetarian Guatemalan-Indian dishes they offer, including potato curry, vegetable dosas, stewed lentils, stewed beans, rice pilaf, and tortillas.
    • Veggie tostadas with refried beans, beets, and grated radishes or cabbage.
    • Platos: A daily special of vegan rice, beans, vegetables du jour, tortillas, and fresh juice can be had from many of the street vendors.
    • Pache: Made at home and sold at Xela’s Central Park, pache are tamales made with potato or rice flour, along with a bit of vegetables in the filling for flavor.
    • Piedras: A cross between a scone and a muffin, the piedra is a lump of soft dough (flour, yeast, and water) flavored with cinnamon, cocoa, or anise.
  • Tamales: These packets of masa are a favorite street food in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and many U.S. cities! In San Diego and El Paso, you can eat your tamale with atole, a hot cocoa drink made with thinned cornmeal. Space does not allow for the national variation of all the countries that favor tamales as a popular street food, but here are a few Mexican variations:
    • Culiacan, Sinaloa - Everyday varieties include tamales made of small, sweet brown beans, pineapple, and corn.
    • Veracruz - Tamales made of fresh corn seasoned with hoja santa, a seasoned oil.
    • Oaxaca - Large tamales spiced with their regional specialty ‘black mole’ and wrapped in banana leaves. They also do a corn husk variety with other moles, including green or yellow, along with small black beans and chepil (an herb).
    • Monterrey - This region prefers small tamales that use either smooth or coarse dough containing red chilies.
    • Yucatán - Tamales from this region are quite large and are either cooked in a pit or baked in the oven. The dough is made of smooth-ground masa and is filled with seasonal vegetables or dried fruit.
    • Northwestern Mexico - Three- or fourfoot- long tamales called zacahuiles are made with very coarsely ground masa with flavorings of red chile and are wrapped in banana leaves. These monstrous tamales are baked in woodheated ovens in specialty restaurants, normally on weekends, and are sold by the ‘slice.’

Every culture has its own bite-size snack that is a bit of filling placed in a wrapper and then steamed, fried, or baked to order, similar to dumplings. Dim sum, gyoza (Asian), ravioli, wontons, kreplach (Yiddish), pierogi (Slavic), ... we could go on and on. The nice thing about dumplings is that there are no rules, except that the filling needs to be tasty.

Have a ‘street party’ fueled with an assortment of steamed and fried ravioli, wontons, and pierogi, as well as a few of the following recipes. Throw in a green salad and a fruit salad, and you’ve got great summer entertaining food.

Tofu Kabobs

(Serves 4)

*Pictured on the cover. This recipe is for the most basic of kabobs. Prepare these in the oven, under the broiler, or on the grill.

  • Approximately 1 pound flavored, baked, or smoked tofu, cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup your favorite sauce, such as barbecue, teriyaki, or even Italian salad dressing
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 12 fresh or canned pineapple cubes (approximately 1 inch)
  • 4 skewers, at least 6 inches long

Marinate tofu in sauce for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees or preheat barbecue.

Skewer tofu, alternating with tomatoes and pineapple. Bake in a non-stick pan for 10 minutes or grill until just heated. If you would like ‘juicy’ kabobs, baste with sauce while cooking. Serve immediately.

Total calories per 1-cup serving: 322 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 36 grams Protein: 23 grams
Sodium: 548 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram


(Serves 4)

This is just one variety of antojitos, which are meant to be quick, savory, and portable snacks.

  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh chilies of your choice
  • ¼ cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup vegan cream cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons vegan sour cream to use as a thinner, if necessary, and as a garnish
  • Four 12-inch (or eight small) whole wheat tortillas, allowed to come to room temperature if refrigerated
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the chilies and the onions with the cream cheese. If the cream cheese is too thick, mix in a little bit of the sour cream until consistency is spreadable.

Spread a thick layer of cream cheese on one side of a tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and cut into 2-inch sections with a sharp knife. Cut on a diagonal to avoid the tortilla unraveling.

Place each slice on its side on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake until heated through, approximately 5 minutes.

Serve warm with sour cream topped with cilantro.

Total calories per serving: 421 Fat: 13 grams
Carbohydrates: 63 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 835 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Vegan Pigs-in-a-Blanket

(Serves 6)

Believe it or not, some of the most popular brands of refrigerated croissant- type crescent roll dough are actually vegan. Buy the jumbosized rolls, if available. If you’re looking to add variety to this recipe, you may want to try the chili dogflavored veggie dogs or another flavored variety instead.

  • 1 can or package vegan refrigerated crescent roll dough
  • 3-4 vegan hotdogs, depending on the size
  • 2 teaspoons vegan barbecue sauce
  • 1 thin slice vegan cheddar cheese
  • Hot dog condiments and toppings of choice

The croissant dough will be perforated; separate the dough into triangles, then slice each with a knife into halves or thirds to make smaller triangles.

Cut uncooked vegan hot dogs into lengths that will fit into the widest end of the crescent dough with little overlap. Make a lengthwise slit in each piece of ‘dog,’ allowing room for a little barbecue sauce and a thin slice of cheese.

Place the veggie dog on the widest end of the triangle and roll up the pastry. Bake according to package directions, usually 10-12 minutes.

Serve with chopped tomatoes, relish, mustard, ketchup, or other condiments of choice.

Total calories per serving: 177 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 497 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Vegan Saag Paneer

(Serves 12)

Paneer is a firm white cheese that resembles firm silken tofu—and that’s what we are going to use for this recipe! Paneer is added to curried spinach, spicy stewed tomatoes, and other vegetables that become ‘creamy’ when cooked. We’ve provided the vegan recipe for saag (or spinach) paneer, so make up a batch and keep it in the refrigerator. It can complement meals, serve as a fast meal, or act as the centerpiece for your street food party.

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 Tablespoon garam masala (a spice blend available from South Asian markets and online retailers)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, cleaned and washed
  • 1½ cups plain vegan yogurt or vegan sour cream
  • 1 pound diced, drained firm silken tofu

Heat a large pot and spray with oil. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add spices and mix until spices are combined. Add water and spinach. Cook until soft, stirring occasionally, approximately 5-7 minutes. Add yogurt or sour cream and tofu, and bring to a fast boil, stirring. Remove immediately from heat and serve warm. Serve over steamed basmati or brown rice.

Total calories per serving: 78 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 74 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Vietnamese Crêpes

(Serves 5)

These sweet and savory crêpes can be served for any mealtime or as an occasional snack.

  • ¾ cup dried yellow split peas, mung beans, or yellow lentils
  • Water to cover beans
  • 2 cups lowfat coconut milk
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 3 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 cups steamed ‘long’ vegetables (such as asparagus, bean sprouts, green beans, bell peppers cut into strips, etc.)
  • Roasted sunflower seeds to garnish (optional)
  • Cilantro to garnish (optional)

Soak beans in water for 30 minutes or until very soft. Drain and combine beans, coconut milk, and turmeric in a blender and blend until smooth. Remove and whisk in rice flour to make batter. Set aside.

Combine the garlic, soy sauce or tamari, and brown sugar in a blender, and blend on low until smooth. Slowly drizzle oil into the running blender until a thick sauce forms. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

To assemble, heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Stir batter, and pour enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the vegetables on half of the crêpe, like you would in filling an omelet. When crêpe bubbles pop and cook, fold edge over filling. Move to a plate, drizzle the brown sugar-soy sauce combination over the dish, and garnish with sunflower seeds and cilantro, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 516 Fat: 30 grams
Carbohydrates: 51 grams Protein: 11 grams
Sodium: 530 milligrams Fiber: 10 grams

Tomatillo-Cilantro Sauce with Refried Black Beans

(Serves 10-12)

Tomatillos are green, tomato-like fruits that come in husks and are available in Latino markets. They bring the sauce together to create a combination of sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors.

This recipe is best served hot with baked tortilla chips, steamed tortillas, and a green salad.


  • 1½ cups thinly sliced onions
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 pound husked tomatillos (approximately 2 cups)
  • ¼ cup vegetable stock
  • 2 Tablespoons seeded and minced jalapeño peppers
  • 2 Tablespoons seeded and minced poblano peppers
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the onions, water, cayenne, and garlic. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, until onions are soft, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add tomatillos whole, along with vegetable stock and peppers. Simmer, covered, until tomatillos release their juices, approximately 10 minutes.

Pour contents of pot into a food processor or blender. Add cilantro and pine nuts. Purée sauce until smooth.


  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • One 28-ounce can black beans (or 3½ cups cooked black beans), drained
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • Vegetable oil spray

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil. Place sautéed garlic, beans, and onions into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.

Heat a large skillet on high and spray with vegetable oil. Pour bean purée into the skillet and stir constantly over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes.

Place the beans and the sauce in separate bowls and serve warm, or refrigerate until ready to use.

Total calories per serving: 118 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 214 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 26 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Ginger Ice Cream

(Serves 6-8)

Coconut milk is a natural choice for this ice cream, but you can use any vegan milk you like and omit the coconut extract. Crystallized ginger is usually found near the dried fruit at most grocery stores.

  • 3½ cups lowfat coconut milk, rice milk, or almond milk, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons arrowroot
  • ¼-½ cup minced ginger (to taste)
  • ¾ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract (if using coconut milk)
  • ¾ cup crystallized ginger, chopped into small pieces

Mix ¼ cup of coconut milk with the arrowroot to make a slurry and set aside.

Mix the remaining coconut milk and minced ginger together in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove pot from heat and set aside for 25 minutes to steep. Strain to remove the ginger. Keep the milk and discard the ginger.

Mix the ginger-flavored coconut milk and sugar together and bring to a boil. When the mixture has just started to boil, take off the heat and stir in the arrowroot slurry. This should immediately cause the liquid to thicken a small amount. Stir in vanilla extract and, if using, coconut extract.

Note: If an ice cream freezer is not available, you can freeze this recipe in several small bowls. Stir every 30 minutes until mixture is frozen.

Variation: For Chocolate Ginger Ice Cream, add 1/2 cup chocolate or carob chips and/or 1/4 cup cocoa powder in with the sugar.

Total calories per pancake: 277 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams Protein: < 1 gram
Sodium: 39 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram