I’m not vegan but more often than not the meals I make at home happen to fall into that category. Last night was a good case in point. I roasted sweet potato and piled it high on top of warm garlicky cannellini beans and finished the dish off with crispy sage. A simple, comforting, delicious and nourishing meal that just happened to be vegan. My other half Steve is partial to a good steak or a roasted joint of something when we are out but rarely misses meat whilst we are at home. In my opinion, if the dish is seasoned well and there is a good flavour and texture then why would you?
Flavour and texture is something that Comptoir Libanais does very well. I don’t think I have ever had a meal there where I haven’t experienced the zing of citrus, the pop of pomegranate and the freshness of mint. Texturally there is crunch from the deep-fried falafel and smooth creaminess from the dips. The colours created from the pickles, herbs and olive oil sing on the plate.
Since Comptoir Libanais opened its doors in Exeter a couple of years ago it has been a firm favourite of mine. Many visits later it still is. The menu is 60% vegetarian and vegan which is perfect for me. The choice is incredible. Tony Kitous, the founder of Comptoir Libanais is consistently working alongside his team of chefs to create innovative vegan and vegetarian dishes to showcase in their monthly specials named, Lebanese Flavours of The Month.
I visited with Steve at the weekend for lunch wanting to sample what was new. I like seeing menus evolve and tasting different dishes so that’s just what we did. We ordered the Baked Aubergine with Coriander Dressing to start off our mezze lunch. This dish was exciting both visually and in the flavour steaks. Beautifully soft-baked aubergine drizzled with a coriander, pistachio and molasses dressing sprinkled liberally with fresh mint, chopped red chilli and beautiful pomegranate pearls. The chilli certainly packed a bit of heat but it was welcomed on such a cold day.
Next up came the Humus and Falafel with Harissa Sauce. A seriously smooth chickpea dip encasing a delightfully crispy falafel topped with the gentle hum of spice from the harissa sauce. This was served with a couple of rounds of flatbread and some salty pickles. This is where the juxtaposition of textures and flavours really stands out; crispy, crunchy, smooth, spicy, salty. This dish ticked all the right boxes for me.
Steve and I shared a bowl of slow-cooked vegetable tagine for our main course which was served atop vermicelli rice. The tagine itself being a tomato-based stew filled with peppers, chickpeas, onion and aubergine. The warming spice of cinnamon coming through here beautifully. The perfect hearty dish for a cold January lunchtime.
While vegan, there is no compromising on flavour with Lebanese food lending itself very well to veganism as many traditional dishes use chickpeas, herbs and vegetables as the base. Tony Kitous says “Middle Eastern food lends itself so well to veganism with many of our dishes being vegan already. Chickpeas are one of my favourite ingredients and our falafel are so fresh and delicious and bursting with herbs and spices. We are proud to have many vegan dishes on our menu all year round and love celebrating Veganuary.”
I can safely say that the vibrant colours and flavours of the Middle East have made my January dining as exciting and indulgent as December. Once again, Comptoir Libanais came up trumps. Veganuary runs until the end of the month so you still have almost two weeks to make it into Comptoir Libanais to sample what’s on offer. Of course, if you don’t get in before February hits then you needn’t worry. There will be other vegan dishes to sample on their vegan flavours of the month menu.
You can find Comptoir Libanais at Queen Street Dining, Exeter, EX4 3HP and at 24 other venues across London and the rest of the country. Comptoir Libanais also has a branch in Holland and has recently opened at Dubai Airport with another in Abu Dhabi in the pipeline.
Disclaimer: I was kindly invited to Comptoir Libanais to sample their new vegan dishes. I was not paid for this post and all views are my own as always.