In the vocabulary of Spanish cuisine, "vegetarian" is close to a three-letter word.
But not everyone agrees; Madrid now boasts around 30 vegetarian restaurants. My dear friend Nina came to town for a veg conference, giving me the perfect companion for a tofuventure.
In the list of options that appeared in my Google search, the name Yerbabuena (an herb that's a member of the mint family) caught my attention. As did the website (www.yerbabuena.ws), filled with photo evidence of the chef's culinary talents. I had made up my mind.
We were greeted by a friendly face, one which I recognized from my excessive online stalking of the restaurant. Our server was none other than one of the owners.
As typical, we were each given a roll to accompany our meal. Encouraged by evidence of gluten-free-friendliness in their menu, I asked if they had gluten free bread.
"Yes!" our waiter said. "Well, no. It's not bread - it's just a little rice cake."
Rice cake? That's good enough for me (and better than you'll find just about anywhere else). My little rice cake happened to be two little ricecakes and buckwheat crackers. I was definitely warming up to this place.
To drink there was a cold homemade infusion (blend of herbal teas) served with none other than a yerbabuena leaf.
Then came the decision. Luckily, the Spanish menu del dia saves me from having to scour the entire menu (though the *GLUTEN FREE PIZZA* was very tempting, the menu always wins out. What can I say? Dessert's included.)
Primer plato: a cold melon and mango soup with diced fresh avocado, sliced almonds, and alfalfa sprouts. This soup has become what I crave whenever I'm hot, hungry, and thirsty (which in summertime in Spain seems to happen quite a lot).
This is not just any chilled soup. The melon and mango are perfectly balanced so it doesn't taste like you are drinking juice. It's sweet, savory, refreshing. And, surprisingly, filling. I was wondering if I was going to be able to eat more, when the second plate arrived, eliminating my doubts.
Segundo plato: Layers of grilled pineapple, wild mushrooms, tomato, eggplant, and garlic zucchini served atop a potato puree with a bechamel cheese sauce.
I'm all about unexpected flavors ending up on the same plate. And in this case, pineapples and potatoes worked. In a combination of sweet and savory, heavy and light, the chef again produced a balanced plate that was filling but not monotonous.
Now I was full. But what to do about dessert?
I opted for a lighter option: homemade yogurt. The first bite was surprising - not as smooth as I anticipated, but fresh. A drizzle of honey and I was converted. And I added the yogurt to my mental list of things I knew I'd be craving again.
No culinary point system needed here; I knew as I was leaving that I would be returning.
And, admittedly, already have.