What’s Cooking: Review of Vegan Dishes at Boston Restaurant Teranga

As you all probably know by now, I’m a huge food nerd.  I watch way too many cooking shows.  I love planning excursions to new restaurants.  When I go on vacation, I plot my itinerary based on where I want to dine.  As the BF flipped through the channels a couple of weeks ago, he came upon Chopped, one of my fave shows on the Food Network.  If you haven’t seen the charming Ted Allen-hosted show, think Iron Chef on speed and crack, filmed on April Fool’s Day.  The chefs embark on 3 competitive rounds (appetizer, entrée, dessert) with a basket of 4 mystery ingredients that they must use in some way, often resulting in wacky food pairings.  This particular episode featured Boston chef and restaurant owner Marie-Claude Mendy.  Her food looked unique and luscious.  After she kicked ass and won, I just knew I had to visit her Senegalese eatery, Teranga.

Nestled in the South End, a mere 15-minute walk from my apartment, Teranga (which means “hospitality” in Wolof) serves Senegalese cuisine, pulling influences from French, Arab, Asian and African cultures.  The BF and I walked in, immediately greeted by a warm smile from the server.  The inviting interior is cozy with warm exposed brick, diffused lighting, a stunning wine rack (wine? Oh yes, please!) behind the bar and West African trinkets on the tables.  I had already done my research (as any good foodie will do) and knew they boasted an intriguing vegetarian menu.  But I wasn’t sure if any of the dishes happened to be vegan.  When I asked the server about vegan entrées, she said, “Oh yes, everything on this list is vegetarian.”  When I began asking about the ingredients in certain dishes, she told me that she couldn’t tell me what was in the food.   My heart sank.  But then she said she would bring the chef out so we could speak.  Huzzah!

A few moments later, I was face to face with Chef Marie-Claude herself!  I get so excited and celebrity struck (I told you all I’m a nerd) that I yelped, “Oh hi! (as if we were buddies) Congratulations on winning Chopped…it’s an honor to meet you!”  With a gracious smile she chuckled and thanked me.  When I told her that I was vegetarian but didn’t eat any milk, cheese, butter or honey she surprisingly got excited.  She told me that all of the items on the vegetarian menu were dairy- and honey-free except for the couscous which contained butter.  Then, Chef Marie-Claude said, “I’m no vegetarian, I love meat but THIS is my absolute favorite dish,” pointing to the Thiou Legumes (“carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes and white potatoes cooked in a tomato stew served with jasmine rice”) on the menu.  Well, when a chef tells you what their fave dish is, do you have any other choice?  So I took her sage advice and ordered the entrée along with two appetizers.

The first appetizer, Accara, immediately caught my eye because of its herbed black eye pea batter, fried and accompanied by a tangy tomato sauce.  I love black eye peas and have cooked tasty black eye pea fritters at home.  The Accara was hearty but a bit dry, needing the scrumptious sauce.  Then I tasted the second appetizer, Nems, quite familiar looking spring rolls, stuffed with rice vermicelli, carrots, scallions, red and green peppers and dried mushrooms, served with nuoc mam dressing, an acidic Vietnamese dipping sauce.  The Nems were outstanding, crispy on the outside with tender veggies and rice on the inside.  Then came the pièce de résistance…the Thiou Legumes.  I took one bite and succumbed to food-gasm.  Aromatic and seductive, it was hearty yet not heavy with succulent veggies swimming in a spicy tomato stew.  Each harmonious bite felt warm from the heat of the spices yet remained perfectly balanced, never overpowering my senses.

Chef Marie-Claude came back out later.  She inquired if I enjoyed her fave dish and could feel that it was made with love (she’s too cute!).  I laughed and eagerly told her that it was simply amazing, which it was.  She then meandered through the restaurant, speaking with many of the patrons, including a table next to us with an adorbs little girl with a penchant for wandering around.  The family apologized and Chef Marie-Claude said, “Don’t be silly, we love children,” picking her up as the girl giggled.

Teranga is a magical place you’ll want to linger, savoring every delectable bite.  Chef Marie-Claude (and her friendly staff) strives to put everyone at ease with her comforting food and her congenial manner.  She wants to make sure everyone’s bellies and hearts remain full…and it made me feel right at home.

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