Last month I stopped in Strawberry Fields to grab a loaf of bread, but was drawn to the little deli section to check out some options for a light dinner. There were several items available, ranging in flavor from mild to mildly exotic. There were plenty of pasta salads, as they tend to hold up well over the course of a few-day stint in a deli refrigerator. I picked up a slice of the vegetarian lasagna, a small container of the vegan kale pesto pasta salad, and a small container of the vegan pad thai.
After heading home, the first item I tried was the vegetarian lasagna. (Technically it should be the plural lasagnE, because it contains more than one lasagnA noodle, but we can deal with that at another time.) When I got home, I popped it in the microwave for a minute or to and presented it to my husband. The lasagna slice contained your lasagna essentials: pasta, cheese, tomato. Since it was a vegetarian slice, it also contained spinach and onion. My first observation of this little baked square was that it wasn’t sitting in a puddle of gross vegetable water; the spinach was wilted and tightly woven into the fabric of the lasagna. If you’ve ever made vegetable lasagna, you’ll know that it’s essential to pre-cook your veggies so that you don’t have vegetable lasagna soup with extra mush vegetables, which is downright disgusting. Thus, I was quite pleased that this slice was dry and it maintained its shape after reheating.
The pasta was soft and a little mushy, perhaps the result of overcooking prior to baking. It’s difficult to prepare baked pasta dishes en mass, and when they’ve been sectioned off, cooled, and reheated, mushy pasta is perhaps not the worst offense. So, I can forgive Strawberry Fields the mushy pasta. The slice was incredibly cheesy, with mozzarella and ricotta cheese used in the filling. The tomato sauce was chunky—it seemed, like the spinach, to have been strained a bit as to avoid a soggy lasagna slice. While I understand the logistics of this (and appreciate it, as noted), it caused the lasagna to be a bit too dry and overly cheesy. There were onions in the filling and within the sauce, lending a strong onion flavor to each bite. The onion overpowered the tomato, and as a whole the lasagna tasted like oniony cheese topped with generic ‘Italian spices’, and was rather salty. My husband and I agreed that it was in need of more sauce, and that it wasn’t something that either of us would elect to eat again.
The kale pesto pasta salad contained tri-color rotini pasta, cherry tomatoes, and kalamata olives; the pesto was made of kale, walnuts, garlic, lemon, and olive oil. The pesto was thick and coated each piece. There were small little bits of walnut and garlic strewn throughout the salad, a couple of tomato slices and some chopped olives were also mixed in. This is something I would serve cold had I made it, and I ate it cold. The pesto was not particularly flavorful, but there was a slightly bitter finish at the end of each bite. The tomatoes not only provided a lovely burst of color, but also a little bit of sweetness. Because the olives were chopped, they didn’t have a nice salty bite of a briney olive. They functioned as subtle shifts in texture, as they were a bit firmer than the pasta. Overall, this salad had a nice texture, but greatly lacked in flavor—it was totally blah. The pesto could have used more lemon and garlic, and I would have preferred the olives whole. The soft crunch of the walnut could have been better used to create a texturally interesting salad, and offer some sweet nuttiness to the mix.
I was pretty excited about the vegan pad thai. I may have had it in the past, I can’t really remember, but I’m a bit of a sucker for most pad thai dishes and after the disappointment of the lasagna and the pesto pasta salad, I was ready for some flavor. I ate this cold, too, well, more at room temperature by the time I got to it. This pad thai was made with rice noodles, which were long and skinny. The dish was a lovely peanut-brown color, which sounds unappetizing, but was not. The flecks of orange carrot and the green of a scallion were a nice punch of color, and the dish was quite attractive. My first bite revealed a thick, gritty, nutty sauce. Between the carrot, the peanuts, and the undercooked rice noodles, the dish was crunchy in an enjoyable way. There was a nice underlying heat, too; it provided an appropriate and well-balanced foil to the sweetness of the peanuts, carrots, and added fructose. I felt that something was lacking in this little salad; I wanted something hefty, like tofu (or chicken, quite frankly). I think the addition of a nicely marinated tofu would have rounded out this pasta dish, making it a fulfilling lunch or afternoon snack.
These three items totaled about ten dollars. However, I only purchased ¼ pound of the kale pesto pasta salad and the pad thai, neither of which would have been enough for an even mildly hungry adult’s dinner. The price per pound on each item ranged from $7.39 (kale pesto) to $8.49 (pad thai), which isn’t necessarily all that more expensive than getting something delivered, or picking up some Chinese food. In terms of a complete take-out dinner, it might be more in the fifteen to twenty dollar range for two, and certainly more than that for a family of four.
All in all, Strawberry Fields has a decent selection of pasta salads. I found that of the three items I tried, all were lacking in some capacity. These options are not all that bad for the vegan on the go looking to pick up a quick lunch (these pastas would pair nicely with a cup of soup, which Strawberry Fields offers, too). With a shift and a nudge here or there, I think that these pasta dishes have the potential to be really tasty and satisfying, and could offer vegans and vegetarians something more interesting and flavorful to eat than leafy greens. Check back soon for the next installment of Vegan Ease in which I tell you all about the sweet treats from the Strawberry Fields’ bakery.
Strawberry Fields is located at 306 West Springfield Avenue, Urbana, and is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For info on sales and photos, follow them on Facebook.