Consumers identifying themselves as vegan has increased from just 1% to 6% between 2014 and 2017, a 600% increase, according to a report in Forbes. Growth of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products is on the rise. Vegan (no animal products, including dairy) products are growing in popularity even among those who don't consider themselves vegetarian or vegan.
Asaf Gali, an Israeli native who split his early years between Israel and the United States, has launched a business selling vegan versions of popular Middle Eastern foods, such as shawarma, falafel and babaganoosh. Gali’s Vegan Shawarma booth can be found weekly at the Scotch Plains Farmers Market on Saturdays, the Ramsey Farmers Market on Sundays, Hudson Yards Market in Manhattan on Thursdays, as well as the Greenpoint Natural Market in Brooklyn.
“People realize they have to eat more healthy,” said Gali, 35, who came to the U.S. five years ago after serving in the Israeli Air Force. “I founded this business on veggie shawarma and baked falafel. I grew up eating this food. The food in Israel is a cultural mix.”
As his wife began to move toward a vegan lifestyle, she told him she wished there was a vegan shawarma.
“It took a while, but I did it,” Gali said.
He uses lentils, chick peas and fava beans along with imported Israeli spices to produce the flavor and texture of shawarma, a dish of spiced, marinated lamb (or other type of meat).
Gali sells shawarma and falafel as a pita sandwich or as a bowl. It comes with salad, homemade hummus and tahini, a sauce made from ground sesame.
His roasted cauliflower bowl is packed with flavor from using the juice of grilled tomatoes, tahini, hummus, warm chick peas and imported spices.
Gali makes a vegan falafel that is baked with no oil. It is made with chick peas, spices, cilantro and sweet potato, which gives the falafel a unique sweet taste.
“I did research on how we eat food. A vegan diet is good for our bodies and for the environment. I see it as important that we have other options,” said Gali, who owned a catering business in Israel for several years and credits his partner, a chef, with teaching him techniques that have made him successful today.
For something sweet, Gali offers malabi, a dessert consisting of coconut cream topped with rose water, pomegranate sauce, peanuts and coconut flakes.
Jeff Stein, who runs the Scotch Plains Farmers Market and sought out the Vegan Shawarma to be a vendor, has lived vegan lifestyle for several years.
“I eat plant-based diet. It’s a totally anti-inflammatory diet,” Stein said. “Almost all diseases have an inflammatory component. When we avoid inflammatory foods — basically anything made from an animal — the inflammation in our bodies reduces over time and disease begins to reverse. We begin to heal. It’s remarkable how much better we feel in a very short period of time.”
Although many people have encouraged Gali to open a restaurant, he doesn’t think it’s the right direction to go with labor costs rising. Instead, he is looking to freeze his product and go retail with it, but will only do so if he can maintain the quality of the product without preservatives.
“It has to feel and taste fresh after reheating it,” Gali said.
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