Some of the best veg-centric dishes make use of aggressive cooking techniques, adding deeper flavor and taking produce to craveable status. André Natera, Executive Chef for Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, enjoys making simple ingredients like carrots shine. “The primitive call of smoke and char inspired us to build the subtle flavors of our burnt carrots with chimichurri and yogurt sauce,” he says. The carrots stay tender in the center with a charred, crisp exterior, and the smoke imparts a meat-like flavor. The acid from the chimichurri adds balance, and tossing in olive oil mimics a steak-like treatment.
“As diners are becoming more health-conscious, the amount of protein on the plate is reducing overall, and vegetables are the star of the show,” says Natera. “To meet the demand, we are extracting more flavor out of vegetables and making them taste more meat-like. You can take something like a mundane carrot and create a new experience by changing the technique.” He says similar smoking treatments work well on beets, broccoli and mushrooms, which are then charred on a grill. “From a culinary operation standpoint, the preparation is quite simple: The vegetables are pre-smoked and cooked ahead of time and reheated to order on the grill, where they get their char,” Natera says. He’s also had success with pickling the vegetables prior to smoking and charring them.
“We have seen an increase in sales of our veg-centric appetizers,” he adds. “As a hotel with lots of travelers eating light, this is a perfect go-to.” Natera is planning to expand the veg-centric concept into a Paleo-style vegetable bar.