The game is afoot. The fire is lit. The hunt is on. The stakes are raised. Quite simply—the veg-centric movement is rolling along like thunder, and with each creative, craveable dish starring vegetables added to menus, consumer expectations go up. Charred Brussels sprouts glazed with hot honey and decorated with crispy pork, perhaps served in a mini skillet, become the norm.
Chefs are coaxing out flavor, using aggressive cooking techniques and strategic uses of protein, transforming vegetables into memorable menu stars. Here are three veg-centric dishes that demonstrate a laser focus on both flavor and flair.
At 701 Restaurant in Washington D.C., Executive Chef Lincoln Fuge offers a clever plant-based play on a steakhouse classic. His Beet Tartare (pictured above) looks the part, but swaps the traditional raw beef for beets and a raw egg yolk for a yellow beet juice “yolk.”
“It’s been a hit, becoming a highlight of our menu,” he says. The red beets are roasted, diced and smoked, then tossed with a mustard vinaigrette that’s emulsified with lecithin, giving the dish’s sweet, earthy base a bright counterpoint. Fuge then uses reverse spherification to create a yellow beet juice “yolk” to top the beets. The “yolk” breaks when pressed with a fork, creating the same visual and textural effects of the egg yolk in beef tartare. Dehydrated beet chips accompany the dish for a dose of salt and crunch.
In its BBQ Carrot Tostada, Compass Group North America gave the tostada a plant-forward twist to help showcase the foodservice provider’s commitment to veg-centric cooking. The build demonstrates how the veg-centric trend is evolving, with mindfulness given to every detail on the plate. Chris Aquilino, Corporate Executive Chef with Compass’ Envision Group, created the item, which runs as a limited-time offering from the exhibition station in a number of college and business cafés across the country.
Mashing up both Mexican and barbecue flavors, the veg-centric item features a crispy corn tostada topped with avocado and smoky-sweet roasted barbecue carrots. A creative pineapple-zucchini salsa provides sweet, citrusy and vegetal notes. Scallions, carrot greens and cilantro garnish the tostada, rounding out a unique flavor profile that’s as colorful as it is flavorful. and the BBQ Carrot Tostada also exemplifies root-to-stem practices.
Farm Spirit, an inventive vegan restaurant in Portland, Ore., illustrates the possibilities of complex flavor play in a veg-centric dish with its Tetsukabuto Squash with a wild stinging-nettle purée, hazelnut “yogurt” and wild cress. “The variety of squash is a more savory version of kabocha, so it is sweet and creamy with a grassy undertone,” says Kei Ohdera, Chef de Cuisine. “To promote the fruity aspects of the squash, it’s paired with a yogurt made from hazelnut, which has an incredible fruity-lactic finish.”
The nettles provide a grassy note, and the wild cress offers a bright counterpoint to the richness of the squash. “I tried the dish without the nettle—the sweetness of the squash and the acidity of the yogurt completely fell out of balance,” says Ohdera. The squash itself is seared, roasted and glazed with a syrup made from candy cap mushrooms.