By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist, MenuMax.com
Although vegetable-based dishes are becoming more popular, there is still plenty of work to be done before they earn the well-deserved respect and become a common occurrence on the menu.
In my conversations with a number of chefs about creating more vegetable-based dishes on the menu, two big questions usually come up:
How do we compensate for the missing savory flavors of animal protein?
How can we make the dish satisfying?
Compensating for the missing savory flavors
First, to compensate for the goodness of what meat and fish can bring to the dish, it is going to be critical to introduce complex flavors, such as roasted garlic, pepper, mushrooms, or dried chilies. Of course, any other ingredients that can improve the flavor, such as fresh or dried herbs, aromatics, and other flavoring agents need to be explored.
If the dish is not going to be strictly vegetarian or vegan yet vegetable-based, think about adding a touch of meat glaze or a slice of bacon. These can substantially enhance flavor profile of a dish.
Making the dish satisfying
Secondly, the dish cannot be satisfying without ingredients rich in complex carbs and protein. After all, we all know that a grilled vegetable platter simply doesn’t cut it. Whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – all can be used to add substance to the dish. Think farro, rice varieties (except white), barley, spelt, quinoa, amaranth, whole wheat berries; lentils, beans, peas; pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamia, hazelnuts, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax seeds, etc.
If you are concerned with the physical discomfort associated with eating beans, much of it can be avoided by properly soaking beans prior to cooking.
One of the reasons why grains and legumes create a satisfying dish is because when combined, they create a complete protein equal to the protein we get from eating a steak.
Finally, grains and legumes can serve as a perfect base for more flavorful and pungent foods. For example, a grain pilaf can be topped with a serving of rich thai curry, making the dish appear more generous, yet ensuring a good caloric balance.
There is no question about the benefits of having more vegetable-based dishes on the menu. Plants are great for our health. They offer a tremendous variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and flavors. And they are much more budget-permitting than animal protein.
Has your restaurant been able to incorporate vegetable-based dishes in the menu?
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