INTRODUCTION TO VEGETARIAN FOOD SERVICE

Lecture 13: Ethnic Cuisine

Required: Believe me, you’ll have enough to read with the lecture notes
Recommended: visit several ethnic markets (or go to www.ethnicgrocer.com) to fall in love with the flavors

****** It’s here! Project Two (Supermarket) is Due!*******

By the end of this lecture, the student should be able to:

  1. Identify the vegetarian components of Asian cuisine

  2. Identify the vegetarian components of Indian cuisine
  3. Identify the vegetarian components of French cuisine
  4. Explain how to incorporate ethnic accents into vegetarian menus

The Lure of the Exotic or Everything’s a Cuisine
What’s "down home to you" may be very exotic to your customers, family, friends or to whomever you present meals. In Chicago, you can find great Polish food, in parts of New Jersey Hungarian, in Los Angeles, Hmong and Laotian, Central California, Basque cuisine and the list goes on. Many ethnic cuisines have a lot to offer when it comes to vegetarian. Review Lecture 7 for the political, ethical, religious and many other reasons that vegetarian cuisines developed.

This lecture is LONG, because I wanted those of you who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to experiment with ethnic cuisines to get some insight to the flavors and combinations of international vegetarian cuisine.

I have made some cuisines "fit" the vegetarian idea. You’ll see what I mean as you read on.

And by the way, this doesn’t even begin to cover all the great ethnic and veggie cuisines out there!

Asian
Want Some Gai with your Fun?
For your kitchen, Asian greens are easy to prepare and are attractive on the plate. For your customer, Asian greens are exotic enough to be interesting but familiar enough not to be scary. Here’s your Asian green vocabulary list:

Eggplant World
Eggplant, or aubergine, did not originate in a field of parmigiana, but rather in the woks of Asia. Asian eggplant come in a purple rainbow that begins with palest white and ends in deepest royal purple, with pale greens and lavenders in-between. Asian eggplant shapes start at tiny pea and oval egg, go through to tennis ball and end at the usual oblong. Pea eggplants are chubby, green balls that grow in clusters and add a welcome bitterness to curries and salads.

Thai eggplant can be white and green or all white and all green and resemble veggie golf balls. They are crunchy and tart and appeal to American palates.

Slender eggplants, also called baby or Japanese eggplants are slightly spicy and are usually white-fleshed with purple skin (that is edible). They can be used in soups, stirs, cassoulets or as a side dish on there own. Japanese eggplant can be tempura-ed to add to the usual carrots, potatoes, squash, green beans and bell peppers.

It’s the Sauce
Asian veggies require little assembly - just a little fast heat, a dash of sauce and a little liquid. You already have the stock, the ginger, the garlic and the onions and probably the soy sauce. You may want to order some of the following for fast and easy Asian gourmet (just stir-fry or sauté, add some sauce and serve; be sure to read the labels for non-veggie ingredients):

Exotic Fruit
Or maybe not so exotic. Mangos and papayas may have become downright ho-hum at your property, but we hope not. Although grown in many tropical countries, mangos and papayas are thought to have originated in Asian countries and have certainly been incorporated into Asian cuisine.

Mangos are available fresh, frozen, in concentrate and as a frozen or canned juice. Ripe, fresh mangos are wonderful sliced and served as a refreshing dessert or as part of a seasonal fruit salad, or "chicken" or "seafood" salad. Ripe mangos can be sliced and served on top of sorbet (or made into sorbet) and incorporated into baked fruit tarts, muffins and scones. If you find yourself with overripe or frozen mangoes, use them in smoothies and in bar beverages or in savory sauces for grilled seitan or tempeh. Underripe or green mangos can be shredded and used in pasta or green salads or used as a "vegetable" in curries and stirfries.

Papaya is also available fresh and frozen. You are probably accustomed to the pear-shaped, yellow-orange papaya with a million seeds and the peachy-strawberry flavor. Ripe papaya is an excellent dessert, simply halved and filled with a scoop of sorbet or fresh berries. Use papaya cut into pasta or rice salad and even into mixed green salads. Papaya is a colorful way to top sorbet sundaes or to use as an ingredient in soy or rice milk custards. Overripe or frozen papaya can be used in sauces and in fruit shakes.

We tend to forget that pineapple is a tropical fruit, used in Asian cuisine for sweet and sour tastes, as a condiment and as a dessert. Ripe, fresh pineapple has a delicate flavor and can be a perfect counterpoint to spicy dishes. Think about a skewer of pineapple with fresh mint served with a fiery Indonesian vegetable curry, barbecued Korean tofu or with garlicky stirfries. Develop pineapple’s sugar content by grilling or sautéing it with a touch of rum and serve hot on top of sorbet. Pineapple can be used in both sweet and savory sauces, in bar beverages and in bakery items (think pineapple scones or a pineapple pie).

Starfruit, also called carambola, available fresh and dried, looks like a bright -yellow, three-dimensional, five-pointed star. Its tangy sweet flavor, firm flesh and engaging shape makes it perfect to garnish…everything!

Kumquats are available fresh and canned (usually in heavy syrup). Fresh kumquats are an inside-out fruit. Resembling miniature, oval oranges, the kumquat skin is sweet and the pulp is tart. Kumquats can be used whole for garnishes in salads and on desserts or sliced and used in sauces. There are many Asian fruits that are available to the food service operator, such as the blood orange (a crimson-pulped orange traditionally used for sauces and bar beverages) and the pummelo, which resembles a grapefruit on steroids and tastes like a very sweet grapefruit. These are still very seasonal and costs may vary, so include cautiously in your menu.

Lychees are available fresh, canned and frozen, but the canned are more practical for food service applications. Fresh lychees are very seasonal and have skins that resemble red porcupines and seeds that take up about fifty percent of the fruit. The payoff is that fresh lychees are the roses of the fruit world, highly aromatic with a luscious flavor. However, if you want your staff to continue to speak to you, purchase canned lychees (they’re already peeled and seeded) for your property and leave the fresh ones for home. Canned lychees retain a great deal of their flavor and are juicy and smooth. Mix them with tart fruit, such as grapefruit sections, serve with frozen desserts or use in sauces for cooked vegetables.

There are many Asian fruit that are available to the food service operator, such as the blood orange (a crimson-pulped orange traditionally used for sauces and bar beverages) and the pummelo, which resembles a grapefruit on steroids and tastes like a very sweet grapefruit. These are still very seasonal and costs may vary, so include cautiously in your menu.

We feel it is our responsibility to warn you against jackfruit, however. Jackfruit is very popular throughout Asia, although its aroma is so strong that some hotels do not allow guests to bring fresh jackfruit into their facility. Jackfruit usually weigh about 10-14 pounds each, are covered with a knobby brown skin (think fruit-flavored armadillo), have a multitude of black seeds and has a flavor that could be compared, when down wind, to overripe meat. If you are still really curious about jackfruit, you can find jackfruit juice (canned) and frozen cubed jackfruit in Asian markets.

A Many Layered Palette
Asian cuisines rely on the skill of the chef. The Asian chef selects from a multitude of spices to heighten the interest of menu items. Some seasonings hit the taste buds immediately, some release their flavors gradually and some don’t become evident until several minutes later.

The Chinese five-spice mixture is a perfect example. Containing dried star anise, black pepper, fennel, cloves, and cinnamon, this mixture is a balance of heat, smoothness, aromatics, and spice. Mix your own or purchase commercial mixtures. To add a Chinese accent to soups, sparingly add five-spice to mushroom broth, along with minced ginger and minced fresh garlic, chopped green onions and snow peas; with the addition of steamed tofu pieces and white rice or rice vermicelli you will have created a delicate yet flavorful appetizer.

Indian, Moslem, and Chinese influences can be seen in the cuisines of Singapore and Malaysia. Create a curried mixed vegetable dish by steaming summer squash, green beans, green cabbage, and onions and serving with a sauce made with sautéed onions, tomato, and garlic with fresh chili, lemon zest, coconut milk, and vegetable stock. Build this side dish into an entrée by adding rice noodles and pieces of fried seitan or tofu.

Looking to add some Japanese flair to your menu? Purchase tempura flour (which is more finely ground and seasoned than most Asian flours). Coat zucchini and carrots with tempura flour, dip into a beaten silken tofu and water mixture and deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. Serve with preserved ginger and soy sauce. Offer tempura as an appetizer, as a light entrée or as a garnish.

Many of the ingredients in your kitchen, such as mushrooms, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots chopped peanuts, fresh ginger and garlic and fresh and dried chilies are prime ingredients in Asian cuisine. To capture authentic flavors, you may want to investigate stocking some of the following herbs, spices and condiments:

Gotta Get Ginger
Ginger has got to be the one particular flavor that everyone associates with Asian cuisine. This homely root is probably the key ingredient for boosting the popularity of Asian cuisine in the US. Ginger’s aromatic and "heat" qualities add flavor and intrigue to entrees, sauces, accompaniment dishes and desserts.

No one is really certain where ginger originated or even how old it is because it has never been found growing wild. The earliest ginger cultivators were in India and China; ginger comes from the Indian Sanskrit word for "antlers" (you can see the resemblance). During the Middle Ages, ginger was traded as actively as salt and pepper and introduced to Western culture in gingerbread and cookies. Ground ginger was used as a condiment to enhance the flavor of beer in medieval England; this ginger beer was the forerunner of ginger ale.

Fresh, Powdered, Dried Fresh ginger has a clean, palate-cleansing property and adds a refreshing, delicate flavor. Fresh ginger, also called green ginger, is essential in Asian and Indian cuisine. It can give a subtle heat to sorbets and dessert sauces (think: ginger-mango sauce for a lemon sorbet) and piquancy and warmth to braised vegetables (think: bok choy braised in mushroom broth with ginger and garlic) and stir fries. To get the most from fresh ginger, peel it and mince, thinly slice or grate it. Large pieces of ginger do not release much flavor and can be too intense if bitten into. Fresh ginger (unpeeled) will last up to one month in the refrigerator.

Dried ginger, usually ground into a powder, is usually a combination of several types of ginger, giving a different flavor and heat to recipes. Ground ginger shows the best in baked goods. Add an Asian flair to your breakfast menu with tangerine-ginger muffins or ginger-kumquat crepes. Crystallized ginger is a dried, sweetened form of ginger and can be eaten as candy or used in cooking; it may or may not be vegan, depending on the sweetener used. Green ginger is allowed to soak in sugar syrup and is then dried and coated with sugar, creating a sweet-but-hot candy. Crystallized ginger can be chopped into baked goods, used in sauces to provide a counterpoint for fiery entrees (think: three-chili "beef" stirfry with ginger-pineapple sauce) or can be served with ice cream or sorbets.

Aficionados of vegetarian sushi will recognize preserved ginger. Pretty in pink, preserved ginger is green ginger that has been thinly sliced and stored in light syrup. This salmon-colored ginger has a sharp, concentrated flavor and is traditionally served as a condiment for sushi, but has lots of applications for vegetables and cooked grains, such as rice and couscous (I know, couscous isn’t a grain, but a pasta). Serve it on the side instead of a sauce or toss it in at the end of cooking to give a clean Asian flavor.

Acid is Good
Sourness and tang are an important component to the many-layered complexity of Asian flavor building. Asian countries were producing vinegar long before European cuisine had discovered it. Used as both a condiment and cooking ingredient, there are a huge number of Asian vinegars from which to select. Chinese vinegars, made largely from rice, as used for dipping sauces, marinades and dressings. Shanxi vinegar is the balsamic vinegar of China. It is a black vinegar made from sorghum, barley and dried peas and is popularly used for pot stickers, soups and noodle dishes. Japanese vinegars, also mostly made from rice, are milder than Chinese vinegars. Vinegar trivia: "sushi" translates as "vinegared rice." To establish if a vinegar is vegan (due to the filtering process), contact the producer.

Tamarind, a fruit which produces flavorful seed pods, is very widely used in Asian cuisine. If you have enjoyed the soury tang of Chinese, Thai, Indian and even Central and South American cuisine, you have experienced the versatility of tamarind. In Asian cuisine, tamarind is used just like lemon in American cuisine, for acid flavoring. Purchase tamarind as an extract, powder, paste or concentrate (it is available fresh, but is too labor intensive to use easily) and include it in hot and sour soups and sauces, curries, marinades and even beverages (think: tamarind-strawberry lemonade).

Dipping All the Way
A small bowl of dipping sauce can heighten the enjoyment of Asian finger foods and of fresh vegetables. Ranging from a small dish of soy sauce to complex sauces, dipping sauces should be served with won ton, spring rolls, noodles, tempura, and satays (skewered, thin sliced, grilled vegetables or tofu, seitan, or tempeh).

Have a tasting of commercial dipping sauces and serve as is or add your own signature ingredients. To whip up some fast sauces, try the following:

Dessert in the Middle East
Cooking in the Middle East is deeply traditional, with respect for customs and loyalties. Ingredients are selected carefully and may have histories and legends attached to them. For example, milk mixed with honey and cinnamon combined with eggs (you can use egg replacer, soy milk, and another sweetener for vegans) are said to awaken thoughts of love in many of the heroes of yesteryear. Spices are particularly valued in Middle Eastern cooking and vary from region to region. Cinnamon, mint, honey, pine nuts, cloves, almonds, dried fruit such as dates and apricots, coffee, sesame, and yogurt (use soy yogurt!) are found in some combination in most countries and are used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes.

Yogurt is used both as an ingredient and as a beverage in Middle Eastern cooking. Soy yogurt can be used in place of dairy yogurt. Choose unflavored yogurt if you want to give your menus a Middle Eastern flair. Thin yogurt with a small amount of ice water and flavor with peach or apricot nectar, crushed strawberries or raspberry syrups; serve over ice as a refreshing drink. It is believed that yogurt is a health food in many Middle Eastern countries, capable of prolonging youth and fortifying the soul; it is recommended there for relief of ulcers, sunburn and to prevent hangovers. You can use it as a dessert sauce, flavored with liqueurs, syrups, or pureed fruit or use it to replace some or all of the liquid in baking recipes, to give a pleasant "tang." Try a combination of yogurt, sour cream, brown sugar, whipped cream, orange zest, and orange juice for a modern take-off on mandalina, a traditional Egyptian sweet. A similar combination, flavored with nutmeg and dried apricots is a traditional Lebanese dessert. Use either as a dessert sauce, served over fresh melon or berries, or served over phyllo. You can find vegetarian phyllo in the frozen section of many markets.

The current trend towards flakier and lighter-appearing desserts fits a major ingredient of Middle Eastern desserts to a T. Phyllo dough originated in the middle East and is a lightly textured pastry dough, perfect to show off seasonal or frozen fruit, sorbets, dried fruit, nuts, and dessert sauces.

Phyllo (also spelled "filo" or "fillo") is a paper thin dough or pastry sheet used to make Middle Eastern and Greek desserts. European bakers adapted this delicate dough for their own purposes, using it to enrobe apples, raisins and sweet spices - the apple strudel was born! Purists would tell you that there is a difference between strudel and phyllo, but for our purposes, they are interchangeable.

Phyllo dough can, of course, be made from scratch. If you have ever seen puff pastry dough made, you know that it has over 1000 layers by the time it is completed; phyllo has even more! For our money (and sanity), we work with frozen phyllo dough, which is available in 11x17 inch sheets. A one pound box usually has about 25 sheets. Frozen phyllo dough is very delicate and requires a delicate touch. After much pain and aggravation we can give you the two most important points for handling frozen phyllo: be sure to allow phyllo to thoroughly thaw (in the plastic sleeve it comes in) before handling and after opening the package, be sure to keep the sheets covered with a damp towel to avoid drying. Work with one sheet at a time, keeping the remainder covered. If you follow these points and have a little patience, you can create some wonderful phyllo desserts.

If you don’t have the time to prepare your own baklava, you can still work with phyllo to prepare desserts. Shred or slice thawed phyllo and bake on a lined baking sheet until golden brown. Serve hot, topped with vanilla, peach or pistachio sorbet, frozen yogurt, or orange or lemon sorbet; garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon or chopped nuts or dried fruit. Thawed phyllo can be shredded and molded into individual containers and baked or deep-fried, to form dessert nests. Fill with sweetened yogurt; make your own by combining unflavored yogurt with chopped nuts, chopped dates, and fresh berries.

Every country has its version of petite fours, or small dessert delicacies. To create a Middle Eastern dessert table, create platters with many varieties of dried fruit, especially dates, raisins, figs and apricots. Prepare a yogurt-cream dip for them, flavored with orange and lemon zest, cinnamon and sweetener. Nuts, especially almonds and pistachios are traditional. Order frozen baklava and serve warm, with clove and cinnamon flavored syrups. Prepare or purchase macaroons and serve garnished with chopped nuts. We have included several recipes for "sweet meats" or Middle Eastern petite fours, that are simple to prepare and can be made ahead of time. Halavah, a dry candy made from crushed sesame seeds, comes in a long bar and can be sliced and served with chopped nuts.

Hot coffee or tea is an important part of the Middle Eastern dessert course. In Morocco you will find sweetened mint tea, served piping hot, almost as thick as syrup. Turkish coffee, which can be found all over the Middle East, is brewed to varying degrees of strength and sweetness. With the current popularity of coffee drinks, you might want to invest in several French presses and have a table side presentation of brewed Turkish coffee. Serve Turkish coffee in espresso or demitasse cups, accompanied by sugar cubes and plates of dried fruit and nuts.

On to India
Culinary India Vocabulary
If you’re going to serve it, you have to name it ! Here’s some help:

From-scratch chai can be made in a microwave, first brewing the tea and then heating the tea and milk together. Try it with soy milk and vegetarian sweetener. We know it can be done. My local Starbucks does this very successfully for customers.

Chai is a big seller in the States. Coffee chains are offering hot and iced chai, chai lattes and chai smoothies. Chai mixes are available in powder and concentrate form. You can prepare chai and hold it in the refrigerator or circulate it in a jet spray. There are even chai mix variations, made with green tea, decaffeinated black tea and with herbal tea and soy and rice milk.

Don’t think about chai as only a beverage. It can be frozen and served as a sorbet or thickened and used as a dessert sauce for cake and baked goods. We’ve seen chai-flavored coffee cakes and cake frosting and fillings.

Treat yourself to a cup of fragrant, aromatic chai at your favorite Indian restaurant and then start thinking about chai applications for your menu.

Culinary India is a world of spices and teas. Chefs not only need to be versed in cooking techniques, but in the art of spice balance. Every meal must be the correct mixture of "hot" and "cool" spices to please the palate and both stimulate and soothe the soul. Let’s take the world’s fastest culinary India tour.

Eastern Indian cuisine, with influences from the Bengal region and from Calcutta, is largely a coastal cuisine, with rice as a staple. Curries are thin and sometimes sweet, served with vegetables. Eastern Indian cuisine is not elaborate, taking advantage of the fresh ingredients from coastal growing. The most popular bread is puri (see side bar), fried into puffs. Desserts rely on thickened milk puddings and even a pudding of white potatoes, yogurt, almonds and raisins, called dum aloo.

Northern Indian cuisine reflects the many visitors who conquered the area. Greek, Persian, Chinese and even Turkish kings left their mark on North India, the center of which is Delhi. From Persia came pomegranates, dates, melons and figs; the Persians even imported ice from the Himalayas to cool their drinks and summer dishes. Delhi’s cuisine is considered the epitome of Indian cuisine, with many elaborate dishes. Tandoor ovens are used to barbecue meat and vegetables and bake bread. Pilafs and biranyi are rice dishes prepared with dried fruit and nuts and can be sweet or savory. This is a very fertile growing region, and there are many types of bread prepared from whole and processed grain. Naan is a yogurt-marinated bread baked in a tandoor, chapatis are whole grain flat breads that can be grilled or baked and paratha are similar to whole grain pancakes.

Southern Indian cuisine is largely vegetarian and could be considered the most aromatic of India’s cuisines. Curries (dishes with spiced sauces) are popular, served with raita, a cooling yogurt sauce made with thinned yogurt and chopped vegetables and fruit, depending on the season. A favorite snack food is idli, a crunchy treat of dried beans, rice Krispie-like grains and chutney or other condiments. Dosas are thick crepes that can be stuffed with cooked potato and sweet or savory seasonings.

Western Indian cuisine has Bombay as its base. Puri, fried bread puffs are popular as is paneer. Paneer is a dense yogurt cheese which is cut into small squares and used in curries, vegetable dishes and sweet desserts. Palek paneer is an Indian version of creamed spinach and is very popular as an entrée or a side dish. Shrikhand is a sinfully sweet, thickened yogurt dessert, flavored with cardamom or mango.

Now that we’ve listed the exotic, let’s talk about what you can do. First thing is to visit an Indian restaurant and grocery store, so you can be immersed in the aura of an Indian spice cloud. The next is to procure spices.

Indian chefs do not purchase spice mixes, as combinations vary from place to place. You can purchase separate spices and prepare your own mixtures or you can purchase some of the blends that are available as a convenience items in many Indian groceries. Remember to look for masala, as this is the Indian word for "spice." Garam masala is a general term for a spice mix, and many types are sold, some sweet and some savory. Spices are toasted dry or with a bit of ghee (clarified butter - not vegan) before being tossed into dishes. The toasting develops the flavor and color of the spices. We have purchased tea masala, a blend for flavoring hot or cold tea, and used it in custards, dessert sauces and to flavor melon or orange sorbets.

Pilafs can be Indian-influenced. Use a basmanti or jasmine rice as a base. Saute a spice mix, such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves, quickly in butter or oil. Add uncooked rice and cook until rice is golden. Add stock and allow rice to simmer until liquid is absorbed. Garnish with chopped pistachios or almonds, chopped raisins or dates and green peas. Saffron can be used to color and flavor the stock, if you have the budget for it. Turmeric is called "poor man’s saffron" because it gives the same yellow color to foods as saffron. Just be careful with turmeric, as it can give a bitter flavor if used in excess.

Simple steamed rice or steamed or grilled vegetables can be "India-ized" by the condiments served with them. Chutneys are the Indian version of salsa, served with every meal. Chutneys are available commercially or you can make them in your kitchen. Apricot chutney is a combination of fresh apricots (or you can use peaches), vinegar, sugar, onions, garlic, raisins, fresh ginger and red pepper flakes, simmered together and allowed to marinate. Chutneys can be made with plums, apples, melon, and berries or most seasonal fruit. Serve chutneys with omelets in the morning, roasted, grilled tofu, steamed rice, and even used in salad dressings. Other Indian condiments include achar, which are pickled fruit and vegetables, such as mango, cucumber and carrot, raita, a yogurt dressing, and spicy bhurtas. Dhal is a thin lentil stew and is served with all savory dishes. Prepare a batch and serve it with your lunch and dinner items, as a dipping sauce for veggies or chips, and as a sauce for rice or vegetables.

Indian breads are wonderful in their variety and their texture. It is possible to prepare them yourself, but we suggest purchasing them frozen and reheating, much as many of us purchase frozen croissants or danish. Hard to dedicate the time and the talent to preparing them from scratch, especially when frozen items are very acceptable. Naan is made in round or oval shapes and is a yeast dough enriched with yogurt and butter. Naan can be reheated with roasted garlic or onions, or with fresh ginger, and orange peel. Chappatis are whole wheat flat breads, and can be used as wraps as well as in a bread basket. Throw chappatis into the deep fryer and they wil puff, wonderful when eaten hot, with chutney. Roti are thin, round or oval discs of lentil flour, available with many different seasonings. They are toasted quickly in oil or in dry, very hot skillet and served instead of chips or dinner rolls.

Ask your supplier about purchasing frozen Indian breads in a variety of flavors, both sweet and savory. Use naans to make stuffed sandwiches, chappatis to make wrap sandwiches and serve roti with hot or cold dips. Or combine all three for a bread basket, serve with butter and chutney or bhurta.

Indian desserts can be as simple as chilled melons or sliced oranges served with a sweet raita. Indian rice or carrot pudding is thickened with simmered yogurt and sugar and flavored with cardamom. Served warm, these puddings are garnished with pistachios or almonds and raisins. Shirkhand, a thickened sweet yogurt which can be frozen and served like a chilled mousse, is available already prepared and ready to serve. Indian sweet shops have an amazing array of dessert snacks, made from honey, ground nuts and seeds, dried fruit and lentil and wheat flour. These sweets are served as a variety on a tray, accompanied by chai masala or lasi. Lasi is a yogurt drink, which, when made sweet is flavored with rose water or mango. Lasi is easy to reproduce in a restaurant, by blending plain yogurt, ripe mango and honey. Serve lasi over ice, in a smoothie, or freeze it for a frozen dessert.

Indian cuisine is a diverse of the geography it covers. Blend up some spices, brew up some chai and enter the aromatic world of Indian cuisine.

A La Francaise
It’s All in a Name: mixed vegetables sound boring? Offer a "bouquetiere legumes" (literally a "bouquet of vegetables")!

Once Upon a Time
The French didn’t do raw. According to the thinking of the time, raw produce could kill you. This theory was espoused by the same people who felt that tomatoes, eaten in any form, were a certain death sentence (or an aphrodisiac - the debate went back and forth). However, they got over it in a big way and went on to make cooked and uncooked produce an integral part of French cuisine.

Adding a French accent, whether it be the earthy accent of the bistro or the upscale accent of the salle, is easily accomplished by taking advantage of seasonal produce. French cuisine has a healthy respect for produce that is easily translatable to your menus. Adding these French accents will enliven your traditional offerings and spark interest in your new items.

Put it in the Potage
Every time you add carrots, celery, and onions to your soups, stews and sauces you can thank the French chefs of yore. Called "mirepoix," this savory mixture of two parts carrots and two parts onions to one part celery forms the flavor base for many, many dishes.

Vegetable purees are also a timely French cooking technique. Today they are easy to do - whirl the food processor for a second and achieve a rainbow of beet red, carrot or pumpkin orange, squash yellow and pepper green. In the bad old days veggies were pushed through a chinois (a fine-mesh sieve) or cranked through a food mill. Vegetable purees can be used in soups to give the taste and appearance of cream or butter without the added fat. Potage Crecy is a "cream" of carrot soup prepared with carrots, potatoes and fresh herbs. Vichyssoises is a puree of potatoes and leeks, traditionally served cold, but doing very well when served hot during the winter months.

French onion soup is a bread-thickened soup, a peasant dish elevated to classical heights. Prepare a hearty onion soup as luncheon entrée by sautéing sliced onions until they are golden and covering with stock, allowing to simmer for 15 minutes. Place two slices of croutons (oven-toasted bread) in an oven-proof dish, pour soup over the croutons, top with a thick layer soy cheese, sprinkle with margarine and broil until brown. Don’t confine yourself to one type of onion or unflavored croutons; how about sweet onion soup with rosemary-herbed crouton or a red onion and leek soup with a basil and oregano-herbed crouton!

We’re not really sure if ratatouille is soup or a stew, but we know it is wonderful. A seasonal melange of stewed eggplant, summer squashes, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic, ratatouille encompasses all the flavors of Provence in a bowl. Cost effective, using squash in season, and dramatic in presence, use ratatouille as a vegetarian entrée, instead of pasta or grains to carry an entrée or as a colorful side dish.

Life is But a Pomme
Gratin dauphinoise, Grandmere mashed potatoes with onions and rosemary, crispy potato and mushroom cake, light as a feather pomme souffle, or golden gaufrettes, potato, artichoke and cheese gratin, and of course the famous pommes frites. When it comes to potatoes, say "mais oui" (oh, yes!).

Potatoes are versatile, inexpensive and can be oh, so French. Puree potatoes (mashed so fine that they can be piped through a pastry bag), mix with a bit of egg replacer, margarine and nutmeg, and pipe in rosettes or borders. Bake or broil, make ahead and freeze, your potato duchesse add glamour to vegetable dishes. Duchesse can be done with white potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips and winter squash for different colors and flavors.

A potato "souffle" is an upscale alternate to a French fry. Slice peeled potatoes very, very thin and fry for four minutes in very hot fat. Drain and allow to cool. Fry for a second time; the potatoes will puff up immediately and make a crisp, airy accompaniment for entrees and soups.

Potato au gratin is a classic and much-maligned side dish. Made correctly, it is potato poetry. To "gratiner" means to bake with a cheese topping. Gratins (which can be made with any sliced, cooked vegetable, such as carrots, zucchini, or winter squash) are made by coating cooked vegetables with a cheese or béchamel (cream) sauce, sprinkling with grated cheese, chopped nuts and/or bread crumbs and browned in an oven or broiler. A gratin dauphinoise (made in the style of royalty) is a combination of cooked potatoes, cream, garlic, and cheese. Try these with soy milk and soy cheeses.

Pommes anna is another simple but elegant potato dish. Thinly sliced peeled potatoes are layered in a circular style in a buttered casserole dish, firmly packed. The potatoes can be covered with stock, melted butter or bouillon and are baked until bubbly. Pommes anna is served in thick slices as an accompaniment to an entrée.

Stew It Up
Legumes are about as French as they come; ragouts, cassoulets, confit all rely on dried peas and beans for their texture and flavor. Cassoulet, originally from the bean-growing region of Toulouse, is a homey, savory, sophisticated slow-simmered stew of baby lima beans (also called butter beans), tomatoes, onions, garlicky sausage, and duck. There are as many versions of cassoulet are there are kitchens in France. Executive Chef Bob Okura, of the Cheesecake Factory, has an updated cassoulet which he serves over pasta. Cassoulet is low maintenance to prepare and will hold for several days in the refrigerator (it actually seems to get better in flavor over several days). You can try cassoulet with various types of veggie sausage or fake meats. Very little is used - just for flavor.

White, red, or black beans can be made into a ragout (a thin vegetable stew) by simmering with mirepoix, "bacon" or "sausage," peppers, garlic until tender and served as an accompaniment to an entree. Or beans can be simmered until soft and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or a splash of soy cream (Westsoy makes a good product) for a flavorful side dish. Here are some classic "bean dishes" with a French accent:

Salades, Too

It was only a matter of time before the French got over their fear of fresh produce. Who could resist the 50 varieties of "butter fruit" (fresh pears) that Louis XII grew in his gardens, the fraise boises (wild strawberries) found in the springtime woods, and yes, the truffles! Cold vegetable terrines and confits made use of cooked vegetables served cold, as did fruit coulis (pureed fruit) for dessert sauces.

Salade Nicoise is a cold entree salad, probably a precursor of our chef salad. Cold new potatoes, tomato wedges, haricot vert (tender, slender new green beans), hard-cooked egg slices, and poached tuna are shown off on baby greens and garnished with Nicoise olives, concentrated black pearls of the olive family. Dressed simply with olive oil and high quality vinegar, a salade Nicoise makes an excellent pairing with hot soup (try a Crecy!) and freshly baked bread. Make this vegetarian with chilled tofu slices to replace the egg and tuna (or use a veggie product, such as canned Tuno made by Worthington - see the products links page for more information).

Bon Legume
Whether serving your peas "a la champignon" (with mushrooms) or "amandine" (with almonds), offering a "macedoine" (mixture) of seasonal fruit or garnishing your red peppers "pamplemousse" (with grapefruit), you can "Frenchify" your menu with seasonal and local produce. Bon temp rollez (let the good times roll!).

Well, you made it through!!!! Onto the next (if you can pull yourself away from the kitchen).




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