VEGETARIAN JOURNAL'S FOODSERVICE UPDATE

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Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions

Volume VI, Number 3 Summer 1998  

COOKING VEGETARIAN FOR A CROWD
WITH THE GREATEST OF EASE
By Nancy Berkoff, R.D., Ed.D., CCE

So you say you'd love to offer vegetarian selections from your kitchen, or maybe even go mostly "veggie," but you just don't have the time, the knowledge, or the equipment. You'll have to think up another excuse, because this article can set you on the path to cooking "veggie" easily.

After ascertaining what the crowd wants, you can have a little fun with educating them. First, win over the people who will be preparing and representing your menus: run minitaste panels with your staff and employees, being sure to listen to their input. Then, have samplings, taste-testing and cooking demos with your customers. Provide verbal and written information and recipes.

Now for your kitchen. You need the same equipment you use every day: cutting boards and sharp knives (watch the cross contamination; just because there aren’t animal products around it doesn't mean the bacteria have left town), steam kettles, ovens, stove-tops, etc. If you have a blender or a food processor, great; it's not mandatory. Look in you pantry and your fridge—you'll probably find a great number of ingredients that fit the vegetarian bill. Staples, such as flour, grains, cereals, dried beans and legumes, and rice are vegetarian, as are spices, canned fruit, juices, and pasta. Canned vegetables and canned beans can be vegetarian, just read the label. Your cold storage probably has lots of vegetarian selections already—fresh produce, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetable juices, fresh and frozen potatoes, certain breads (read the label), etc.

Processed foods are where you will have to become a label reader. Pasta and noodles can contain eggs; bakery products can contain dairy and eggs; and instant soup bases and canned soup can contain meat extracts, etc. The same goes for convenience items, such as frozen, prepared entrees, salad dressings, etc. Nondairy creamers can have components of milk in them. Just read the labels.

The good news is for every animal-containing product there is usually a vegetarian product that fits the bill. If you rely on some frozen convenience items to fill your menu, just sit down with your food purveyor and see what he/she has to offer. There are lots of vegetarian frozen entrees and side dishes that are equivalent in cost and quality. Ask to have a "cutting," that is, a sampling which contrast several products. Include your staff in on this.

We have sampled great veggie frozen entrees, including pasta stuffed with savory fillings of spicy vegetables and tofu, stuffed peppers, and many other ethnic specialties.

SALAD DRESSINGS

Prepared salad dressings don't have to be dairy-based. They can be purchased or made with vegetables or vinegar as the base (and they're healthier this way, too). Make a great salad dressing by starting with vegetable cocktail juice (like V-8) and blending in bell pepper, onion, and celery (this is also a good start for a hot sauce for pasta). Another salad dressing/ marinade can be made with orange juice, vinegar, pineapple, and some other leftover fruit, such as strawberries, peaches, or grapes.

Many of your side dishes are probably largely vegetarian right now. Just check your cooking oil; if it's butter or lard (good grief!), it's time to make a change anyway. You can order nondairy margarine at no additional cost. Check your fryer oil blend to be sure it doesn't have any animal fat added.

SOUP STOCKS

If you make your own stock for soup, try a vegetarian stock by sautéing onions and garlic in a small amount of oil. Add chopped carrots, celery, mushrooms (a great way to use up those extra mushrooms or stems that are drying out in the fridge), a little vermouth, peppercorns, bay leaf, and parsley stems and let this simmer with lots of water until you get the strength of stock you want. You can add greens, green beans, or beets if you want a darker color. Strain the stock and refrigerate until ready to use. For a fast vegetable-based stock, we start with tomato juice, add puréed vegetables (such as carrots, celery and onions), a dash of pepper, and a dash of onion powder and let it simmer for about half an hour. Both of these make a good base for sauces; just let them reduce or thicken them with flour, tapioca, or cornstarch. If you need a shortcut, purchase vegetarian soup bases (watch for the salt content).

Have you noticed that vegetarian cooking uses the same techniques and ingredients as you're using now, with less fat? Because you tend to cook with more flavor and color when you do vegetarian right, the fat's not missed.

PROTEIN

What about the protein, you say? Soy products, such as tofu and tempeh, emulate the texture of meat and provide a complete protein. See the accompanying article in this issue for a quick lesson in soy. Here are some other ideas for vegetarian entrees: vegetable moussaka or lasagna (use roasted vegetables instead of meat), bell pepper and mushroom strata, bean and almond salad, cabbage and white bean stew served over garlic mashed potatoes, stuffed tomatoes or peppers (try an oatmeal-walnut stuffing), and vegetarian tamales.

Finding soup boring without meat or cream, you say? How about a roasted garlic and white bean soup, a cold three berry and wine soup, or a multi-colored curried lentil soup (did you know that lentils come in green, white, brown and orange)? You can use your imagination (and a lot less fat) with vegetarian soups.


CALCIUM

My customers want calcium, you say. All right: if you prefer to stay away from soy products (which can be fortified with calcium), then incorporate greens (as in cooked or raw collards, kale, or Swiss chard), broccoli, cabbage, turnips, molasses (Indian pudding or gingerbread, anyone?), cooked beans, or corn tortillas into your menu. Already there, you say- surprise! You've been serving a calcium-rich menu and didn't need all those animal products.


DESSERTS

Desserts and baked goods can be made or purchased without eggs or dairy. (You may want to order our Foodservice Update on "Vegan Baking" for $3) Plant-based gels can be purchased and used just like the gelatin you usually use. Baked apples, poached pears, fruit compote (stew dried fruit with fresh apples, peaches, apricots or pears and spices), sorbets, and seasonal fruit salads and sauces are colorful desserts that have always been and will always be vegetarian.

There now, that was easy, wasn't it? You can have a vegetarian menu in just about no time, using the kitchen and the ingredients you already have. You'll find that you're getting more creative with ingredients and your customers will be happy with their new menu. Enjoy!


Excerpts from the Summer 1998 Issue:


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