VEGETARIAN JOURNAL'S FOODSERVICE UPDATE

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

Volume VI, Number 4 Fall 1998  

BETTER THAN HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
By Nancy Berkoff, R.D., Ed.D., CCE

Everybody wants a feast (or two) during the holiday season! Moving beyond the obvious traditional carnivore centerpiece, you can make your holiday offerings a veritable veggie feast.

Looking at it from a production point of view, it is more energy-, time-, and labor- efficient to produce one form of each dish rather than two or three. Under optimum conditions, you can produce a vegan menu item and serve it to everyone. Under less ideal conditions, the addition of an ingredient or two would change a vegan item into a vegetarian or carnivore item. It still takes less time to divide, say, a batch of vegan fried rice and add ingredients to it, rather than having to make two or three separate batches.

How in the world can I offer vegan items to the non-vegan world, you ask? Think about how really necessary non-vegan ingredients are to a menu item and go from there. For example, pie and pie crusts. Fruit pie fillings contain few non-vegan ingredients; only the sweeteners would be questionable, as many vegans avoid refined sugar (it might be processed through a bone char filter) and honey (an animal product). You can use maple syrup or fruit juice concentrate rather than sugar or honey in pie fillings. You’ll get a great flavor (more "down-home" style) and an enhanced color. Chances are, you’ll get comments on how good the pies are this season. Lard or beef fat is sometimes used for pie crusts. I realize that many bakers will scream "heretic," but for health and shelf-life reasons (if you want to make crusts or whole pies ahead of time, freeze and reheat) doesn’t margarine, oil, or solid vegetable oil work better? So, there’s an example of one type of holiday vegan fare for everyone.

Soups make a good starter for cold-weather holiday meals. Potage crecy (cream of carrot soup) does not rely on meat products at all for its richness and makes an elegant-looking, lowfat first course. Cook carrots until soft enough to purée (in a food mill, with a Burr mixer and in a blender) and season with tarragon and dill. If the puréed carrots are not thick enough, you can add seasoned mashed potatoes. This is one of the first soups culinary students learn to make, and they are always amazed at how easy it is to prepare and how elegant it looks. Some variations on potage crecy include cooking potatoes in with the carrots for thickness or adding a parsnip or turnip for some "snap."

The same can be done with butternut squash and most hard-shelled winter squash; just change the seasonings for a different flavor. Bean soups can be puréed to create the illusion of a "creamy" texture. Sweet potatoes make a wonderful, colorful soup which can be seasoned savory (think pepper, thyme, or cumin) for a first course or seasoned sweet (think pie spices, like nutmeg or ginger) for a change-of-pace dessert soup.

Speaking of sweet potatoes, what separates "traditional" holiday sweet potatoes from a vegan version of this dish? The answer is usually only the butter and the marshmallows. Consider skipping all the sweet stuff and offering baked sweet potatoes. Your customers who have never tried them will love the natural flavor and texture. If you would like to spiff up the sweet spuds, mash them with a little water (or vegetable broth or heated rice milk), vanilla extract, lemon zest, orange juice concentrate, ginger, and nutmeg. This can be served as a side dish, garnished with candied ginger or citrus peels, or even put into a piecrust and served as a sweet potato pie. For a higher-fat treat, these sweet potatoes can be mixed with some breadcrumbs and fried for fritters.

Many side dishes don’t know they’re not supposed to be vegan. Roasted potatoes (tossed with fresh or dried chopped herbs and vegetable or olive oil), sautéed mushrooms, steamed seasonal vegetable medleys, green beans almondine, glazed carrots (made with margarine and orange juice concentrate), cranberry sauce and relishes, fresh fruit salad or fruit compote, dried fruit and nuts, etc., are all vegan. Mashed potatoes and stuffing don’t miss the non-veggie ingredients. Use margarine, soymilk, or vegetable stock to moisten the potatoes and toss in some rosemary or garlic for herbed potatoes. Use sautéed mushrooms or vegetables, chopped nuts, dried fruit, and vegetable stock in the stuffing.

Salads can be included on a holiday buffet or served as a starter or intermezzo course for a sit-down meal. Tossed fresh lettuce or baby greens, three bean salad, marinated mushroom, fresh fruit salad, and marinated cabbage salad (red and green cabbage and thinly sliced onions tossed with Italian dressing) don’t need any vegan adaptation. If making salads using mayonnaise, you can purée tofu or purchase soy mayonnaise (read the label - be sure it is dairy- and egg-free) instead. For a vegan Caesar salad, use nutritional yeast instead of cheese and sliced almonds for flavor and texture.

Salad dressings are vegan-easy. Two of the dip recipes we included in this issue (harissa and eggplant and pepper) can be easily made into salad dressing. The harissa is ready to go (caution: this one is hot!) and the eggplant can be thinned with a bit of tomato purée for a salad dressing consistency. Salsas and chutneys can serve as salad dressings also, as can oil and vinegar combos (throw in some fresh herbs, such as parsley or cilantro to flavor).

We have found that accessories are what make a holiday meal really festive. The dishes themselves can be prepared simply, with just enough seasoning to make things interesting. For customers who prefer their food lightly seasoned, you already have a success. For more color and flavor, bring on the condiments. For example, a lentil and mushroom loaf or grilled tofu tastes good. A lentil and mushroom loaf or tofu steak served with walnut gravy, pineapple salsa (see recipe), mango chutney, freshly made apple-pear sauce, fig-pickle relish, or fruit compote tastes fantastic. We like to have a condiments platter with sliced sweet and yellow onions, sliced mushrooms, chopped garlic, chopped pickles (sweet and garlic), sliced olives, sliced chilies, and chopped tomatoes on the table so customers can create their own flavor profiles.

Fruit is sometimes overlooked during the holidays (who can see it over all those cookies?). A compote of dried fruit is not labor-intense and very versatile. Simply stew mixed dry fruit (try raisins, apricots, apples, and prunes or peaches, apricots, figs, and apples) with enough water to cover. Season with ginger, cinnamon, and apple juice concentrate until the fruit is soft. This can be used as a hot or cold side dish (it complements savory dishes well) or can be served over soy or rice milk ice cream or custard or on the side of a slice of pie. As old-fashioned as it sounds, everyone seems to respond to homemade applesauce. You can make your own, or if you don’t have the time, purchase unsweetened applesauce and heat it gently with cinnamon. Serve this along side gravy and sauce for variety. Stewed apples and pears make a delicious side dish for savory entrees and also for desserts (think bread pudding with stewed pears).

Vegan holiday desserts would fill a whole other article (there are so many options). We have included a pumpkin-tofu pie that comes out silken and creamy. Serve it with fruit compote or nondairy whipped topping, although it stands perfectly well on its own. If there’s no time for slicing, you could make individual pumpkin tarts with the same recipe. You could also skip the crust altogether and make a pumpkin custard with this recipe. Bake it in a half steam table pan or in individual dishes. Baked apples, fruit tarts, and bread pudding (moistened with vanilla or chocolate soy or rice milk) are easy vegan options. See our previous FOODSERVICE UPDATE from Summer 1996 for other terrific baking ideas.

Vegan holiday meals have lots of options. We have kept the ideas in this article close to traditional menu items. Add some ethnic accents, such as Ethiopian vegetable stews, Asian cold noodle salads, and Mediterranean dolmas (rice-stuffed grape leaves) for a twist on the traditional. Most of all have fun! Enjoy the holidays and have a healthy New Year!


Excerpts from the Fall 1998 Issue:


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