Vegetarian Journal

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Vegetarian Journal Cover

Vegetarian Journal


January/February 1997
Volume XVI, Number 1


By Rachel Himmelheber

A midnight buffet on a cruise draws people with cameras, some of whom have no intention of eating. They come for a look at the elaborate garnishes and ice sculptures. Once they arrive, however, many decide to taste a little here and there. A garnished meal can help bring your guests to the table and may even persuade them to try something they didn't intend to try. However, you don't need elaborate garnishes or ice sculptures to dress up your meal.

Hints to Begin

The appropriate garnish is determined by several factors. An office party would require different food, as well as different garnishes, than a dinner party would. You would decorate your home differently for your child's birthday gathering than for a cocktail party. The occasion is the first factor you need to consider.
Time is another important factor. Your garnish should enhance your meal, but it should not take longer to make than the meal itself. How much time you have determines what type of food you will serve; time should also help you decide what garnishes to have. A garnish doesn't need to be elaborate and time consuming to be beautiful and interesting.

You should also consider what types of food you are preparing. Often, you can garnish your meal with leftovers from your ingredients. Another important consideration involves matching your food with your garnish. You want to be sure that the flavors go together; for example, a sprig of cilantro should not adorn a dish that does not include cilantro as an ingredient.

Some Simple Tools

Before you begin to create your garnishes, you will need some simple tools. A good paring knife and a small, sharp, serrated knife can be very helpful. As always, make sure your knives are sharp and in good condition; most people cut themselves with dull knives, not sharp ones. A melon baller can help liven up a dull fruit salad or fruit platter. If you really become interested in garnishes, go to your local kitchen supply store; there are many tools you can use for more complicated decorations and carvings.

Trays and Edible Bowls

A tray or a platter can be a fast, interesting way to arrange your food for an office party or buffet. It also works well for appetizers and children's parties. Try a vegetable tray, a fruit tray, or pair pita bread with hummus and baba ghanouj, or baked tortilla chips with a salsa and/or bean dip. Chocolate fondue is an elegant evening or party tray. Simply melt semi-sweet dark chocolate and thin with a little soymilk or orange juice. Serve with fruit, chunks of vegan cake, or with Emes kosher (vegetarian) marshmallows for the kids. Kids will also love a tray of pizza dippers. Just make your favorite pizza dough recipe, roll it out, cut it into squares, lightly sprinkle with oil, salt and garlic, and bake. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce. This snack is a healthy one that kids will think is a treat. It also looks beautiful on a tray. Try garnishing the pizza dippers and sauce very simply with a few sprigs of basil or oregano.
When making up a tray, be sure to separate the colors. For example, do not put cucumber slices next to the broccoli on your tray. Separate them with some mushrooms, cauliflower, yellow squash, or cherry tomatoes. Trays also look best when arranged symmetrically. Keep in mind that balance is important, particularly when making a round tray. A centerpiece is also important. Hollowed-out foods can make wonderful bowls for your dips. Try hollowing out peppers, tomatoes, round bread loaves, cabbage, or eggplant. Serve fruit salad in a pineapple, cantaloupe, or watermelon. Or, for winter, try serving soup in a pumpkin, or rice or stuffing in a baked squash half. Edible bowls are both beautiful and functional; they create interest and reduce waste.

Fresh Herbs and Flowers:Beyond Kale and Parsley

Your garnish can be simple and still go beyond the traditional kale leaves or parsley sprigs. Explore the different types of fresh herbs available. Many supermarkets are now expanding the availability and variety of their fresh herbs. These herbs are often pre-packaged. Try using a mix of fresh and dried in your recipe and saving a few sprigs for your garnish. A local specialty shop or farmer's market would also carry a variety of fresh herbs. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, and cilantro are particularly beautiful. Fresh flowers are also an unusual and beautiful decoration. Try edible flowers such as nasturtiums.

Some Simple Garnishes

Chocolate Leaves

Melt some vegan semi-sweet dark chocolate chips or other chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Carefully wash some non-poisonous leaves. Make sure you have left some of the stem on. Holding the stem, brush the back of the leaf with the melted chocolate. Place the chocolate leaf on a waxed paper-covered cookie sheet and freeze until firm. Carefully peel the leaf away from the chocolate, again holding the stem. Do this carefully; chocolate leaves are extremely delicate. Try to use this garnish immediately. You may want to make several more of these than you need the first few times.

Animal Garnishes for the Kids

Give your kids some olives, radishes, cucumber slices, strips of red pepper, sprouts, a squash or eggplant, and toothpicks and let them go crazy making their own animals. For a variation, try peanut butter to "glue" items together instead of toothpicks.

The most important point to remember when garnishing is that the garnish is not the centerpiece; your meal is.

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

Thanks to volunteer Jeanie Freeman for converting this article to HTML

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