Lecture 9: Menu Construction

Required: Simply Vegan-review vegan menu patterns, Vegan in Volume-review Chapter 1 Recommended: Visit a vegetarian restaurant and note the descriptions of menu items. Are they interesting? Grab you? Make you want to order everything?

***** for college credit: supermarket project due for Lecture 11
label project due for Lecture 13
menu project due for Lecture 16 *****

By the end of this lecture, the student should be able to:
1. Explain a du jour, a la carte and prixe fixe menu
2. Suggest how to set up vegetarian refrigerated and nonrefrigerated storage areas.
3. Discuss what various chefs around the US are doing with vegetarian menus

Veggie Cutting Edge
Do you think that vegan ingredients limit your creativity when it comes to menu design? In order to get some inspiration from non-vegan-but-know-the-selling-points-of-veggies-on-the-menu restaurants in Los Angeles, we asked the chefs what they would do with that colorful root vegetable, the beet:

  1. Ammo (Los Angeles) - French lentils with roasted beets; the dish consists of baby arugula (a spicy lettuce), petite French lentils, diced roasted beets, chives and pumpkin seeds, dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.

  2. Phillippe's (Los Angeles) - they've been serving pickled beet salad for over 92 years. The beets are steamed, pickled with vinegar and spices and allowed to "rest" for several days. Garnished with slivered onions.

  3. Cayo (Pasadena) - "Beet salad" doesn't do justice to this dish. Red, yellow and striped beets are steamed in sherry vinegar, tossed with olive oil and plated on a bed of baby greens. They're dressed with a puree of fresh parsley, chervil, basil, and tarragon vinegar.

  4. Gustaf Anderson (Santa Ana) - "Side of Beets" doesn't make it either. Baby beets are blanched (steamed quickly) and peeled, pickled Swedish style with extra strong vinegar and bay leaf, sweetener, red pepper, cloves, coriander and white and black pepper.

  5. Campanile (Los Angeles) - Cold beet salad with chopped walnuts and chives in a shallot-mustard-horseradish dressing or hot beets, roasted with red onions and walnuts, tossed with mache (a baby lettuce mix) and lemon vinaigrette.

  6. Spago (Beverly Hills) - Wolfgang Puck's hangout offers a tower of red and white beets, roasted in vinegar, sweetener, rosemary and thyme and is dressed with hazelnut-shallot-citrus vinaigrette and garnished with toasted hazelnuts.

Menu Types
You can write your menus to suit every taste and wallet. Du jour menus change daily, giving you the opportunity to show your skills and your customers to be tantalized every day. A la carte menus price everything separately, so customers can order just what they want. A prixe fixe, or fixed price menu, offers an entire meal for one price, making it easy to order unfamiliar cuisine; customers don't have to try and figure which items complement each other.

Decide what type or types of menu your customers might like and build selections around them. Here are some ideas for setting up your kitchen and writing your menus.

Kitchens and Menus
Vegetarian cuisine is becoming more and more popular, as the vegetarian population in the US grows at the rate of a million per year. Making your kitchen and menu veggie-friendly includes creativity and a veggie mindset - no new equipment or expensive ingredients are required.

Who wants what: Before adding menu items, ascertain what your customers' needs are. Some customers may be cutting back on meat and dairy for health reasons, some may be lacto-ovo vegetarians (eating eggs and dairy, but no meat or fish) and some may be strict vegans (excluding all animal products, also honey and sugar). After assessing your needs, educate your staff. Include both staff and customers in mini-taste panels, product samplings and cooking demos.

Secrets of the Storeroom: Review your inventory and identify vegetarian ingredients. Here are some suggestions of items to have on hand (you'll be surprised at how veggie you already are):

Inspect the labels if you are using processed products, such as bakery mixes, frozen entrees, prepared salad dressings, etc. Some animal-derived ingredients are obvious (powdered egg, dried milk, bacon bits) and some are less obvious (trypsin, gelatin, lactose, casein, rennet, stearic acid).

Speed or Scratch: Preparation of vegetarian menu items can be made-from-scratch or speed-scratch. If your kitchen and staff have the time and capacity, beans, veggie burgers and pasta dishes can be made from scratch (these items stand up well to cook-chill). If time and skill are lacking, utilize speed-scratch ingredients, such as canned beans, frozen or chilled veggie burgers and frozen pasta entrees. Add your own touches to create signature dishes. See the side bar for fast vegetarian menu ideas.

Vegetarian ingredients are versatile and easily adaptable to different dishes. Canned or "scratch" lentils can be mashed with stewed eggplant, fresh tomatoes, onions and garlic and used as a dip for vegetables, a spread for garlic bread or as a sandwich condiment. Tomato salsa can be a salad dressing, chip or vegetable dip, flavoring for soup and an ingredient in casseroles. Orange or apple juice concentrate can flavor a salad dressing or marinade, replace sugar in baking recipes or add "zip" to a sweet and sour sauce (served over grilled vegetables). Many vegans avoid refined white sugar because it is processed with bone char, an animal by-product. Cooked black bean beans can be tossed in salads, simmered in soups, baked into breads, smashed into spreads or can stand on their own, garnished with sliced red onion and avocado.

Think efficiency: Develop timesaving production techniques for preparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian menu items. For example, preparing steamed vegetables with margarine or olive oil, rather than butter, or using vegetable stock or base, rather than meat stock, means making only one batch for everyone. Purchase vegetarian canned refried beans (the price is the same) and use shredded cheese, meat or eggs as an optional garnish rather than incorporating into soups or casseroles.

Seasonal Planning
Now that you've got the idea on how to design vegetarian menus, here's how to think about menus for various seasons. Be sure to take advantage of seasonal produce, traditional items (strawberry shortcake in the summer, hearty soups in the winter) and local specialties.

This is how I would go about planning summer vegetarian menus:
Green salads are cool, crisp and receptive to change! Build a basic salad with head and leaf lettuce, baby greens, endive, radicchio and cabbage and then go beyond…

As An Entrée, Add:

As Side Dish:
And I would create a vegetarian "house dressing," as follows:

Splash on that Tofu: Basic Tofu Salad Dressing
Yield: 1 pint

Use this as a "creamy" salad dressing
10 ounces silken or soft tofu
2 ounces minced onions
1 clove minced garlic
1 ounce chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon white pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Chill until ready to use

Tomato-basil: add 2 ounces tomato puree and 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped basil
Mediterranean: add 1 ounce chopped green olives, 2 teaspoons chopped bell pepper, 1 teaspoon oregano, 2 teaspoons chopped tomatoes
Asian: add 1ounce soy sauce, 2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
Thousand Island: add 1 ounce tomato puree, 2 teaspoons pickle relish
Tangy Strawberry Orange: add 2 ounces chopped fresh strawberries, 2 teaspoons orange juice concentrate

And now on to the actual menu planning. Hot weather dictates refreshing menus. With vegetarian, it's easy: think vegan! Eliminating meat, eggs and dairy means eliminating fat and heavy-on-the palate menu items. Vegan dishes are enjoyed by everyone and are easy on the waistline and on the bottom line.

Grill On!
Pressed for time? Purchase frozen veggie burgers and throw them on the grill; be sure to separate them from the meat.

Got some time? Marinate portobello caps in a small amount of oil, minced garlic, chopped onions and cracked pepper and grill until just tender. Prepare your own veggie burgers from combinations of cooked rice or barley, chopped fresh and cooked vegetables, tomato or vegetable juice and spices, then bake, cool and freeze. To prepare, simply toss frozen burger on grill.

Firm tofu can be marinated overnight in Italian dressing, grilled and served hot or cold. For a fat-free marinade try a combination of vinegar, lemon juice, ground oregano, cracked pepper, minced garlic and chopped mushrooms. Try smoked or flavored tofu and seitan served as a grilled vegetarian "steak," paired with corn on the cob, vegetarian baked beans, and a fresh green salad. Make the most of your grill time and toss some vegetable kabobs (button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, garlic cloves and radishes work well) on the coals to serve with the "steak."

A veggie "steak" sandwich is a new offering at Los Angeles City College. Firm tofu is marinated overnight in barbecue sauce and grilled until marked. Served on a cracked wheat burger bun and topped with seasonal salad greens, sliced cucumber and fresh sweet corn (cut, uncooked, from the cob) this sandwich is a top seller for outdoor catered events and at the student cafeteria. This summer selection is crunchy, tasty and flavorful; customers do not miss the fat and cholesterol.

What's a burger without the sides? Wedge or dice tomatoes, slice onions and cucumbers, shred carrots and beets, chop bell peppers and fresh basil, cilantro and shred green and red cabbage, romaine and spinach as toppings. Offer tomato or fruit salsa, spiced tomato puree (commercial ketchup has sugar which is not used by some vegans), hot sauce, Tabasco sauce, plain and flavored mustards and soy sauce as condiments. Purchase or prepare tofu-based mayonnaise. Soy sauce and chutneys make good veggie burger seasonings. Most commercial barbecue sauces contain honey or sugar and Worchestershire sauce generally contains anchovy paste, so leave these off the veggie line.

Summer Sandwiches
For picnic or box lunches, sandwiches are summer fare. While the barbecue or grill is hot, toss thinly sliced, marinated eggplant, carrots and summer squash (sliced lengthwise), sliced bell peppers, wedged red and white onions and mushrooms and cook until tender. Chill until ready to use. Marinate tomatoes, cucumbers, green and wax beans, and mushrooms in vinegar, dried herbs and chopped onions. Chop lettuce, radishes, green and black olives and pickles, rinse alfalfa and soy bean sprouts, drain and rinse canned black, kidney, red and garbanzo beans; open some salsa and mix up some hummus and you're ready to assemble veggie sandwiches.

Stuff whole wheat and plain pita with grilled veggies, radishes, hummus, olives and sprouts. Wrap flour, tomato, and blue corn tortillas with marinated veggies, beans, lettuce and salsa. Try wrapping with cracker bread, spring roll wrappers and soft pizza crust.

Instead of a veggie burger, top a burger bun with grilled veggies, pickles, and salsa. Create a summer sub with grilled and marinated vegetables, dried herbs and salad greens on a crusty baguette or in a demi-loaf of walnut-green onion or black olive-sun dried tomato.

Beyond Green
Vegetarian salads can start with cold rice, pasta and grains (such as barley or kasha). Prepare and set aside cold ingredients to have available for assembly.

Toss cold rice or pasta with chopped olives, celery, green onions, tomatoes, minced carrot and garbanzo or black beans, top with chopped nuts (think pine nuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds), croutons and shredded herbs (think basil, oregano and rosemary) and dress with oil and vinegar or a tomato and herb dressing.

Couscous can be served cold, tossed with basil, chopped mushrooms and tomatoes or with chopped green, red and yellow peppers, minced garlic and onions. Try a sweet, cold couscous, tossing it with fresh blueberries, shredded fresh mint and pinenuts. These combinations also work well with cold, cooked barley and with small pasta, such as orzo or pastina.

Utilize extra portions of cold spaghetti, pasta sauce, black olives, sliced mushrooms, oregano and chopped canned tomatoes. Pair with a green salad and sliced baguette. Cold vegetarian tortellini or ravioli work well with this combination .

Happy Endings
Summer time makes vegetarian desserts a delight. Fresh berries, served chilled on their own or with sorbets are easy and fast to assemble. Pair strawberries with orange sorbet, blueberries, or raspberries with lemon or strawberry sorbet. If you have extra berries, puree them with a small amount of orange juice or apple juice concentrate and use as a dessert sauce.

Melon can be sliced, wedged, or balled, served chilled on its own, soaked in white wine or sprinkled with fresh orange or lemon zest. Serve a trio of melon slices studded with a chiffonade of fresh mint or sprinkled with berries. Create your own honeydew or watermelon sorbet by pureeing melon with a small amount of fruit juice concentrate or fruit liqueur and freezing in individual serving dishes.

Frost grapes, strawberries, or melon balls. Moisten grapes with water or apple juice before freezing; berries and melons have sufficient natural moisture. Simply place fruit, single layer on a baking sheet (use parchment paper) and allow to cool in the freezer until frosty, but not frozen. Serve as soon as removed from the freezer.

Fresh peaches, plums and apricots can be cut and sprinkled with orange zest and orange juice concentrate and allowed to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Serve garnished with raisins and nuts or use as part of a sorbet sundae. If there's room on the grill, wrap peach or apricot halves seasoned with cinnamon and ginger in foil, and allow to cook until just tender. Use as a "fire and ice" dessert with sorbet or soy ice cream.

Vegan summer offerings are naturally low in fat without sacrificing flavor or appearance. Take advantage of summer ingredients to create lighter menus.

Okay, so now we've got the menus and the recipes - now let's people know about it! See you in Lecture 10…

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January 23, 2001

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