With the “plant-based” movement picking up steam, restaurant operators looking to set their menus apart or create meatless (or nearly) signatures are wondering: What’s the next brussels sprout? What are some techniques for tofu? And can anything topple the reign of quinoa?
Going with the Grain
If it seems like quinoa went from 0 to 60 in about four menu cycles flat, you’re right, but there are many other grains to explore for their hearty flavor, interesting texture and healthy nutritional profile.
- Teff – A tiny grain that has been a staple of traditional Ethiopian cooking for thousands of years, with a mild, nutty flavor and a delicate texture
- Exotic Rices – Including pecan rice, forbidden black rice, red rice and brown basmati rice
- Spelt – This dense, chewy wheat is a primitive relative of common wheat, and can be much easier to digest. Kamut and wheat berries are similar
- Freekeh – Not a separate grain variety, but a method of processing young wheat to produce a nutty, almost smoky-tasting result
- Amaranth – Once a staple of the Aztecs, the seeds can be cooked like a grain to yield a sweet, delicately nutty flavor and slightly sticky texture
Check Your Pulse(s)
It’s the Year of the Pulse, proclaims the United Nations’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), celebrating that versatility category of foods that includes beans, lentils, peas, peanuts and other legumes. While the FAO concerns itself with the usefulness of pulses for things emergency food supplies and crop rotation, there are sorts of tasty things to do with them.
- Heirloom beans such as Jacob’s Ladder and Anasazi
- Chickpeas, including fresh
- Edamame (the Japanese name for immature soybeans in the pod),
- Indian dishes like lentil dal
- Global rice-and-bean specialties (West Indian rice and pigeon peas, “Moors and Christians,” which are Spanish-style black beans and rice)
Serve Your Fruits and Veggies
It’s never been a better time to love fruits and vegetables, as produce moves to the center-of-the-plate in small plates, appetizers, entrees, shareable sides and refreshing desserts. Vegetables, particularly served in season and even micro-season, are versatile challenges to the kitchen’s creativity, and they’re even migrating to the dessert, while fruits are being used in savory ways to bring juiciness and bright acidity to the right side of the menu.
- Whole roasted or rotisseried cauliflower, served for the table
- New uses for citrus: grapefruit in salads, zest in vinaigrettes, roasted oranges
- Bitter greens beyond kale: collards, mustard, broccoli raab
- Elevated basics: heirloom carrots, charred onions, green garlic
- Fingerling and varietal potatoes
- Squashes such as red kuri, kabocha, spaghetti squash
- House-dried fruits, fruit leathers
- Pomegranates, acai and other “superfruits”
- Vegetable “charcuterie” (carrot confit, crudite, fennel salad)
- The return of the artichoke
- Fresh figs
- Varietal lettuces: Little Gem, butter lettuce, dandelions
- Cooking techniques like charring, braising, roasting, smoking and searing
Plants are the New Meats
Products like veggie burgers, tofu and soy bacon used to be weak imitations of the real thing, but now they’re coming into their own as delicious plant-based proteins in their own right.
- Tofu in more interesting guises: marinated, seared, stir-fried and smoked
- Seitan (wheat gluten) and tempeh (cultured soy)
- Portabello and other mushrooms
- Cauliflower and eggplant “steaks”
- Creative meatless burgers made with mixtures of grains, beans, nuts and lots of flavor
- Cooked, seasoned jackfruit, which can be used like pulled pork