Eating your vegetables has never been so easy.
Mouth-watering vegetarian dishes are cropping up everywhere — from fine dining to fast food — as demand skyrockets for food that’s healthy, tasty and environmentally friendly.
Thanks in part to a growing movement of foodie environmentalists, who advocate for cutting back on meat at least once a day, more Americans are flocking to eateries that offer meatless dishes. And chefs are working overtime to meet the challenge with inventive plant-based dishes like mushrooms that look like sea scallops, creamy sauces made with fatty cashews and slow-cooked “pork” dishes made with plump jackfruit.
“Back in the day, many chefs weren’t fans of vegan diners. We’d stem a bunch of vegetables and send them out,” explained Kyung Up Lim, chef at Manhattan power lunch hotspot Michael’s. “But now vegan dishes are more creative than ever. They are fun to eat, flavorful and more exciting than a piece of steak on a plate.”
“I now use jackfruit for carnitas and oyster mushrooms for pulled pork sandwiches, something I would have never done before,” added Marley Ficalora of the Produce Section Challenge app, which launched last fall to promote healthy eating choices. “It’s easier now than ever before to create great vegan food.”
Even the Golden Globes jumped on the bandwagon on Sunday with an all-vegan menu that included king oyster mushroom “scallops” featuring a wild mushroom risotto, in an effort to draw attention to foods’ impact on climate change.
The trend has inspired more than 200 new vegan dishes and menus in 2019, including at upscale eateries like Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Michelin-starred Jean-Georges, according to nonprofit Veganuary, which seeks to persuade people to eat vegan for the month of January.
“I think that cooking vegan fare is growing in momentum, and it has encouraged chefs to rise to the challenge,” said Wendy Matthews, US director for Veganuary, a British-based non-profit that opened a branch in the US last year. “The product launches are amazing and unexpected,” she said, adding praise for the fast-food industry, which now offers vegan foods that taste like meat, thanks to companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
At Michaels, chef Lim said he added a Korean sweet potato noodle dish to the menu in November to keep up with the vegan food craze. The dish had previously been available to those who asked as an off-menu request.
“It used to be an off-the-menu item, but people wanted it on a regular basis,” Lim explained.
Over at Osteria 57, an Italian restaurant in the West Village, chef Riccardo Orfino, who co-owns the restaurant with Emanuele Nigro, added a vegan pasta dish to his menu in October after it won him the “best pasta dish in Manhattan” award at the James Beard House. It’s a Bucatini cashew-kumbo prepared with a cashew cream sauce, Mediterranean pesto and bread crumbs.
“More people are now asking for vegan and vegetarian options,” Orfino says. “At Osteria 57, we believe the future is going to be more green since it’s a more sustainable way to eat and support the planet.”
He also says he enjoys the creative challenge. “I’m learning all about the nut world, which adds so many options.”
Vongerichten’s Jean-Georges added a six-to-10 course vegetarian dinner menu last fall that costs between $58 to $148, depending on the wine. Dishes include market vegetables in a herbal broth with salted lemon and foraged mushrooms with mustard frills and a pine nut emulsion.
“Many of our guests were requesting vegetarian or vegan tasting menus,” Vongerichten told Side Dish.
Also last fall, Italian eatery Felidia introduced a daily six-course vegetarian tasting menu for $98, in which chef Fortunato Nicotra tailors each menu to guests’ personal preferences.
“Customers are asking for more vegetables and are treating high-quality seasonal vegetables as the value on the plate,” Nicotra said. “As a result, I like to be creative with the vegetables and treat them like a protein. No longer do we just blanch a vegetable and saute it with olive oil, salt, and garlic. Instead, we use other techniques to make the vegetables shine, such as slow-roasting them, braising them, or serving them Milanese style.”
On the grab-and-go end, Pret a Manger is also launching a new vegetarian menu, “Veggies for All,” and an all-vegetarian Pret a Manger may also be in the works.
“Our customers have been asking for more vegan and vegetarian menu items, and our veggie product sales have continuously grown over the years,” a spokesperson said. The menu will include everything from a no-parm eggplant, harissa carrot and feta sandwich to a vegan dark chocolate cookie.