Meatless Makeovers

When vegetarian and vegan customers demand traditional dishes, it’s not hard to mix and match items to their liking.

Some customers unfamiliar with the versatility of vegetarian cuisine may be afraid that they are heading into unchartered waters. They should have no cause for fear—the days of steamed vegetable plates with a side of plain rice are, or should be, over. Vegetarian menus can more than adequately meet customer requirements for filling, interesting and hearty meals.

Depending on your clientele and your kitchen, you may want to keep your vegetarian offerings as similar to traditional offerings as possible. For example, a vegan “steak” and potatoes platter can feature a portabella mushroom marinated in herb dressing and grilled on a char-broiler. If your customers eat dairy products, side dishes such as baked potato and vegetable du jour can hail from the usual menu.

You can also offer margarine, soy sour cream, chopped chives or onions, salsa or sautéed onions as potato toppings for vegans. Other options include: grilled or baked seitan or tofu “steaks;” soy “ground round” formed into a Salisbury “steak;” or meat alternatives (like tofu “turkey”) grilled and seasoned with black and white pepper, chopped onions and garlic.

The same can be done with sandwiches. Instead of a roast beef dip, offer a tempeh or mushroom dip with mushroom or onion gravy, with crusty rolls and side salads from the regular menu. Hot tofu-turkey sandwiches can be served on whole wheat bread with a scoop of stuffing, mushroom or vegetable gravy and a side order of cranberry sauce or cranberry chutney.

Do flavors: Another option is flavored tofu: prepared or purchased firm tofu with southwestern or teriyaki flavoring. Southwestern tofu can be baked or grilled and served with rice, black beans and tortillas, while teriyaki tofu can be served with rice, stir-fried vegetables and vegan spring rolls (steamed rice paper wrappers filled with minced vegetables). Sliced flavored tofus can also top pasta.

For hearty baked vegetarian entrees, think layers. You can purchase frozen vegan lasagna and add your own touches with house sauces or homemade salsas, or even whole wheat, spinach, carrot or tomato lasagna noodles. If you’d like to skip the pasta, peel eggplant or summer squash, such as zucchini or yellow squash, and thinly slice it lengthwise.

Items to use between the layers can include shredded or sliced vegan cheeses, cooked and crumbled vegan breakfast strips, or soy-based “chorizo” (a spicy vegan ground “sausage”). Fill out the layers with chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, sliced black olives, bell pepper strips, sweet onion slices, a smattering of minced garlic, fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced firm tofu, seitan or tempeh, crumbled veggie burgers, minced broccoli florets and shredded carrots.

Use a fresh or prepared tomato sauce for a “red” lasagna and a creamy tofu sauce for a “white” lasagna. Creamy tofu sauce can be made by pureeing silken tofu with powdered garlic, oregano, a drop of soy milk, ground black pepper and a small amount of nutritional yeast.

Strata-sphere: Make a large batch of creamy tofu sauce for your next layered creation, strata. Traditional strata is made with alternating layers of bread and cheese covered with a custard sauce and baked, which is fine for dairy-eating customers. Your vegan version can alternate bread with vegan cheese or sliced tomato, fresh spinach leaves, sliced sweet onion or flavored tofu.

Select a deep baking dish and trim off the crusts of various types of bread. Alternate layers of bread with vegetables, tofu or vegan cheese. Pour creamy tofu sauce over the assembled strata, cover and bake until bubbly.

Bean there? Beans are easy to cook and easy to serve. A three- (or four- or five-) bean chili, served over cornbread with a side of brown rice, will please hearty eaters. If you’re cooking for kids or people with milder palates, leave out the chili powder and create a bean stew with a combination of white and kidney beans flavored with mild onions, a small amount of black pepper and a pinch of garlic powder. You may add cut corn, cut wax or green beans and green peas.

Bean chili can be made into a tamale pie by covering a dish of prepared chili with uncooked cornbread batter and baking until the cornbread is set. Covering a pan of bean stew with prepared mashed potatoes and baking until heated through can make a vegan version of shepherd’s pie.

Vegetarian entrees and side dishes that approximate traditional offerings can be easily added to your menu. Remember to include different colors and textures on the plate, make the serving sizes customer-appropriate, and offer variety.