There’s been a lot of buzz around the popularity of comfort food during the pandemic, but consumer demand for plant-based options has also increased of late.
As takeout and delivery became the only way to feed customers, operators worked to adapt veggie-centric dishes to a grab-and-go format. The Humane Society stepped in to help, accelerating recipe development and partnering with foodservice providers to get more items in the pipeline.
“We focused on natural protein options such as tofu and beans, along with vegetables and fruits, and expanded into other meal parts, including breakfast and dessert,” says Karla Dumas, director of food and nutrition for The Humane Society of the U.S. Although many operators had immediate needs, larger companies such as Compass, Aramark and Sodexo were using the “downtime” to put future plant-based targets in place, she says.
“More companies are setting carbon footprint guidelines from the procurement side and transitioning to 50% plant-based on the menu side,” says Dumas.
The Humane Society’s senior culinary specialist, Jennifer DiFrancesco, focused on developing plant-based bowls, tacos, sandwiches and other portable platforms to meet the demand for to-go food. And she gravitated toward global flavors, exploring African, Korean, Latin and Japanese cuisines for inspiration.
“For breakfast, I created a tofu scramble that could be added to a bowl or taco,” says DiFrancesco. “One popular application for the scramble was a black bean and lentil chorizo bowl with avocados and lime crema.” A similar scramble combo went into breakfast tacos and sweet potato hash. And a Tofu Benedict featured breaded tofu on an English muffin with vegan hollandaise, wilted spinach and blistered cherry tomatoes.
DiFrancesco also created plant-based alternatives to sushi, using vegetables to mimic the look and taste of fish. Eggplant eel is one of her favorites.
“I marinate thin slices of eggplant in soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar and red pepper flakes, then char it on a grill,” she says. When it’s ready, I sprinkle the eggplant with toasted sesame seeds.”
DiFrancesco has also roasted orange and red bell pepper slices to resemble salmon and tuna, and compressed watermelon to fill sushi rolls. For a portable treatment, she fills a sheet of nori with roasted peppers, cooked sushi rice and other veggies and rolls it up like a burrito.
Heartier global bowls are geared to the lunch and dinner crowd. These include a Korean Bibimbap Bowl with gochujang tempeh, a Katsu Tofu Curried Rice Bowl, an Indian Chickpea Chutney Bowl and a Chipotle Ranch Southwest Bowl. DiFrancesco also is exploring new uses for grains, incorporating bulgur and freekeh, for example, into mushroom patties.
When using plant-based proteins, such as seitan, tempeh and tofu, “infuse them with flavor,” DiFrancesco says. These ingredients can be bland on their own, but when you add a rub made with za’atar, brush on a spicy sauce like gochujang or soak them in a marinade or mushroom jus, they develop umami.