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No Meat Required

No Meat Required

When vegetarian dishes steal the identity of traditionally carnivore favorites, vegetarians are satisfied and flexitarians intrigued.

Vegetables, grains and alternate proteins have been crashing meat's party in some pretty major ways lately. Meatballs made with grain. Rice and barley swapped for ground beef in chili. Hamburger patties formed from mushrooms or beans. Chickpeas instead of lamb in gyros.

For many customers, each of these examples hits the coveted ‘comfort food’ mark while being completely vegetarian at the same time.

“Many times I take a meat recipe and rewrite it substituting vegetarian and/or vegan ingredients for meat, dairy and egg ingredients,” says John W. Ferraro, operations manager, Sodexo Campus Services, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. “We have seen our vegan and vegetarian population grow, and it's nice to be able to offer them a variety of items to choose from.”

By staying true to the flavors and cooking techniques associated with famous meaty dishes, chefs can offer vegetarian menu items with a hearty homestyle appeal that also don the healthy halo.

A Walk on the V. Side

College is a time of experimentation but also of being a little homesick. As adventurous as they are, those who take a walk on the vegetarian side are often pleasantly surprised to find how satisfying a vegetable pot pie can be on a chilly winter day.

“They're one of our biggest sellers,” says Lisa Eberhart, RD, CSSD, LDN, CDE, dietitian, University Dining, North Carolina State University.

“What we're getting is a lot of new vegetarians and I find that they're looking for foods they recognize that happen to be vegetarian. They love to go outside the box, but this is the South. Comfort food is big here.”

Eberhart's vegetable pot pie is made with everything great about the standard version (that crust, the white sauce, the sweet carrots and onions with a touch of thyme) — just without the chicken. Her recipe uses big, unfussy pans topped with cobbler sheets, perfect for many foodservice applications (see the recipe, p. 32). Another success has been a dining hall gyro bar with a mixture of chickpeas, rice and Middle Eastern spices as an option instead of chicken or lamb. High school students have been enjoying a hearty vegan chili brimming with Southwest flavor at Oak Park & River Forest (IL) High School (see recipe from FSD Micheline Piekarski, MSM, SNS, page 30)

Meanwhile, out in the Dallas suburbs, Texas Health Chef/Manager Gary Vorstenbosch sometimes urges patients ordering room service to give his mushroom enchiladas a try. “This is Texas, and meat is big, obviously,” he says.

“People see a vegetarian dish next to a beef dish on the menu, and they say, ‘That doesn't have meat.’ I tell them, just try it. You'll see.” Vorstenbosch worked for years at Stephan Pyles' Dallas restaurant, famous for pioneering the Southwestern flavor profile, so he knows what he's doing when he infuses the mushrooms with the deep flavor of ancho chiles. (You'll find Vorstenbach's enchilada technique in our February issue).

Seitan: Devilishly Good

Alternative proteins like tofu, seitan (say-TAHN) and tempeh are a great way for vegetarians to get protein, and for chefs to obtain that ‘meaty’ texture. First-time vegetarians at Wellesley College are fortunate to have a kind of vegetarian big sister in Cherie Tyger, director of operations, Wellesley Fresh (AVI Fresh). She makes seitan (a wheat product with a meaty texture) from scratch, seasoning and grilling it, then adding it to fajitas with peppers and onions. The fajitas are topped with a sassy salsa made with red wine, tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs.

Tofu, beans, cheese, seitan, tempeh, pastas, grains and vegetables are now headliners in many dishes where meat would have been the star on the winter menu at Northwestern University, Ferraro says.

Among the standout vegetarian choices for the upcoming winter quarter: veggie cutlets with Marsala sauce, BBQ tempeh sandwich, tofu potato hash, veggie tamale pie, tuna-less casserole, sweet chili Asian burgers, vegetarian farro jumbalaya, carrot fries, zucchini chips, quinoa pilaf and freekeh pilaf (Freekeh is a grain that makes a fantastic substitute for meat. See recipe for meatballs, above).

Avoiding Meat-Free Fatigue

AVI's Tyger has been a vegetarian for 15 years (and a vegan for several of those years), so she's cognizant of not just the nutritional ins and outs, but also the fact that “you can get very bored,” she says.

“I challenge myself to find new vegetarian ideas, and I'm constantly looking for new recipes,” she adds, emphasizing the idea of college as a time of Vegetarian and Vegan 101. “We have a lot of customers exploring, and the dining halls can offer another learning experience.”

Wellesley Fresh operates five dining halls on campus, and one, Pomeroy, is all-vegetarian and vegan all the time. For anyone curious about the raw vegan world (nothing cooked above 115°), there is the Pure Station.

Popular items at the all-raw Pure station include a ginger-almond nori roll with black sesame Asian slaw, a take on fish-free sushi; a refreshing double mango and Thai basil salad; and celeriac and green apple soup with black truffle oil. Raw can be sophisticated, it turns out.

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

Dishes that appeal to flexitarians make good financial sense, Eberhart says. “You run into a supply problem when you are feeding only a few vegetarians. If you appeal to flexitarians and meat eaters with really good vegetarian menu items, it will be in your best interest: it's more cost-effective. And healthwise, it is very good, of course.”

Vegan Brazilian Black Bean Stew (Feijoada) Greenwheat Freekeh Vegetarian Meatballs Vegetarian Sloppy Joes Oak Park & River Forest High School Vegan Chili con Barley Coconut-Avocado Ceviche Tex-Mex Veggie Enchiladas Potato Napoleon with Grilled Vegetables North Carolina State Vegetable Pot Pie Heirloom Bean and Wild Rice Burger Portobello Panino

Second Helpings

Find these modern vegetarian recipes at

  • Avocado Carpacchio Salad

  • Warm Lentil Salad with Grilled Portabella

  • Grilled Vegetable, Red-Onion Curry & Quinoa Pizza

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