Crisp, colorful and fresh, vegetarian dishes on your menu can attract everyone from the dedicated vegans to the vegi-curious.
Ralph Coughenour, CEC, AAC, CFBE
Director of Culinary Services
University of New Hampshire
“We have three dining facilities on the campus. The demographics are different, but in one area there is a high vegan population. In '05, we built a dedicated vegan station that put vegans at ease, because no meat products ever touch any of the cooking equipment. We even have color-coded utensils.
“As we perfect more recipes for the station, we saw more and more non-vegans go there for side dishes. Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff is one of those dishes that has crossover appeal (see box).
“I'm classically trained, and it was a challenge to figure out how to make things like a roux for vegan dishes, because it traditiionally starts with fat. The Stroganoff recipe uses a slurry, but in general, I like to use a roux. I think it's more refined, and tastes closer to something that's not vegan. I use vegetable oil and flour to achieve that.
“The mushrooms in the Stroganoff act very much like a protein, because of the juices in the pan. You want to be sure to take the mushrooms out so they don't overcook. The recipe calls for cremini and button mushrooms. Creminis have a similar flavor to portabello mushrooms, and that's a mushroom vegans like because of its meatiness.
“Typically, a Stroganoff is made with beef, onions and wine, and is finished with sour cream. Obviously, to make this vegan, you can't have the beef or the sour cream. But we finish it the same way: over pasta. We use whole-wheat fettuccine.”
Mercy Medical Center
“Much research has shown that a vegetarian diet can actually help prevent degenerative disease. I like to use meat-substitute products made from whole soy, because I think it's best to use whole foods. The soybean is one-third protein, one-third fat and one-third carb. These parts are better together.
“We use a vegetarian menu in the hospital; this should be a place to learn for people who want to get healthier and try vegetarian options. If we don't have good vegetarian food, how will people be encouraged to try it at home?
“One thing we do that consistently works great is stir fry with meat substitute made from soy strips that come in a dry form. We re-hydrate them with a good vegetable broth, then heat up sesame oil and toss the soy strips with onion, peppers, carrots, and zucchini. It's colorful and it's totally vegetarian.
“We're also using a lot of edamame. This ‘immature soybean’ is easier to digest than a mature soybean. We boil or steam it and put it on the salad bar alongside the kidney beans and three-bean salad. People love it.
Director of Nutrition Services
Riverside Local Schools
Painesville Township, OH
“When getting feedback on vegetarian food offerings — or any food — groups of students together will be more forthcoming than if you try to ask them individually. One-on-one, students at the high school age don't tend to say as much. If you can get a group together, whether it's at a student council meeting, or just informal, that's the best way to get feedback.
“I often talk to them while they're coming down the line in the lunchroom. We don't have many vegetarians, but recently, a sophomore approached me and I was very impressed with how well prepared she was. She requested more vegetarian options, and we invited her to get some friends together for a taste test. It worked out well, and we might be adding some new meatless items in addition to the veggie burgers and other no-meat choices we've been serving for awhile.”
Scott C. Anderson
“We needed a new vegetarian dish for one of our rotations and I had just received some new sauce samples from a supplier. One was a Tikka Masala sauce, which is traditionally used with “tikka,” small pieces of chicken. Instead, I used a Mediterranean blend of frozen vegetables and some fresh pasta (see recipe). It was quick and easy and went over very well. We liked it so much we are trying to help get the sauce stocked by one of our distributors.”