Back in the day, talk of someone being a vegetarian conjured up visions of an emaciated, pale looking person who probably lived in or was from California, of course, and didn’t know anything about eating properly. We were all happily eating our deep fried chicken, country-fried steaks and ball-park hot dogs. Winds up that those hippies were right on. Researchers have finally gotten us to understand that veggies are filled with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants that keep us healthier in every way. And, who can say “no” to that?
In fact, trend watchers say that vegetables are emerging as “center of plate,” with celebrated chefs focusing on “veg-centric” cuisine. And this is no passing fancy. Food service operations of all kinds are creating veg-centric selections to accommodate their customers. Fine restaurants are featuring vegetable entrees that are diverse, creative and flavor-filled.
According to Gordon Food Service, the nation’s largest foodservice distributor, chefs are calling the veg-centric cuisine “root-to-stem” cooking – “an extension of nose-to-tail movement that emphasizes using every part of an animal – reduces food waste and cuts food cost while adding eye appeal, texture and nutrition to the plate.”
“Chefs are pickling watermelon rinds and radish tops. Potato and ginger peelings, corn cobs and artichoke leaves are enhancing the flavor and complexity of broths. Roasted squash seeds, tender carrot tops and stems from fresh parsley, rainbow chard or cilantro are being used to add color, flavor and texture to salads,” says Gerry Ludwig, Gordon Food Service corporate consulting chef.
We eat vegetables cooked, chilled, frozen or raw in all kinds of creative combinations sometimes with fruit, other vegetables or a combination of both. However, keep in mind, veg-centric’s focus is flavor; being meatless is secondary. Meat proteins are still in the picture in some dishes, but they’re being used as more of a flavor enhancer such as roasted Brussels sprouts with crumbled chorizo or caramelized cauliflower with balsamic and bacon breadcrumbs. But, you can always opt-out of the “enhancing”. Of course, you don’t have to like all veggies. Remember when President George H. W. Bush proclaimed that he absolutely would not eat broccoli? Aside from all the nutrition that broccoli, and other vegetables, have to offer, they also have a great deal of protein. In fact, calorie for calorie, broccoli has more protein than a steak! What’s more, it doesn’t come with all the saturated and trans fats and cholesterol that we’re constantly warned about.
As Chef Ludwig says, “Vegetable-based dishes become stars because they are simply delicious and hold broad appeal for all diners. When the focus is on flavor, even a humble turnip can be a star.” In the end, it turns out that like your mom, who encouraged you to “eat your vegetables,” the emaciated, pale-looking Californians were on to something.