Kitchen Shrink: Have a field day with plant-based foods this summer
A friend of mine, who happens to be a diehard carnivore, cried on my shoulder the other day about her weight gain and assorted digestive ails. Her doc recommended a plant-based or reducetarian diet, trimming red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy from her plate. Alas, this major gustatory adjustment comes on the arrival of the glorious grilling season when smoky mesquite aromas fill patios, yards, and beaches. When I encouraged her to turn over a new leaf, she then asked if a grilled New York strip over a bed of super greens qualified as a “plant-based diet.” Afraid not, darling, but today more than ever there are many innovative and delicious plant protein options that surpass old-timey soy boy, and also pair nicely with the bounty of fresh summer fruits and vegetables. So embrace your roots, go out on a limb, and sew some wild oats without feeling deprived. Here’s how:
All food groups have an equal opportunity to earn their grill marks. A chunky slab of highbrow cauliflower is a satisfying summer change-up. For a burst of fresh flavors slather a bright green chimichurri sauce with parsley, garlic, and oregano on the anti-cancer crucifer, or an aromatic Middle Eastern za’atar blend of toasted sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, orange zest, and sea salt. Concoct a hearty vegan chili cheese “steak” combining kidney and black beans, chickpeas and lentils with a garlic cumin tomato sauce, and nutritional yeast for a meaty essence, topped with a melted slice of nutty, non-dairy cheese. Or sizzle a thick, juicy eggplant “steak” over the grill dressed with chopped heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, fresh mint leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, and squirt of Meyer lemon juice.
Pungent, rich, fermented “cheeses” that shred, slice, dice, crumble, spread, and melt like the real McCoys are crafted from any combination of organic raw nuts, including cashews, Brazils and almonds, coconut oil, and pea and potato proteins. Toss faux feta chunks in green salads, slather copycat cream cheese on seedy bagels, melt mimicked mozzarella on flat breads, or create a seasonal summer charcuterie board pairing assorted plant-based cheeses with golden watermelon chunks, juicy strawberries, fresh apricots, pink salt-crusted hazelnuts, artisanal crackers, and selection of mock meats.
Sweet tooths can cool their heels this summer with creamy, dreamy frozen vegan treats made from oat, hemp, almond, coconut, cashew, banana, flax, and even potato-based “milks.”
Grill a beefy, buttery immune-boosting Portobello dressed with pickled red onions, baby arugula, and a dab of vegan chipotle mayo all couched between a toasted sourdough bun. As for vegan burger options, there are more amalgams than sesame seeds on hamburger buns throughout the land. Construct a quinoa burger blending the mother Incan grain with roasted corn, red peppers, and cilantro, a hemp sausage patty with fennel seeds and sun-dried tomatoes, spicy black bean and brown rice, or choice of coarsely chopped roasted roots (beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, celeriac) with ancient grains. Top with your faves, whether salsa fresca, vegan cheese shreds, sliced avocado, or fake bacon.
Exotic, tropical jackfruit, a behemoth member of the fig and mulberry family with a knobby greenish brown hull has a sweet flesh reminiscent of bananas or pineapple. But when roasted and flavored with a blend of smoky spices the pulp uncannily mimics meat in both texture and taste, especially pulled pork. Pile a heap on a toasted brioche bun, or corn tortilla topped with shredded cabbage and habanera guacamole. Close your eyes and indulge in a vegan delight often called “fooled pork.”
Foie gras and chopped liver lovers can now enjoy mock versions with a healthy twist. Pureed into a silky spread with choice herbs and spices these assorted veggie pates are scrumptious on a variety of lavosh crackers, or grilled crostinis. Let’s start with a protein and fiber packed trio of lentils, walnuts, and cannellini beans blended with a lemon vinaigrette. For Mediterranean palates coarsely chop olives of all manners with roasted red peppers in a golden olive oil base. Or concoct a bunch of Middle Eastern blends whether salted pistachios with tahini paste, or a variety of hummus dips amped up with sriracha sauce, jalapeno peppers, curry spices, shredded coconut, or super dark chocolate.
Catch the Wave
Piscivores can now find paradise in sustainable, plant-based fish and seafood products loaded with omega 3’s, and slew of vitamins and minerals without the collateral damage — mercury, microplastics, PCB’s, parasites, bacteria, antibiotics, allergens, and bycatch. Blending ingredients such as, bamboo and potatoes, red algae and seaweed, radishes, tomatoes, and assorted plant proteins, including pea, faba, lentil, mung bean, and chickpea recreates the chewy texture, distinct flavor and color of various fish and seafoods. Pokey bowls, sushi rolls, ceviche cocktails, crab cakes, fish tacos, grilled shrimp, salmon burgers, tuna chunks packed in herbs and oil, classic fish sticks, and even caviar are derived from the earth, and are vegan, kosher, and cholesterol free.
Now you can also get stoned this summer with sweet and sassy grilled peaches, or your favorite stone fruit topped with a dollop of a frozen plant-based delight.
Grilled ginger peaches or nectarines à la plant-based mode
• 4 large, ripe but firm peaches or nectarines, (2 white-fleshed, 2 yellow-fleshed), halved, pitted
• 2-tablespoons orange blossom honey, or maple syrup
• 1/2-inch piece shredded fresh ginger
• 2-tablespoons roasted or candied hazelnuts, walnuts, or pecans
• 1-teaspoon avocado or nut-based oil, and extra for grilling
• 4 scoops frozen coconut, or other non-dairy ice cream
• Pink Himalayan sea salt, to taste
METHOD: In a small mixing bowl, blend oil, honey or syrup, ginger and salt. Drizzle on stone fruit. Brush grill with oil. Cook fruit on medium heat for about 8 minutes (4-minutes each side), or until caramelized and tender. Or bake on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Serve warm in martini glasses with sprinkling of nuts, and scoop of frozen treat. Garnish with fresh basil.
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