Vegetarian dishes are common in most, if not all societies so they are often not considered a separate cuisine. If you think about it you’ll find that there are many similar herbs, spices, and cooking techniques no matter which part of the world you are looking at. While this cooking style may seem simple at first glance, it requires a careful balancing of flavors to create complexity as well as an intent focus so as not to thoughtlessly add non-vegetarian ingredients.
Don’t use the following ingredients when you are cooking vegetarian foods and make sure that you do research to find out the full list of items that vegetarians don’t eat.
- Animal based products like gelatin
While some people consider those that eat fish (Pescatarian) and those that eat no dairy, eggs, or other animal product (vegan) to be part of the group categorized as vegetarian it is important to keep in mind that they are each very different and have different preferences when it comes to food.
While you may be able to utilize commercially prepared, faux meat ingredients at home diners at a vegetarian restaurant will expect something more. Rather than depending on fake chicken chunks choose to make interesting dishes with whole, fresh ingredients.
Rethink the Plate
It is so easy to assume that a plate is made up of one protein, one starch, one vegetable, and a salad that we get locked in to that mentality and it can be hard to break out of it. When serving vegetarian cuisine you’ve got to think in terms of complimentary dishes co-operating with each other rather than there being one star and then some supporting roles.
You will need to think a bit more about how you are including proteins on your plate. By combining two or more proteins you’ll add complexity and nutrition. Here are some of the proteins:
- Beans and legumes like pinto, adzuki, navy, lima, black eyed peas, and black beans
- Dairy products like milk and cheese
- Soy based proteins like tempeh and tofu
Grains work with the proteins to provide an easily utilized protein that is more valuable to the body than either ingredient by itself. These include:
- Whole wheat
- Seeds and nuts
Vegetables and Fruit
Vegetables and fruit round out your plate adding flavor, color, and texture as well as nutrition. It is especially important that you get the freshest, best quality produce that you can find since it will be a large part of the flavor that you end up with.
When you are planning your plates and menus try to keep color, flavor, and food style in mind. Vegetarian enchiladas can be served with the traditional chips and salsa, rice, and beans. You can create stir fry and other oriental dishes with tofu or tempeh. It isn’t hard to translate most conventional dishes into vegetarian adaptions – even when you are talking about recipes that are traditionally made from animal protein like barbecue or hamburgers.
For example, I have created buffalo chicken type appetizers by using cauliflower instead of chicken. I’ve made barbecue sandwiches based on sliced of eggplant. Let’s face it — with those types of foods the flavor is mostly in the sauces. Don’t be afraid to experiment with texture and flavor because that’s how you come up with a unique menu that sets you apart from everyone else.
That’s what you’re looking for, right?
Cuisines that are traditionally vegetarian or contain vegetarian dishes are often Asian but don’t limit yourself if you want to create something else. Possibilities include:
- Southern cuisine
Take your inspiration from these places and run with it.
Make It Beautiful
Use edible flower in the salads, colorful fruits in the main dish and as much imagination as you can muster. Vegetarians have a different mind set and (even though I hate generalizations), as a general rule they appreciate creative as well as delicious foods.
Learn to use small carving tools to make fanciful things to add to the plate. As in everything, practice makes perfect.
Whether you decide to create an entirely vegetarian menu, or just want to have a few great options for those people who prefer meatless meals it is a simple, quick process that can boost both the traffic to your restaurant and the number of happy clients that you have. Keep your menu transparent — tell people what’s there, what isn’t, and what you can substitute for it. Never bow to pressure to cut corners or use inexpensive ingredients without making sure that other people know about it.
People want to believe you, have trust in you, and know that you are looking out for them. How about you? Have you been able to integrate vegetarian dishes into your menus?
There are plenty of vegetarian cookbooks but you can find the recipes and tips that you need by visiting a few blogs. There are some excellent writers out there!