Plant-based options are making their way onto menus everywhere. Want to try it at home? Three notable eateries showcase three different ways to get more plants into your diet.
What they don’t know…
Chartier restaurant owner Sylvia Cheverie describes the toughest audience for vegetables this way: “They’re worse than any blogger, than any food critic. They are typically under four feet tall and they are kids.”
“They are ruthless and they will tell you exactly what they think about what you’re trying.”
Here are some ways to sneak vegetables in for tiny diners – or picky eaters.
Stealth move number one: Waffle it.
“This is a really, really easy way to start testing the grounds because you just call it carrot cake,” Cheverie says. Grated carrot is added to a traditional waffle. A swirl of maple syrup seals the deal. Shredded zucchini and beets work too; add chocolate to bring out the sweet in the beet.
Stealth move number two: Shred the mushrooms.
“The goal is to make it so small they can’t pick it out,” Cheverie says. Shredded, cooked mushrooms mimic the look of ground beef, and can then be added into traditional kid faves, like tacos.
Stealth move three: Create a passion for pasta.
Look for eye-catching noodles made with vegetable dyes. Cheverie says you can add to the fun by telling the kids you’re having zebra pasta or unicorn pasta.
READ MORE: How to feed your plant-based kids
Next: Add a squash puree to the sauce. For an advanced move, begin to replace the cream in a pasta sauce with cauliflower puree or cashew cream.
And don’t be afraid to start with what your kids know.
“Maybe you’re sticking to Kraft dinner but adding in the roasted squash to Kraft dinner. That’s step one,” Cheverie says.
Warm it up
Chef Brad Smoliak hears complaints about plant-based foods, including that they lack flavour and texture, and are consistently cold.
“You’ve got to think a little creatively.”
The owner of Kitchen by Brad delivers a warming option with a spaghetti bolognese that sees chickpeas and mushrooms take the place of ground meat.
“Great Alberta products, we just simmer them with some tomatoes sauce, some onion, some garlic, celery, carrots,” Smoliak explains.
On the side: a salad with grated cabbage is dressed up with green onions, tomatoes, cilantro and ginger two ways — sliced and soaked in lime — and pickled ginger. To up the texture and protein elements, he adds lentils, fried onions, sesame seeds and fried chickpeas.
Smoliak, who has a high-tech artificial heart and endured his first heart surgery at just 11 days old, pays particular attention to health.
“You’re probably better off to make things at home than going out and buying some of the stuff. Read your packaging – just because it’s plant-based does not necessarily mean it’s better for you.”
Make it bacon
“Plant-based is not just for vegans. It’s for everyone looking for something else in their diet,” says Patrick Smith of Doppio Zero Pizza.
Smith says customers are looking for other options.
“They want something healthy, something not to make them feel guilty or bloated.”
Smith says he’s not vegan, but since starting work as the restaurant’s general manager, he’s lost a couple of pounds “and I’ve got myself more guns” he jokes, slapping each of his biceps.
“You don’t have to be a vegan.”
Doppio Zero executive chef Michael O’Neill says there’s even a plant-based substitute for a carnivore favourite: bacon.
His advice: start with firm tofu. Squeeze all the moisture out and marinate it with tamari, maple syrup and spices. Slice thin and bake or fry in a pan.
That tofu bacon is combined in a carbonara pasta with a soy-based cheese sauce, roasted mushrooms and green peas.
“The overall thing is the flavour, regardless if you’re cooking plant-based or not,” O’Neill says.
– With files from Global’s Su-Ling Goh