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Ideas for a vegetarian feast

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We are doing a vegetarian feast for (probably) around 20 people at the end of April and I'm still looking for ideas for the courses. Things should have a "wow" factor as most guests are a bit wary regarding the vegetarian theme. Currently, the following ideas are floating around in my head (without having coalesced into distinct dishes):

  • Pressure-cooked mustard seeds as "caviar" (possibly with sour cream and potato soufflé)
  • Marmite consommé (H.B.)
  • Leek "bone marrow"
  • Vichysoisse (but it may be too cold still for this to be a good choice)
  • Potato goulash
  • Maybe some real (fish-friendly harvested) char caviar as contrast/surprise after the fake one

As you can see, things it needs some structure and a killer idea (which is currently eluding me). Any suggestions?

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Do you have Mark Best's cookbook, Marque? In it, there's a slightly different version of a dish I had at the restaurant. Essentially it's a poached duck egg (poached sous vide) with some interesting seasoning and a salad made from a variety of small leaves (microherbs, baby this-and-that). It mightn't sound like much but it remains the finest egg dish I've ever had. Out of a week's worth of fine dining degustations, this was one of the standout dishes. The presentation was also impressive.

Here's the version I tasted.

marque-duckegg.jpg

'The duck egg sitting in a nest of artichoke, mint and radiccho (with additional radiccho present in the form of powder) would make for a perfect breakfast. A perfectly cooked egg (a yolk the texture of custard) with a refreshing salad. The bitterness of the radiccho was present but thankfully restrained.'

- http://forums.egullet.org/topic/139525-a-week-in-sydney-two-restaurants-per-day-plus-cake/?p=1825494

If you don't have access to the book but like the sound of the dish I can give you a brief summary of the review.

EDIT

Yeah, apologies for the dodgy lighting in the photo.


Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

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The duck egg/salad combo sounds nice. However, I'm not sure if I can get duck eggs easily. Do they taste very different from chicken eggs? Besides that, I'd be interested in the run-down of the recipe.

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Duck eggs are a little richer. If my local poultry store couldn't order them in then I'd just use some extra large chicken eggs and not think the dish inferior because of it.

Anyway. The version in the book is, as I said, different to the one I tasted.

Poached duck egg with salt and vinegar cabbage

- Cook 10 eggs in water bath at 64.5C/50 minutes. Immerse in ice water. Peel eggs. Discard the outer layer of white. Set peeled eggs aside on moist kitchen towel.

- Discard outer leaves of 1 head of Savoy cabbage. Pick the rest of them, discard stems and slice into chiffonnade. Blanch in lightly salted water then dunk in ice water. Strain.

- Reduce 500mL chicken stick by two thirds. Use immersion blender to stir in 200g butter (yeah, really). Season w/ salt, pepper and lemon juice. Store at room temperature.

- Make cavolo nero powder by removing stems of 200g cavolo nero, blanching leaves and parking in a dehydrator (no setting/temperature specified) for 4-6 hours until dry and crisp. Grind to fine powder in spice grinder.

- Remove stems from 300g kale, blanch leaves (same method as the first two sets of leaves), cut into 'smaller shapes', brush w/ extra virgin olive oil and season w/ salt. Dehydrate in same fashion as the cavolo nero but do not turn it into a powder.

- Use paring knife to remove individual leaves from 300g Brussels sprouts. Ensure leaves are dry then deep fry half of them in 150C canola oil until they start to colour. Drain, season and keep warm in food dehydrator.

- Blend 15g freeze-dried sherry vinegar until you have a fine powder. Blend with 15g Malto.

- Reheat eggs in combi oven at 55C for 15 minutes then season w./ salt and pepper. Use tea strainer to dust w/ cavolo nero powder. Reheat Savoy cabbage in the butter/stock mixture and season. Steam the Brussels sprouts leaves (not the deep-fried ones, the half you left untouched) w/ chicken stock then toss in butter and season.

- Plating: Savoy cabbage in the middle of the plate w/ an egg on top. Starting w/ steamed Brussels sprouts, build a pile of steamed and deep-fried leaves in a neat pile resting against base of egg. Finish with kale on top of that pile. Dust dish with a little of the vinegar powder.

Good luck finding freeze-dried sherry vin.

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On the egg theme, I had a very pleasant and similar dish at the Harwood Arms in London last year, from their vegetarian menu; it was a SV egg deep fried in panko on a baby leaf salad with hazelnut oil, halzelnut pieces (I think there were pieces), white truffle and deep-fried Jerusalem artichoke crisps. It was delicious but turned out to be rather one-dimensional; all the major flavours were sort of autumnal and soft. If it had had some bitterness such as the radicchio suggested above it would have been perfect. Google images of the meat version of the egg (a Scotch egg) are numerous.

I think it would be nice to serve the breaded egg in an egg cup, as it looks a little like an egg still in the shell. Then you could sneak a little surprise, such as a crouton with truffle oil, into the cup under the egg as well. If you are willing to spend some long a frustrating moments extracting eggs from their shells, the egg can be served alongside something stuffed into the whole voided shell; a sauce or relish, or, if the radicchio idea were taken up, a little raddichio risotto, for example. For a rather kitsch touch you could also gather the shells well ahead of time and serve them with some living mustard cress growing inside, with some little scissors to snip it with (egg and cress is ubiquitous as a sandwich filling in these parts).

Indeed stuffed vegetables would be another retro notion (baby pumpkins, round courgettes); you can put pureed soups and risottos inside them. Perhaps it's too old-fashioned though :biggrin:

Another very beautiful dish I've recently made myself inspired by the terrines topic on this forum (and which has the advantage that it can be prepared in advance) is a roast mediterranean vegetable terrine; it's set with agar agar, which you can easily get in powder form from the supermarket where I live. The terrine tin is lined with spinach or chard, then strips of roasted red and yellow peppers, courgette and aubergine dipped into the agar agar solution and layered in the dish. Once the dish is full the rest of the jelly is poured in and the whole thing sets under a weight overnight. It's nice to make the roasted vegetables a day ahead and allow them to rest so the flavours can develop. I served it with a tomato sauce, capers and thin slices of toasted rosemary foccacia.

I also find cannelloni of braised leek from which the inner layers have been removed, and served with a filling of creamed leeks and/or mushrooms, or creamed cannellini beans, is a very attractive way to serve vegetables, as is ravioli consisting of beetroot or turnip slices either layered or folded over and filled with a nut preparation. These can be dressed with a pesto, and of course lasagna-style dishes with strips of larger vegetables are possible too.

Member mm84321 recently showed a very lovely-looking feuillette of morels and sauce vin jaune in the Dinner! 2013 thread. I don't know how this was prepared but a vegetarian version would surely be easy to devise, or else a millefeuille of vegetables on similar lines. You might also create small quiches or streudels within the pastry theme.

Savoury custards (a truffled mushroom custard is very good) and/or crumbles (the crumble topping of toasted grains, seeds and nuts can be added to a ragout-type dish or to a set custard) could also constitute a course.

I mention just as a precaution, as it is very little realised, that most enjoyable cheeses are non-veggie, as they contain rennet (a ccoagulant obtained from the stomach of a cow). Most supermarket-standard cheese is produced in vegetarian versions, but not that produced in the traditional way.

Lastly, I made a vegan meal for lunch today, the menu of which I posted in the Easter Menus thread on this forum, if you forgive the self-publicity. The dishes would be nice in vegetarian versions too, I think. Here's the link.

I'd love to know what menu you decide in the end and how your vegetarian feast turns out!


Edited by Plantes Vertes (log)

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I hope I am not out of touch here. But as far as things I've made that are incredibly good and vegetarian, one has to be fermented black-eyed pea fritters. I started with Purcell Farms black-eyed peas, and then followed the Sandor Katz "recipe":

http://books.google.com/books?id=-zmLa205d0QC&pg=PA315&lpg=PA315&dq=fermented+black+eyed+pea+fritters&source=bl&ots=x8qiT2Ctx7&sig=OY6V5JQ0biM308jF11wHyS-rX54&hl=en&sa=X&ei=avVYUeG1F5Lo0AHU-IFQ&ved=0CGAQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=fermented%20black%20eyed%20pea%20fritters&f=false

They would go incredibly well with eggs, as well as with a vinegar-based hot sauce.

Sorry if this is not what you had in mind. But they are out of this world.

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If you have a pressure cooker, you might consider doing one of the Modernist Cuisine vegetable puree soups where you quickly pressure cook the vegetable with some baking soda, and then puree it and thin it into a soup. The broccoli soup is a real showstopper, if nothing else because of its electric green color.

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I would just suggest trying to focus less on being super weird and extreme, and more on just making good food. Having food that tastes good is the best "wow" factor to convert skeptics, IMHO.

If you haven't already read it, you might have a look of Great Chefs Cook Vegan.


Edited by Will (log)

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I mention just as a precaution, as it is very little realised, that most enjoyable cheeses are non-veggie, as they contain rennet (a ccoagulant obtained from the stomach of a cow). Most supermarket-standard cheese is produced in vegetarian versions, but not that produced in the traditional way.

Thanks for the reminder, I didn't even think of that aspect at the moment (I knew about the whole rennet thing, but since I normally don't care for strictly vegetarian dishes, I didn't think about it all).

I would just suggest trying to focus less on being super weird and extreme, and more on just making good food. Having food that tastes good is the best "wow" factor to convert skeptics, IMHO.

Yes and no. Yes, the food has to taste good, but your friendly neighborhood vegetable curry won't cut it for the feel of these meals. The standard for these feasts is five to six courses (including cheese and sorbet interludes). The things mentioned in the original post are not meant to be all implemented (or indeed any of them), it's just what was in my head when I wrote the post. But I have to find some idea to develop the menu around.

If you haven't already read it, you might have a look of Great Chefs Cook Vegan.

Ah, no, I don't have that (or indeed anything vegan). Unfortunately, it's rather unlikely that I'll find it in a library around here (Austria).

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If you have a pressure cooker, you might consider doing one of the Modernist Cuisine vegetable puree soups where you quickly pressure cook the vegetable with some baking soda, and then puree it and thin it into a soup. The broccoli soup is a real showstopper, if nothing else because of its electric green color.

I've made several variations on the pressure cooked vegetables (including the original MC carrot soup) in the past, so I'm not sure I want to do it again for the same people, but if the broccoli version has a great color, I might still try it. (The color of the carrot version is so-so, and my pressure cooked beets didn't look tasty at all - all the red was gone, leaving a murky brown.)

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I would just suggest trying to focus less on being super weird and extreme, and more on just making good food. Having food that tastes good is the best "wow" factor to convert skeptics, IMHO.

Yes and no. Yes, the food has to taste good, but your friendly neighborhood vegetable curry won't cut it for the feel of these meals. The standard for these feasts is five to six courses (including cheese and sorbet interludes). The things mentioned in the original post are not meant to be all implemented (or indeed any of them), it's just what was in my head when I wrote the post. But I have to find some idea to develop the menu around.

I think there is a wide area between "your friendly neighborhood vegetable curry" and "Pressure-cooked mustard seeds" as "caviar" (though I think there are fine-dining places which manage to make SE Asian style curries that are both beautiful and refined tasting). My point is just that you don't have to use molecular gastronomy techniques to make nice looking and good tasting vegetarian or vegan food. Focusing too much on being clever can take focus away from the more central point, which IMHO should be imparting richness, complexity, and depth of flavor. Playfulness is important too, but only once the fundamentals are there.

BTW, some of Great Chefs Cook Vegan is available in Google Books and in the Amazon preview. While a lot of the stuff in here is not practical to make for a weeknight dinner at home, I think the ideas in it really do help a lot with techniques you might use for the kind of cooking you're talking about. There is also a Kindle edition, though I'm not sure how well the photos translate from the print edition, which is gorgeous.

You might also have a look at the Dirty Candy cookbook.

One other comment, from someone who's eaten a lot of vegetarian / vegan tasting menus ... compared to something with meat, you may want to use slightly larger portions and / or make sure to include a starchy component (rice, grains, spaetzle, pasta, whatever) with at least one of the courses. I would do a test run and make sure that an average person will leave feeling satisfied, though not stuffed.


Edited by Will (log)

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If you're looking for a "wow" factor in a vegetarian dish I might suggest having some high-quality, well prepared vegetables served in a flavorful broth. If you're looking to make it fancy, you can arrange your vegetables in a serving bowl in an artful manner and then pour the broth table-side.

I've recently made pea broth with spring vegetables cooked sous vide, with fried goat cheese dumplings (goat cheese + wondra + salt) and ginger foam. Inspired by the recipe for the pea vine salad in Modernist Cuisine Book 4.

-Here's another similar idea.


Edited by Baselerd (log)

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A local restaurant has gotten much attention for its vegan "charcuterie." Maybe some ideas here for a feast of small plates?

http://sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com/2012/06/gather-berkeley-vegan-charcuterie-update-awesome.html

And here:

http://www.tastingtable.com/entry_detail/sf/1079/The_vegan_charcuterie_plate_at_Gather_in_Berkeley_is_actual.htm

One recipe for porcini-pecan pate.
http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/porcini-and-pecan-pate

If you Google "vegan charcuterie" you'll get more links and pix.

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I would just suggest trying to focus less on being super weird and extreme, and more on just making good food. Having food that tastes good is the best "wow" factor to convert skeptics, IMHO.

If you haven't already read it, you might have a look of Great Chefs Cook Vegan.

Will,

thanks for the book title recommendation. I've just ordered it.

Carole Grogloth, Hawaii

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I don't understand why some people get sceptical about vegetarian meals. There are so many things to eat in the world that you don't need a meat at each of them. Many are also clasics and favourites. We probably each meat 3 days a week.

As for the request that started the thread, it seems that you want to go fancy - but if people are sceptical, isn't it better to go with things they will identify with and be more comfortable with. Then they have less prejudices about the food before tasting it (i.e. mustard seed caviar??? you have to have a bit of an adventurous streak to hear that and think 'Yummy' - probably most of us here do.)

What about a lasagne, a risotto, a creamy vegetable pie (or a fish pie if fish is allowed). Someone already mentioned curry. Asian stir-fries can be presented very nicely. A quiche. Pizza. I could go on and on....

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I don't understand why some people get sceptical about vegetarian meals. There are so many things to eat in the world that you don't need a meat at each of them. Many are also clasics and favourites. We probably each meat 3 days a week.

As for the request that started the thread, it seems that you want to go fancy - but if people are sceptical, isn't it better to go with things they will identify with and be more comfortable with. Then they have less prejudices about the food before tasting it (i.e. mustard seed caviar??? you have to have a bit of an adventurous streak to hear that and think 'Yummy' - probably most of us here do.)

What about a lasagne, a risotto, a creamy vegetable pie (or a fish pie if fish is allowed). Someone already mentioned curry. Asian stir-fries can be presented very nicely. A quiche. Pizza. I could go on and on....

It's part of a loose series of meals in which a group of friends comes together every other month or so. A friend and I decide in advance what the theme for the next meal is going to be and we usually discuss menu ideas together, although each has authority over their own dishes. The whole thing started out as competition between traditional and modernist techniques for Tafelspitz, so there is some expectation (or at least acceptance) that geeky things will happen/be served.

Thus far, themes have either been a specific type of protein (pork, lamb, game, fish) or geographic (e.g. Italian). I try to challenge people a bit, but not too much (i.e. no offal, no snail caviar). Sometimes it works (like the beetroot sorbet we had in March), sometimes it doesn't (Styrian pig's feet soup - very traditional, BTW, but too far out of their comfort zone for some of the guests).

It may be an Austrian thing, but there is a certain expectation here that a feast includes at least one kind of dead animal. Vegetarian dishes are something you eat if there's no meat available. ;-)

We've planned the menu, BTW, and I want to thank all of you for the very inspirational suggestions! I'll post details once the meal is done, because we'd like to play a bit with people's expectations. It's unlikely that any of the guests are going to read this thread, but I can't be totally sure, either.

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