The “normal” line of thinking is that “Vegetables taste like grass. Nothing can ever taste as hearty and juicy as a good old steak. Give me meat!”
This is one of the most common reasons cited by most men (and some ladies) who gasp at the thought of “vegetarian food” and refuse to ever step foot into a “boring” vegetarian restaurant.
If you’re reading this site, there’s a good chance that you know that eating vegetables are good for you (at least you won’t get constipated eating so much meat.) And there’s also a good chance that you’ve been bored of eating vegetables and grassy salad (I have been through this).
And while you’re willing to “eat your veggies”, you’ve probably also realized that eating “grass” for the next 20-30 years is unsustainable.
If that’s you, then today’s interview with Head Chef, Anthony, from MANA! is right up your alley.
He did what most consider “difficult”: changing from a meat eater to a vegetarian chef in months, worked at a Michelin star awarded restaurant in Barcelona and over 6 restaurants from Spanish tapas to fine dining in 3 continents.
We chat with him about all of that, and his advice to meat-lovers who are just getting acquainted to the taste of vegetables.
Yes, there’s a “compromise” solution: eating your vegetables and enjoying them too, the way you savor your juicy steak. We’ll talk about:
- 5 tricks to turn hardcore meat-lovers to crave vegetables
- 7 easy cooking techniques to make your vegetables taste meaty
- 5 condiments that can spice up your veggie mojo
- Why keeping your ingredients fresh and simple are key to making your meals orgasmic
- Anthony’s favorite simple recipe that takes less than 15-minutes to make
Q: Can you share with us your journey as a vegetarian chef i.e. what influenced you to be a vegetarian chef?
A: I was classically trained and did not start off as a vegetarian chef. I went to public university in America for hospitality and management.
I then went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After traveling around the world and working in diverse restaurants, I worked in restaurants in China for around 2 years.
In China, ensuring safe produces in restaurants led me to examine my food sources and conduct in-depth research on the food industry.
I did research on hydroponics, a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. This led me to study the nutritional aspects various produces provide.
My research has changed my entire lifestyle and diet for the better – I’ve slowly cut out animal protein from my diet and am 90% vegan in 8-months (Pretty drastic change here).
I’ve also realized that I want to transition into the health food industry. Thereafter in a month or so, I met the owners, Bobsy and Christian, at MANA! and joined the restaurant on October 2013.
Why Star Ingredients Are Key
A: My most influential experience was the time I spent at Barcelona. I worked at a Michelin star awarded fine dining restaurant called Via Veneto. It was classic Catalan cuisine. This cuisine had major emphasis on simple ingredients.
It is amazing how simple ingredients speak for themselves; you don’t have to add artificial ingredients or over process the food to make up for bad ingredients.
For example, I love the Pan Con Tomate, a home-style tomato bread dish, in Spain. They spread ripe and full tomatoes, which are cut in half, on the bread. And then they top the bread with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. It is so simple, but so good.
Keeping it simple is my mantra. But to keep it simple, you have to get the right ingredients.
The ingredients should be fresh, at their ripe, and in season.
This is especially important for vegetable dishes because you can’t easily cover up the taste of produces that are not at their prime state (Fun fact: Did you know that ripe fruit is actually more alkalizing for your body?)
For instance, strawberries should be moist and sweet. If they are too watery and mealy in the middle, the strawberries would be out of balance.
With only few ingredients in a dish, if one is not at its best, that ingredient will ruin the whole dish. It is actually much more difficult to make simpler foods like that versus elaborate dishes.
Q: Speaking of great ingredients, what are your favorite ingredients from each season?
A: Spring – Heirloom tomatoes. Commercial tomatoes are picked too early and lose flavor and texture.
Summer – Any sort of pepper, jalapeño, bell pepper.
Fall – Fennel, lovely when braised in olive oil. Raw fennel goes great with salads, rockets, and orange.
Winter – Brussels sprouts. Cut the Brussels, half sear them, and braise it with stock to take away the bitterness. Throw some dried currents in to brighten the dish up with texture.
How to Make Vegetables Meaty
Q: Being a vegetarian chef, there may be some “limitations” you face because you can’t use animal products as ingredients the way other chefs can. How do you make your vegetables to appeal to meat lovers’ appetite?
A: There are 5 simple tricks. I like taking classic examples I was trained with and turning them into vegan/vegetarian friendly options.
#1: Use condiments with “umami character”
There are certain flavor profile and texture that you get from meat. One of these is the umami character, which is considered a six-taste sense.
For instance, in our menu, we have the onion soup. Traditionally, the onion soup is made with hearty beef stock and cheese on top, which does not always work for healthy vegetarians.
In our kitchen, I use a mix of natural, gluten-free soy sauce (Tamari is the brand I use here), and liquid aminos, a soy sauce substitute.
If you have the liquid aminos without the meat, you’d have a similar “meaty” taste and tones. It is not salty, sweet, or bitter, but fills your month. Vegetarian options like mushroom and ketchup have that same feel to it.
#2: Use “Hearty” Ingredients
I love ingredients like Portobello mushrooms. Mushrooms’ textures are chewy, and thick, which mirror meat in some way.
In contrast to crispy lettuce, you can bite into the mushroom, which makes the vegetable taste more like “meat”.
Many vegetarian restaurants, including MANA!, use Portobello mushrooms, instead of processed soy patties, as filling for the veggie burgers given mushrooms’ texture.
Starches from tuber vegetables like pumpkins and sweet potatoes can also make you feel fuller.
#3: Love your spices
When you spice up your vegetables, you give them diverse and unique flavors that stimulate your taste buds. (Read on for Anthony’s 5 favorite spices!)
#4: Add legumes and brown rice
Legumes such as lentils or black beans and brown rice serve as a satisfying and hearty side dish.
#5: Spice up your veggie cooking technique
I love to use various easy cooking techniques to stimulate my clients’ taste buds.
Q: Speaking of cooking techniques, what are some techniques you can share to make vegetables taste more “meaty”, and perhaps change the grassy “texture” of vegetables?
A: I’d suggest a few techniques:
- Grilling – For some, nothing beats a good grill of spare ribs. When you grill your food, there’s “smoking char” taste from your grill that you’re familiar with. When you apply that to vegetables, the taste mimics that of meat.
- Braising – Naturally heartier for meat lovers. I love a good stew with root vegetables, grains and brown rice.
- Roasting – Roasting is a great way to add texture to your diet. I love roasted sweet potatoes.
- Pureeing – When you roast and puree your vegetables, you change the veggies’ look and texture completely. You can try pureed soup.
- Dehydrating – If you are craving for some crisps, heat up your oven on low heat and roast your vegetables. Better yet, stick your vegetables into a dehydrator and make some veggie chips. Note: Our new kale chips will be coming out soon!
- Confit your vegetables – I used to love my dad’s butter braised Belgium endive. You can do so with olive oil too.
- Pair vegetables with sauces and dips– Make sauces and dips with a blender like Vitamix. For instance, you can make a cream-based dip like a cashew dip and pair it with steamed vegetables. Our customers mix Baba Ganoush / Hummus with salads to make the texture creamier.
Heat up your kitchen …
Q: What are your 5 favorite spices/condiments to spice up your greens?
A: My 5 favorite spices are the following:
#1: Cumin – It is mainly used in Mexican cuisine. Cumin’s smoky and mellow flavor makes it a great base for all sauces and your vegetables more “meaty.”
#2: Smoked Paprika – An essential Spanish condiment, paprika has a bright smoky taste to it. You can use it on everything from eggs to braised sprouts.
#3: Cinnamon – You can use cinnamon for your savory dishes; cinnamon gives dishes a little extra oomph. The hidden secret that makes Spanish food unique is the combination of various seasoning – cinnamon, black pepper, salt and orange.
#4: Star Anise – I love its bright liquorish taste; great for sauces.
#5: Coriander Seeds – Coriander and black pepper are great for seafood dishes and salad. Try a dish with ground coriander seeds, onions, garlic, and lentil.
Q: To wrap up, can you share with health-conscious and busy readers 1 recipe that take less than 15 minutes to make, with minimal and natural ingredients that are easily accessible?
A: My favorite is the Italian Bruschetta. You can eat it as snack or appetizer, and you can find the ingredients in most markets or grocery stores worldwide.
Deliciously Simple Italian Bruschetta
- 3-4 organic ripe heirloom tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 sprigs of basil
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1/3 – 1/2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
- Sliced rye bread / gluten-free bread
- Lightly toast bread. Best to use freshly baked bread right out of the oven
- Chop tomatoes and garlic and basil
- Place ingredients on bread
- Sprinkle with red wine vinegar and olive oil
Your secret to cooking savory vegetables?
Hopefully this article has shed some light how non-meat eaters are indulging in their juicy vegetables, savoring every bite…right now.
So what’s your trick to developing a passionate love affair with vegetables and satisfying voracious carnivores with delicious greens? Leave a comment below!