he idea of putting vegetables at the center of the
plate is being taken literally nowadays, as chefs from
New York to San Francisco and Philadelphia to Los
Relying exclusively on vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes
and protein sources such as tofu, seitan and tempeh,
vegan cooking would seem at first glance to include only
a limited palette of ingredients. But in the hands of crafty
chefs, those ingredients need not be a limitation but,
rather, a challenge, a goad to creativity and invention.
No longer the preserve of a fringe countercultural way of
eating, nowadays vegan cuisine is appealing to a broad
audience. As Annie Somerville, longtime chef at Greens
Restaurant in San Francisco, a pioneering vegetarian
operation, says: “Although historically we have been a
vegetarian restaurant, including the full range of dairy-based
ingredients in our preparations, we have come to realize
that it is important for us to serve vegan dishes for two
constituencies, an audience that likes to keep a low-fat diet
overall and for those who wish to be vegan two days a week.
population, from tattooed and pierced teens to city
hipsters to lots of professionals and baby boomers
who want to stay healthy but still enjoy the dining-out
experience,” Landau says.
“Vegan clientele has changed. It used to be political to be a
vegan. Now it’s a different audience. All lines are blurred, but
what all of our customers have in common is a wish to have
super-fresh food. With the explosion of interest in food overall
and increased access, particularly in California, to so many
great ingredients, much of it coming directly from farmers,
we can offer vegan fare simply prepared with bright flavors.
Guests do not leave the table feeling stuffed, but are still highly
satisfied, having experienced a complete dining experience.”
Drawing from many ethnic pantries, he offers shareable
starter items such as peel ‘n’ eat lupini beans with a
peppery piri piri sauce and roasted garlic. There is a
changing feature of farmers market produce brought in
daily from local Lancaster County farms, simply prepared
to showcase the essential freshness of the vegetable.
Landau’s pride and joy is the braciole of eggplant, a riff
on the Italian pounded beef or veal rollatines. Here it is
made with a stuffing of smoked eggplant and cauliflower
wrapped in thin sheets of roasted eggplant, baked, and set
over an Italian salsa verde of spinach, chives, preserved
lemon and capers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Opposite, Charles Schiller; top, Michael Spain-Smith
ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Rich Landau, chef/owner of Vedge in Philadelphia, has a
long history in the world of plant-based food preparation.
He started in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his vegan
Horizons restaurant and moved to the downtown area
five years ago, where he recently opened Vedge. He felt it
was time “to reinvent ourselves, realizing that you have
to be new to be hot. We decided to rebrand ourselves as a
vegetable restaurant appealing to a whole range of people
who would never have set foot in a vegan restaurant.”
“With its meaty texture, eggplant is such a satisfying
vegetable, and this treatment respects the inherent depth
of flavor of its main components,” Landau says.
Looking eastward toward Asia, he borrows freely
from the Korean and Japanese pantries in a spicy chili
gochujang-paste-coated grilled tofu dish served with
smoked miso dashi stock and edamame purée. As an
important part of his all-vegetable main dishes, he makes
generous use of many varieties of mushrooms, from
a carpaccio of portobello with olive oil and arugula
Vedge’s menu is cutting edge and modern in approach.
OPPOSITE: Beet ravioli with yellow pepper purée.
ABOVE: Fresh farmers market produce inspires Rich Landau at Vedge to create
such satisfying, flavorful dishes as this braciole stuffed with smoked eggplant