Sponsored by Tabasco® Foodservice.
It’s not surprising that the combination of cold weather and stone cold determination to follow New Year’s resolutions sends some diners searching for meatless appetizers. In the wake of holiday meat feasts, many want a change of pace in the form of snacks and lighter bites — sometimes lower in calories or fat; other times higher in fiber than their protein counterparts.
The challenge for restaurant chefs is to ensure that not only do they taste good but also are so delicious that customers return regularly, craving more of the same. That warrants those bites also be unique. Meat free and popular as they may be, cheese-laden fries aren't likely to nudge the newness meter—but involve ingredients like kale, avocado, artichoke, edamame and cauliflower—and eyebrows begin rising.
- Salt Baking “Salt baking really concentrates those flavors while the vegetables soften,” says Patrick Roney, executive chef at Harvest in Louisville, Kentucky. The colorful array of root vegetables (beets, turnips, daikon, rutabagas and sunchokes) on the plate is eaten by some customers as an entrée salad, but Roney envisioned them as a shareable starter. “Add some roasted shiitakes and some triple crème trillium, and it’s amazing,” he says.
- Don’t forget the dip The Cheesecake Factory’s Avocado Egg Rolls combine avocado, sun-dried tomato, red onion and cilantro fried in a crisp wrapper and served with a tamarind-cashew dipping sauce. And the chain's Fire-roasted Fresh Artichoke gets zip from a spicy vinaigrette and garlic dip.
- Comfort food with full flavor At District Commons in Washington, D.C., multi-concept chef-owner Jeff Tunks bakes flatbreads and tops them with kale and cauliflower, pickled Fresno chilies, blue cheese mornay, roasted wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, truffle, pecorino cheese and arugula. And if that’s not filling enough, guests can tie into Southern vegetable hand pies stuffed with corn, spinach, mushrooms and pepper jack cheese, all dipped into ranch dressing.
- Spice it up Chefs say spices also help, as do flavorful sources of heat from peppers and pepper sauces. Great texture and chew are essential too, although deep frying should be used selectively for the health-minded consumer. Pepper sauce specialists TABASCO® brand takes the spreadable route with Chipotle and Buffalo Style Hummus recipes found at TABASCOFoodservice.com.
- Different but familiar At City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, John Currence, another multi-concept chef-owner, serves roasted cauliflower tossed with anchovy butter, flash-fried capers, fresh herb puree and espelette. At Bouré, another of Currence's six restaurants, a favorite starter is the shareable roasted jalapeño and grilled peach chutney dip blending jalapeño cream cheese, grilled peach and bacon chutney and served with pita chips.
- Smart vegetables Currence says cauliflower has become a go-to ingredient for chefs because guests know it well and because it is so receptive to other flavors. “We’re all looking for something that’s cost friendly too,” Currence says. The dish, he adds, resulted from a collaboration between himself and his chef de cuisine, who had seen chef peers roasting whole cauliflower heads in wood ovens. Currence added flavors he had tasted on a trip to Israel.
- Spread it Harvest’s Roney says a black-eyed pea and pumpkin hummus he introduced recently fast became a favorite. Pureeing the peas and pumpkin from his boss’s farm, he adds a dose of Indian spices and coconut milk, and then serves them with garlic crostini and vegetables pickled last fall.
- Smoking Tofu Feast BBQ Chef-Owner Ryan Rogers has developed a loyal following for his smoked tofu made in-house. After smoking, the tofu is chilled, sliced and deep fried, and added to his loaded tater tots.