Vegetables Work Overtime as Creative Edible Vessels
Resourceful chefs and operators have long utilized the versatile vegetable and other plants as both menu staples and edible vessels with which to present other foods. The sushi chefs of Japan figured out that seaweed would make the perfect wrapper for their gorgeous creations. Imaginative Greeks long ago began stuffing savory fillings inside grape leaves, which they had in abundance. With the return of spring, consider whether edible vessels might add just the perfect fresh nuance to your spring and summer plate presentations. Here’s how it’s done at several popular establishments.
P. F. Chang’s
The signature dish at this popular Chinese chain is Chicken Lettuce Wraps, in which a secret-recipe chopped chicken mixture is presented with iceberg lettuce sections, used for encasing the chicken in a hand-held edible package.
Another interesting vegetable vessel on the menu here are the jicama shells, used to hold filling in a menu offering called Jicama Street Tacos. This innovative entrée is available with Lobster and Shrimp or Kung Pao Chicken tucked inside the shells, which come three to an order.
The Baked Potato Shop, Edinburgh, Scotland
Baked potatoes receive marquee billing at this spud shop. Of course, potatoes are a mainstay in the British Isles, but Americans love them, too. Small, medium and large bakers are offered with trendy vegan fillings: Hummus; Gazpacho; Quinoa Salad (beetroot, celery, carrots, raisins, oil and vinegar); Curried Rice (wild rice, mango chutney, coriander, peppers); Cous Cous; Spinach Salad and more.
Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis
The “damn good food” at this famous and incendiary, beneath-the-street funhouse in downtown Minneapolis includes the Vegetable Frittata, whose base is a mix of sautéed fresh vegetables, the perfect carrier for organic eggs and shredded Mozzarella. The veggies change with what’s in season.
Real Food Daily, Los Angeles
This organic, plant-based eatery in L.A. serves Curry Cakes, which are fritters made of cauliflower and chickpeas. The simple dish becomes downright exotic when finished with tamarind sauce, jalapeño coconut and cashew cream.
Acclaimed as one of the best vegan restaurants in the nation, Vedge features Eggplant Braciole with Salsa Verde on the menu and in its “The Vedge Cookbook.” The popular dish employs thin sheets of eggplant (cut with a mandoline.)
Thought Starters for Veggie Vessels:
- Stuffed red, yellow and green sweet bell peppers are flavorful, colorful, retro comfort food that can easily be elevated with upscale fillings and regional specialties.
- Hollowed out blanched zucchini and yellow squash make excellent boats in which to serve savory salads, ancient grains, vegetable ragout, rice pilaf, etc.
- Guacamole will seem even fresher when served in its
own half shell.
- Giant Portobello mushroom caps make the perfect chalice to fill with everything from rustic sausage and herbed panko crumbs to fancy lobster risotto with asparagus tips.
- Using a mandoline, cut vegetables such as zucchini or eggplant into long, thin strips that can be used as revolutionary lasagna noodles.
- Using a spiralizer, create guilt-free colorful spaghetti from zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, etc. After cooking “al dente,” form the veggie strands into a nest on the plate, and top with traditional tomato or alfredo sauce, meatballs, seafood, olive oil and herbs, freshly grated Parmesan or Romano, or whatever.