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May 31, 2011

Dining Out, Veg-Style

From fast-food joints to haute cuisine establishments, veggie options abound

Guide to Meat-Free Meals

  • Candle 79's Paella    Rita Maas

Butternut squash ravioli smothered in cashew cream sauce. Seasonal fresh greens with avocado, pine nuts, and kalamata olive vinaigrette. Candied pumpkin seeds and caramel sauce over locally grown baked apples. The message in Candle 79’s menu is clear: There’s never been a more delicious time to choose vegetarian.

“People are shocked … just floored really that the food is that delicious,” says Benay Vynerib, chief operating officer of the upscale, all-vegan eatery and wine bar and its sister restaurant, Candle Café. Exceeding all expectations and inspiring healthier living is something the Candle restaurants are known for.

Not long ago, if you craved a healthy, meat-free meal, you rolled up your sleeves and started chopping. Dining out was a challenge, and seldom satisfying. But in recent years, meat-free meals have become a mainstay of restaurant offerings. A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association lists vegetarian and vegan entreés as two of the industry’s “hottest trends.” While fast-food chains and steak houses add veggie dishes to their menus, fine dining spots like the world-famous Candle 79 in Manhattan’s Upper East Side are mincing stereotypes of plant-based cuisine.

Tips for dining out veg-style »

“I’ll never forget this father of the bride last year,” Vynerib says. “He was adamantly convinced he wasn’t going to like the food. And he’s been back several times.”

In the following recipe from the Candle 79 Cookbook (available November 2011), saffron-scented vegetables and meat-free sausage combine to make a crowd-pleasing version of a classic Spanish dish.

Candle 79’s Paella 

 Serves 6

2 ears fresh corn, husked
1¼ teaspoons saffron
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound oyster mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup chopped white onion
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
½ green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1¼ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 cup chopped cauliflower florets
1 cup chopped tomatoes
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups arborio or Valencia rice
1 cup meatless sausage, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
½ cup chopped green onions, white and green parts
Lemon wedges, for garnish

1. Using tongs, hold the corn over a gas flame and cook, turning, until nicely charred. When cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cobs and set aside.

2. Soak the saffron in 1 cup of hot water. Set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and sauté mushrooms, adding salt and pepper to taste, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to large bowl, and set aside.

4. Using the same pan, heat another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, red and green bell peppers, and 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and cook over medium heat until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add reserved corn, cauliflower, and tomatoes. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to mushrooms.

5. Heat vegetable stock in a saucepan and let simmer. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in large soup pot. Add rice and stir until well coated, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved saffron water and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Add the simmering vegetable stock, one-half a cup at a time, and cook, stirring, until rice has absorbed it all. Rice should be tender, not mushy, and retain its bite.

6. To get the socarrat (caramelized crust on the rice), uncover pan and increase heat to high. Cook until rice crackles and smells toasty, being careful not to burn it. Add reserved vegetables and sausage and stir. Cook over medium heat, scraping bottom of pot so rice doesn’t stick, for about 3 minutes.

7. Remove pan from heat and cover with a kitchen towel for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

8. Sprinkle paella with remaining ¼ teaspoon of smoked paprika and green onions. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

Reprinted with permission from Candle 79 Cookbook: Modern Vegan Classics from New York’s Premier Sustainable Restaurant. Copyright © 2011 by Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos, and Jorge Pineda, Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA.

Read more from the Guide to Meat-Free Meals »

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