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As the winter months settle in, so does our urge to permanently hibernate alongside the biggest and heartiest plate of comfort food we can get our mittened hands on.
And while visions of chicken pot pie and spaghetti and meatballs may have immediately started dancing in your head, comfort food can be just as satisfying in meat-free form - at least if Alyssa Gorelick, the executive chef of Fern, Flavors from the Garden, in Charlotte, North Carolina, has anything to say about it.
Comfort Dishes Where You Won’t Miss The Meat: Alyssa Gorelick
1. Pot pie
"I wanted to do my vegetarian take on a comfort dish that was still very recognizable. I did not want to try and imitate the meat here - I wanted the pot pie to be rich, hearty and satisfying on its own to the point that you do not even notice the meat isn’t there. This is one of the elements to vegetarian cooking that I love the most - using technique to showcase the ingredients you have rather than trying to make them taste like something else.
I believe the key to making any great pot pie is that rich, silky broth - starting with a traditional roux from butter and flour. Pack the broth chock-full of farm-fresh vegetables, chickpeas and mushrooms and finish it with fresh herbs, like rosemary, to retain their lustrous color and aroma.
I’m sure if you ask anyone, they’ll say the best part of any pot pie is the buttery croissant topping. For a twist on tradition, place a croissant on the top of the pot pie instead of baking it over the bowl. Not only is this an easier way for home cooks, but keeping the croissant separate lets you showcase the gorgeous colors and textures of the vegetables and have plenty of pastry for dipping into the broth."
2. Tempeh bolognese
"I may be vegan, but I love Italian food and nothing beats a big bowl of pasta. When I get this craving, I love to make a vegan version of bolognese that makes you feel like you are eating a hearty and meaty bolognese.
Tempeh is one of my favorite ingredients; and in this dish, crumbled tempeh takes on the texture of ground meat and if you can believe it, the flavor.
To give the sauce and tempeh that slow-cooked flavor you love from bolognese, let the sauce cook for a good couple of hours. The acid will break down the tempeh and you will realize the flavors that make this dish a comforting favorite come from the sauce, not the meat. The texture is wonderful and satisfying - just add your favorite pasta and top with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese and it could fool any meat-eater.
I love to play around with the different flavors depending on my mood; maybe adding roasted mushrooms for a heartier texture and deeper flavor or smoked spices - a little bit goes a long way!"
Makes approximately 6 cups
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
32 ounces tempeh, cubed
1 cup red wine
3 ounces tomato paste
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
Parmesan Cheese or vegan Cheese
1. In a heavy-bottom pot over medium heat, sweat the onions, celery and carrot in the olive oil for approximately five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
2. Add tempeh and allow to warm through. Once partially cooked, deglaze the pot with the red wine.
3. Reduce the red wine for approximately 10 minutes then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, salt, pepper and half of the basil leaves.
4. Let the sauce cook over medium heat for at least two hours. Once the tempeh has softened, you can use a whisk to break up the tempeh more and achieve more of the “ground meat” texture.
5. When ready to serve, add the remaining fresh basil, toss with cooked pasta and finish with Parmesan or your favorite vegan cheese.
3. Vegan bratwurst
"Some recipes become a foundation that you can use for a diversity of dishes, where simple substitutions can change the entire flavor profile - and this is one of them. This dish also makes the perfect pairing with a beer. When cooking with beer, especially dark beer, you need a hearty dish to match the flavors - especially with the holiday season.
The sausage is made from housemade seitan seasoned with sage, coriander seeds, pinto beans and smoked portobello mushrooms. You can use a vegan casing or do what I do - roll the sausage links in a cheese cloth and truss it to steam for about an hour and a half. The sausage actually forms its own skin to give the firm texture you expect in a sausage. To add more flavor you could also smoke the sausage instead of steaming.
Sage is one of my favorite herbs. It is comforting, warm and the aroma brings back the nostalgic feeling of seasonal memories. Serve the sausage as you would with any brat: alongside its perfect pair of homemade sauerkraut and braised local mustard greens (with a touch of apple cider), and finished with a delicious stout mustard. This to me is the perfect example of a dish where you won’t miss the meat. Vegans and vegetarians should never feel deprived!"
Yields 16 ounces
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bottle stout beer
1 tablespoon dry yellow mustard
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1. In a heavy bottom saucepan, sweat the shallots in the canola oil for approximately five minutes. Add the yellow and brown mustard seeds and warm through.
2. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and allow to reduce for 5 – 10 minutes. Add the stout beer and continue to reduce until the liquid is 1/3 in volume.
3. Add the dry yellow mustard, Dijon, brown sugar, molasses and apple cider vinegar and cook for approximately 10 minutes, season with salt to taste.
4. Remove half of the mustard and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Fold back into the remaining mustard to achieve preferred texture. Adjust seasoning to taste.
4. Healthy Eggplant Parmesan
"Leading a healthy lifestyle is all about balance; being able to indulge without letting your diet hold you back from remaining active and feeling good. One of my personal favorite dishes is eggplant parm, so I am constantly trying to tweak the recipe – making it better than the last. I like to use yellow squash and zucchini in addition to eggplant for flavor and texture diversity.
One of the secrets to good parm for me is using a fresh pomodoro sauce – it’s a must for me an is so simple to make. The acidic bite from the fresh tomatoes makes the sauce an unbeatable choice. This dish can also be very easily made vegan, just by swapping out the cheese for a vegan variety. When cooking at home I like to use Daiya mozzarella, which you can find easily at any health food store or organic retailer. The texture of the Daiya melts really well and is still packed with that mozzarella flavor you look for."
Healthy Eggplant Parmesan
1 yellow squash
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons water or soy milk
2 tablespoons arrowroot
3 cups whole wheat panko bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 fresh tomatoes, medium diced
1 8-ounce package fresh or vegan mozzarella cheese
1 bunch basil leaves
1. Slice the eggplant, squash and zucchini in 1/2-inch rounds and season with cayenne pepper and salt.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, water (or soy milk) and arrowroot together to create the egg wash. Coat each slice in the egg wash first, then the panko bread crumbs.
3. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until fork tender.
4. While vegetables bake, in a medium sauté pan, sauté the garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil for approximately three minutes, then add the diced tomatoes. Cook the sauce for approximately 20 minutes and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
5. Once the sliced vegetables are tender, top with the mozzarella cheese and return to the oven until melted.
6. To serve, stack the vegetable slices on a plate, coat with the fresh tomato sauce and garnish with fresh, torn basil leaves.
5. "Shrimp" and grits
"This southern favorite proves that you do not need the meat to get the feeling - using marinated tofu for the 'shrimp.' To get the flavor of shrimp, season the tofu with a kelp broth for saltiness and a creole blend of spices for lots of flavor.
Marinate the tofu overnight to let the flavors set in and when you are ready to cook, sear the pieces of tofu in a pan to get that prefect texture and char. To complete the dish, serve the 'shrimp' over grits (I love Anson Mills) made with a corn butter.
When you remove the corn kernels from the cobb, there is so much milky goodness left over to be used. To make the corn butter, steep the corn cob and the kernels in butter for about an hour and then strain it. Use this on anything from toast and pancakes or to finish the grits for your dish.
Pair the 'shrimp and grits' with braised greens - a favorite during the winter when you can only eat so many potatoes and root veggies - and the steeped corn, which becomes a salsa, as garnish."
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