Tag Archives: zucchini

Smoky Grilled Veggies With Romesco Sauce

My friend Julia, who has been getting over the vegan hump for a couple of weeks, asked what she should do about a recent dinner invitation to a French restaurant. She’s worried that there may not be any food choices sans animal products. She’s smart to be thinking ahead. Let’s face it: if it were legal for a French chef to marry a wheel of brie, a brick of butter or a slab of fillet mignon, they’d be racing to the Hall of Justice and beating each other with baguettes to be the first to wed their beloved foods.

Generally, I find that most restaurants are very accommodating about requests for vegan meals, but for restaurants with multi-course meals and price-fixed menus,  it helps to call a day in advance to notify them of your dietary needs. This gives the chef time to come up with an interesting dish for you. On rare occasions, I’ve had chefs get ornery and try to convert me into being a carnivore – yeah, like the arguments of an guy who has goose fat oozing out of his sweaty pours and is seconds away from having a heart attack could convince me to eat meat!  I’ve also seen some chefs totally cop out and basically serve me an entree-sized portion of a lame side dish, which recently happened to me – but with surprising results – at a super cool farmhouse dinner with Outstanding in the Field.

We had really high expectations at the dinner since we’d had a great Outstanding in the Field experience last year, and when we saw the table for this event set up along the banks of a peaceful stream running through the organic farm, and we heard that the chef of Michelin-starred Chez TJ was cooking for us at the farm, my mouth watered while thinking of the cool concoctions he’d surely come up with.

That’s me and my converting carnivore, John, at the Outstanding in the Field dinner

And yes, I gave ample notice that I wanted a vegan meal. Much to my dismay, my entree consisted of a large plate of grilled veggies with romesco sauce, which was the side dish to the carnivore’s entree. Seriously, that’s just phoning it in! Or so I thought… until I took my first bite. Oh my goodness, I could have eaten three plates of these divinely smoky farm-fresh vegetables and that savory, smoky, deeply flavored sauce of joy! (He also served it with a carrot-top pesto that didn’t do anything for me, so let’s just focus on the romesco, shall we?) The chef was kind enough to share some of his ingenious secrets with me, which I’ll now share with you below. This makes a surprisingly tasty and filling entree, but it’s also a great side-dish, and you could also make it into a yummy sandwich, so I hope you like it!

By the way, the funniest part about that Outstanding in the Field meal is that all the carnivores were totally jealous of my meal. The chef served them an epic fail of a main course: a super fatty cut of pork belly that was utterly devoid of flavor, that jiggled ominously when the plate moved, and that no one could eat. That helped convert several carnivores at our table into vegans! 🙂

Seriously, who could eat meat after seeing this horrifying mess of pork fat?!

Smoky Grilled Vegetables with Romesco Sauce

Serves: 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish

From fridge to table: 15 minutes

– A large handful of redwood tips (that is, the new growth at the end of redwood tree branches. If redwoods don’t grow near you, try using hickory or alderwood chips, which you can find in any store that sells grills)
– 3 zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slabs
– 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into large flat slabs
– 3 spring onions, cut into 1/2 inch slabs
– A large handful of flavorful mushrooms (like shitake or crimini), stemmed
– Three large carrots, chopped diagonally to create long, 1/2 inch thick coins
– Two large tomatoes, halved
– A handful of asparagus tips
– Any other vegetables that you like to grill (cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, you name it!)

For the Romesco Sauce:

– 1/3 cup skinned almond slivers
– 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
– 1 slice of sourdough sandwich bread, crust removed (any firm white bread will work, but c’mon, we all know that sourdough is tastiest!)
– 2 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, skinned and finely chopped (you can save time by using roasted red peppers from a jar)
– 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 tsp smoked sea salt
– 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra virgin)

Heat up your grill and spray (or brush) your veggies with olive oil. When the grill gets really hot, place your veggies on the grate and just before you close the lid, toss the redwood tips on the hot coals. Close the lid and allow the smoke to infuse the vegetables with insanely awesome flavor. Check your veggies after about 4 minutes and flip when they’ve got nice char marks. Note: some will cook faster than others. Continue cooking until the vegetables are cooked through.

Meanwhile, prepare your romesco sauce. In a food processor, blend together the almonds, red pepper flakes, chunks of torn bread and garlic. When it’s done, it should resemble a fine meal, like thick breadcrumbs. Then add the balsamic vinegar, roasted red peppers and salt then puree. Add the olive oil slowly while the processor is running. It will create a luscious, thick sauce.

Serve the veggies with romesco sauce spread on top, and be sure to pass around the extra sauce since you and your guests will want to use your veggies like a zamboni to get every bit of that delicious romesco. Enjoy!

Veggie Shock and Awe Stuns the Carnisaur

Full disclosure: in desperate times when John’s been on anti-vegetable benders and scurvy was imminent, I’ve resorted to subversive tactics such as hiding greens in his meals and snacks. Like a veggie mercenary, I’ve slipped spinach in a smoothy and told him that it was a shamrock shake. That’s great for a handful or two of veggies but I needed to get him to eat lots more vegetables, lest he start to look like a pirate. I knew I needed a bold new strategy, but what? Then it hit me like a scud missile: make the greens hide in plain sight!

This brave (and some might say suicidal) strategy is what I like to call The Veggie Shock and Awe. The premise is simple: confuse the carnivore’s senses with a riot of colors, textures and scents to utterly overwhelm him. If the whole damned thing is composed of vegetables, maybe he won’t notice them! And just in case he examines it more closely, I’ll toss in a ton of fresh yakisoba noodles and some fake chicken chunks to distract him.

This concoction is so simple and quick-to-make and it’s mouth-wateringly delicious! The spicy teriyaki sauce makes it irresistibly flavorful and zesty, the noodles make it filling, and the veggies make it incredibly healthy and filled with interesting flavors in every bite – from the subtle sweetness of sugar snap peas to the earthy richness of shitake mushrooms.

When the moment came to pull the trigger and serve the Veggie Shock and Awe to John, I held my breath, took cover in the kitchen and prayed that I wouldn’t hear him cry out in protest. But guess what I heard? “Mmm, good noodles! I like this one.” It worked! Mission accomplished.

Veggie Shock and Awe

From fridge to table: 15-25 minutes (depending on how fast you can chop)

Serves: 3-4 (depending on your appetites)

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil for stir-frying (such as grapeseed oil)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into 2-3″ strips

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional – only if you like some heat!)

2 small zucchinis, sliced lengthwise then chopped into 1/2″ thick half-moons

2 baby bok choy, chopped into 2″ strips

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup asparagus, woody stems removed, cut into 2″ pieces

7 shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

1 cup sugar snap peas, sliced

1 cup fake chicken chunks (a really great tasting one with a realistic texture is Vegetarian Plus’ Ginger Chicken – my carnivore gives this one a big thumbs up. It’s available at Whole Foods in the frozen food section)

1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced

2 packages of fresh yakisoba noodles (fresh ramen and udon noodles work well, too)

1/3 cup thick teriyaki sauce, such as Kikoman Spicy Miso Teriyaki

(If you’re feeling ambitious and want to make your own teriyaki, just blend these together for a quick and tasty sauce: 1/8 cup veggie broth; 1/8 cup dry sherry; 2 tbsp hoisen sauce; 1 tbsp sesame oil; 1 tbsp brown sugar; 3 tsp cornstarch; 2 tsp Thai chili sauce)

Boil water in a medium pot and keep it boiling on the side. Meanwhile, heat a large wok over high heat and drizzle in the oil. (Resist the urge to throw in all the veggies at once since that will make them soft and icky – instead follow the sequential additions listed here to insure that each veggie will be cooked to perfection.) When the wok is hot, carefully slide the red pepper down the side (sliding it in helps ease splattering) and stir. When it starts to turn orange, slide in the zucchini and jalapeno (if using). Stir for 1 minute, then slide in bok choy and garlic. Stir for 1 minute. Slide in the asparagus, mushrooms and sugar snap peas. Stir for 1 minute. Then add the faux chicken and basil. Cook for 1 minute.

Meanwhile, toss the noodles in the boiling water and turn off the heat. Stir for 30 seconds then drain well. Toss the noodles in with the veggies. Add the teriyaki sauce and toss thoroughly. Serve hot and enjoy!