This summer, let plant-based foods be the focus at your next party

July 10, 2019

Courtesy Renee Comet, Silver Diner

In the last few years, Chef Ype Von Hengst has noticed a change in customer orders at Silver Diner, a D.C.-area fast-casual chain he co-founded 30 years ago.

Buttermilk pancakes and bacon have always been a favorite on the menu, but these days, vegan eggs Benedict with a side of tempeh bacon is also popular. So is the meatless miso burger and the platter of coconut curry tofu skewers.

“It’s resulted in the customer count being up,” Von Hengst said about the decision he made a few years ago to include several vegan and vegetarian options on the diner’s menu.

“It fits into the way that people like to eat nowadays. I’ve seen it more often in guests … in general, most people eat less meat, eat less poultry. They’re staying away from the high-cholesterol fatty items.”

A survey published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that while a small percentage of the population adheres to vegetarian and vegan diets, more Americans are reducing their meat consumption, which research shows can have health and environmental benefits. And the food industry is taking note of the trend. Data from Nielsen and The Good Food Institute show that the plant-based market is worth more than $3 billion, and it continues to grow.

Meat-free products designed to look, feel, even cook, like beef have burst onto the scene in recent years, reviving the reputation of the veggie burger. Fast-food establishments like Burger King and TGI Fridays now have plant-based patties on their menus, and grocery stores are stocking the meat-free burgers next to the real deal.

“They sizzle on the grill, they’re juicy, and they don’t fall apart and they don’t dry out,” said Seth Goldman, the Bethesda, Maryland-based executive chairman of Beyond Meat, which makes and sells the Beyond Burger.

“They very much fit into the summer cookout occasion.”

Between hamburgers, hot dogs and mayo-soaked salads, summer meals can get pretty monotonous, not to mention caloric. But there are a few swaps you can make to give the conventional cookout a healthy and flavorful update.

Here are some tips from Von Hengst and Goldman:

Grilling up a plant-based patty

Goldman said the beauty of the Beyond Burger, made from pea protein, is that it doesn’t require any “special instructions.”

“Basically, you pull it out of the refrigerator just like you would a hamburger patty and you put it on the grill … and cook it at the same heat and for the same length of time [as a hamburger patty],” said Goldman, who is also the CEO and co-founder of Honest Tea.

He said the Beyond Burger also takes on spices, sauces and toppings as well as beef burgers — cue the ketchup, red onion and cheese (or cheese alternative). At Silver Diner, Von Hengst gives the Beyond Burger some Baja flare with queso fresco, avocado, adobo mayo, cinnamon-chipotle seasoning and pico de gallo.

A different burger, all together

One of chef Von Hengst’s favorite burgers to make isn’t a burger at all: it’s a piece of cauliflower.

Here’s how he does it: Cut the cauliflower into thick slices and blanch the “steaks” in hot water about 10 minutes, making sure it’s “still a little firm.” Let the cauliflower cool, then brush it with olive oil, season it with salt and pepper and put it on the grill for a few minutes on each side. Von Hengst likes to top his cauliflower burger with chimichurri, avocado, roasted tomatoes (which you can also prepare on the grill in a foil pouch) and arugula on a toasted bun.

“You don’t have to have a burger anymore,” Von Hengst said.

Simple, seasonal sides

Instead of the traditional pasta salad, Von Hengst recommends making a simple grain salad with farro or quinoa.

“You have these ancient grains and you mix them with a little bit of pesto or just a little bit of olive oil and vinegar you have a nice summer salad,” he said.

In lieu of potatoes, cut summer squash into thick fry-like pieces, rub them with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper and cook them on the grill for two to three minutes per side.

For a crunchy, colorful side salad, combine watermelon radishes, cucumbers, and carrots with a little bit of rice wine vinegar, plus salt and pepper. Von Hengst said you won’t miss the coleslaw. And for an appetizer, he likes to serve grilled tofu skewers with a dipping sauce, in place of chicken satay. Marinate slices of firm tofu in rice wine vinegar, coconut and a little sriracha. Put the tofu on skewers, grill them and serve with a peanut or curry sauce. To turn the tofu into an entree, serve the skewers over a pile of lentils.

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