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The secret to vegan success is in the seasoning

Vegan chefs win over omnivores with familiar seasonings

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Spices, seasonings are key to winning vegan food

(Jeffrey Coolwater/Flickr)

Legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is calling his new meatless eatery, abcV, a vegetable restaurant rather than vegetarian, but a plant-based menu by any other name still focuses on the veggies and leaves the animal products out. And, whether you call it plant- based, vegetable, vegetarian or vegan, seasoning and spices are vital to creating flavorful dishes that appeal to herbivores and omnivores alike.

Using seasonings to recreate the flavors of childhood or bring back other happy culinary memories of days gone by can be the key to creating vegan food that appeals to the masses, said one vegan chef.

“[Recently] I was trying to recreate borscht,” said Fanny Fuentes-Phalon, chef and co-owner of Mundo Vegan in Montclair, N.J. “I remember how I used to eat it in the East Village many years ago. It was missing something and we were going through the recipe and the sous chef said ‘Hey, it doesn’t have any dill.’ We added dill to the soup and it was like ‘Wow, there it is.’”

Fuentes-Phalon learned traditional Latin cooking from her mother and tailored the techniques and recipes when she became an ethical vegan more than seven years ago. The eatery features plenty of Latin-flavored plant-based fare, and many of the dishes start with housemade sofrito, a sauce that’s also called Latin mirepoix or Latin pesto. The mix of onions, garlic, peppers, herbs and spices forms the base of many soups, stews and bean dishes, she said.

The restaurant uses only organic ingredients and that includes the herbs and spices, and the organic versions tend to be stronger and richer than conventional seasonings, and recipes may sometimes need to be adjusted accordingly, she said.

“The previous owner of this space was the Stockpot and [the chef] made mulligatawny soup. I had him duplicate it with our organic curry and make it vegan and he couldn’t believe how strong it was. He said we would need to use less curry. I think the potency and the flavor is that much more defined with organic herbs and spices,” she said.

Seasonings in the vegan kitchen can be as diverse as the spice rack in a conventional kitchen and hold as many flavors as there are cuisines in the world. Fuentes-Phalon’s kitchen wouldn’t work at all without turmeric, cumin and garlic granules, she said.

“Those are my must-haves.”

Mock meats versus veggies as the star

About 6% of Americans identify as vegans who eschew all animal products and another 7% call themselves vegetarians who eat dairy and eggs but no meat, but the percentage of US consumers who have been cutting down on meat consumption is somewhere between 26% and 41%, New Hope Natural Media’s Eric Pierce told Food Navigator at a conference last year.

Some omnivores are learning to enjoy veggies for their own sake at popular eateries like Philadelphia’s Vedge, which two years ago topped Zagat’s list of best food in the city. Owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby created the eatery to make veggies the star of the plate.

In their previous restaurant, Horizon, the pair served vegan versions of more traditional American meals, with seitan-based vegan “meats” and veggies on the side, and many Americans looking to cut down on meat are increasing their consumption of mock meats and plant-based milks, Pierce told Food Navigator.

Whether vegan dishes are modeled after traditional meat-and-potatoes fare or more exotic vegetable-centric cuisine, certain flavors and qualities will satisfy vegetarians and meat lovers alike, said Fuentes-Phalon.

“What folks are craving when they go vegan is mostly fat and saltiness, like in cheeses. You have to up the seasoning so you don’t feel like you’re missing out, and you have to up the fat content, whether it’s avocado oil, olive oil or coconut oil. If you can cook, can transition pretty easily,” she said.


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