Wedding Menu Winners

I love the challeVegPaellange of a crowd-pleasing vegetarian wedding menu, especially when it involves relatives from the Midwest who want to know “where’s the beef?” The challenge becomes stickier when the couple chooses an all-vegan menu, with relatives from the Midwest – challenging, but not impossible. When a guest list includes a lot of dedicated carnivores, a hearty fare that includes eggs and/or dairy often does the trick.Main-polenta

Many of the Mediterranean specialties make for hearty fare that satisfies vegetarians and carnivores alike. Crowd-pleasing favorites include spanakopita, the Greek phyllo specialty, and any number of Moroccan tagines (many of which can be made vegan). Spanish paella is a wonderful, fragrant dish. My vegetarian version includes red or black ayocote beans from Rancho Gordo and any number of grilled vegetables.

Polenta is always great choice. It has a creamy texture and can be served in a variety of different ways. There’s a wonderful recipe from the Greens Restaurant cookbook which I’ve served on many occasions: layers of polenta with a fresh tomato sauce and lots of basil, marjoram, fontina and gorgonzola. One of my personal favorites is my version of “Torta Azteca”: blue corn polenta with a sauce of caramelized onion, bell pepper, chilies, cilantro and cheese. So even when there’s no beef, there’s no “beef” from the guests . . .

Got ORGANIC Milk?

One of the questions I hear all the time is this: “Why should I spend money on organic, Straus Whole Milkwhen I can buy the same thing for a lot less?” Well, it’s not really the same thing . . . here’s the dilemma.
Take a trip to your typical supermarket. In the produce section, choices are labeled “organic” and “conventional”. Does this really mean conventional, the way it’s always been done? In this context, “conventional” means CHEMICAL. But if labeling were consistent with what you’re really buying — “conventional” (meaning organic) and “chemical” (meaning grown with toxic chemicals) – would that be helpful?
As a consumer, I want to know what I’m buying. And as a chef and caterer specializing in vegetarian weddings, I buy only high quality ingredients. As a personal choice, I choose Straus Family Creamery products. Why does it matter? 

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The Beginning

YoungChef

Little Chef Margaret

I have eaten a mostly vegetarian diet for many years. I’ve been spoiled. Growing up in Switzerland on a heavily plant-based diet, I’ve come to expect variety and innovation. The women in my family and community served food not only as something to eat, but as something to enjoy. Eating well is one of life’s great pleasures.

The Vegetarian Gourmet was founded in 1997 in Santa Barbara, in response to what I saw as a huge need for gourmet vegetarian fare, especially at catered events. The defining moment was a political fundraiser in the Nineties, when my friend and I asked for a vegetarian option — instead of the beef or the chicken. We were each served a plate of boiled vegetables.

For people not used to all-vegetarian meals, the question of protein often comes up. What they don’t know is that all plants have protein – but perhaps not a “whole” protein, one containing all the “essential” amino acids needed by our bodies. But the simple combination of different plant foods does create a whole protein, such as the combination of grains and legumes. This is the staple of many of the world’s cultures, and the variety of delicious vegetarian fare is endless.

Like feng-shui, a well-balanced meal needs color. If everything on your plate is beige, there is no energy. An optimal diet is rich in variety and local flavor, with lots of seasonal produce. As Michael Pollan so aptly states: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are blessed with a huge variety of fresh, organic, fabulous foods. As we move into spring and summer, this column will continue to explore the variety and abundance of local vegetarian fare. Bon appétit! Margaret Riesen