Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Vegetarian Dinner: The Good, The Bad, and The Delicious

It is not very often that I can actually make the link that is made on the title. Its not that I am not the vegetarian type, I am just too in love with all things involving meat and animal fat. I know that half of you reading this just kind of rolled your eyes and thought "eeeww animal fat". However the other half, who is cleaning up your keyboards from thinking or remembering my squash fried in duck fat... I am talking to you. There is something to be said about a well made vegetarian dinner. 100% vegetarian, no fat, not animal broth, no fish, just good 'ol earth grown goodness. If Mario Batali were ever to read this blog, I think he just clicked the back button. However, I think that the results of the challenge was a plate that would even make Batali proud.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is alway, ALWAYS, a good thing. It bring new things that you never thought you were capable of doing. The last time I made a "vegetarian" dinner, I included scallops. I cheated. So a month ago, when we decided to have a veggie only dinner, there would be no cheating. And so it began, the guest were set, the theme was there, all that I needed now was a menu. Inspiration came in various forms. First off, a friend of mine advised me to stay away from the staple vegetarian food; squash, eggplant, and zucchini. Apparently vegetarians are sick and tired of eating the same food when the order a vegetarian sandwich or dinner. Point taken. The same person suggested the use of polenta, the delicious italian starch that is made from dried corn, delicious. The rest of the inspiration came from two places. First, from a gift a past guest of our made, a ver large bag of hibiscus flowers (dried) and second, by strolling through the amazing Greenmarket in Union Square. Have you ever seen a head of romanesque broccoli? Just by seeing it makes you want to try it. The freshest veggies were chosen. Moving from stand to stand, not know what I was going to do, little by little the menu was created:

Pan fried Shishinto Peppers with Sea Salt

Flash fried hibiscus flower taco with cream and a green tomato salsa
Fried goat cheese stuffed zucchine blossoms with a chipotle cream

Seared baby portobello mushrooms on top of a Grilled polenta with asiago cheese surrounded by a pool of freshly made vegetable broth and steamed romanesque broccoli.

Hibiscus Creme Brulee... SPOILER ALERT... (it failed)

We finally began creating the menus again! Here is the table before everyone arrived. 
The appetizer was very interesting to make. Even though Hibiscus  flowers are hard to come by in the States, it is a very common in Mexico. I left the flowers soaking for 24 hours in water (the water I then used as a hibiscus iced tea, or agua de jamaica as it is know in Mexico). Then I flash fried them in very hot oil for no more than 30 seconds. Once you remove them from the oil and onto a paper towel, salt them immediately. The tortillas are also home made. The zucchini blossoms are from a recipe that I have used in the past with a white wine and flour base.

This plate came out so great not so much due to the cooking, but due to the freshness and amazing flavors of all the ingredients. The polenta was home made (no I did not grind the dried corn, but I did not buy that roll they sell in the supermarket) with rosemary and veggie broth. The mushrooms were sauteed with a little bit of salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. The vegetable broth was made 12 hours in advance using 6 leeks 2 onions, some garlic, 6 carrots and a lot of rosemary (about 6+ cups of broth).

Its seems as if its Tamy that always takes the pictures because I definitely come out way more than she does. Anyways this was the group just before enjoying the dinner.

Brian was warning of a a rabbit with big pointy teeth! (context)(more context)
Notice that I totally skipped the dessert? Well that because a) the camera ran out of memory space and b) the hibiscus flowers actually cut the cream and what resulted was a flavorful dessert that looked terrible and had very bad texture. But I guess in all experiments you can't alway succeed. Failure is an option and I learned a lot (much more) by failing. Its always fun to have this group of people to try my experiments on!
Thank you all.


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