As COOL Cuisine launches into its second year advocating for more plant-based dishes on Davis restaurant menus, its January third-Thursday event drew 54 guests to The Symposium Greek restaurant for a taste trial of experimental dishes.
Chef/owner Yanni Pandeleos sat down with founder Anya McCann to learn a few tricks of converting traditional Greek specialties into versions that require no animal products yet provide essentially the same textures and flavors.
Finding substitutes is easy
“Finding substitute products is very easy these days,” McCann says. “Many of the products I recommended can be found even in your standard Safeway.”
For Greek food, one needs substitutes for eggs, milk, butter, mozzarella, ground beef and pieces of lamb. McCann collected samples of tricks of the trade and described their use, and Pandeleos developed dishes that were remarkably similar to the original for the successful buffet.
The replacements suggested by COOL Cuisine members are valuable substitutes for many restaurant cuisines, such as Italian (beef lasagna), Mexican (taco filling), breakfast foods (scrambled “eggs,” crepes, pancakes), Middle Eastern (shwarma) and more, McCann says.
For dolmas, Gardein and Beyond Meat brands offer frozen ground crumbles. These beef-type products have a similar texture to cooked ground beef, though because of their lower fat content they do not provide the same cooking action as meat does, and are drier. Olive oil or other fats can be added if desired, or enjoy a lower-fat version of your favorite dish.
For feta cheese used in many salads, tofu can be brined by pressing a block of medium-firm tofu using a plate and a weight on top for 30 minutes to remove some water content. After cutting into cubes, boil the tofu in salted water for 10 minutes.
As the cubes cool, add rich, flavorful olive oil and fresh or dried oregano, fresh lemon juice, a pinch of basil and black pepper. It tastes stronger left to season in the liquid overnight. One can vary the tofu texture to simulate the many types of feta.
Substitutes for dairy and eggs make moussaka in a new way
For moussaka, Greeks create a béchamel using milk, butter and flour with eggs stirred in to create a top custard layer. The same effect is easy to recreate using unsweetened non-dairy milk with Earth Balance margarine.
There are many egg substitutes that plant-based cooks use depending on the type of food. Tofu, banana, applesauce and flax meal, for instance, can be used in baking.
For the moussaka custard effect a product that “sets up” like cooked eggs is Follow Your Heart brand “VeganEgg,” a product launched a year ago. It is made from algal (an algae-sourced protein), which is also terrific for dishes like quiche and pumpkin pie, McCann says.
Another recent addition to the plant-based pantry is aquafaba (the juice from a can of garbanzo beans); 2 to 3 tablespoons can be added to baked goods to bind them together. It also can be whipped into merengue and like a whipped cream.
Long-used egg substitutes include flax meal mixed with water, agar agar (seaweed gelatin, used in many products) for binding and texture; banana, applesauce and tofu to add moisture.
Sometimes nutritional yeast and kala namak (a black salt with a sulphurous scent and flavor) can further fool the taste buds. Proportions for seven egg substitutions are listed here.
Pizza using mozzarella mimic
Though many restaurants use Daiya brand cheese, easily available and price-competitive from bulk distributors, pizza using Miyoko’s Mozz, a fresh, buffalo-style, high-end mozzarella mimic, has a much-preferred texture and taste. Beyond Meat brand “grilled chicken” strips are great additions to pizzas, stir-fries and burritos.
All of these products can be found at the Davis Food Co-op. Any restaurant or home cook can bring them home to sample.
The next third-Thursday COOL Cuisine dining events is on Thursday, April 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Davis Noodle City, 129 E St., Suite 1D. Those who want to join in the fun need to respond on invitations on Facebook, meetup.com or by email to email@example.com. Event information is also posted at coolcuisine.net.Anya McCann, Cool Cuisine Davis, plant-based diet, Symposium restaurant, vegan substitutes