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According to those who predict restaurant trends, we’ve reached a tipping point for vegetables. In many cases, they’re clawing their way to the top and pushing animal proteins to the side of the plate. From a health perspective this is great news since vegetable forward dishes are no longer seen as fare fit only for vegetarians. In fact, restaurants are regularly pushing out great (often locally sourced) vegetable-centric meals that are not only gorgeous, but satisfyingly delicious -- even in the winter months.
We asked a variety of Milwaukee chefs to recommend some of their favorite vegetable dishes. Here's nine that you can head out and try right now.
1. Amilinda’s milho frito
Milho frito, Portuguese fried corn cake, is an item that shows up frequently as a vegetarian option at Amilinda.
"Our version is made with white coarse cornmeal from Venezuela, vegetable stock, Clock Shadow chèvre, greens, salt and butter," says Chef Gregory Leon. "We accompany the milho frito with whatever farm fresh vegetables we have had delivered that day. We like to give the guest a few different textures and preparations… some roasted, some pickled, some sautéed."
The corn cakes are so good, Leon admits he generally eats one or two slathered in butter at the end of his evening shifts.
2. Bacchus’ fried tofu with root vegetables
"This dish is great for anyone who wants a satisfying dish with a variety of textures, colors and flavors," says Chef Nick Wirth. "The Simple Soyman tofu is marinated and then fried so it has a great texture; and despite what people think, it doesn’t absorb very much oil at all. It’s paired with a parsnip puree and caramelized rutabaga, turnips, carrots and celery root and topped with Brussels sprout leaves. The sauce is a concentrated herbed vegetable jus. For people who’ve never tried tofu, it’s a great dish to start with."
The dish is part of a full vegetarian menu available to all Bacchus guests.
3. Cafe Souerette’s carrot rosti
This dish, served at Cafe Souerette in West Bend, is served on black rice with a ginger cashew butter sauce.
"I always like a delicate balance of sweet and savory in planning for a dish," says Chef Jodi Janisse-Kanzenbach. "Carrots lend to both flavors well. In this dish, the ginger cashew butter adds a hint of spice, nuttiness, and sweetess to the dish. Carrots are also a great wintered vegetable, readily available from many of our local farmers throughout the winter, so I can stay up on sourcing local. And who can resist that bright happy orange on a plate in the drones of winter? It helps to remind you summer will be back soon enough!!"
Photo: Cafe Souerette
4. c.1880’s sweet onion
Comprised of a slow roasted onion that’s cored and stuffed with faro, winter squash, snap peas, carrots and Parmesan cheese, this dish is surrounded by onion puree that’s enriched with cream, Parmesan and red wine vinegar and topped with a Parmesan tuile.
5. Lazy Susan’s spaghetti squash pad thai
"I love this because it is a fun way to utilize spaghetti squash as ‘pasta,’" says Chef Amanda Dixon. "It is a fresh and bright tasting dish using winter squash that reminds me of summer in the winter."
Photo: Lazy Susan
6. The Pfister Hotel’s seasonal vegetarian risotto
"We just recently rolled out our new in-room dining menu, which features a ‘vegetarian risotto du jour,’" says Chef Brian Frakes. "This dish allows us to utilize locally foraged ingredients that we share with our butler daily. We want to ensure we are properly utilizing the best produce possible not only seasonally, but daily. It’s a beautiful, traditional Bolzano-style risotto made with roasted vegetable stock. We will typically finish with mascarpone and/or Parmesan Reggiano, but can easily keep that component out to make this dish vegan. Our risotto du jour has been immensely popular."
Photo: Pfister Hotel
The in-room dining menu is also available for guests in the Lobby Lounge after The Pfister Cafe has closed for the day.
7. Wayward Kitchen’s eggplant caponata
"Eggplant caponata is a rustic southern Italian dish," says Chef Tyler Mason. "The version I serve at Wayward has green olives and raisins and pulls in a ton of umami flavor from the roasted eggplant. We are serving the caponata with housemade ricotta and toasted baguette; but can easily be paired with pasta or rice. You won't miss meat at all."
Photo: Wayward Kitchen Co.
8. Wolf Peach’s wood-fired heirloom carrots
This simple vegetable dish features wood-fired heirloom carrots with caramelized yogurt and Vadouvan cashew streusel.
"If you haven't heard, I am actively trying to make the carrot 2016's ‘it’ vegetable," says Chef Cole Ersel. "Move over Brussels sprouts, kale and micro greens… and make room for carrots. In this particular dish, we culture the yogurt in house before caramelizing it, and we include a mix of carrots in colors including orange, yellow, purple, and white."
9. Wolf Peach’s roasted mushroom pizza
In case you need something to go along with your carrots, you could also try Wolf Peach’s roasted mushroom pizza with blistered tomatoes, chicory, sweet onion puree and fennel pollen.
"While it’s something that we created with our vegan guests in mind, this is a pizza loved by all," says Chef Kyle Toner, master of the restaurant’s pizza program and wood-fired oven. "It’s balanced and delicious and is loved and ordered by all of our guests across the board."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.