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Issue No.2
New Ways with Vegetables

If the familiar phrase, "eat your vegetables" echoes from your past, you’ll be glad to know that today there's even more reason to enjoy them. Whether organic, seasonal, exotic, or humble favorites, vegetables are better than ever.

Add to this the flood of recent news about the bounty of nutrients that vegetables deliver, and you know Mom was right. No wonder vegetables are becoming one of the most exciting and creative elements on the contemporary chef’s palette.

More and more diners are asking for them, and the requests are not just from vegetarians. These days, it seems people really like eating deliciously prepared vegetables.

And their presence in foodservice menus is on the rise. According to the June 2002 issue of Restaurants USA ("Vegetables Flourish in Restaurants"), 9 percent of entrees or main-dish salads were primarily comprised of vegetables in 2001. Vegetarian entrees accounted for 1.5 percent of entrees or main-dish salads in 2001. And most of the remaining entrees included at least one vegetable or small salad last year.

Many establishments want to cater to their diners' interest in healthy eating, and serving vegetables is one way to do this. A spot check of menus around the country not only reveals familiar favorites being used in exciting new ways. but a major move toward maximizing local, seasonal sources to address diners' demands for freshness and flavor.



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Trendspotters talked with Stephen B. Window, Executive Chef of Tamarindo, Prime Ten Steakhouse, and Roppongi Restaurant, Bar and Café, in La Jolla, CA, where his hibachi-grilled asparagus is a popular menu item. When asked what trends he's seeing, Chef Window says beets are back. He likes to roast them with olive oil and kosher salt and serve in them salads. Window also sees baby carrots back on the scene, after a hiatus of three or four years. He likes to blanch and slice them thinly and use them as a garnish in braised oxtail stew. He prefers them for their sweetness, which out-rivals that of their larger cousins.

Due to year-round availability, Window can keep items such as asparagus, beets, and baby carrots on the menu, but he also takes advantage of heirloom tomatoes when in season. He serves them sliced, then sprinkled with a little Hawaiian sea salt and a drizzle of pumpkin oil to bring out their natural flavor.

Eric Tanaka, Executive Chef for Etta's Seafood, Dahlia Lounge, and Palace Kitchen in Seattle, Washington says that he gets his produce from small, local farmers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Tanaka points out that diners, many of whom regularly scout farmers markets themselves, are increasingly looking for freshness and taste in menu items.

To insure the best, Tanaka holds "seed meetings" with farmers at key times throughout the year, during which they collaboratively peruse catalogs and pick out produce varieties that grow well locally. From farms in the warmer climate of Eastern Washington, Tanaka gets heirloom tomatoes and herbs; farmers to the north, on cooler Lopez Island, provide him with lettuces and beans. Tanaka enjoys mutually beneficial relationships with local purveyors such as Horsedrawn Farm, which grows high-quality organic produce on eight acres using no machinery.

Tanaka and his purveyors are adventurous and experimental; if a product doesn’t work, they'll delete it and revise their plan for the following season. And when Tanaka discovers something new and interesting in the produce world, he'll find a way to use it. For instance, he recently discovered a local source of hop sprouts, which he served pickled to accompany a crab dish for a menu he created in conjunction with Seattle-based Redhook Brewery.

For nutrition information and some great ideas on using vegetables, check out the following:

Resources

The Produce Marketing Association website (http://www.pma.com/) includes an "Organic Produce Fact Sheet," a member newsletter called "This Week in Produce," and lots of other produce-related information and services.

At both aboutproduce.com (http://www.aboutproduce.com/), and Eat 5 a Day for Better Health(http://www.5aday.com/), you'll find recipes and the latest health and nutrition information.

Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide, by Elizabeth Schneider (William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1998) is packed with information on ways to use exotic and unusual vegetables. You can find it, along with other books on vegetables, at StarChefs Cookbook Store (http://starchefs.com/Cookbooks/Cookbooks.html).

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