February 1, 2017 -- Vegparadise News Bureau
Vegetables are HOT in Kitchens Across the United States
If you're a foodie with a willing and venturesome palate, you may have noticed your favorite restaurants are dishing up some unique fruit and vegetable concoctions recently. Vegetables are HOT with chefs across the country, highlighting them in menus featuring imaginative, vegetable-centric dishes.
Gone are the familiar piles of steamed carrots or broccoli next to mashed potatoes on the plate. Instead, chefs are putting their left-brains into high gear and turning out tantalizing vegetable dishes flaunting exotic herb and spice blends.
Chef Nick Erven applies a touch of magic with vegetables at his restaurant, ERVEN in Santa Monica that features a completely plant-based menu. He says, "I like cruciferous vegetables a lot and use them often. One dish on my menu shows them off in a ramen broth with mushrooms. And I love radishes, especially watermelon and French breakfast radishes." Radishes receive quite the treatment in Chef Nick's kitchen where he roasts them, braises them, and sometimes shaves them raw to use as a garnish.
Loyal diners are having the best time exploring seasonal menus that feature uncommon fruit and vegetable varieties and wildly flavorful seasonings prepared in house. Ethnic foods are on the upswing, with sauces, herbs, spices, and bold flavors that bring vegetables into the spotlight.
Farmers develop new fruits and vegetables
Chef Jerry Yu loves vegetables so much he decided his Studio City restaurant would be called Vegetable. Chef Jerry says, "I really like using heritage or heirloom varieties of vegetables. They tend to be colorful and not as perfect looking, but always, always taste so much better."
The chef favors colorful heritage carrots in yellow, purple, red, white, and orange because they're super sweet and more delicious than our familiar carrots. "A new vegetable dish we just started last week is Slow-Roasted Sunchokes and Parsnips, simply served with some coconut yogurt and herbs. I always like to highlight the natural deliciousness and flavor of the vegetable, and in this case, I don't have to season them much at all," says the chef.
"As the seasons change, our dishes evolve. I can't wait for spring and the wonderful harvest that goes along with that--asparagus, fresh peas, bitter greens. In fact, all that sounds wonderful in a risotto. I'll probably be doing that in a couple of months," continues Chef Jerry.
As a result of these emerging trends, shoppers are bringing home new and exotic fruits and vegetables from the grocery and taking an exciting new interest in home cooking.
Produce distributors see emerging trends
Taking notice of the growing interest in wholesome convenience foods, Melissa's chefs are helping homemakers save time in the kitchen with small packages of steamed and ready-to-eat items like butternut squash chunks, steamed and peeled small potatoes, cooked whole and chopped beets, steamed lentils, cooked black-eyed peas, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans.
The company also has a chef staff on hand 24-hours a day to provide chefs across the country with information about new produce items and suggestions about how to cook and serve them.
Robert Schueller, Melissa's Public Relations Director, says, "For today's heavily scheduled households, healthy, quick, and easy is at the top of the list. That's why our packaged, cooked and ready-to-eat bean varieties and vegetables, like beets and butternut squash, are snapped up so quickly. Variety and color are gaining attention with people wanting to add more interesting vegetables to their dinner plates."
He adds, "Chefs are first to start the trends, especially chefs in California where so many of the unique varieties of fruits and vegetables are developed. But it's people who take the dining the experience home with them that make those produce items so trendy."
Also featured on the convenience-scene are packages of cooked edamame in the pod, complete with a pouch of spicy sauce to make an ideal ready-to-serve appetizer.
Vegetables gaining more attention include parsnips, okra, rhubarb, and colorful baby carrots. Potatoes are longstanding favorites, but now shoppers are giving attention to new pixie size Dutch yellow potatoes, ruby golds, and packages of mixed fingerlings.
Usually available only in ethnic markets, whole turmeric, Thai chiles, tiny tomatillos (milpero), Mexican zucchini (tatuma), and packages of shishito peppers ideal for roasting or stuffing now show up in the vegetable bins of large chain groceries.
Markets feature new citrus varieties
Karen Caplan and Jackie Caplan Wiggins, owners of Frieda's Specialty Produce in Los Alamitos, wonder if radishes might overtake the popularity of kale. Daikon radishes, French breakfast, and watermelon radishes are popular sellers. Frieda's, a nationwide produce distributor, is a women-owned and operated family company operating since 1962.
President and CEO Karen Caplan says, "Vegetable-centric eating is finally mainstream, and it's paving ways for the future of food and produce consumption. Retailers are embracing this change by expanding the number of vibrantly colored vegetables and providing more produce variety for shoppers."
"Purple fruits and vegetables are everywhere in the media right now with purple cauliflower and Stokes PurpleŽ sweet potatoes leading the way," said Karen. "Cauliflower in general is gaining ground as a contender to dethrone kale, and Stokes PurpleŽ sweet potatoes sales remain strong as shoppers are asking for them by name nationwide.
"Bold, exotic flavors will also be prominent this year," said Karen. "Turmeric has been steadily gaining popularity as a health booster, but it's also a key ingredient to many Asian cuisines along with ginger, lemongrass, and tamarind."
Nothing is quite as dramatic as the new varieties of radicchio arriving in upscale markets and restaurants. Describing them as stunning may not do them justice. La Rosa di Padova, La Rosa di Veneto, Rosso Tardivo, and Treviso are simply gorgeous and may show up in gourmet salads or even grilled and topped with tasty sauces.
Butternut and Delicata squashes are more popular than ever and contribute robustness to hearty winter grain bowls, noodle dishes, and soups.
With the growing interest in global cuisine, tropical fruits like jackfruit, lychees, dragon fruit, and star fruit, along with aromatics like turmeric, ginger, and lemongrass are finding new fans.
NRA takes stock of what restaurants are buying
Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes are right there on the hot list of the National Restaurant Association's survey of 1300 chefs. Also on the list are ethnic spices, ethnic cuisines, African flavors, house-made condiments and pickles, ancient grains like kamut, spelt, amaranth, and lupin, a member of the legume family. Chefs are focused on natural ingredients that are locally sourced and that promote environmental sustainability.
Nutrition and food waste reduction is important to chef's, noted by their use of every part of the vegetable. Celery leaves are now included in sauces and garnishes, and anise fronds that used to be tossed out are now used as garnish.
Meals in kits appeal to consumers
Grocery store produce departments are the best place to find ready-to-serve salads attractively displayed in refrigerated cases. In one handy take-home package is the complete salad meal with add-ins like cooked beans, cheese, raisins, nuts, and dressing.
Easy-to-find are ethnic stir-fry kits with pre-washed, chopped or sliced vegetables complete with sauces ready for the skillet. A family might enjoy a prepared Japanese Teriyaki stir-fry one night and tacos or burritos the next without having to shop for the individual ingredients or pick up a kitchen knife.
For those who do enjoy cooking but haven't the time to go shopping, companies like Blue Apron, Chef'd, Fresh Direct, Hello Fresh, and Sun Basket deliver a wide selection of ready to cook kits with everything measured out and ready to pop into a pan, complete with seasonings and recipe cards.