Thanks to the foodie revolution of the past decades, consumers these days have far less difficulty finding inventive, meat-free dishes. Philly's Rich Landau, owner of Vedge, is the extreme example. His restaurant's menu has featured more than two thousand daily specials on its famous Dirt List since opening in 2011. Interestingly, though, it's a carnivore's heart that guides Landau's cooking.
Despite being a longtime vegan, Landau was born and raised in meat-loving Philly, and he says that familiarity with flesh has permanently influenced his taste. "The problem was, I already had a carnivore's palate, so I had to learn how to keep that palate entertained." As a result, his vegetables are treated to all manner of carnal flavors. "People say you can't have pastrami now, but why not? Pastrami is not about the meat; it's about the spice. We're taking this stuff back."
Landau and wife Kate Jacoby (the restaurant's sommelier, cocktail mixologist, and pastry chef) collaborated on the recently released cookbook that is a guide to this vision, 'Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking.' Landau recently took the time to dish on a few of his favorite recipes and offered us tips on how he gets such big, nostalgic flavors from veggies in the land of the cheesesteak.
At Vedge, Landau draws from the rich traditions and techniques of classic French cooking. "We pay a lot of respect to that foundation," he says. "In a way, we're making a statement that, just because we're removing animal products doesn't mean we have to stop and establish a whole new type of technique." In Landau's take on the French bistro standard steak frites, he makes a terrific red wine sauce without butter or veal stock. The meaty mushrooms stand in for steak.
• 2 russet potatoes, scrubbed
• 1 tsp coarse sea salt
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp minced garlic
• 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tsp minced shallots
• 4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed, caps wiped clean
• 1 cup dry red wine
• 1/4 cup vegetable stock
• 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
• 1/4 cup canola oil for frying
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Puncture each potato with a fork three times, sprinkle each with 1/2 tsp of coarse sea salt, and wrap individually in foil. Bake until tender to the touch, about 40 minutes. Unwrap the potatoes and let cool; when cool enough to handle, cut each into eight wedges. Set aside.
While the potatoes are cooling, whisk together the olive oil, 1 tsp of salt, the garlic, pepper, and shallots in a small bowl.
Place the portobello caps on a sheet pan with rimmed edges and coat them evenly on both sides with the olive oil mixture, leaving them with rounded sides up. Roast until soft in the middle, 8 to 12 minutes.
Transfer the portobello caps to a plate, still rounded sides up, and set aside to cool. Pour the wine, vegetable stock, and mustard onto the warm sheet pan to mix with the mushroom cooking juices. Scrape any solids off the tray using a wood spoon, then carefully pour this mixture into a large saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat until reduced by half, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir the tarragon into the red wine sauce. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cover to keep warm.
In a large sauté pan, heat the canola oil over high heat. When the oil is very hot, carefully fry a few potato wedges at a time until they turn brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the frites as they are done to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle them lightly with the remaining 1 tsp salt.
Credit: Michael Spain-Smith
Reheat the portobello caps in the oven if necessary. Serve smothered with red wine sauce and frites on the side.