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.
"We have one chance to impress people," says Landau. Very often, this chance begins with his base. "Stock is one of the most crucial elements of good cooking because you make sauces and soups out of it. If you don't have a good stock, you can't make good food." This is Landau's recipe for an all-purpose, all-season stock, which can keep for five days in the refrigerator. Vegetables don't need to be peeled; just wash them carefully. "By browning the vegetables first, you build a layer. The flavors start to unfold as you're eating the dish. That little char appeals to the caveman and cavewoman side of all of us."
(Makes 5 quarts)
• 2 tsp canola oil
• 6 carrots, chopped
• 3 stalks celery, chopped, preferably with leaves
• 2 leeks, rinsed well and chopped
• 2 onions, with skins, chopped
• 1 turnip, with skins, chopped
• 1 tbsp salt
• 3 to 4 outer leaves of green cabbage
• 2 cups broccoli stems
• 2 cups kale stems
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over high heat until it starts to ripple. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, onions, and turnip. Cook, stirring, until brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add 6 quarts water and the salt, and bring to a boil.
Credit: Michael Spain-Smith
Reduce the heat to low, add the cabbage leaves, broccoli stems, and kale stems, and simmer for 25 minutes. Strain, cool, and store for use as needed.