These Plant-Based Nachos, Tacos, Cheesesteaks, and More Are Your New Summer Showstoppers
What makes a truly tantalizing vegetable dish? Is it: A. In-your-face, plant-powered indulgences; B. Showstopping centerpiece recipes that evoke oohs, aahs, and 'grams; C. Simple concoctions that let seasonal produce shine; or D. All of the above?
The Jack of All Trades
Jocelyn Ramirez, Cookbook Author and Chef, Todo Verde, Los Angeles
When Jocelyn Ramirez discovered that canned jackfruit could be the perfect vehicle to marry Mexican flavors and plant-based cooking, a light bulb went off. "I wanted to be that bridge for people who were eating street tacos throughout the city of Los Angeles," she says, laughing. "I was like, 'How do I get this to taste like carnitas?'" By using the cumin, chile flakes, and salt that many Mexican home cooks already have in their pantries, Ramirez capitalized on the pulled pork texture of jackfruit to make plant-based cooking seem more approach- able to her community—one delicious "carnitas" taco at a time.
Shop for Ramirez's delicious spice blends designed to use with jackfruit at todoverde.org.
The Head Nacho
Cassie Piuma, Chef and Owner, Sarma, Somerville, Massachusetts
Cassie Piuma's platter of plant-based nachos is a love letter to legumes. Brown lentils are the backbone of a hearty, spice-laden chili, while red lentils get a heavy simmer until they melt, adding smooth body to a tangy feta queso that's versatile on its own: "We use this queso in mac and cheese and sub it in as a sauce for eggplant parm or moussaka," Piuma says.
Know Your Lentils
Quick-cooking lentils add flavor, fiber, and protein to plant-based plates—and come in a rainbow of different varieties.
If you're looking for al dente texture, go green. Writer Hetal Vasavada loves seasoning them with salt and pepper before baking them at 350°F for 10 to 15 minutes for a crunchy snack, but they can also add texture to vegetarian chilis and salads.
Cassie Piuma reaches for red lentils as a base for kibbeh, but she's especially fond of them for sauces. "They disintegrate before you blink and get really soft into what you're cooking, and that's good for a creamy, rich sauce," she says.
Chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz feels that brown lentils hit that "sweet spot of texture" between red and green. Choose these when making a simple dal, or take a page out of Vasavada's book and use them in soups.
Piuma uses black lentils for their hefty texture. "Black lentils give you the satisfaction of a meaty, rich bowl of chili," she says. They maintain their integrity and texture while cooking, managing to stay whole after simmering in a spiced broth.
The Spice Girl
Hetal Vasavada, Cookbook Author, Belmont, California
When tomatoes are at their best, take a cue from Hetal Vasavada and don't cook them at all. "In the summer, Indian families often make kachumber salad. It's basically an Indian pico de gallo situation, minus the cilantro," says Vasavada. "My husband loves gazpacho—he's the kind of person who drinks salsa from the jar—so I thought this would be a nice, cool summer dish."
The Hot Mess
Derrick Hayes & Pinky Cole, Co-owners, Dinkies, Atlanta
Grab a handful of napkins and get ready to use them! This gloriously sloppy sub is the brainchild of Pinky Cole, founder of the popular Atlanta-based Slutty Vegan, and Derrick Hayes, Philly native and founder of Big Dave's Cheesesteaks. "I started Slutty Vegan because I have friends who eat meat, and I wanted to introduce them to this lifestyle that I love," says Cole, who has risen to fame for her over-the-top, meatless renditions of classic American diner staples. Her Dinkies Cheezesteak, a plant-based version of Hayes' meat-packed hoagie, is only available at Dinkies, the pair's new vegan restaurant located in Atlanta's Ponce City Market.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Chef and Owner, Modern Love, New York City
From hosting a community access cooking show to authoring cookbooks on vegan cooking, Isa Chandra Moskowitz is one of the coolest people in plant-based food. Her New York restaurant, Modern Love, showcases beautiful vegan comfort dishes. Her eggplant braciola—with jammy, umami-laden eggplant encasing a filling of lentils, walnuts, and spinach and served in a pool of marinara with islands of vegan ricotta—embodies her ethos perfectly.
Nuts and Bolts
Seeds and nuts bolster meatless dishes by adding texture and heft. Here's how to use them to power up your plant-based cooking.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz strongly believes that pepitas, an affordable alternative to pine nuts, are underutilized. "They bring a really interesting umami flavor that isn't bitter but really bright and earthy, with a pretty color." When making vegan Parmesan, she uses pepitas for crunch and texture, and she also reaches for them in her homemade vegan chorizo.
The neutral, creamy flavor cashews add when blended is unparalleled. "[Cashew] mozzarella also melts really nicely, and it's a generally accessible ingredient," Moskowitz says. "Miyoko's Creamery mozzarella, for example, is cashew-based and so great."
Jocelyn Ramirez loves to use walnuts as a faux-meat base in albondigas. "Walnuts have this inherent depth of flavor," she says. In her meatballs, the ground walnuts play especially well with sun-dried tomatoes, liquid aminos, and nutritional yeast.
Suzanne Cupps, Chef, New York City
"Whenever I say I love carrots, people shrug, so I en- joy using this unassuming staple to make them stop in their tracks," says vegetable magician and Gramercy Tavern alumna Suzanne Cupps. As the former chef of 232 Bleecker, Cupps served these silky, sweet carrots in agnolotti with smoked ricotta or solo as a satisfying side dish; here, she gives them the main-dish treatment, serving them atop ricotta-smeared flatbread with a drizzle of bright basil chermoula.