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Three Veg-Centric Opportunities

Veg-centric ideas for your restaurant menu

Veg-centric is growing in popularity. Here are a few ideas for incorporating it into your menu.

The research firm Technomic Inc. reports that in 2016 the incidence of plant-based menu items, menus and restaurant concepts was on the rise in Canada. This is thanks to diner demand for options that allow them to forgo meat at least occasionally. Veg-centric cuisine—in which small amounts of meat are used to add flavour and interest—is a key part of the mix.

And, Technomic reports, this is no passing fancy. Consider:

  • Increased emphasis on vegetables is found on menus across Canada.
  • Large chains have dabbled in the vegetable realm. Examples include a Mediterranean Veggie Signature Wrap At McDonalds in recent years and Burger King's veggie burger.
  • Veggie-innovations abound. In Vancouver, Virtuous Pie menus a plant-based pizza (smoky baba ganoush, housemade falafel, feta, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, mint chutney and onion) and ice cream—two craveable comfort foods with broad appeal. Veg-In YYC in Calgary offers veggie burritos, burgers and poutines.

Gain a competitive veg

Opportunity for veg-centric dishes on restaurant menusThe good news for operators is that you don’t have to reinvent your concept and change your entire menu to satisfy consumer demand for more plant-based items. Run limited-time offers and specials. Incorporate flavourful veg-forward options throughout the menu from starters and sharing plates to entrées and desserts. Leverage the flavour and cost-effectiveness of seasonal produce. Include small amounts of meat and/or meat or seafood broths; in this way veg-centric dishes celebrate the way a little meat makes food taste better while keeping produce at the forefront.

Here are just a few ways to put vegetables front and centre on menus:

Starters/sharing plates. Think colourful and flavourful combinations with unexpected combinations. Examples:

•  Grilled nectarines with treviso, arugula, burrata and prosciutto. 

•  Artisanal veg toast topped with smoked eggplant purée, Calabrian chili, celery, olives and pickled shallots.

Sandwiches. Pile veggies high onto diverse carriers and your veg-sandwiches will stack up against meat-based anytime. The secret is to create layers of flavour. Examples:

•  Vegetable Club⎯ pickled beets, radishes, cucumbers and herbed cream cheese. The real secret is the layering of different flavours. 

•  Winter Squash Sandwich—four varieties of winter squash layered with toasted squash seeds, melted mozzarella, fresh herbs and crushed potato chips in a split ciabatta roll.

Entrées. Hit the sweet spot between indulgence and a health halo. Examples: 

•  Braise Belgian endives in chicken stock and white wine and serve between thin slices of country ham and melted Gruyère. 

•  Stuff bell peppers with quinoa or another on-trend ancient grain. 

•  Slice zucchini into ribbons and serve with a signature pasta sauce. 

Cooking techniques that bring out the best

“By holding vegetables in the high regard once reserved for proteins, chefs are using aggressive cooking techniques to bring out deep flavours in produce,” says Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC. “Roasting, grilling, smoking and charring add sophisticated layers of flavour in vegetables. The possibilities are virtually limitless—but, please, just say ‘no’ to steaming.”