This article was first published in Times of Israel.
Would you care for a cauliflower or portobello “steak”? Maybe you would like to try a red quinoa and lentil burger? How about an acorn squash roasted vegetable bowl?
There’s a high chance you, or someone you are close to, is either allergic to a type of nut, legume, or seed, intolerant of gluten or dairy products, on a carbohydrate-free diet, observes kosher dietary laws, or has moral issues with any/all uses of animal by-products. Today’s nouvelle cuisine keeps getting more nouveau every day. To keep up, caterers and restaurants need be more creative than ever.
My mother, the vegetarian in the family, grew up off the Mediterranean coast, which helped inspire many dishes that were naturally flavorful with no animal ingredients. The gluten-free and nut-free parts were a little trickier — since Moroccans love cooking with dough, couscous, and almonds.
When I was growing up, having a vegetarian mother meant we were accustomed to eating a lot of types of fish (pescatarianism was not in vogue yet), pasta, and vegetables. Meat or chicken was eaten only on Shabbat or holidays. Burgers and hot dogs on the BBQ were a treat, while grilled salmon and vegetable kebabs were almost always commonplace. Get lucky enough to go to my mom’s for dinner and you’ll experience eight or nine different vegetable side dishes at a not-so-simple weeknight dinner, such as: fire-roasted pimentos with minced garlic and extra virgin olive oil, roasted root vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes, butternut squash caramelized French fries, and many more.
In the last few years, my mother has developed a gluten-intolerance, which, in addition to being vegetarian, doesn’t make eating creative dishes that easy. My mother’s not alone though. More and more guests at catered events require a “special” meal that has a very new meaning from event to event. There was a time that airlines only offered “vegetarian” or “kosher” meals, with 72-hours advanced notice required. I was on an overseas flight last year where my dinner roll was gluten-free even without me asking. As a caterer, my business must literally cater to the not-so-long-ago-unusual needs and wants of clients. Creating an entire vegan-only menu at abat mitzvahor plating up to 10 percent gluten-free meals at a wedding is becoming routine.
Interestingly, an article published last May in the U.K.-based Independent notes that, “vegan diets are exploding in popularity,” and metropolitan cities from Turin to Tel-Aviv are booming with popular vegan restaurants. With that said, an article published by world-famous medical research group The Mayo Clinic noted that vegans may lack essential nutrient intake. Only eating vegetables may not be as healthy as one might think. A balanced diet and a good palate is key.
Regardless, it’s definitely a sign of the times when Tofutti brand non-dairy “cream cheese” is old news and Parmesan “cheese” made of nuts and spices sprinkled over a gluten-free lasagna made with organic tomatoes and portobello mushrooms is now what’s for dinner.
For more menu ideas, visit medinacuisine.com.
By Michael Medina
Michael Medina heads The Kosher Kitchen Catering Co. and Medina Cuisine, a gourmet kosher caterer located in Rockville, Maryland. Together, Michael’s team has served events of over 1,500 guests and catered to dignitaries including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.