Other countries have had hundreds more years to develop their cuisine, much of which is vegetarian. Local restaurants and chef Ed Hennessy, chair of the Delaware Technical & Community College’s Terry Campus, talk about what vegetarians have to look forward to when delving into food from other cultures, both at home and while dining out.
In November, the Noble Eagle Family Restaurant, 518 S. Bay Road, started serving Turkish food, including tabouli, hummus, spinach pie and multiple eggplant-based appetizers. The expanded menu has meant that non meat-eaters can sit side by side with their gyro-loving friends without having to make special requests for vegetarian options.
“When they have a choice in the menu, they don’t have to ask,” said co-owner Eylem Sen.
Variety might be the spice of life, but it can be hard to find for vegetarians. Not so when they opt for more exotic cuisine.
Thai food fans can feast on pad thai, or curry and rice.
Sushi restaurants usually offer avocado, carrots or cucumber rolls.
Italian food connoisseurs have eggplant Parmesan and tons of pasta dishes to choose from.
And Chinese food may offer some of the most variety, with vegetable versions of favorites like lo mein and fried rice, tofu (bean curd) dishes and soups.
Staff from the Mayo Clinic agree that ethnic foods offer diversity, especially to new vegetarians.
Houston’s Barney Vincelette hardly fits the mold of new vegetarian; he’s been skipping meat since the 1980s. To make sure he has options, he often goes for international cuisine such as Indian or Chinese while dining with his non-vegetarian friends.
Vincelette regularly dines at Flavor of India, 348 N. DuPont Highway, Dover, where the buffet features a selection of vegetarian foods prepared and served separately from meat dishes, according to owner Tony Singh.
Americans enjoy the saag paneer, a blend of spinach and cheese cooked in a gravy, whereas many Indians like dals, which are traditional Indian dishes made with lentils.
Diners at Flavor of India will find the buffet is a revolving door of vegetarian options, from chole bature, or chick peas served with a fluffy bread, to spinach pakora, a fritter often served with mint sauce.
They can find an entire meal without meat, which is essential as many of his Indian customers are vegetarians, Singh said. He offers plenty of vegetarian options at all times, whether it’s for the lunch buffet, party trays or the complete party menu.
The Sens of Noble Eagle said many of their appetizers are vegetarian because it fits the Turkish tradition of starting the meal with something less dense.
“People love starting with these appetizers because they’re very light, tasty,” Sen said.
Diners can feast on an appetizer like baba ghanous, which is pureed eggplant flavored with Tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, olive oil and other spices. Or they can nosh on one of the most popular dishes, hummus.
Ozlem Sen, co-owner, said they do have customers who are vegetarians, but the appetizers and dishes such as spinach pie and red lentil soup are popular with all types who want to enjoy a complete meal without meat.
That’s the type of eater Ed Hennessy is. He calls himself an alternavore: he’ll eat meat or vegetarian fare and enjoy both.
Hennessy is the culinary chair of the Delaware Technical & Community College’s Terry Campus. He said the number of people interested in vegetarian cooking is on the rise, specifically with younger people.
Hennessy and his students find the interest in vegetarian cooking stimulating.
“If there is a demand, we will supply,” he said. “It’s very satisfactory to try new things.”
One component his students have been fascinated by is quinoa, an ancient grain from the Incas that survived through the years because it has a bitter coating to keep birds from eating it. Cultures have learned to wash off that coating and cook it like rice or other grain, Hennessy explained. The unique grain has the amino acids to represent a protein, though, so vegetarians can eat it and get the protein they need.
They have made a cream of quinoa soup, and used it as a component of a salad with roasted corn, cheese, avocado and a touch of vinaigrette for all the textures and colors of summer.
Hennessy is also fond of tofu.
The professional chef of more than 30 years prefers the firm tofu, which he uses in everything from sandwiches to spaghetti.
“The beauty of tofu, what’s so exciting about it, is that it is a sponge that absorbs the flavors it’s cooked with,” he said.
The texture, however, can be problematic for some.
“Most adults turn up their nose up at that because of the texture,” he said. “It’s that texture that is the biggest hurdle, and how do I eat it and like it.”
He suggests focusing on the flavor of the entire dish.
For instance, Hennessy appreciates the French flavor combination of tarragon, Dijon and onions. He would put it on a piece of chicken for his wife and on tofu for him; they’d get the same flavors.
And for the Italian food lover, Hennessy said incorporating tofu could be as easy as cutting it into cubes and stirring it into a tomato sauce.
“Tofu just takes on the flavor of marinara sauce, it just soaks it up,” he said.
Indian and Asian recipes will guide cooks through pan searing tofu and marinating it, he said.
Some Americans don’t want to take the time to make complex components such as masalas, but at the school they teach students to make fresh dishes such as chutneys with pears, apples, sugars and vinegars.
The attention to detail, the complex spices and components, is part of the beauty of foreign cuisine, and what separates some of it from our own.
“You’re talking 400 years as opposed to 2- to 3,000 years of Asian cuisine,” he said. “They’ve learned quite a bit in that time.”
Email Sarika Jagtiani at firstname.lastname@example.org