Guest Post: Can Veggies Go Gourmet?

This guest post is from my new friend on Twitter, Meg, aka @YogaSavesTheDay. She brings up some interesting points! Being a professional chef, I often wonder how my sense of gourmet would hold up to an omnivore's take on gourmet.

The First Lesson is Simplicity

I used to think that vegetarians, and especially vegans, could never be true foodies. How could they really know good food, I’d scoff. After all, the scope of what they consider edible is significantly less than those of ultimate foodies like Brillat-Savarin, MFK Fisher, and now Mark Bittman. Omnivores have a wide-ranging diet from all nutritional sources, from quail to quinoa. But a veggie/vegan? Making vegan “cheese” out of walnuts is not yet a course listing at Le Cordon Bleu…

When I think of “foodie” food, I think of something that stands up to a glass of Chianti or Syrah. Something an Italian or French gastronome would devour. But must the definition of “foodie” encompass cruelly-sourced foie gras or an antibiotic-laden hunk of meat? Vegetarians and vegans alike CAN be foodies if they aspire to impeccable quality using available ingredients. In fact, veg/vegans may even be foodies by the purest definition: their appreciation of fresh produce supersedes omnivores’, because it must stand alone on a plate without the support of meat to round out a meal.

I grew up an omnivore with a gourmand mother. Early on, I learned the simplest lessons about what makes good food special. Only buy what’s fresh, local, and in-season; and above all, use just a few ingredients, only of the highest quality possible.

After going vegetarian three years ago, I had a craving for simplification in my diet. When I see a vegan recipe that starts, “Marinate the tempeh for 30 minutes, then turn and marinate another 30 minutes,” I just turn the page. What could be easy and simple yet mouthwatering and meat-free? I read classic gourmet tomes like The Silver Spoon from Italy and Larousse

Gastronomique from France. It made sense to me. The most irresistible “gourmet” food is inspired by simple food from the country; food perfected by nature and paired by the seasons. What could be more simple (and luscious!) than mashed potatoes with truffle oil, or a fried egg over roasted asparagus? Dishes like fettucine alla funghi, ratatouille, and bruschetta use what is abundant seasonally. Call it a populist aversion to fancy food, but great gourmet veg food balances bright and savory flavors against the backdrop of fresh produce. Simple as that.

When attempting traditional French gourmet technique, it’s easy for veg chefs to go overboard on flavors and spices to compensate for the lack of meat and dairy. Forcing endless new flavor profiles on bland protein sources can quickly become a new form of McFood!

When going gourmet, simple is best. Regular produce on my weekly shopping list includes mushrooms, arugula, lemons, and parsley. In my pantry, you’ll always find very good Italian olive oil and semolina pasta, nuts, olives, kosher salt, and pestle-ground black pepper. Remember: the fewer the ingredients, and the higher quality they are, the more gourmet your


What is your opinion on what makes something gourmet? Does it need to have a lot of ingredients and many steps, or can simple be gourmet?

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  1. This is great advice.  I'm a novice vegan and big-time novice in the kitchen.  I'm guilty of the "oh look, I came up with another tofu marinade" trap.  Thanks for inspiring me to think simpler, but bigger.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree – I just found an organic veggie stand a 10 minute walk from my house (I'm in the backwoods country, so walking anywhere and reaching a destination is so cool) and have been in heaven over the range of fresh produce, trying to create delicious dishes that suit my food choices and allergies. Case in point: I got some amazing chard, yellow pepper and zucchini and HAD to make something amazing with it…but I was hungry so it had to be fast. I sliced the zucchini, and sauteed it in olive oil with some onion, chopped the chard into large bite size pieces, and added it when the zucchini was starting to soften, along with some chopped yellow pepper and a can of organic navy beans. Add some sea salt and cracked black pepper, sauteed it until starting to wilt the chard and the beans were heated through, then added a touch of rice vinegar. Tossed and served. Total time: about 10 minutes, including chopping the veg. Taste? Unparalleled. I'll be blogging it later on this week with amounts and such, but honestly, it was amazing. Restaurant quality? Why not! Gourmet? My humble taste buds certainly think so 🙂

  3. The simplest tomato sauce in the world can be awesome if it was made with tomatoes still warm from the vine! I think gourmet food is all about restraint, discernment, and the freshest and best ingredients possible, vegetarian or otherwise.

  4. @Jennifer: Couldn't agree more.  A simple tomato sauce IS gourmet, and yet one of the most comforting "country" foods out there.  My weeknight sauce is a can of Italian crushed tomatoes, oil, garlic, salt/pepper, a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity, then while it's simmering, I add a halved onion cut sides down which I fish out when the pasta's done.  That simple pantry sauce has gotten me out of hundreds of "what to do about dinner tonight?!"

  5. @Meghann: That sounds like an amazing way to use the summer bounty!  Love the idea of chard and navy beans together.  Super extra bonus points for walking to a local farm stand!  And anything that starts with sauteeing onion in olive oil definately "qualifies" as gourmet! =)

  6. Thank you for such a lovely post! I'm an omnivore, but I don't believe that "gourmet" is restricted to the meat-eaters.

    My definition of gourmet is: Fresh, pure and seasonal. Last time I checked, that didn't exclude vegans. 😉

    Happy Sunday!


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