Vegetarian menus can easily turn into bland and boring affairs. But luckily all you need is a bit of inspiration and strategic thinking and you can actually steal the show with some really innovative use of vegetarian staples.
If you’re looking for plant-based menu ideas that stray from the conventional garden salad, vegetables can be your best ally. With all the different colours and textures available and a good list of vegetarian meat substitutes on hand, your plant-based menu can easily impress.
How to Plan a Plant-Based Meal
- Select the category of your dish. Is it a roast, soup or stew, or multi-component main dish?
- Choose your anchor vegetables. What’s in season?
- Consider how it can be prepared and choose your cooking method.
- Plan your spices and seasonings around your choices.
- Add balance from a nutritional perspective. Can you combine foods to provide a complete protein?
- Enhance your plating, with complementary colours, shapes, flavours, and textures.
Plant-Based Menu Ideas
Add Appeal to Plants
Use interesting textures to intrigue the senses. Try roasting vegetables for a crispy feel, or oven-dry them to concentrate the flavours, increasing the “meaty” texture. You can also combine vegetables with raw nuts and seeds to provide varying levels of crunchiness.
Try Unusual Spice and Flavour Combinations
This is a good way to complement or accent the flavours of the produce. For example, nutmeg is good with root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, and pumpkins. Cumin and coriander go well with sweet vegetables like beets. And mustard complements cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, and kale.
Smoking or grilling fruits and vegetables can also enhance their flavour profile.
Experiment With the Form of the Dish
Just by slicing vegetables differently, you can create a different experience. Try serving a portabello mushroom as a “steak,” slice cucumber or courgette into ribbons and serve in place of pasta, or use a ricer on cooked cauliflower. You can even cook carrots and puree them into a foam or blend with pulses for hummus.
Make Room on the Menu
It’s a good idea to integrate vegan and vegetarian dishes with the rest of the plant-based menu. This draws more attention to your plant-based recipes and avoids creating a stigma around non-meat dishes. Make sure your descriptions are just as cravable as the rest of the menu, and these dishes may become some of your guests’ new favourites.
Choosing an Alternative Centre of Plate
Putting protein on the plate drive increases satiety. If you’re not using meat in your dish, there are many other interesting ways to provide bulk to the meal. While some of these options are also good sources of protein, others need to be combined with different foods in order to provide a complete protein.
Vegetarian Meat Substitutes
Find the vegetarian meat alternatives that are as close as possible to familiar meat form and texture. These substitutes may contain spices or other flavouring to simulate meat taste. Substitute wherever you would use meat.
Comes in many forms including extra firm, firm, soft and silken. Soft, smooth and flavourless on its own, it is a prime candidate for flavourful marinades, sauces, and seasonings. Add to soups, stir-fries, and scrambles.
Sold in flat, rectangular pieces. Has a slightly earthy taste and chewy texture. Crumble and add to soups, salads, or pasta, or serve in a sandwich.
Made from cooked wheat gluten, it has a chewy texture and is a good source of protein. It’s commonly used in Asian dishes.
Pulses (Beans and Lentils)
Available dry or canned. Firm texture, may have slightly nutty flavour. Add to soups, salads, stews or casseroles, or make into “meat”balls.
Porcini, shiitake, and portabello mushrooms add umami flavour and hearty texture. Can be eaten raw, cooked in salads, sauces, soups, and sandwiches, or grilled.
Choose unripe or canned in water or brine to avoid sweetness. Grill and shred like pulled pork, slice into "steaks," or add to stir-fries and salads.
Mild taste absorbs flavours easily. Chop and eat raw, slice into "steaks" and oven roast, add to curries and stir-fries, or boil and mash or put through a ricer.
Cost-effective, filling, and absorbs flavours readily. Boil, bake, roast, mash, or fry. Try sweet potatoes with black beans in enchiladas.
Fennel and artichokes add textural interest and presence on the plate. Roast with olive oil and add to salads or dips.
Roasted and caramelized, it plates nicely and adds rich colour. Roast or boil and add to soups or salads.
Nuts & Peanuts
Enhance food with a nutty flavour and crunch. Add to salads, pasta, desserts, etc. (Note: Nuts are food allergens. Identify on menu and check with guests before serving.)
*Not a good source of protein.
To keep your vegetarian and vegan customers happy, make sure you keep an eye out for any hidden animal-based ingredients. And if you don’t have a plant-based drinking menu yet, here are a few ideas to get you started.