As a huge foodie, I love watching Bravo’s Top Chef. While most of the dishes prepared are laden with meat and dairy, once in a while, a vegan dish (or entire vegan episode!) appears. Huzzah! It may not happen often but we vegans can find our food and lifestyle reflected in mainstream media.
So here are 7 critically-acclaimed — recipes that won or were finalists in Quickfire or Elimination Challenges awarded by Top Chef judges — vegan recipes:
1. Pecan and Oat-Crusted Tofu on an Oat and Lentil Salad
Carla Hall, Season 5
With her quirky and perky personality, Carla Hall is one of my fave Top Cheftestants. I mean how could I not love a spunky chef who actually enjoys preparing vegetarian and vegan cuisine, even though she’s not veg herself?? Marinated in soy sauce, garlic, acidic orange and spicy sriracha, tofu is pan-seared and then rolled in a crunchy crust comprised of oats, toasted pecans, pungent garlic and ginger, and herb-infused oil. After it’s baked till golden brown, the crusted tofu is then placed atop a bed of oat and lentil salad flavored with onion, garlic and tart oranges, lemons and limes. With varying textures and complex flavors, this entrée sounds hearty, healthy and most importantly delish!
2. Quinoa Pasta with Salsa Verde, Pine Nut Gremolata and Oven Dried Tomatoes
Michael Chiarello, Top Chef Masters, Season 1
When vegans and vegetarians go to a restaurant, chefs often prepare pasta. Now this Carb Queen loves, loves, LOVES pasta. But it can be safe or dull. But when presented with the challenge of preparing a vegan, gluten-free and soy-free entrée for actor Zooey Deschanel, celeb chef Michael Chiarello, who specializes in seasonal Italian cuisine, seemed undaunted. He tossed gluten-free quinoa pasta with pungent garlic, capers, delicate zucchini, fresh and zesty salsa verde (basil, parsley, garlic and olive oil), sweet and smoky and chewy oven-dried tomatoes, topped with a pine nut gremolata (chopped pine nuts, crackers, sour and tart lemon and fragrant herbs) and a pinch of chili flakes for heat. This pasta, which won over the judges, sounds utterly delectable…and in a whole other league of pastas!
3. Timbale of Avocado and Asparagus with Roasted Beet Salad
Hubert Keller, Top Chef Masters, Season 1
French cuisine celeb chef Hubert Keller was the runner-up in the Zooey Deschanel challenge. He prepared a chilled timbale of mashed avocado, asparagus, lemon juice and cilantro topped with fried julienned potatoes and sweet yet tart mango vinaigrette. Accompanying the timbale is a chilled, roasted beet salad seasoned with toasted cumin seeds, Xeres vinegar, pungent garlic, aromatic rosemary and peppery thyme. These cool dishes sound refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
4. Roasted Veggie Vegan Cornbread Stuffing
Radhika Desai, Season 5
Mmmm…I absolutely adore comforting and hearty stuffing. When the cheftestants had to cook a Thanksgiving-themed challenge for the Foo Fighters, Radhika Desai whipped up this easy and scrumptious sounding dish. Vegan corn muffins, sweet red peppers, veggie broth, garlic, tender squash and zucchini seasoned with aromatic rosemary, basil and peppery thyme…all baked till golden brown…my stomach is already growling! P.S. Can’t find any prepared vegan corn muffins? Check out Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s fab recipe in her must-have cookbook The Joy of Vegan Baking.
5. Chilled Coconut Soup with Kaffir Lime, Ghost Pepper Relish
Paul Qui, Season 9
When the cheftestants had to choose peppers all along the heat spectrum to cook with in a Quickfire Challenge, Paul Qui went balls to the wall and chose the hottest pepper on the planet (yikes!), the notorious ghost pepper. His gutsy move paid off as he won. Made with creamy coconut milk, grilled apricots and corn, tart lime juice, Kaffir lime leaves and spicy Garam masala flavored with a ghost pepper and garnished with toasted almonds, cilantro and basil — this soup with its competing temperatures of refreshingly cool and raging inferno heat, sounds like it’s layered with bold flavors that will shock and intrigue your taste buds.
6. Hot and Sour Curried Eggplant with Peppers and Carrot Tops
Kenny Gilbert, Season 7
In a challenge where the chefs had to cook on a farm using seasonal, local ingredients, Kenny Gilbert’s eggplant side dish won. He sautéed curried eggplant with onions, sweet red and orange bell peppers, carrot and celery tops, spicy crushed red pepper, and tart lemons and limes. A mélange of sweet, spicy and sour flavors, this hearty dish sounds heavenly to me.
7. Tofu Ceviche with Lemon-Lime, Tequila and Guajillo-Achiote Tortilla
Hector Santiago, Season 6
When the cheftestants were split into two teams based on gender (ugh…I cannot tell you how much I loathe these women vs. men challenges), each team had to cater a bachelor/bachelorette party. The men had to cater the bachelorette party which included a vegan guest. Hector Santiago’s tofu ceviche didn’t win top prize but was a hit nonetheless. Extra-firm tofu marinated with acidic lemon and lime juices and silver tequila makes the ceviche. This is accompanied by a delicate cucumber, sweet red bell pepper and scallion salad along with pickled garlic, mango pearls and cilantro mint pearls. Finishing it off are homemade tortilla chips with masa harina, sweet agave syrup, and a guajillo chilie/anchiote seed puree. This dish is tricky (um, has any home cook actually made “pearls” with agar agar?? I know I haven’t) and a fiscal splurge. But as it’s infused with tequila…it had me at booze, which makes every recipe better. This dish whisks me away to Cancun and sitting on the beach.
So my fellow foodies, whether you’re vegan/vegetarian or eat meat, which of these recipes appeals to you??