A Carnivore Comes Clean

Digesting the Merits of Meatless Meals
written by Heather KW Brown | photos courtesy of Nia Owens Photography; Cafe Sunflower; Fox Restaurant Concepts

As carnivorous writers go, I just might top the list. I unabashedly forgo the polite practice of cutting my towering burger in half, perfectly content to reap the juicy rewards. Besides bacon and all-beef patties, braised short ribs, pulled pork and barbecue chicken are also menu must-haves, culinary masterpieces or not.

The idea of becoming a vegetarian, in the past, was a fleeting thought at best. Then, along came restaurants serving irresistible farm-to-table food, making the option of clean eating more of a sustainable lifestyle than a passing trend.

Tofu is still very much o the table for me which means I have no plans of turning the corner completely, but lately, I find my eyes wandering away from meaty dishes to more creative alternatives that might sway my palate.

In the quest to validate my (almost) vegetarian side, I’ve found a number of local eateries that appeal to my conscience as well as my appetite. I suggest coming hungry and with a crowd on a mission to sample several items. Then again, you could order a dish that inspires little motivation to share and plenty of reason to return. That’s exactly why a pigheaded carnivore is now penning a piece on vegetables.

It’s no surprise to learn that I’d sauntered into historic Marietta Square with the sole intention of diving into a new burger joint called Stockyard Burger & Bones. Despite plenty of time, I could not make a decision: go for the Angus beef and pulled pork burger, lamb burger with feta or the Bohemian burger, a homemade veggie patty?

I’ve given veggie patties a fair shot, but they have notoriously disappointed, barely surpassing a few “it’snot- so-bad” bites. There’s always an exception to the rule and Chef Scott Kinsey’s Bohemian burger, made with beets, rice and beans served with lettuce, tomato, smoked paprika aioli and a homemade pickle is it.

After studying in Paris, Kinsey worked for international restaurant concepts opening locations around the world, and developing menu items enjoyed by millions. He has injected more than 20 years of culinary experience and a true passion for food into the menu at Taqueria Tsunami, Pressed Panini Bar and Stockyard Burger & Bones.The addition of the Bohemian burger at Stockyard was a natural fi t, givingvegetarians their own delicious option among the already happy meat-eaters at the table. Made from scratch in-house could be the main di erence between this veggie patty and all the others, butKinsey also uses black beans and rice as a fl avor combination with beets.That decision won my heart and will likely keep it beating healthier as well.

Makes 6 patties

1 cup pickled beets, drained20150601-DSC_8942(1)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1 egg
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor pulse beets, 1 cup cooked brown rice, egg, garlic and 3/4 of the can of black beans. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl, add rice, the remainder of the can of the black beans and 1 cup of cooked brown rice, flour, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix ingredients together. Moisten your hands to form 6 patties. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil at a time in a heavy ovenproof skillet and brown the patties on one side for 2 minutes. Turn over onto the other side and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Serve on a fresh bun with paprika aioli, lettuce, tomato and homemade pickles. Recipe courtesy of Stockyard Burger and Bones stockyardburger.com

I’ll spare my singing voice in lieu of crooning compliments for what must surely be every vegetarian’s go-to dining destination. Owned and operated by Edward and Lin Sun since 1994, the award-winning Cafe Sunflower is now one of mine as well. The husband and wife duo bring more than 40 years of industry experience in Polynesian, French, Chinese and Caribbean cuisine along with their incredible food to the table. Known for vegetarian spins on classic dishes like paella and lasagna, the creative couple opened a Cafe Sunflower in Sandy Springs and another in Buckhead, each with different menus. The latter location was my first experience.

Having agreed to meet a friend for lunch one day, I wasn’t quite sure if my taste buds would find an appetizing option on a menu offering dairy-free, gluten-free and meat-free items. My problem turned out to be quite the opposite and I soon found myself in yet another debate: fried avocado tacos with organic avocado, roasted tomato, shredded romaine lettuce, Daiya cheese and mild chipotle salsa on a corn tortilla or the quinoa avocado burrito with organic quinoa, avocado, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, mashed sweet potato and chipotle aioli wrapped in a spinach tortilla? A win-win either way.

With that successful outing came a visit to Cafe Sunflower in Sandy Springs. Creeping ever so closer to my (almost) newly adopted food preference, I didn’t hold back. Our table shared the Sunflower Box appetizer with Sandy Spring rolls, basil rolls, pot stickers, spaghetti squash cake, hummus and pita triangles before doing the same for the Quinoa Bowl and the Curry Bowl. Stacked high with sautéed Brussels sprouts, grilled portabello mushroom, pistachios, dried cranberries and  avocado over a quinoa pilaf made with zucchini, yellow squash, sun-dried tomato and onions, the Quinoa Bowl has set the standard high and so far, only the Curry Bowl has come close.

Want to convince your own carnivores to come clean? Lin Sun’s cookbook “Cafe Sunflower: Recipes You Can Cook at Home” is a good start.

CURRY BOWLCafe-Sunflower-Curry-Bowl
Makes about 8 servings

1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 can (13.5-ounces) coconut milk
3 tablespoons red curry paste
1 large Kabocha squash, washed, seeded and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
5 cups cooked chickpeas
5 cups water
1 cup raisins
4 tablespoons lemongrass, finely chopped
3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 stalks broccoli, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt to taste

In a large pot, sauté onions for 8 minutes over medium high heat. Add the celery to the pot and continue sautéing for another 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and red curry paste. Mix well.

Add the Kabocha squash, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and enough water to barely cover all veggies. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the squash is cooked (about 30 minutes). Add raisins and lemongrass. Cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste. In a separate pan, sauté broccoli in oil, salt and garlic. Serve over curry. Recipe courtesy of Cafe Sunflower cafesunflower.com

It isn’t every day I can eat with an internationally recognized expert, so when Dr. Andrew Weil sat across the table from me at True Food Kitchen, I got a little nervous. Would he be able to detect my food biases or would I be able to wing it through lunch?

Harvard-educated Weil is Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Lovell-Jones Endowed Chair in Integrative Rheumatology and is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health. He has spent a lifetime of practicing natural and preventative medicine so I asked as many questions as I could, even about my little girl’s eczema. A firm believer in the anti-inflammatory food pyramid, Weil explained how eating certain foods can often fix a lot of problems without modern-day medicine.

According to Weil, the anti-inflammatory food pyramid and the menu options at True Food Kitchen “…can help counteract the chronic inflammation that is a root cause of many serious diseases. It is a way of selecting and preparing foods based on science that can help people achieve and maintain optimum health over their lifetime.”

With that, I finished my Kale-Aid, made with kale, apple, ginger, cucumber, celery and lemon and my edamame dumplings and happily headed home.

Roasted Seasonal Vegetable BoardROASTED VEGETABLE BOARD
Makes 2 cups of dips; veggies to serve 4 people

1 small, butternut squash, peeled, cut in quarters lengthwise
12 Brussels sprouts, outer leaves trimmed and discarded
1/4 head of purple cauliflower, cut into florets
12 baby carrots, tops trimmed to 1 inch
4 King Oyster mushrooms, halved lengthwise
1 fennel bulb, cut lengthwise into 8 pieces
12 French Breakfast radishes, stems trimmed to 1/2 inch
12 Tokyo turnips, stems trimmed to 1/2 inch
1 small Romanesco, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 turns freshly ground black pepper

In a large mixing bowl combine the veggies, oil, salt and pepper. Mix until well coated. Arrange in a single layer on sheet pans, do not overlap. Bake for 12 to 20 minutes at 450 degrees or until well caramelized and crisp. Different vegetables will cook at a different rate, so stay close to your food!

1 1/4 cup, cashews, soaked, cooled and drained
3/4 cup, roasted red pepper, seeds and skin discarded
1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
8 turns freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until completely smooth. Transfer to bowl and let chill in fridge until ready to serve.

4 tablespoons dry tarragon
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup avocado
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/4 cup scallion, minced
3 cloves garlic minced
3/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons fennel fronds, minced
3/4 tablespoon basil leaves chopped
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
10 turns of freshly ground black

In a small saucepan, combine dry tarragon and cider vinegar and bring to a boil. Remove immediately from heat and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Chill. Combine chilled vinegar and herbs with remaining ingredients in food processor and blend until combined. Recipe courtesy of True Food Kitchen truefoodkitchen.com