No one is better qualified to help solve that meal-planning dilemma than Richard Landau, owner-chef of Horizons (611 South Seventh St.), a 35-seat new-age vegan eatery with gourmet restaurant flair and a growing reputation for turning out some of the country's finest vegan fare.
For Landau and his wife-partner-pastry chef Kate Jacoby, all food, vegan included, has to be about taste.
When you take something out of a dish - be it meat, or butter and cream - you have put something else in, something that adds to the taste and texture, to compensate for what was lost. That might be nuts, fresh herbs, wine, or a different vegetable that adds a unique flavor.
"I'm a carnivore at heart," says Landau. "I need depth and layers of flavor in my food."
The decision to stop eating meat was based solely on ethical grounds, he says: "We didn't give up meat and animal products because we didn't like the taste."
The pair assembled a hundred or so of their best recipes in Horizons: The Cookbook - Gourmet Meatless Cuisine, self-published in 2003.
Their second cookbook - Horizons: New Vegan Cuisine - is at the printers and due to be ready for sale at the restaurant and online at www.horizonsphiladelphia.com early in December.
Among Landau's suggestions?
Use mushrooms to replace the earthy flavor of meat.
Beans and nuts provide necessary protein support when not eating meat.
Tofutti makes a tofu-based "sour cream" alternative that Landau assures makes "a beautiful cream sauce."
As for cooking methods, he recommends braising (slow cooking, covered, with moist heat). It does wonders for beans, he says.
"It's incredible. They come out soft, silky, with deep flavor, even a little cheesy."
He suggests teaming the bean recipe that follows with roasted portabella mushrooms. Or the Mushroom Bouillabaisse (also offered here), an extremely versatile dish, something of a culinary chameleon:
Scoop up more broth and it is a soup.
The mixed mushrooms make a perfect sauce for pasta or, as noted, the beans.
Use a slotted spoon and serve the mushrooms up solo on the side.
Or load up a plate to provide a hearty (some say "meaty") entree for any vegans at the table.
And for the meat-eaters, served with turkey or another roast, it becomes gravy.
Adding saffron and fennel and calling it bouillabaisse is Landau's tribute to the classic, even though all seafood is omitted.
Another favorite is Landau's seitan pot roast, a mix of a protein-rich soy food and vibrant vegetables that takes about 10 minutes to assemble and put in the oven.
His take on the traditional green bean casserole removes any dairy ingredients and adds, instead, the unique flavor and richness of Spain's Marcona almonds.
Landau has been cooking for himself since he was in his teens, when he gave up meat and animal by-products and began experimenting, looking for ways to make a vegan diet more appetizing.
He first opened Horizons Cafe in Willow Grove in 1994. In February 2006, after 12 years of growth and the addition of a partner, the pair (now three years married) moved Horizons to its current, more central and upscale location.
With the move came the more rarefied atmosphere of a three-bell review rating, a first for a vegetarian restaurant in our area.
Landau's success results from using quality ingredients to create foods that taste good, are really satisfying, and have color and flavor.
So much of what is served for the holiday is what Landau calls "ugly food, all brown and murky" - not just meats but stuffing, breads, flour-thickened gravy, heavy carb- laden foods that put us to sleep.
"It should be about waking up our food, adding brighter flavors like citrus, using more fresh vegetables," says Landau.
"We need to get some reinvention going on with food."
Wild Mushroom Bouillabaisse
Makes 4 entrees or 8 side-dish servings
4 tomatoes (plum or regular), quartered
1 medium onion, julienned
Salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon ground fennel seed (or 1 small fresh fennel bulb, thinly sliced)
A pinch of saffron threads
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus some for sauteing
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 pounds mixed mushrooms
2 cups vegetable stock, see Note
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 roasted red peppers (jarred or canned is fine)
¼ cup bread crumbs
Extra-virgin olive oil (for the rouille)
Toasted baguette croutons
1. Combine the tomatoes and onion; spread on a roasting tray. Season with salt, pepper, fennel (sliced very thin), and saffron threads. Add the wine. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons oil on top. Roast in a hot oven (450 to 500 degrees) until tops of vegetables are slightly charred, 15 to 20 minutes. When cool to the touch, peel off the tomato skins.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the mushrooms: For best effect, pre-grill some of them. Slice portabellas into strips. Halve or quarter large buttons. Leave small mushrooms whole. (This is what makes the dish remarkable.)
3. In a very large pan or casserole, saute the mushrooms (fresh or pre-grilled) in oil with the garlic. When the garlic starts to brown, add the stock. Add the tomato mixture, and simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes, adding thyme last.
4. Meanwhile, in a food processor, blend the roasted red peppers, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and just enough extra virgin olive oil to make a thick rouille. Spread the rouille on toasted baguette croutons to garnish each serving.
- From Rich Landau, owner-chef, Horizons, PhiladelphiaNote:
Do not use mushroom stock as it doesn't give enough contrast; you want the mushrooms to shine.
Per serving (based on 8): 148 calories, 5 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, no cholesterol, 354 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Seitan, Mushroom & Vegetable Pot Roast
Makes 2 to 4 servings
1 pound seitan or tofu cubes ½ pound mushrooms of choice, such as oysters, portabellas or chanterelles
3 cups assorted vegetables (carrots, parsnips, zucchini, cabbage and such)
2 shallots or 1 onion, cut up 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup vegetable stock
¼ cup Madeira or Marsala
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a mixing bowl, toss the seitan, mushrooms, vegetables, shallots, garlic, rosemary herbs and spices with the oil, salt and pepper.
2. Spread the mixture in a baking dish. Add the stock and wine. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 450 for 45 minutes.
3. Carefully peel back the foil. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Use the liquid to baste the seitan and vegetables. Return the dish to the oven to cook, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes more.
Per serving (based on 4): 296 calories, 7 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, no cholesterol, 169 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Garlic Green Beans with Marcona Almonds and Vegan Tarragon Butter
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 pound French (or regular) green beans, ends trimmed
1 cup water
2 tablespoons soft margarine 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup Spanish Marcona almonds, chopped
1. In a large pan, heat the oil until it ripples, medium hot. Add the garlic. Immediately put the beans on top.
2. When the garlic starts to brown (1 to 2 minutes), add the water, cover pot. Steam beans to desired tenderness.
3. In a bowl, combine the beans, margarine, tarragon, salt and pepper. Toss until the margarine melts. Garnish with the almonds.
- From Rich Landau, owner-chef, Horizons, Philadelphia
Per serving (based on 6): 112 calories, 3 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, no cholesterol, 49 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Braised White Beans
Makes 4 servings
2 (12- to 16-ounce) cans navy, great northern or white kidney beans, drained, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig each: rosemary, thyme, tarragon, oregano
1 tablespoon white wine or Madeira
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup mushroom stock or vegetable broth
1 dash coarsely ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a casserole or oven sheet pan, mix all the ingredients, cover with foil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully uncover and remove the herb sprigs. Stir and serve. (The chef suggests serving these with roasted portabellas or Mushroom Bouillabaisse.)
- From Rich Landau, owner-chef, Horizons, PhiladelphiaPer serving:
317 calories, 17 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, no cholesterol, 69 milligrams sodium, 18 grams dietary fiber.
Contact Inquirer food writer Marilynn Marter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5741.