Meatless Comfort: Vegetarian Swaps for Fall Classics (That Actually Taste Good)

Chef Matthew Kenney is no stranger to transformation, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him now. He’s the author of best selling cook books, a culinary instructor and owner of Matthew Kenney Cuisine, a culinary company which provides numerous services, including catering, speaking engagements, workshops, and even chef placement services.

But twenty years ago, Kenney’s career was full of doubts. Back in 2004, Kenney and his girlfriend, Sarma Melngailis opened Pure Food and Wine, a New York City based restaurant with an emphasis on beautifully prepared meat and fish entrees. But even though Kenney’s career had, to that point, stemmed from his expertise in both meat and seafood, he found himself slowly drawn to vegetarian cooking in New York.

Before he could explore his passion, Kenney and his girlfriend split, and he sold his restaurant. For over two decades, Kenney stayed away from his origins, working in Oklahoma and Los Angeles. When he finally returned to New York, he opened 00+Co, an upscale pizzeria. It was noteworthy in two ways:it was a mere mile from Pure Food and Wine. It was also entirely vegan.

It would seem that Kenney’s journey was always meant to take him back to his original love: using his experience with both meat and fish to inspire just as delicious and beautifully presented meatless entrees.


The Most Common Problem with Vegetarian Meals

Personal and private chefs may be hesitant about preparing vegetarian, even sometimes, for meat loving clients. And for good reason: without proper attention, vegetarian entrees can fall flat, both on a nutritional and flavor profile, especially for individuals used to consuming meat with every meal.

Even for fully committed vegetarians, meatless meals can lack adequate protein and lack the comforting appeal of meat based meals. The other problem? Trying too hard to mimic the flavor and texture of meat, rather than playing up the flavor of the vegetables and other ingredients. Instead, chefs should aim to achieve a hearty texture and taste–but make sure to highlight, not hide, the substitutions.


Jump into Autumn with Comfort Classics, Minus the Meat

Whether you’re cooking for a vegetarian client or just a client who wants to cut back on their meat consumption, vegetarian doesn’t have to mean giving up classic fall comfort.

In each of these takes, seasonal favorites for cool nights are kept classic by sticking to iconic seasonings, layered with hearty substitutions, and perfectly paired to create a lasting–not sub standard–impression.


  • Vegetarian Stroganoff

Stroganoff is usually prepared with beef, and it’s beloved for its hearty flavors, rich sauce, and warm noodles. What makes this an autumn classic is its richness and its simplicity: it is easy to prepare, and rewarding to boot. Portobellos replace the beef in this recipe: the key is the enhance the flavor of the mushrooms’ natural umami notes by sauteeing them in butter and seasoning them before tossing them with a rich sauce. To showcase the mushrooms more, but with the same notes as the classic, add some white wine, basil, and garnish with parsley.

  • Pot Pie:

To get this classic right, focus first on the basic elements: a flaky, lightly golden brown crust; a filling packed with fresh ingredients; and just the right amount of seasoning. Master these elements, and no one will miss the chicken: just make sure you bulk up the filling with hearty root vegetables, like carrots and celery. In Aida Mollenkamp’s take, there’s also potatoes, button mushrooms, and green peas. Fresh herbs add lighter notes, while a vinegar and egg wash is key to the perfectly baked crust.

  • Lasagna: Like pot pie and stroganoff, lasagna is great in its deceptive simplicity: a blend of cheeses, marinara sauce, and homemade pasta are the main template. That also means that a meatless take can be as creative as you want to go: rather than trying to “make up” for the missing meat, play with the other ingredients. Swap traditional mozzarella with goat cheese. Play with a white sauce, and swap the sausage in this recipe for caramelized onions and marinated mushrooms. Spend the time to make your own pasta, and brush each noodle before layering with a touch of olive oil, garlic, and dried herbs.
  • Instead of….Try These:

Sometimes you do need to reinvent, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play homage to favorite flavors. Shrimp and grits is a favorite both in the South and nationwide; serve polenta instead, with a particularly seasonal take with this pumpkin polenta with roasted brussel sprouts, butternut squash, and fresh sage. Instead of of swapping the meat in beef stew, play up the same hearty notes in a more exotic Moroccan Lentil Ste, which plays with beautiful warming spices like cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and turmeric.



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