The chef of plant-based restaurant Strange Town shares four easy, accessible – and delectable – recipes.
One of the big-impact food trends of the last few years is eating “green” – replacing animal products with plants. While the vegan lifestyle may not be right for you, you can incorporate plant-based dishes into your diet without resorting to more pedestrian meatless fare.
East Side restaurant Strange Town has developed a reputation for bringing obscure ingredients (like sea vegetables) into our mainstream – and doing so in unexpectedly satisfying, tasteful ways.
Chef/co-owner Mia LeTendre shared four of her favorite spring recipes, accenting seasonal produce such as sorrel (a tart-flavored leafy herb), watercress and fresh spring peas. The quartet of dishes impressed our recipe-tester (and dining critic) with their marriage of flavors and textures. They’re perfect recipes, too, if you cook plant-based and want to expand your repertoire.
Cauliflower fried rice with baked tofu, snow peas, watercress and mint
This is a low-carb, grain-free alternative to a classic fried rice. The baked tofu adds protein and texture, and the watercress gives a peppery zip and tons of phytonutrients.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line an 18-by-26-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread cubed tofu out on sheet. Make sure the cubes aren’t crowding each other to ensure a nice, even crisp all the way around. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 15-20 minutes, until puffy, crispy and golden.
While the tofu is in the oven, rough-chop cauliflower. Place chopped cauliflower in food processor and pulse until riced, about 30 seconds depending on size of chopped pieces.
Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add oil, garlic and ginger. Cook for 1 minute, stirring with spatula. Add cauliflower rice and snow peas. Scrape bottom of pan occasionally, until cauliflower starts to turn golden and snow peas are a bit tender (about 15 minutes). Add the baked tofu. Whisk together the shoyu (or tamari) and agave in a small bowl. Pour it over the rice. Add minced mint and watercress. Toss to combine. Serve immediately.
1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 medium head of cauliflower
1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. ginger root, minced
1 cup snow peas
3 tbsp. shoyu or tamari*
2 tbsp. agave nectar**
½ cup watercress, minced
4-5 sprigs mint, minced
* Tamari is a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce and is available at any grocery store.
** Honey can be substituted one-for-one for agave nectar, but note the recipe would no longer be vegan.
Kelp noodle salad with arugula, maitake mushrooms and Meyer lemon dressing
Raw noodles made of kelp, a sea vegetable, provide an appealing, contrasting crunch to this salad tossed with warm sauteed mushrooms. Just make sure you rinse the noodles well in cold water before serving.
Heat skillet over medium flame. When hot, add grapeseed oil and mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and continue sauteing until golden brown.
Meanwhile, place kelp noodles in strainer and rinse several times. Drain. Cut noodles into desired length and combine them in a large serving bowl with the arugula leaves and cherry tomatoes.
In a small mason jar, combine the juice of the Meyer lemon, the olive oil and agave nectar with a pinch of salt. Put the lid on and shake vigorously.
Toss warm mushrooms into the salad. Drizzle dressing over the top. Serve immediately.
2 tbsp. grapeseed oil
2 cups maitake mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces*
½ tsp. salt
1 bag kelp noodles**
2 cups baby arugula leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Meyer lemon
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. agave nectar
* Meaty, wonderfully aromatic maitake mushrooms make this dish sing, but if you can’t find them, try enoki or oyster.
** Outpost Natural Foods carries kelp noodles, as do many Asian markets. But as a substitute, you could use cooked rice noodles.
Strawberry-lavender panna cotta
The traditional Italian custard dessert is made here with coconut milk instead of heavy cream.
Heat coconut milk, sweetener and agar-agar powder in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking until the powder is completely dissolved, about 4-5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in sliced strawberries, lavender buds and vanilla. Pour into 6 rocks glasses, or wine glasses, and place in refrigerator to set for 1 hour. Serve on its own or sprinkled with toasted coconut. Also great alongside crisp cookies such as biscotti.
2 cans unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp. agave nectar or coconut nectar
1 tsp. agar-agar powder (a gelatin substitute)*
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 tbsp. dried lavender flower buds**
1 tsp. vanilla extract
* Arrowroot powder can be used instead of agar-agar. Either can be found at Whole Foods and Outpost Natural Foods.
** Culinary lavender is available in bulk spice sections of markets like Outpost, at The Spice House and at Penzey’s
Sweet pea-sorrel aguachile
This chunky vegan version of ceviche is terrific with crisp tortilla chips. Look for fresh sweet peas in bags in the produce section of supermarkets.
In 4 shallow bowls, divide peas, sorrel, cucumber and avocado.
Place broth ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Distribute broth between the 4 bowls. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.
1 cup fresh shelled sweet peas
1 cup sorrel leaves, julienned*
½ cup chopped cucumber
1 avocado, cubed
Fresh cilantro for garnish
Juice of 2 limes
1 poblano pepper, roughly chopped
1 cup water
½ to 1 tsp. salt
* The spring green sorrel is tart and slightly sour; look for it at farmers markets, or substitute it with arugula or baby kale sprinkled with lime juice.