10 meatless dishes to wow the most die-hard carnivore

Burgers, tartare, tom yum gai so good, you won’t belive they’re meatless

10 meatless dishes to wow the most die-hard carnivore
10 meatless dishes to wow the most die-hard carnivore
23 May 2016

10 meatless dishes to wow the most die-hard carnivore

Who says a vegetarian dish can’t be as tasty as a meaty one? While we often salivate at the thought of a salacious steak, few of us stop to ponder what makes us crave for it.

Some pundits have offered a bland explanation linking meaty indulgences with a primal instinct. But, in essence, it’s not the fat and mineral content that influence our love for meat. Rather, it’s our perception that they equal flavour.

I would even go as far as to say that pan-seared pork belly is delicious by association, because we associate animal fat and the effects of the maillard reaction (that is, the chemical reaction between reducing simple sugars and amino acids that makes browned food so scrumptious) with good taste.

But it is possible to find similar satisfaction, texturally and flavour-wise, without the use of animal protein. Take, for example, Bacchanalia’s head chef Ivan Brehm’s beetroot tartare, that mimics the chew of meat and delivers an umami kick similar to that of aged beef, thanks to the kitchen team’s research on texture modifications and “natural cooking” methods.

A similar variety can be found in chef Emmanuel Stroobant’s aptly named Garden dish, which takes inspiration from a main course of steak with the accompaniments. The aim is to recreate the experience sans the meat component by substituting the texture, taste and experience of eating a gratifying meat dish. As such, Jerusalem artichokes, which are deep and bold in flavours are prepared in three different ways, from crunchy raw slices to crispy fried pieces to meaty braised cuts.

Similarly, Chef Jason Tan’s signature celebration of the prized Cevennes onion features four ways to enjoy the prized ingredient, designed to present a complete and satisfying experience. “It is sweet, savoury, and umami,” Tan said. “It is crispy, creamy, warm and cold. It is light and rich, simple yet complex. It is familiar yet new. It is memorable and satisfying because it is a full gastronomic experience.” Now how sexy is that?

So while we want a savoury hit of umami, often with dishes such as braised short ribs, umami is also a defining quality found in tomatoes, mushrooms and truffle, potatoes and carrots, soy and seaweed, not forgetting an assortment of cheeses. So, there are ways a vegetarian dish can still taste as good as a meaty one. We’ve found 10 of them for you:

Tom Kha Gai from Pepper Jade Thai Vegetarian Cuisine
Tom Kha Gai from Pepper Jade Thai Vegetarian Cuisine
23 May 2016

Tom Kha Gai from Pepper Jade Thai Vegetarian Cuisine

This is even better than the restaurant’s must-try claypot tom yum soup (pictured). This decidedly richer option that makes you wonder how the chef manages to achieve such bold flavours without the use of fish sauce and typical ingredients such as chicken. Even the mock meat is delicious. But the best part of having it served in a coconut is that you can scoop the flesh to have with the soup.

Pepper Jade Thai Vegetarian Cuisine
91 Bencoolen Street, Sunshine Plaza, #01-28-19/20

Di San Xian from JB Ah Meng
Di San Xian from JB Ah Meng
23 May 2016

Di San Xian from JB Ah Meng

Roughly translated to mean “three vegetables from the ground”, this is a favourite among regulars here (starts from S$12 for a small serving). The eggplant and potatoes appear to have been lightly coated with flour and deep-fried before they are stir-fried with green bell peppers. This gives the eggplant more structure, and an almost meat-like texture when you bite into it. The addition of oyster sauce adds a kick of umami to the rounded and moreish seasoning. Clearly, this could be a meal on its own if you’re looking for a light dinner; or have it to complement any of the restaurant’s many Johor Bahru-style zi char dishes.

JB Ah Meng
New Good Eating House, 2 Geylang Lor 23 

Beetroot Tartare from Bacchanalia
Beetroot Tartare from Bacchanalia
23 May 2016

Beetroot Tartare from Bacchanalia

Only available as part of the restaurant’s seven-course menu (S$165), the dish features beets that are first cooked at a precise temperature until tender, and served in an emulsion made with beet juice, grapeseed oil, horseradish and golden flaxseed. The chef explained flaxseed is used as a “texture modifier” and emulsifying agent. Finely cut sweet onions are then added. The dish is finished with a touch of sweetness and spice from glazed ginger, glazed coriander seed and pumpernickel, a dash of Grand Marnier and a slow-cooked egg yolk.

Bacchanalia
39 Hongkong Street

Cevennes Onion Done Four Ways from Corner House
Cevennes Onion Done Four Ways from Corner House
23 May 2016

Cevennes Onion Done Four Ways from Corner House

The prized vegetable is first oven-baked and hollowed, and used as a cup for onion puree, 62-degree sous vide egg, onion confit and finely chopped black truffles. Then there is the onion tart, made with a thin filo pastry base and onion confit, topped with Parmesan cheese. A perfect complement is the onion chip, which is a slice of onion that is lightly salted and dehydrated. The experience culminates in a rich yet comforting onion tea, which is made of two components: An infusion of caramelised onion with Early Grey Yin Zhen tea poured over an emulsion of onion confit and cream.

E J H Corner House
ingapore  Botanic Gardens, 1 Cluny Road

Roasted Pumpkin with Spiced Cashew Nut from Cheek By Jowl
Roasted Pumpkin with Spiced Cashew Nut from Cheek By Jowl
23 May 2016

Roasted Pumpkin with Spiced Cashew Nut from Cheek By Jowl

Available as part of its set lunch menu (S$30 for two courses and S$38 for three), this vegetarian main course option features pumpkin that is roasted until firm yet tender, then slathered with a Sri-Lankan curry cashew nut cream. It is artfully plated alongside roasted seeds and kale chips for added texture, and a generous dollop of preserved pumpkin.

Cheek By Jowl
21 Boon Tat Street

Angel Burger from Paper Crane
Angel Burger from Paper Crane
23 May 2016

Angel Burger from Paper Crane

Priced at S$15, the star here is the patty - made with roasted pumpkin, chickpeas, scallions, red capsicum and fresh garlic, seasoned with warm and earthy spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and coriander. To add a refreshing contrast of flavours, a homemade roasted red pepper and eggplant relish is slathered in between the brioche buns. Of course, what’s a burger without fries? Only in this case, it’s served with chokos fries. Chokos, owner Kamei Cheong explained, is from the gourd family, and tastes like a sweeter zucchini. “We cut them up into fries, dust them with a seasoned corn flour mix, deep-fry them and toss them through a spice mix before serving.”

Paper Crane
96 Waterloo Street

Garden by St Pierre
Garden by St Pierre
23 May 2016

Garden by St Pierre

Its simple moniker belies the complex mix of textures and earthy flavours, featuring mash potatoes, Jeruselem artichoke, braised wild mushroom, onion shell, piquillos (a type of capsicum), steamed organic Japanese eggplant (which has a naturally smoky flavour), and brioche crumbs. The artichoke is prepared three ways - raw, as fried chips, and braised for a more meaty texture. The piquillo sauce is creamy while the morel mushrooms boost the umami quotient.

St Pierre
#02-02B One Fullerton, 1 Fullerton Road

Saha Signature Indian Restaurant and Bar
Saha Signature Indian Restaurant and Bar
23 May 2016

Saha Signature Indian Restaurant and Bar

It may have moved to a swankier location, but the menu features the same line-up of regional Indian cuisine given a modern European spin. One uniquely modern interpretation, if only in presentation, is the Kerala vegetable stew (S$16 per individual serving), which is first made the traditional way with vegetables such as carrots, French beans and potatoes cooked in coconut milk with a dash of black pepper. It is then pureed and put through a siphon, which turns it into a light mousse with all the traditional flavours of the dish firmly intact, served in a martini glass. Guests can opt for the traditional version (S$26) to share.

Saha Signature Indian Restaurant and Bar
National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road, #01-03

BBQ Local Jackfruit Sliders from House
BBQ Local Jackfruit Sliders from House
23 May 2016

BBQ Local Jackfruit Sliders from House

Cleverly braised until it pulls apart easily and then drenched in a gula melaka barbeque sauce, you’d never think you were digging into a mini jackfruit burger (S$23 for a pair). Slapped between a soft bun with a creamy pistachio-strewn guacamole, the result is a bright and satisfying meal, not unlike a Tex-Mex pulled pork sandwich; served with truffle fries. Seems downright carnivorous, if you ask us. Of course, if you really wanted to pig out, split a Portobello schnitzel burger (S$28) with a friend. The breaded meaty mushroom is stuffed with provolone, then tucked in between an arugula bun, with a mint and green apple slaw, pickled cucumber and housemade spicy mayo.

House
8D Dempsey Road

Trombetta Zuccchini from Odette
Trombetta Zuccchini from Odette
23 May 2016

Trombetta Zuccchini from Odette

A new addition to its spring menu, the idea behind this dish, said chef Julien Royer, is to combine zucchini, walnuts and tarragon. The zucchini is cooked in avocado oil and wrapped in raw zucchini that has been lightly dressed in avocado oil. It is paired with a creamy walnut dressing, crispy walnut crackers, tarragon leaves and a tarragon sorbet, as well as some pickled shallots for a touch of acidity. “It’s a dish that has many layered elements and the textural contrasts are very enjoyable on the palate. It may look delicate but it is bursting with flavour.”

Odette
National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road, #01-04

This story first appeared on TODAY
Story by Don Mendoza

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