Al’s Place makes vegetables more inventive – and you can tell from their names – by having dishes such as broccamole (guacamole made with broccoli), turnip-kale stem pesto, and sunchoke curry, made with a delicate tuber that tastes like artichoke but belongs to the sunflower family.
At the heart of this trend of enlivening vegetable dishes is ‘spiralising’, and kitchens are creating spaghetti alternatives from zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes and beets using this technique. Houlihan’s Restaurant and Bar chain in the US has launched an ‘inspiralised’ menu with a butternut squash and sausage lasagna and Thai noodle salad with noodles made from zucchini, mango and peppers.
This trend of moving meat to the side is more of a feature in Western cuisine, since Asian food has a longstanding tradition of using smaller amounts of meat as a highlight in dishes that comprises mainly of vegetables. Meat has more often been used as a flavouring rather than the main component of a dish and, as the New York Times put it, chefs “save fish and meat for moments when extra depth or intensity is needed”.
Yet the trend of creative vegetable dishes is spreading in Asia. Vegetarian grocer-café The Real Food Grocer, which has three branches in Singapore and one each in Malaysia’s Penang and Kuala Lumpur, has inventive vegetarian options such as chickpea and sweet potato cakes, and burger patties made from beet, carrot, millet, onions and zucchini.
According to the Vice President of Singapore Chef Association, Chef Eric Neo, this creative approach to preparing vegetables has made them more appealing to diners. “Healthier dining has always been around,” he says.