Great vegetarian and vegan cooking is full of flavor, color and spice. It can also be comforting, hearty and indulgent (nobody said plants can’t be battered and fried). Across the D.C. area, chefs are finding creative ways to let vegetables and natural ingredients shine on their own, no animal products required. So whether you never eat meat or are just looking to cut back, here are five unique local dishes proving the satisfying power of plant-based cooking.
Paneer Kathi Roll at Bindaas
Kathi rolls are the Indian street food equivalent of a burrito, with protein wrapped in a flatbread along with vegetables and spices. At Bindaas, chef Vikram Sunderam makes three versions with one featuring paneer, an Indian fresh cheese.
“It’s a nice wholesome dish,” says Sunderam. “It’s like a meal by itself.”
The paneer kathi roll is served with a tangy masala sauce made from vegetables and spices including sautéed onions, cumin, chopped tomatoes, chiles, ginger and turmeric powder.
Koshary Bowl at Fava Pot
Egyptian food doesn’t get the same spotlight as other international cuisines in D.C., but fans of meatless eating should get to know koshary, a plant-based entree that’s both hearty and comforting. At Fava Pot locations in Falls Church, Dupont Circle and Union Market, chef and owner Dina Daniel brings the classic African dish to a wider audience.
“Koshary is the national dish of my birthplace, Egypt. It’s by far the most famous and authentic representation of Egyptian street food,” she says.
Koshary starts with a base of lentils, rice, macaroni noodles and spicy tomato sauce. It’s then topped with chickpeas and caramelized onions. The unexpected mix of carbs and proteins make for a filling vegan meal that packs a big depth of flavor and heat. Fava Pot makes batches daily with fresh ingredients and specially-sourced spices.
Beyaynetu Burger at Mélange
The vegetarian beyaynetu burger at Mélange is anything but ordinary, thanks to an Ethiopian transformation by chef Elias Taddesse.
His signature patty takes inspiration from the Ethiopian dish of the same name, which traditionally features a spread of spiced, stewed and simmered vegetables like lentils, collard greens, chilies and tomatoes.
Taddesse partnered with Just AJs, a local company that makes vegan sausages, to create the patty base. That plant protein is folded in together with roasted beets, lentils, garlic, ginger and turmeric. The sandwich is served up with a classic timatim (tomato and pepper) salad, a spicy spread (misir) of spiced red lentils and a confit of swiss chard.
Nashville Hot Eggplant Sandwich at Money Muscle BBQ
Vegans and vegetarians can enjoy chef Ed Reavis’ barbecue without sacrificing on choice or flavor. The Virginia native spent time as a private chef for a vegan NBA star, a challenge he credits with pushing his comfort zone and expectations of what barbecue could be.
“Take veggies and make them taste good,” Reavis says. “Figure it out. That was really my approach.”
That experience is integrated into his menu, offered both by food truck and at All Set Restaurant & Bar in Silver Spring. One of those dishes is the Nashville-style hot eggplant sandwich, a juicy, crispy and spicy bite. He says the vegan spin on the spicy chicken sandwich phase has proved a hit with guests of all types.
Money Muscle offers a number of other vegan dishes, including a smoked mushroom sandwich and sides of collard greens and barbecue beans.
Shouk Sausage at Shouk
For Shouk CEO Nussbächer, plant-based eating is about more than just eliminating animal products. It’s also a commitment to serving food made in a kitchen from whole, recognizable ingredients.
The local fast-casual restaurant, which already has a vegetarian burger, recently launched a sausage protein. Nussbächer saw sausage being even more challenging than the burger patty in terms of flavor and texture. The protein uses a heavy dose of herbs and spices to create a familiar flavor profile.
Nussbächer says the goal isn’t to mimic pork or beef completely, like the more manufactured products on the market.
“The objective here is not to fool somebody that they’re eating meat but rather to demonstrate all the cool things that you can do with real vegetables and real beans,” he says.
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