Vegetarian dinners fall back on basics like pizza and pasta too often. To get fresh, creative ideas for meatless summer meals, we turned to Chef Sean Baker of Gather in Berkeley, California. His vegan-friendly restaurant menu is known for its originality, and he specializes in creating dishes that star vegetables as the main event.
Here, he gives us five new ways to enjoy summer vegetables, explaining how he prepares them at Gather and how you can use them at home.
We’re snacking on strawberries all spring and summer, but think beyond breakfast and dessert — these berries work well in savory dishes, too. At Gather, Baker tosses strawberries into seasonal salads with arugula and fava shoots, the leaves that grow from fava bean plants. Find his full recipe here, but you can also create your own version with strawberries, greens, almonds, basil and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.
Tomatoes are easily summer’s most anticipated ingredient, great for simple salads like a caprese. To try something different, pair sliced heirloom tomatoes with pickled okra and ranch dressing for an easy, flavor-packed first course. “Fat pickles, fresh tomatoes and ranch dressing are American comfort food,” says Baker. He created a vegan version of ranch dressing using seaweed, cashews, miso and fresh herbs, but at home you could substitute any ranch or buttermilk dressing.
Here are two ways to enjoy eggplant in one meal. For the restaurant, Baker created a dish with eggplant involtini — rolls of grilled eggplant slices stuffed with a cashew ricotta — served on top of ratatouille with a dollop of harissa. “Sometimes we will put eggplant puree in the cashew ricotta to highlight eggplant,” says Baker. You can make a cashew ricotta at home by blending cashews in a food processor with nutritional yeast, water, and salt until the mixture is the consistency of ricotta. Alternatively, try the same idea with traditional ricotta cheese.
To showcase sweet summer corn, the Gather kitchen turns to some unexpected ingredients for pairing, such as blueberries and mushrooms. They make a rich, custardy puree with corn juice and smoked cashews, then roast blueberries and cook them in their own juices. Both elements are plated with grains of paradise and pickled mushrooms to create a completely vegan starter. “It’s a very weird combination that works well,” says Baker. “It has a lot of earthy flavors going on.” To try it at home, make a salad with your favorite whole grain, corn and blueberries, and pair with grilled mushrooms.
Not just for fruit salads, juicy watermelon pairs wonderfully with briny olives. For the restaurant, Baker pairs watermelon and stone fruit green fennel seeds, Mexican mint marigold (an herb similar to tarragon), seaweed and olives. “We sous vide watermelon rind, then serve it with an olive sauce, whipped watermelon juice and seaweed in olive tapenade.” For a home-friendly version, make a salad from cubed watermelon, peaches, plums and olives, or top fresh watermelon with a dollop of homemade tapenade.