Ricardo Zarate Does Vegan at Crossroads

The dearth of upscale vegan restaurants in LA should have been a reason for me to visit Crossroads earlier, but I got put off by the distance and price.  Since we mostly go to omnivore restaurants when we want cloth-napkin food and so far, they’ve been stellar (Providence, AOC, n/naka), I didn’t want to take the risk of paying a lot for a vegan meal that was less than satisfying.  It’s funny because we both really like Tal Ronnen’s Kite Hill cheese, but not enough to try his other cooking. When I read that Ricardo Zarate was going to do a Sunday Supper at Crossroads as a guest chef, I finally decided to give it a try. I loved Mo-Chica when it was in its original location and have always wanted Will to try it.

Eggplant ceviche. Zarate does vegan at #crossroads #sundaysupper. So delicious. Wish he'd put more vegan items on the regular Mo Chica menu.

They called the first course an eggplant ceviche.  The eggplant had a wonderful charred, smokey taste and the spicy, acidic dressing did make me think of traditional ceviche.

Then we had a plantain-based cake with sauce topped with what I think was a shiitake chip that tasted like bacon.  The plantain had a chewy,  dry texture that went really well with the slightly funky sauce.

Next were grilled vegetables on a plate of quinoa, which sounds boring but these were probably the best grilled vegetables I’d had in a long time. They were still firm and crisp, but had a wonderful charred taste. Will and I always make fun of quinoa because it’s so good for you, but tastes so boring, but Zarate’s quinoa was wonderful. It was fluffy, flavorful, and interesting thanks to the crispy quinoa sprinkled throughout.

Then came both my favorite and least favorite part of the meal. I think this was some sort of bulgur or barley stew that was so rich and creamy that I couldn’t believe it was vegan.  I could have a giant bowl of this topped with pickled onions and be happy. The bad part was the meatball topping. It clashed with the rest of the dish and tasted like an Ikea meatball or one of those soy meatballs I used to get at Trader Joe’s. I’m not one who thinks every meal should have something meaty or fake-meaty, so I would have been happy with some assertive tasting vegetable on top instead of the meatball.

Dessert were these fried pieces of dough which were satisfying and chewy. They were sauced with some sort of fig reduction which while good, was a little too sweet and cloying for me.  Will had no problem jumping at the opportunity to finish my dessert for me.

I’m so glad I went to Sunday Supper when Zarate was cooking.  It was nice to finally introduce Will to his type of cooking and flavors, but now it makes me sad that we won’t have a meal like this ever again. The tangy, spicy, assertive taste of Peruvian cooking is something that we both like, but it’s so hard to find Peruvian dishes that are also vegan.

Crossroads Kitchen
8284 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 782-9245

Vegetarian Caldo Verde

Disclaimer: I have never had the traditional version of this soup, so I don’t know if this tastes legit or not. What I do know is that it tastes good and is a welcome spin on the usual kale and potato stew that I’m a little sick of having.

Vegan caldo verde and broccoli romanesco from my garden.

With a few hours gained back while we sleep train Robin, Will and I started watching the latest season of Top Chef again.  In one episode, Emeril Lagasse surprises the contestants, who are returning from a hard day in the kitchen, by making them caldo verde for dinner.  It’s a Portuguese kale stew that usually has chorizo in it.  Since I love kale and I love chorizo, I thought I would veganize it for dinner one night.

The hardest part about making this vegan is the chorizo part. Since it’s Portuguese, I’m assuming the proper thing to use is Spanish chorizo, not the Mexican kind, but good luck finding a vegan version of Spanish chorizo in stores.  I approximated by buying seitan shaped like crumbled or ground meat and that was already seasoned with garlic and onion powder.  I wanted it to have more of a Spanish chorizo flavor, so I sauteed it with half a chopped onion, lots and lots of Spanish paprika, a healthy dash of cayenne pepper, ground aleppo pepper, ground sumac, more salt, and a glug of sherry vinegar.  When I tasted it, it still didn’t taste like Spanish chorizo, but hey, one can only go so far, right?

The soup also contained sliced onions, 2 cloves garlic, 3 chopped yukon gold potatoes, and kale. Lots and lots of kale. I may have gone overboard with the kale, but hey, it’s winter and kale is in season! I used a mixture of laccianato kale from my garden and redbor (aka purple) kale.  The redbor kale had such a fantastic texture in the stew.  Both crunchy and tender at the same time.  I bought it from “The Beards” at the Sunday Hollywood Farmer’s market — that’s not really their farm’s name but I can never remember. They always have fantastic produce: sweet, ripe cantalope in summer, and tender, fresh kale in winter.

The soup only took about 45 mins to make and most of the work was me tweaking the taste of the vegetarian chorizo.  After the soup was done, I tasted it and thought, “Well, it’s good, but it’s not as good as I wanted it to be and certainly not as good as if there were real chorizo in it.” But when I got to the bottom of my bowl, maybe because the broth had a chance to cool off and the flavors melded more, but I liked it better.  It’s rich, spicy, smokey, and hearty — just what I wanted in a kale stew.

And if that wasn’t enough brassica for the meal, I served the stew with a side of broccoli romanesco mainly because I needed to harvest them from my garden before the heads started to bolt. I served them plainly steamed and tossed with a quick dressing I pounded in the mortar and pestle. The dressing was: preserved lemon, garlic, cilantro, salt, paprika, olive oil.

Vegan/Vegetarian Version of Lemonade’s Chicken Basque

vegan_basque_stew
I had Lemonade’s chicken basque for the first time a few weeks ago and thought it was tasty.  My fears of dry chunks of chicken were blown away by how tender and flavorful the stew was.  Putting olives in a stew? Brilliant!  Of course, as soon as I downed the bowl, I thought, “Hey, I bet I can make a pretty decent vegan rendition of this.”

I went online and looked up the recipe for the original dish and knocked out all of the non-vegetarian ingredients. I wanted something to take the place of the chunks of chicken. Cauliflower was out because while I love the brassica, I was afraid the stew would taste like sulfur. Faux meat was out because I don’t really like using it if I can avoid it. Tofu was out because I couldn’t picture it in the stew. Jackfruit? Maybe.

My ingredient list ended up being (in case you can’t read my handwriting):

  • green olives
  • purple olives
  • chickpeas (for protein)
  • fresh thyme
  • 4 roma tomatoes
  • flat leaf parsley
  • artichoke hearts (I used canned)
  • green jackfruit (Optional! comes in cans from the Asian market)
  • onion
  • smoked paprika
  • red bell pepper
  • a quarter of a preserved lemon
  • a dab of tomato paste
  • fancy olive oil to finish
  • vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves garlic

Dice the onion and bell pepper and sautee it in the pan for a few minutes. When they’re soft, add in a dab of tomato paste, a healthy sprinkle of smoked paprika and stir. You want the paste to take on some color.  Add in a large sprig of thyme. I leave the leaves on the sprig so it’s easy to fish out whole later.  Seed and chop the tomatoes and put them in the pot. Generously salt and give it a stir. While all that is cooking, pit and roughly chop the olives. You don’t want to chop the olives up too much. I’d leave it so that the olives are only quartered.  Add those and them pour in 1 part stock and 1 part water.

While the stock is coming to a boil, rinse the artichoke and jackfruit pieces. Halve the hearts and hand shred the jackfruit pieces. Add them to the pot.  Rinse the canned chickpeas and add that into the stock too.  At this point, cover the pot and let it simmer on low for an hour. Conversely, you can do I what I did and cook it all in the pressure cooker under low pressure for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, chop up a bunch of parsley and the quarter of the preserved lemon.  I didn’t add the lemon into the stock because I wanted it to still taste fresh and I find that cooking preserved lemon makes it a little bitter.  When the soup is done, turn off the heat. Stir in the in the parsley and lemon and a good glug of the olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

I served this over plain cooked bulgur wheat, but I imagine it’d be good over any type of nutty starch — farro, brown rice, quinoa even.

In hindsight, I could have left the jackfruit out. I wanted something that had the texture of shredded chicken, but the jackfruit ended up having the same texture as the artichoke hearts.  I could have just left it out and used chickpeas for protein, but I didn’t want the soup to be too ‘beany’ in texture.