Caterers' toolkit

Are you a chef or caterer who wants to serve more meat-reduced and plant-based dishes? Then read on.

14 Sep 2021

It’s a good idea to make your menus a balance of affordable and premium options, comfort and healthy food, familiar and new dishes. 

When starting to shift to more plant-based, there are some easy changes that you could make that shouldn’t raise eyebrows if you’re still offering tasty dishes. For example, making all of your soups and salads meat-free. Adding more exciting plant-based sandwiches and wraps to your range should also be well received. Here’s some inspiration: 

Embrace international cuisine, especially street food. A nice way to engage students could be to invite them to share their plant-based recipes from different countries or cultures. 

Culinary tricks of the trade

Ensuring plant-based dishes are packed full of flavor and texture is key. Nobody wants to eat a bowl of bland mush or an unseasoned slice of tofu. If preparing plant-based food is new to you, you may find the following tips useful. 

Taste

As well as sweet, salty, sour and bitter, there is the fifth taste, known as "umami". Umami gives food a rich, moreish depth. It is associated with the satisfaction of meat and cheese. It can sometimes be missing from plant-based dishes, which can give a bland result. You can take your dishes up a level by including these umami-boosting ingredients:

  • Tomato puree / tomato ketchup
  • Sun-dried or sun-blushed tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Capers
  • Seaweed
  • Fermented foods eg. Sauerkraut and kimchi
  • Pickled foods
  • Miso
  • Soy sauce
  • Smoked paprika
  • Truffle oil
  • Vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
  • Yeast extract (eg, Marmite)
  • Nutritional yeast flakes (eg, Engevita).

Texture

How a dish feels in the mouth is as important as how it tastes. Nobody likes mouthful after mouthful of sloppy mush or dry crumble! Some of the most popular, go-to plant-based ingredients – hummus, falafels, aubergine, avocado, butternut squash and sweet potato – are delicious, but soft and so don’t provide chomping satisfaction! Ensure your dish has bite as well as texture (creaminess and/ or crunch) to create a satisfying mouthfeel and a much more well-rounded eating experience.

To create creaminess:

  • Dairy-free milks, creams, yoghurts (cashew is especially creamy)
  • Nut butters
  • Silken tofu
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • And even though they don’t need much chewing, avocado, butternut squash, pumpkin and sweet potato add creaminess and can be pureed for use in creamy sauces.

To add crunch:

  • Beansprouts (uncooked)
  • Croutons
  • Toasted nuts and seeds
  • Fermented foods (eg sauerkraut and kimchi)
  • Pickled foods.

To provide chewiness:

  • Roasting/chargrilling vegetables
  • Wholegrains
  • Meat alternatives (see below).

Explore meat alternatives

Some customers will be looking for healthy wholefoods, others will be craving comfort food and familiar favourites. There is a now a huge selection of meat-free burgers, sausages, chunks, slices and strips available for foodservice with new ranges coming out all the time. Some are more convincing than others (and they're not always the healthiest option) but they are getting better and more popular all the time, so are definitely worth trying. 

As well as processed meat alternatives, these plant-based foods can be used to replicate and replace meat or fish: 

  • Tofu (delicious when seasoned or marinated and cooked properly).
  • Tempeh (made from fermented soybeans, also needs marinading, ideal in Asian dishes).
  • Seitan (made from wheat gluten, very high in protein, used to make "mock meats" in many restaurants).
  • Banana blossom (can be battered and deep-fried and used as a fish alternative).
  • Jackfruit (has a pork-like texture and can be used in curries, wraps, on pizza and in many other ways).

Vegan cheese

Long the subject of ridicule, vegan cheese has come a long way. As with other kinds of plant foods, there is now a massive selection, ranging from melting mozzarella to mature cheddar, grated parmesan and feta for salads. Mostly made from coconut oil, they can also melt well in cheesy dishes and as a pizza topping (tip: sometimes the addition of a little liquid is necessary).  

Artisan nut cheeses, in particular made from cashews and almonds, are also delicious and make a luxurious addition to a plant-based cheese board. Some are not difficult to make, others require certain cultures and probiotics – there's a wealth of information online should you wish to explore this field. 

Don't forget dessert

Pudding can be a big source of dairy products. There are several different varieties of plant-based creams now and many dairy-free spreads that can be used just as marge or butter. There are some great tips online showing how to "veganize" any desert recipe. Customers who are intolerant to dairy or eggs will also love you for leaving them out. 

Rebalancing menus and recipes

Our Rebalanced Menu Guide illustrates how to shift the focus of menus and recipes away from animal products and make them more plant-centric. It shows how simple swaps and substitutions can reduce a menu’s overall meat, fish and diary content by more than 50% while keeping them all on the menu each day. Suggestions include:  

  • Reducing the meat or fish content of a dish by pairing it with a complimentary plant-based ingredient, for example soy-dressed pork and tofu or seafood and shredded kale pie.  
  • Substituting pulses for at least 25% of the meat content, for example lamb and lentil shepherd’s pie, Mexican chilli with beef and beans  
  •  Blending burgers by swapping at least 25% of the meat for finely chopped mushrooms. 

Further resources and inspiration

If you'd like to develop your plant-based cooking skills further, we recommend Humane Society International’s Forward Food plant-based culinary workshops, presented by Chef Jenny Chandler.  

Public Sector Catering’s Plant-Based Week promotion featured some great meat-free cookery demos for foodservice professionals. 

Knorr Professional has produced a booklet of plant-based recipes for foodservice. 

If you're a customer of Vegetarian Express, you can access its Seed-Bank meat-free recipe database. 

And lastly, when searching for recipes, don’t rely on the first recipe that pops up in your web search. Check out websites where the recipes are reviewed and rated. Abel & Cole has some delicious and creative plant-based recipes and BBC Good Food has a good selection too. For more ideas, take a look at these chefs:

Kale Yeah!