Wild mushroom ragout with polenta. Breaded and fried Italian risotto balls, stuffed with peas and served with marinara sauce, basil cream and wilted spinach. Grilled vegetable stacks served on a nest of cilantro and peanut pesto noodles.
Rabbit food? Hardly. These are gourmet vegetarian entrees whipped up by savvy chefs who understand that more and more people are eating a plant-based diet and want more than pasta or afterthought side dishes when they sit down for dinner.
Here are several destinations that may surprise you with their inventive, colorful and, more importantly, flavorful vegetarian cuisine.
Vegetarian delicacies by region with Costa Cruises
Costa Cruises recently elevated its menu offerings to feature more dishes that cater to vegetarians and vegans. Developed by the Italian-flagged cruise line’s corporate chefs, the dishes are served fleet-wide, so no matter which of Costa’s 15 ships you board or destination you’re cruising to – Norwegian fjords, the Far East, the Caribbean, etc. – you can enjoy meat-free cuisine each evening, presented to showcase a different region in Italy.
Try a satisfying and original hamburger made with kidney beans and served with garden rocket and apricot salad; cauliflower and fig tempura flavored with raspberry sauce; asparagus flan with cheese fondue; puff pastry strudel with radicchio and Monte Veronese cheese; potato ravioli with pine nut and rosemary butter sauce.
“A restaurant should be a food experience – not to just come and eat,” said Gennaro Balzano of Naples, Italy, the chef aboard Costa Favolosa. “I want you to test our Italian food. It is always Italy’s finest. That is most important.”
There are numerous vegetarian dishes in Italian cuisine that have always been part of the country’s culinary tradition. The chefs have enhanced these as well as created complete vegetarian and vegan menus with breakfast, appetizer, dinner and dessert dishes, including a soup called risi e bisi (rice and peas) and representative of Venetian cuisine; trenette (narrow and flat dried pasta) with pesto from the Ligurian region; and a dish consisting of celeriac and caciocavallo cheese, a favorite in Puglia in southern Italy.
The cruise line’s up-charged pizza restaurant, Pizzeria Pummid’Oro, serves traditional and specialty pizzas that are perfectly sauced and piquant treats for the taste buds. Made with 100 percent natural yeast and all Italian-sourced ingredients, they are well-worth the nominal extra charge. Delizioso!
Veggie dishes in the land of the lobster
Vegetarians and vegans on Country Walkers’ Maine tour to Acadia National Park will find the itinerary’s restaurants selected for their fresh, organic ingredients and ability to cater to diverse tastes. Menus for included meals tend to spotlight the region’s specialties. In Maine, this might mean locally picked wild fiddleheads and mushrooms in the spring, fresh blueberries in the summer.
Country Walkers provides active and experiential adventures to some of the most dramatically beautiful places to be found on the continents of North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia. An integral part of these guided and self-guided walking trips are impeccably prepared cuisine, authentic lodgings and immersive cultural and natural experiences. On the Maine tour, for instance, this means catching the mail boat to Little Cranberry Island to visit with a local lobsterwoman and hiking Flying Mountain for a chance to see Somes Sound – North America’s only true fjord – from above.
Whether vegetarians choose a guided or self-guided adventure, their palates are always accommodated. Guests’ dietary requirements are shared with the hotels and restaurants on the itinerary and Country Walkers’ tour guide experts make sure guests are taken care of at every meal – both included and on own.
On the Acadia National Park tour, one of the guides’ go-to recommendations for dinner on your own is Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor. This restaurant serves a number of vegetarian dishes, including Zucchini “Noodles,” a dish consisting of tomatoes, black beans, cilantro-lime mojo, cotija cheese, pumpkinseeds and sweet potato-quinoa cakes.
The Burning Tree, a fan favorite among both guides and guests, specializes in gourmet seafood and vegetarian meals, so non-meat-eaters can revel in dishes like the minted edamame wontons in miso broth with shiitake, summer squash, tatsoi and spicy grilled tofu. Of course, vegetarians who eat lobster and other seafood will be very satisfied with the ocean’s bounty – it is Maine, after all.
Vegetarian: it’s what’s for dinner at the dude ranch
Mention “dude ranch” and the image that springs to mind is one of horses, cowboys and chuck wagon dinners featuring big beefy steaks. It’s a carnivore’s dream. Still, non-meat-eaters who have a hankering to hit the dusty trails can look forward to the menu, too.
Smith Fork Ranch, a luxury guest ranch located in Southwestern Colorado between Telluride and Aspen, serves its share of heritage beef from local farms – but the ranch also has its own farmstead garden. The menu is strictly five-star farm-to-table delicious, with Chef Marcus Parrott creating what he calls artisanal food with a focus on local production.
With just 28 guests each week – and a one-to-one staff to guest ratio – the experience at this all-inclusive mountain ranch is intimate, relaxed and authentic to the western lifestyle. The small numbers make it very easy for the chef to create vegetarian dishes – or other preparations to accommodate individual dietary restrictions. There is at least one vegetarian entree on the menu each day (think: saffron carrot tortellini with chevre) and Parrott offers a daily homemade pasta special for lunch and dinner – made fresh each morning – that can be served vegetarian.
New this year is a chef-led foraging-by-horseback experience. One of the ranch’s onsite chefs, who grew up in Colorado’s North Fork Valley, leads a small group into countryside rife with edible fauna: thistle, wild mint, choke cherries, raspberries and a large variety of mushrooms (porcini, boletes, puffballs). Once the items are amassed, everyone returns to the ranch and can either participate in a private cooking lesson utilizing the foraged goodies or sit back and enjoy a cocktail while the chef preps a fresh meal from the ingredients.
The ranch is located just 20 miles from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in an area with lots of attractions, including wineries, breweries, glass-blowing studios and art galleries.
Costa Cruises, www.CostaCruise.com
Country Walkers, www.CountryWalkers.com
Smith Fork Ranch, www.SmithForkRanch.com