peppers 88 grilled.
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'Walk down the green carpet," we were told when we arrived for the Environmental Media Awards held at the historic Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, and we knew right away that this event would be a novel experience. The participants expressed refreshingly progressive outlooks on various subjects, like the candid comment of Michael "Flea" Balzary of the musical group Red Hot Chili Peppers, upon accepting its award.
He admitted that he didn't see why he should get an award for his contribution to a healthy environment, since he does so for entirely selfish reasons. "I like to breathe," he said, "and to swim in clean water."
As a tasty expression of this approach, Los Angeles chefs prepared a beautiful celebration of natural and organic foods. Although plenty of dishes were not vegetarian, their spread was an inspiring showcase of how the chefs use vegetables and fruits in inventive, and sometimes surprising, ways.
Fruit was paired with vegetables in such dishes as a celeriac and pear slaw and a soup of orange squash and Asian pears. Vegetables showed up even in desserts. Whole Foods Market chef Derek Harrison presented beet creme brulee, flavoring the rich custard with the vegetable.
Pumpkin and soy milk were the main components of the smooth, rich-tasting gelato (Italian ice cream) prepared by my friend, chef Akasha Richmond. Her tip for keeping her light gelato soft - adding a splash of rum.
I was fascinated by the way the chefs turned vegetables into sauces. Most of us make sauces from tomatoes and mushrooms but these chefs creatively expanded the repertoire.
Ann Gentry, chef-owner of Real Food Daily in Santa Monica, a popular vegetarian restaurant, did her take on eggs benedict, an American favorite. Normally this unkosher dish is made of poached eggs, ham and a classic hollandaise sauce composed of egg yolks and butter. Gentry's delicious vegan version (made of plant-based foods only) had none of these; it was made of seared tofu and sauteed greens on a whole-wheat baguette, topped with corn hollandaise sauce. From tasting the luscious sauce, you'd never guess its secret ingredient - tofu!
Chef Joe Miller of Joe's Restaurant in Venice, California, made a bright-orange sauce of Spanish roasted piquillo peppers and miso (Japanese soy paste) as a partner for his wonderful dish of organic cod and black Forbidden Rice. Suzanne Tracht, chef of Jar, made a lightened version of creamed spinach, turning it into a scrumptious sauce for her entree.
When you consider the big picture, it looked to me that these American chefs were following in the footsteps of French chef Michel Guerard, one of the leaders of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement of the 1970s. He made vegetable-based sauces famous in his restaurant, Les Pres d'Eugenie, at Eugenie les Bains in southwest France.
The renowned chef explained two basic ways for turning cooked vegetables into sauces: (1) puree a cooked vegetable and add broth to bring it to the desired fluidity; or (2) cook vegetables with fish or meat and then whirl the vegetables in a blender or food processor to thicken the sauce.
Sometimes he enriched these sauces with cream, butter, olive oil or low-fat white cheese. In his books, Cuisine Gourmande and Cuisine Minceur, he presents a variety of such sauces, such as asparagus coulis (a French term for puree-sauce) made of cooked asparagus blended with broth, for serving with seafood or vegetable dishes, and a smooth artichoke heart sauce to go with veal. For his chicken breasts with leek sabayon, he poaches chicken with leeks, watercress and port wine, then blends the vegetables to thicken the sauce and finishes it with egg yolks.
Pureed parsley and shallots cooked in fish stock form a bright green sauce for fish; the light sauce is flavored with a spoonful of finely blended cooked mushrooms and a little milk.
When my husband and I lived in France, we went on a culinary pilgrimage to Michel Guerard's three-star (Michelin) restaurant. Motivated by his example, the students and staff at La Varenne Cooking School in Paris enthusiastically experimented with sauces from all sorts of vegetables, from orange winter squash to cauliflower to zucchini. We found many of them delicious, particularly when enhanced with a touch of extra virgin olive oil or a pat of butter. I especially liked broccoli sauce with salmon or poached eggs, grilled eggplant sauce with spaghetti and roasted pepper sauce - good with chicken and fish, and, as I later discovered in California, with tofu.
GRILLED RED PEPPER SAUCE
This flavorful sauce has almost as many uses as tomato sauce. Use it to top broiled, baked or fried eggplant, or serve it to accompany roast chicken and rice or with potato kugel. Make the sauce with fresh red peppers or substitute roasted sweet red peppers from a jar (not the pickled kind of peppers that have vinegar).
3 large red bell peppers
1 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
about 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
11â„2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1â„2 teaspoon dried
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste (optional)
Preheat broiler. If you like, line the broiler pan with foil. Put peppers on lined pan or broiler rack about 10 cm. from heat. Broil peppers, turning every 3 or 4 minutes with tongs, until their skins are blistered and lightly charred, about 15 minutes total. Transfer to a bowl and cover tightly, or put in a bag and close the bag. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Peel peppers using a paring knife. Halve peppers carefully; there may be hot liquid inside. Discard caps, seeds and ribs. Do not rinse.
Cut pepper halves in smaller pieces. Puree in a food processor with oil until smooth, or leave sauce a little chunky if you prefer.
Combine garlic and 1â„2 cup broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Add thyme. Stir in pepper puree and heat briefly. Add enough of remaining stock to thin sauce to the consistency you like, and heat through gently.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice. Serve hot or cold.
Makes about 6 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations.