February Frugal Feast, 5-Star Restaurant Style

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Our last Frugal Feast host really threw down the gauntlet, creating a gorgeous home-cooked meal for a dozen of our friends for less than $5 a plate. But this month’s host was unfazed to say the least. I’ll let his menu speak for itself:

  • Saffron-popped corn, topped with olive oil and chile flakes
  • Curried carrot soup with maple syrup and coconut milk
  • Chuko-inspired crispy kale salad with baked kale leaves, cannellini beans, homemade sweet potato chips and dragon sauce
  • Reverse winter risotto with butternut squash and parsnip cubes, Arborio rice sauce, green beans, baby portabellas, garlic confit and balsamic drizzle
  • Chianti poached bosc pears for dessert, with mascarpone, cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar


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All for $5 dollars a person. And almost entirely vegan. I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.

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Participating in this meal (and daydreaming about it ever since) made me think of a recent post in Grist that issues the following challenge to chefs: Make me a delicious vegetarian entree — or stop claiming to care about sustainability.

More and more restaurants are focusing on sustainability, even using how and where their ingredients are produced as major selling points. This includes boasting about the sustainably produced meats and dairy products used in their menus.  

Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome development. I believe it is absolutely critical that we as consumers support—and build healthy markets for—livestock farmers who are producing meats, cheeses, and eggs with real stewardship of their land and animals and respect for their workers. But even the most sustainably-produced meat dishes come with a greater environmental footprint than dishes made from ingredients that are lower on the food chain.


As the Grist piece points out, that’s why a key component of “conscientious omnivorism” (I prefer Mark Bittman’s “flexitarianism”) is eating meat sparingly. And with recent polls showing that a full one-third of Americans regularly eat meatless meals—on top of the 5% of Americans who are vegans or vegetarians—it’s high time for beautiful, healthful, and delicious vegetarian dishes to have their moment.


If our February Frugal Feast host can do it in a small Brooklyn kitchen, then New York City’s finest chefs can too. So I echo Grist’s call:

“You say you care about sustainability? Prove it. Add to your menu a vegetarian entrée so appealing that even omnivores won’t be able to resist. I dare you.”

And if you need inspiration, just let us Feasters know.