By Emily Ryan, The Mercury
“What’s your favorite?” a woman asked as she studied the menu at Bryn Mawr’s Vgë Café (pronounced vee-gee).
“My favorite? That’s a tough one. It really varies all day,” answered the founder and chef, Fernando Peralta, who serves vegan soups, salads and sandwiches packed with plant proteins.
Why not follow his lead and sample some plant powerhouses at home? Start with Vgë Café’s recipe for three-bean chili.
“I think beans are exceptionally nutritious,” Peralta said. “I’m from Brazil, so I’m used to cooking with different types of beans.”
“They’re inexpensive, and they come with a lot of extra nutrients,” agreed chef Libby Mills of West Chester, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It’s going to vary, but per ½ cup, you could easily get seven to nine grams of protein, which is extremely significant. Plus, you’re going to get that fiber.”
Besides beans, don’t overlook all the protein-rich grains like bulgur, spelt and farro.
“These are fantastic sources of protein, and they cook up very much like rice,” she described.
Try her chicken, green bean and farro salad with Dijon mustard and marjoram for a “spicy, tangy, smoky flavor.”
“It goes over like gangbusters!” Mills said.
At The Kitchen Workshop in Paoli, chef Art Roman’s also a fan of farro.
“That’s one of those ancient grains that people are very excited about cooking with, using, incorporating into their diet,” he explained. “It’s got a nice chewy texture… a lot of fiber, a lot of protein. It’s just healthy for you.”
Roman makes cherry, pecan and farro salad and suggests swapping farro for pasta in dishes like chicken parmigiana “for a nice change.”
“You just don’t tell people,” he joked.
Seriously, though, “it’s a shame most people still don’t know it exists,” Roman said.
Cherry, Pecan and Farro Salad
Serves 6 to 8
5 cups water
1½ cups uncooked farro
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¾ pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (about 2 cups) or an equal amount of red seedless grapes, halved
1 cup thinly sliced celery
¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
½ cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Additional freshly ground black pepper to taste
Bring 5 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add farro and ¼ teaspoon salt to boiling water; cook 30 minutes or until al dente. Drain; cool at room temperature, about 15 minutes. Combine farro, cherries or grapes, celery, pecans and parsley in a large bowl.
Combine lemon juice, mustard, honey, pepper and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour dressing over farro mixture; toss to coat. Taste for seasoning and add a little more pepper if needed.
P.S. — Need some extra added protein? Try adding grilled chicken, feta, garbanzo beans or cooked shrimp.
RECIPE COURTESY OF THE KITCHEN WORKSHOP
Chicken, Green Bean and Farro Salad
Save time by making a double batch of your whole grain of choice — farro, spelt, bulgur — and freeze portions for another quick meal. Add variety by using asparagus, broccoli or Brussels sprouts in place of green beans. Or go vegetarian by using extra firm tofu in place of the chicken. Making the dressing in the salad bowl saves time and dishes when it comes time to clean up.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons minced fresh or 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 cup farro, cooked according to the package instructions
Spray canola oil
16 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast (strips or fingers)
12 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 green onions, washed and thinly sliced (about ¾ cup)
While the farro is cooking, prepare the green beans, chicken and dressing.
Green beans: Trim and cut green beans. In a large saucepan, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Drop green beans into the boiling water for about 3 minutes or until just shy of crisp tender. Using a colander, drain the green beans and rinse under cold water to cool. Shake the colander to get rid of any excess water.
Chicken: Over medium-high heat, heat a large skillet. Spray with canola oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and place the chicken in the skillet. Cook until golden brown and cooked through (165 degrees), about 4 minutes per side. When cool, then cut the chicken into ½-inch cubes.
Dressing: In a large mixing bowl, make the dressing first by combining the oil, vinegar, shallot, marjoram, mustard and salt. Whisk together to combine.
To the dressing, add the green onions, farro, green beans and chicken. Mix well. Season to taste with fresh cracked pepper.
RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF LIBBY MILLS
Vgë Café Chili
Step one: Soak beans.
¼ pound black beans
¼ pound red kidney beans
¼ pound pinto beans
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
Soak beans overnight in garlic-seasoned water in the fridge, or at least 2 hours.
Step two: Cook beans. Drain and add the following with the beans in a large pot:
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon hot sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced or squeezed
2 tablespoons paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or tamari or soy sauce)
1 quart water (Fill pot with the water line 1 inch above beans, approximately 1 quart.)
Bring to simmer and cook for about 2½ hours.
Step three: Roast veggies. While beans are simmering, cut veggies to roast:
¼ pound onions, diced to ¼-inch bits
¼ pound peppers, diced to ¼-inch bits
¼ pound tomatoes, diced to ¼-inch bits
¼ pound carrots, diced to ¼-inch bits
¼ pound celery, diced to ¼-inch bits
Roast for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Step four: Blend. After the beans are cooked and veggies are roasted, add about 1 cup of the cooked beans and 3 tablespoons of the roasted veggies with a cup of water to a blender, along with 4 pitted dates or the equivalent of any dried fruit (for sweetness) and blend well.
Step five: Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and enjoy.
Notes: You may use any combination of beans for the chili, for a total of ¾ pound for this recipe. If you choose to use canned beans, skip to step three.
We believe roasting veggies brings out a better flavor than steaming or boiling. If you need to simplify the cooking or are using a slow cooker, you may add the veggies directly with the beans and cook it all together.
Blending will help bring thickness and structure to the chili. You may achieve the same results by cooking the beans longer.
For a boost of protein, roast crumbled tofu, seitan or soy curds along with the veggies and add to the chili.
RECIPE COURTESY OF VGË CAFÉ