For vegetarian and vegan diners on the lookout for superlative fare, these 10 dishes fit the bill
Black Pepper Mushroom Stew at Q by Peter Chang
Sure, the Peking duck and dry-fried eggplant at Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda are superlative, but don’t overlook the vegan black pepper mushroom stew. “A typical Chinese meal consists of an array of hot and cold meat and vegetable dishes, some spicy, some mild. So, it’s essential to make sure we have a lot of vegetarian options,” says Q’s chef and owner, Peter Chang.
With his daughter, Lydia, translating, he explains that there’s a famous Chinese dish called ma gu xian shou, and the literal translation is: “Aunt Ma [the goddess of fertility in the Tao religion] presented longevity.” It’s a play on words because ma gu (Aunt Ma) sounds like mo gu (mushrooms) in Chinese. So mushrooms are a must-have at birthday celebrations for elders to wish them longevity.
Chang’s version is an assortment of dried and fresh mushrooms (beech, lion’s mane, shiitake) stir-fried with scallions and ginger, then a rich, dark, soy-based sauce. To finish the dish, Chang adds more mushrooms, plus fresh rosemary and a hefty amount of ground black pepper. Spooned over brown rice, it’s a hearty, earthy and deeply satisfying meal.
Q by Peter Chang, 4500 East West Highway, Bethesda, 240-800-3722, qbypeterchang.com
Paella with Mushrooms and Vegetables at Jaleo
We expect to find paella at a Spanish restaurant, but expectations are extra high when it’s at Jaleo, the tapas restaurant owned by superstar chef (and Bethesda resident) José Andrés. The restaurant’s vegan paella with seasonal mushrooms and vegetables exceeds those expectations.
Ramon Martinez, Jaleo’s director of culinary operations, explains the process behind this meatless version of the classic Iberian rice dish. First, they make a roasted vegetable and mushroom stock. Then they prepare a paella base known as salmorra (a concentration of tomatoes, garlic and smoky dried Spanish nora peppers) and simmer it slowly with sauteed vegetables. The resulting sofrito is cooked with the mushroom stock, then with short-grained Calasparra rice in a large paella pan over an open flame until the liquid is absorbed. Then they add sauteed mushrooms and vegetables. Depending on the season, you might find artichokes, squash blossoms, peas and sugar snaps in the paella, as well as cremini, oyster, hen of the woods or morel mushrooms. The paella, which serves six to eight, takes about 45 minutes to prepare. It’s served with romesco (a Catalan sauce made with red peppers, tomatoes, hazelnuts, sherry vinegar, olive oil and garlic) instead of the traditional egg-based garlic mayo (alioli) to keep it vegan.
Jaleo, 7271 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-913-0003, jaleo.com
Spicy Cumin Tofu at Vegetable Garden
Vegetable Garden owner George Zhong has been committed to vegetarian and vegan eating for almost three decades, starting in 1991 when he opened the vegan restaurant in White Flint Mall. Over the years, the restaurant has moved twice—to Rockville Pike in 1994, and then to its current Leisure World Plaza location in Silver Spring in 2013—but Zhong remains steadfast. “I feel like I need to carry on the mission of promoting vegetarianism,” he says, “even though it’s hard to find and keep good cooks and staff, particularly in our unique style of cuisine.”
Consult any of his devoted regulars and they will likely recommend the spicy cumin tofu, which Zhong added to the menu three years ago. For this nod to Sichuan cooking, large cubes of fresh tofu are deep-fried, inflating them into airy puffs the size of golf balls. Then they are quickly stir-fried with red onions, scallions, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, freshly ground cumin seeds and turmeric, so the spice mix coats the puffs. “If you don’t fry the tofu, it won’t be crispy,” says Zhong, conceding that sometimes you can’t make everything 100% healthful. He came up with the idea of giving french fries the spicy cumin treatment. Those were a hit, but spicy cumin tofu remains the restaurant’s most popular dish.
Vegetable Garden, 3830 International Drive, Silver Spring, 301-598-6868, vegetablegarden.co