During National Nutrition Month, we’re profiling chefs and Registered Dietitians who are plant-forward influencers at Bon Appétit. These dynamic individuals are demonstrating how to make plant-forward eating as delicious as it is good for you. Each has a story that shaped their personal and professional journeys toward plant-forward eating.
When people ask me about my commitment to plant-forward, I point out that there’s a contradiction between what nutrition science has been telling us for a long time and our culture. If you look at USDA’s MyPlate, approximately 50% of the plate is fruits and vegetables, which has been the recommendation for years. So, in a way, plant-forward eating has always been the recognized approach for a healthy diet. But our society focuses on the protein on the plate. When people ask what someone had for dinner, the response is usually about the animal products on the plate like “ribs”, “chicken”, or “mac and cheese” not “mushroom Bolognese” or what the vegetables were on the plate.
My journey with plant-forward cooking started in high school. I was overweight and I wanted to learn to cook and eat healthier. I loved food and wanted to learn how to continue to enjoy it in a healthy way, so I looked for how to merge this in college. Johnson & Wales University had a Culinary Nutrition program; as part of the program, I got my associates degree in the culinary arts and bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition. During my first year, I got some awesome advice from one of the chefs in the program — that if I wanted to work in the nutrition field, I needed to get credentials. So, when I graduated, I continued to become a Registered Dietitian.
The recipe I am sharing is a winter vegetable, tofu, and short rib braise and it’s a true plant-forward dish! It uses a small amount of meat for a hearty, rich flavor but focuses on plant-based proteins and lots of delicious vegetables. I typically don’t eat red meat, but I love using bones as flavoring. This dish is inspired by that idea. It uses two short ribs for flavor (note the portion for 10 servings) and then has lots of sweet winter vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash, though you can use parsnips, turnips, whatever you like. I have served this multiple times at dinner parties and people love it.
While many of my friends are used to my plant-forward cooking, in my work as a Registered Dietitian in higher education environments, I encourage students to eat more plant foods and challenge them to try new plant proteins, like beans, legumes, and dishes from our vegan or vegetarian station platforms. I work with them to fill their plates with the plants first before choosing more indulgent options. I counsel students to focus on behavioral modification while “shopping” at the different food stations in the café. By choosing plant proteins and vegetables first and ending with meat, it automatically shapes a plant-forward plate. At Bon Appétit, we have a wide variety of cuisines in our cafés and many of them are plant-forward, so I encourage students to try cuisines they are not familiar with. They often find something new that they like!
Braised Winter Vegetables, Tofu, and Short Ribs
Plant-forward isn’t about eating strictly vegan or vegetarian, it’s focusing on adding plants and reducing reliance on animal protein. This hearty braise highlights the flavors drawn from root vegetables during the slow cooking process while using short ribs as an accompaniment.
Makes 10 servings
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 1 cup carrot, diced
- 1 cup celery, diced
- 2 cups butternut squash, cubed (about ½ medium squash)
- 2 cups batata, cubed (aka sweet potatoes)
- 3 cups mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1 pound beef short ribs
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 8 fluid ounces red wine
- 31 fluid ounces vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 pound tofu, extra firm, cubed
- 1/2 cup peas
Prepare vegetables. Small dice onion, carrot, and celery, dice butternut squash and batata into 1” cubes, slice mushrooms, and mince garlic.
Preheat oven to 300°F. Season short ribs with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. In a 6 quart or larger Dutch oven or pan, heat oil over medium health and sear all sides of short ribs until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add onions, carrots, and celery to pan and lightly sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add in butternut squash, batata, mushrooms, and garlic, then sauté another 3-5 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with red wine, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. Stir in stock, tomato paste, bay leaves, and Italian seasoning.
Add tofu then return short ribs to pan, pushing them down slightly so they are covered by liquid. Cover the pan and braise in the oven for 1-1/2 hours, then remove the lid and cook uncovered for an additional 1-1/2 hours or until the short ribs easily shred and liquid has reduced.
Remove from oven, add peas, remove bay leaves, and season with salt (if needed). Pull out short ribs from the pan, shred beef, discard bones, and keep separate.
To serve, ladle into bowl then top with 1-2 oz shredded beef. Serve over spinach, polenta, rice, or pasta if desired.
Note: Keep the skin on your vegetables for less food waste and higher nutritional quality.