A Proper Veggie Tray with Caramelized Onion Dip
I had to smile when I saw the #VeganMofo theme for today, because I have been served some terrible catered vegan meals over the years. From a chamber of commerce dinner where they forgot to make an entrée for me (even though I called a week ahead and spoke to the Food and Beverage manager about it – not still bitter about it or anything), to numerous other uninspired pasta and stir-fry dishes. Some have been fantastic, though. We were served a brilliant roasted Portobello mushroom entrée as well numerous vegan hors d’oeuvres at a wedding last year. At another they offered a great Indian Pilaf served in a baked pineapple half. Regardless of the event, you can almost guarantee there is going to be a vegetable tray, or crudités. It will usually include carrot and celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower, along with some kind of dip, usually ranch dressing. It makes me sad to see it. There are so many wonderful vegetables out there; why only those four, treated so badly?
Let’s right that wrong! First off, crudités means rawness, not necessarily raw. That’s actually a big difference because many vegetables benefit from a very short cooking. There’s a little harshness to raw brassicas, like broccoli for example, that is reduced or eliminated by cooking them very slightly. Even more important is the improvement in colour. You still want to maintain the rawness, so you’re not cooking them for a long time, just enough to brighten the colour and take away the harshness. Second, a variety of vegetables makes your tray so much more interesting. Look a little further afield than the big four. Third, consider giving some of the vegetables a quick marinade. I love adding cucumber spears this way. Consider adding some pickles or olives, too. The more the merrier!
Here’s a few tips for putting together a nice tray:
- Cook your green vegetables, lightly: Things like broccoli and green beans need a bit of cooking to make them truly enjoyable. In a pot of boiling water add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per quart/liter of water (it should taste like sea water). Cook broccoli for about 30 seconds, green beans for a couple of minutes. Drain and cool very quickly in ice cold water. Drain again the dry in a salad spinner.
- Uniformity can be pretty: Cut several of the veggies to the same length. Carrots, celery, bell peppers, fennel, cucumbers, etc.
- Consider a quick marinade for one or more veggies: We like to ‘quick pickle’ cucumber spears. Using small Persian cucumbers, toss them with a little thinly sliced garlic, chili flakes, thyme, white wine vinegar and a bit of dill or tarragon.
- You don’t have to keep all of the same vegetables together. Maybe don’t toss them all together like a salad, but have small bunches placed around your tray. It’s more colourful that way.
- Serve a nice dip: we like French onion, a slightly thinned hummus, red pepper dip, or even an infused olive oil.
- Small decorations are nice: like radicchio leaves, endive, kale, parsley sprigs, even pickled caperberries. They add a nice bit of visual interest.
We’d love to hear about some of your catering experiences! Leave us a quick comment -the good, the bad or the ugly.
- 1 lb/454g yellow onions, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dry thyme leaves, or 1 plump thyme sprig
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup vegan sour cream
- ¼ cup vegan mayo
- ½ teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce
- Cook the onions very slowly over low heat until they are a deep brown. This should take about 45 minutes, you don’t want to rush it. If the pan goes dry along the way and the onions look like they may burn, add a few tablespoons of water.
- Allow the onions to cool a bit. Remove the thyme sprig (if using) and the bay leaf. Pulse the onion mix in a food processor until you have a chunky puree.
- Combine the onion mix with the rest of the ingredients, mixing well.
- This is better if it has a few hours to sit before serving, so try to make it ahead.