For a classy spread, try a vegetable pate
There are certain things we expect from pate, no matter its constituents.
We expect it to be rich, the flavor deep. We don't expect to eat much of it, but we expect it to linger.
Those same qualities are what a vegetable pate is after, and it is, perhaps surprisingly so, adept in achieving them. Vegetables are, by turns and by treatment, sweet, nutty, earthy, smoky, spicy. They can take on textures dense and smooth or ethereally creamy. The best in vegetable pate, then, takes philosophical cues from traditional pate — the depths of flavor and luxuries of texture — without aspiring to mimic them.
“There are two things you want in a vegetable pate,” says Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of the New York vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy. “One is a very strong flavor; the other is an intense depth of creaminess. ... What you should expect is a very interesting taste sensation in a small bite.”
Almost any vegetable can be worked into a pate, but the ones that perform most successfully carry flavor profiles that lean on the side of sweet, with earthy undertones, and flesh fine-grained and dense. Think root vegetables, winter squash or those not-exactly-vegetables, mushrooms. Nuts and seeds, pounded into a paste, contribute to a creamier, more substantial texture, as do legumes such as lentils and white beans, and fat.
A vegetable pate — not to be confused with vegetarian — is not about making amends for something it is not, nor is it a substitute for a pate made with meat. A vegetable pate should, instead, be a celebration of the vegetable itself, an exploration of what that vegetable is capable of expressing. And you don't need to be a vegetarian to appreciate it.
Emily C. Horton is a contributing writer to The Washington Post.
Pounding the walnuts with a mortar and pestle helps give this pate its creamy texture. Its deep-purple color looks striking in a serving bowl. Serve it with seeded crackers or thin slices of rye bread. Ume plum vinegar, made from umeboshi plums, is available at Whole Foods Markets and some larger grocery stores (on the international aisle).
The pate will improve in flavor after a day's refrigeration. It can be covered and refrigerated 3 days in advance.
1 pound beets (1 to 2 bunches, depending on size)
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1⁄8 teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
1⁄2 cup walnuts, toasted ( see Note)
1 1⁄2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon ume plum vinegar (see headnote)
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Minced parsley, for garnish, optional
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Wash and dry the beets, but don't peel them. Wrap each beet individually in aluminum foil and roast until easily pierced with the sharp tip of a knife, 45 minutes for smaller beets and up to 1 1⁄2 hours for larger ones. Unwrap the beets, and let them cool slightly. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel them (the skin should come off easily), then rinse and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, mash the garlic to a paste with the salt in a mortar and pestle.
Pound the walnuts to a paste with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle.
Coarsely chop the cooled beets and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the walnut and garlic pastes, the oil and the vinegar. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mound into a serving bowl and garnish with the parsley, if using, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Note: To toast the walnuts, spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 350-degree oven, shaking the sheet occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts burn quickly.
Makes 1 1⁄2 cups or 6 servings.
Nutrition information per 1/4-cup serving: 130 calories, 10 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 0 cholesterol, 3 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 630 milligrams sodium
Roasted Sweet Potato Pate
This smooth, sweet vegetable pate is perfectly complemented by the crunch of the nuts and the bite of the mustard. The pate needs to be refrigerated for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.
The recipe is from chef Rich Landau of Vedge in Philadelphia.
For the pate:
2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 medium-size potatoes)
1⁄4 cup olive oil, or more to taste
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1⁄2 cup chopped onion
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups canned, no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Hot water, as needed
Crushed, roasted cashew nuts (salted or unsalted)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1⁄2-inch chunks; they don't need to be perfect, because they will be pureed. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the oil, vinegar, onion, cumin, allspice, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and roast until the potatoes are tender, for 20 to 30 minutes.
Allow the mixture to cool just a little, then transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add the chickpeas and puree until smooth and creamy. The pate should be quite thick but still able to move around in the food processor. If it's too thick, drizzle in a little hot water. Alternatively, for a richer pate, drizzle in more oil.
Allow the mixture to cool in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.
Serve in ramekins, accompanied by other ramekins filled with the mustard and the nuts, and offer toasted slices of baguette.
Makes about 2 cups or 8 servings.
Nutrition information per 1/4-cup serving (pate only): 230 calories, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 0 cholesterol, 5 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams dietary fiber, 370 milligrams sodium
The herb-infused lentils are such a nice element of this pate that you might consider making extra and using the leftovers, including their liquid, to sauce pasta or rice. Serve the pate with whole-grain crackers or rye toasts. The pate can be made, covered and refrigerated 2 days in advance.
1⁄3 cup (about 3 ounces) dried brown lentils
2 sprigs thyme, plus more for optional garnish
1 teaspoon medium-grain sea salt, divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium-size yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife, then minced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry
1⁄2 cup (about 3 ounces) pecan halves or pieces, toasted ( seenote)
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Cover the lentils with an inch of water in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring almost to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook until tender, about 20 minutes, adjusting the heat so the water is barely bubbling. Remove from the heat, stir in the thyme sprigs and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt, then cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until warm. Add 1 1⁄2 tablespoons of the oil, the onion and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt, and cook until translucent, 7 or 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes longer. Add the mushrooms and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt, toss to coat with the oil, cover partly and cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook until most of the remaining liquid evaporates. Add the sherry, and cook until it just glosses the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute. Cover the skillet and remove it from the heat.
Pulse the pecans in the bowl of a food processor until they are finely ground. Add the onion-mushroom mixture and process until just combined. Drain the lentils, reserving the cooking liquid for another use, if desired, and add them to the food processor along with the remaining 1 1⁄2 tablespoons of oil, the remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Process until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vinegar and pulse just until combined. It should be about the consistency of peanut butter.
The pate can be served in a bowl immediately, garnished with additional thyme, if desired. It can also be molded. Transfer the pate into a small loaf pan or bowl lined with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. When ready to serve, unmold the pate onto a serving plate and remove the plastic wrap. Garnish with additional thyme, if desired.
Note: To toast the pecans, spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 350-degree oven, shaking the sheet occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts burn quickly.
Makes 1 1⁄4 cups or 5 servings.
Nutrition information per 1/4-cup serving: 280 calories, 21 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 0 cholesterol, 7 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams dietary fiber, 430 milligrams sodium
The pate can be made, covered and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
2 tablespoons raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
1⁄4 cup water
1 teaspoon caraway seed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium-size carrots (about 8 ounces total)
1 dried arbol chile pepper, split in half lengthwise, seeds discarded ( see Note)
1-inch piece gingerroot, preferably young
2 teaspoons white or brown rice miso
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Soak the sunflower seeds in a small bowl with water to cover for 30 minutes; drain. Mash to a paste with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle.
While the sunflower seeds are soaking, toast the caraway seed in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant. Grind with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle and allow to cool.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and golden and reduced in volume by about two-thirds. Add the caraway seed, remove the skillet from the heat, cover and cool.
Peel the carrots and cut them into pieces about 1⁄2 inch by 1 inch. Transfer to a large saucepan or small Dutch oven and add 1 teaspoon of the oil, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, the chile pepper and 1⁄4 cup water. Bring almost to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the carrots are easily pierced with the tip of a knife, for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool.
Peel the gingerroot and cut it into 2 pieces. Use the flat side of a knife to mash it completely flat, then mince; alternately, grate the gingerroot.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the carrots to the bowl of a food processor (discard the chili pepper). Add the onion, gingerroot, sunflower-seed paste, the remaining 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of oil, and the miso, and process until smooth and creamy, for 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the lemon juice and pulse to combine. Taste, and add salt if needed.
Note: Arbol chili peppers can pack a lot of heat, so if you prefer, omit them from the cooking process and add a dash of cayenne pepper to the finished pate instead.
Makes about 1 1⁄2 cups or 6 servings.
Nutrition information per 1/4-cup serving: 110 calories, 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 0 cholesterol, 2 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 370 milligrams sodium