Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries. Read other stories in this series.
As a co-author of an upcoming book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who prepare them, I ate a lot of sandwiches in the first half of 2010, mostly Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches and Somali sambusa, but also, in support of my co-authors, the occasional meatloaf, fried walleye, or hot dago sandwich. I ate sandwiches for breakfast. I ate sandwiches for lunch. And, yes, I ate sandwiches for dinner. Sometimes for every meal in a day. Sometimes in family-owned delis so small I couldn’t turn around without clobbering someone with my purse; sometimes in celebrity-chef-operated restaurants anchored by shiny art museums.
Fortunately I like sandwiches, so this was not a problem, except that, Minnesota sandwiches, at least the iconic ones, tend to be incredibly, gloriously meat-tacular. So, the first thing I did when I submitted my chapters to my editor is swear off bacon-wrapped, pate-slathered, or deep-fried meat sandwiches. But, after months of eating, breathing, and dreaming sandwiches, I found I couldn’t give them up. Thus began my quest, still ongoing, for vegetarian, sometimes even vegan, sandwiches.
French Meadow Bakery and Café in Minneapolis serves up a vegan Grilled Reuben Tempeh sandwich ($9) stuffed with thick slabs of marinated tempeh (pressed cakes of cooked and fermented soybeans) and tangy sauerkraut and spiced tomato aioli piled onto slender slices of house-baked rye bread. The sandwiches are grilled until the bread has achieved that toasty, buttery exterior you look for in a grilled cheese sandwich, except that it’s all vegan, so there’s no butter and no cheese. Sandwiches come with your choice of chips and salsa, mixed greens, or, as pictured in the photo above, a spicy slaw.
We asked Chefs, and spouses, Karen Cross and Phil Ward of Minneapolis-based Black Cat Natural Foods for a seasonal recipe to share with the Heavy Table’s readers. The recipe below, for Trout with Wild Herbs, Snap Peas, New Potatoes, is an “easy summer meal. Everything can be prepared on the stovetop or on the grill.”
If you aren’t familiar with “Black Cat Karen” and “Black Cat Phil” from their booth at the Mill City Farmers Market on Saturdays or from seeing their sandwiches and salads at coffee shops around the Metro, including at Caffetto, Matchbox Coffee, and the Gopher Spot, you’ll want to seek them out for Phil’s pulled pork sandwich, their spicy and chunky hummus, and their BLT sandwich, featuring local tomatoes and Berkshire bacon. You’ll have to wait for the BLT, though, until local tomatoes are in season. Cross and Ward insist on waiting until they can buy fresh, never refrigerated, tomatoes locally. They also cater both small-scale and big-scale events, including providing vegetarian options, such as for the 2009 Basilica Block Party, July 10-12. Their ultimate goal is to open a natural foods deli.
Ward’s grandmother, “Grandma Viv,” who used to run her own cookie baking business, makes Black Cat’s strawberry-rhubarb muffins with organic flour and rhubarb from her own rhubarb patch. Cross says: “Her muffins have a fan club, I swear!”
Cross and Ward have years of experience in the restaurant industry that left them jaded. “Sick of the Sysco truck mass commodity food stuff,” Cross and Ward thought. “We can do better.”
“We started Black Cat Natural Foods on a shoestring as an organic sandwich wholesaler with a mini-loan that was enough to buy a commercial refrigerator and stainless table, but not a stove. So we rented a tiny 380-square-foot “cold” (no hood vent) commercial kitchen space at 2010 East Hennepin and the rest is history. Along the way we’ve become more and more local / sustainable in our menus and philosophy, as more great local stuff has become available to us. We joined the Mill City Farmers Market right at the beginning in order to develop connections with the best local sustainable farmers.”
“Everyone has known a black cat at some point in their life.” Because black cats are often overlooked at animal shelters, in favor of tabbies or light-colored kitties, Cross sees the black cat as “a symbol of someone or something that’s rejected or dismissed by mass-society, yet it has its own attributes and integrity all the same.”
Trout with Wild Herbs, Snap Peas, New Potatoes
Ingredients 2 fresh trout, cleaned and rinsed
3 oz fresh mixed herbs
1 pint new potatoes, scrubbed and halved or cut into bite sized pieces
2 spring onions (1 if large) chopped, both white and green parts
1 pint fresh snap peas, cleaned and with stems snapped or cut off, if desired
olive oil or grapeseed oil (optional)
sea salt to taste
fresh cracked pepper to taste
CSA salad greens (optional) for serving
For potatoes: Heat a seasoned cast iron or other heavy pan over high heat. Do not use a nonstick pan, do not oil the pan. Cut new potatoes in halves or bite-sized chunks. When the pan is hot, add the potatoes in a single layer. Drizzle lightly with olive oil or grapeseed oil. Let the potatoes “color” at the edges and blacken slightly, sautéing occasionally until almost cooked through. Add chopped spring onions, sauté until green parts of onions are wilted and white parts are transparent. Season with sea salt. Remove to warmed serving bowl. Potatoes can be served hot or tepid.
For snap peas: Cut or pinch off stem ends of snap peas, if desired. In large bowl, toss snap peas with olive oil until lightly coated. Heat a wok or other large heavy pan (not nonstick) over high heat until a pea sizzles when tossed in. Throw the peas into the pan and sauté until they are bright green and tender-crisp. Season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper while finishing in the pan, then remove to warmed serving dish. Peas can be served hot or tepid.
This same easy technique can be used with a variety of fresh green CSA vegetables through the whole season — try with sliced summer squash / zucchini, green beans, and asparagus, for example.
For trout: Clean whole trout, using one fish per person. Season inside of fish with sea salt, and stuff the fish with fresh seasonal herbs — we used garden lovage, chives, and wood sorrel. Wood sorrel grows wild in many areas and is sometimes considered a weed, but it is edible and has a refreshing lemony taste. Lovage is an old fashioned herb that has a parsley / celery taste. In good soil it can grow to 8-9 feet tall. If these herbs are not available to you, substitute parsley, fresh marjoram, spring onions, or whatever you like.
Lightly oil a grill pan or apply oil to an outdoor grill by wiping a thin layer on with a paper towel. Lay the trout on the grill and cover. Because it is very delicate, grill the trout over indirect heat, NOT hot coals. Cook about 2-3 minutes per side, turning the fish carefully with two spatulas.
Serving suggestion: if you have a CSA subscription and are getting more salad greens than you can manage, you don’t have to eat salads with every meal — you can use the healthy greens by strewing them under the fish on the plate. No dressing or other preparation is necessary; the juices from the fish will season the greens and you can eat them along with the fish. We used baby arugula and pea shoots from Burning River Farm, plus edible blossoms and more fresh wood sorrel from the garden.
If a more elegant presentation is desired, make a green sauce as follows:
1 c parsley leaves
½ c lovage leaves
1 c fish stock
½ c white wine
1 minced shallot
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
Bring wine, shallot, and lemon juice to a boil and reduce until almost dry. Add fish stock, bring to a boil, then add the herbs. As soon as the mixture boils again, pour into a blender, add butter pieces, puree until smooth. Serve over the fish.