Increasing numbers of restaurants, chefs and diners are focusing on plant-based dishes, either exclusively or as a growing menu percentage. So, it isn’t really surprising how we’re seeing more news coverage about swapping traditional grain-based carbs for healthy vegetable-based ones.

Vegetable Dish

In 2018, for example, Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) published an article titled “Chefs Swap Carbs for Veggies as Diners Eat Lighter.” Two vegetables specifically highlighted as the “darlings of the dinner table” are cauliflower and zucchini, with NRN calling them “veggie doppelgangers for grainy rice and carbo-loaded pasta.”

NRN also published a report in December 2017 that listed using vegetables as pasta or rice alternatives as the seventh hottest trend.

“The application of terms like ‘pasta-like’ and ‘rice-like,” Chef Jamie Simpson says, “are just proof that vegetables are versatile, magical, wonderful – but often too-overlooked – ingredients.”

When Chef Jamie is creating a new dish, he likes to ask himself the following question: “What is a vegetable and what does it represent?”

Squash Custard

Take, for example, the carrot (the vegetable that Chef Jamie and Farmer Lee Jones named as the 2019 veggie of the year). “Beyond working well in center-of-the-plate entrees, it’s also a salad, an herb and a spice. It’s a hot soup. It’s a cold soup. It’s a braised item, it’s a noodle. It’s frozen for dessert, it’s a cake, it’s a drink.”

24 carrot textures

As he expounded upon the versatility of the carrot as his example, Chef Jamie pauses. “I might argue,” he notes, “there aren’t any animals this widely applicable to the table.”

Vegetable-based carbs, then, go far beyond pasta, far beyond rice. “We can stop thinking in terms of recipes,” he adds, “and think in techniques, which is where, perhaps, creativity really beings.”

Additional cooking techniques to consider as you add vegetable carbs to dishes and menus include:

  • Pureed
  • Dried
  • Fried
  • Puffed
  • Baked
  • Juiced
  • Grilled
  • Sheeted
  • Pickled
  • Charred
  • Caramelized
  • Smoked
  • Carbonated
  • Frozen
  • Powdered
  • Fermented

When asked if Chef Jamie had anything else to add to this pretty comprehensive list, he said, “and so on and so on and so on. It’s endless, with this list being a casual, healthy reminder that using vegetables as carbs doesn’t end at noodles.”


In The Chef’s Garden blog, Farmer Lee Jones shared his thoughts on this veggie-carb trend, as well. Specifics that caught his eye in the NRN article included these benefits:

  • the “obvious health benefits,” ones that don’t require diners to make a sacrifice with flavor
  • “the shape of the smaller zucchini forms the most perfect ribbon noodles”
  • zucchini noodle dishes are a “runaway hit”
  • the “creative aspect of it all”
  • riced cauliflower “became an instant hit”

And, we’d also like to thank Farmer Lee for this shout-out: “I’d be remiss,” he said in his comments, “if I didn’t share how our incredible team at the Culinary Vegetable Institute and the CVI’s creative guest chefs have been contributing to these trends for years, being way ahead of the curve.”

We invite you to register to attend one or more of our events in 2019 where we celebrate the beauty and versatility of vegetables as we capture a single moment in time.