Favorite Plant-Based Dishes of 2019 and Trends for 2020

As the year 2019 is coming to a close—and we’re looking forward to a brand-new year and decade—we’re thrilled to see how chefs, researchers, and other experts around the country and globe are chiming in to discuss one of our favorite topics: the increasing presence and central role of plant-based foods.

In fact, according to market research firm, Innova, “Plant-based eating is moving from trend to food revolution status.”

Over the past five years, an Innova representative shares, plant-based food and beverage products have experienced an average annual growth rate of 68 percent, and the company expects the momentum to carry forward into 2020.

So, it just makes sense to offer some of our own thoughts about this plant-forward food revolution in a post that may not be designed exactly like the ones you’re used to seeing during this time of year. In ours, we’ll share nine different categories of thoughts about plant-based trends shared by Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson.

With some of them, you’ll find that they’re being discussed in other places online, as well—and, when that’s the case, we’ll share a few of those comments. Other times, the insights are simply those gleaned by Jamie through his deep relationships with other chefs and the culinary world as a whole.

#1 Eliminating the Word “Just”

“What I observe and love,” Jamie says, “is how more and more chefs are embracing a vegetable for what it is, not trying to turn it into something else. A turnip, for example, can be prepared perfectly and then served. This can be a life-changing dish, one simply served with a knife and fork. Or, you can offer a perfectly cooked beet, a single-ingredient dish that is flawlessly prepared with seasonings. A French breakfast radish can be simply served with butter and salt.”

More specifically, Jamie remembers how a longtime advisory board member of the Culinary Vegetable Institute would prepare a turnip dish that consisted of a single brilliantly prepared and seasoned turnip. And, he says, it was truly perfect.

“So, it would be nice,” he adds, “if we can stop describing a dish like this one as ‘just’ a turnip. If we ate a perfectly grilled steak, for example, we’d never say that the dish contained ‘just’ a steak, and it’s time that we stop using that kind of language around an impeccable single-ingredient vegetable dish.”

#2 Single-Vegetable Themes

For years now, during the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s Vegetable Showcases, Jamie and his team have chosen a single vegetable, such as the carrot, or a type, such as cruciferous, and explored every iteration of that plant in a multi-course meal.

“This is different, of course, from literally having one single beet, for example, on a plate. It’s when a particular vegetable or type of vegetable is the centerpiece of the meal, explored via different preparations. This focus is a natural fit for us,” he says, “and so we’d continue to explore and create in this way, even if it wasn’t a trend.”

Jamie notes how there are other chefs doing the same thing, using techniques that allow a meal to be greater than the sum of its parts. In Chicago, for example, he enjoyed delicious carrot dishes alongside a beer with a carrot profile. “It was fabulous,” he said. “Each dish or drink was wonderful separately, but even better when brought together.”

If you haven’t had the chance to enjoy this type of experience at the CVI, our Winter Vegetable event is coming up in January 2020, with our Carrot Vegetable Showcase in March.

#3 Bold and Beautiful Plant-Based Dishes

“Simplicity and elegance in cooking and plating will showcase clean, bright and bold flavors.” (Food and Wine in a post about 2020 trends)

When Jamie was in Nashville, he was served a cabbage dish that was so breathtakingly bold in its presentation that he admits he would have hesitated to attempt it himself. “But,” he adds, “it was incredible.”

The chef took a quarter wheel of a cabbage and then used searing heat on the exterior, searing the edges while keeping the rest raw. It was dressed like a Caesar salad, with croutons and anchovies. “It was simple,” Jamie says. “It was daring. It was in stark contrast with the 14-ingredient dishes that we’ve often been served.”

As an example of how Jamie boldly celebrates simplicity at The Culinary Vegetable Institute, he’ll sometimes put out farm-fresh tomatoes, along with bread, mayo and salt. “We don’t,” he says, “always build the tomato sandwiches for them.”

#4 Cabbage! Cabbage! Cabbage!

Earlier in this post, Jamie shared his experience with a marvelously unique cabbage dish—and he is seeing the creative use of cabbage now more than ever before. “Chefs and diners are embracing brassica dishes in new and intriguing ways.”

Delish.com shares a similar thought when talking about food trends in 2019. “Remember when cauliflower was an all-but-forgotten vegetable—and now it’s the superstar of the produce aisle? The same thing’s about to happen to cabbage. Healthy eaters are hungry for starch or meat swaps, and we’re experimenting on their behalf: cabbage leaf enchiladas, cabbage chips, cabbage lasagna. And this grassroots cabbage takeover that’s starting at home is only spreading—to restaurant menus, to grocery store aisles, everywhere. Cabbage crust pizza anyone?”

In May 2019, Nation’s Restaurant News also chimed in, saying this: “Cabbage may seem like an old-school vegetable, but its menu presence on American menus is still on the rise, having grown by 16 percent over the past four years. The key to this ingredient’s continued prominence is its versality. It can be fermented and made into condiments such as sauerkraut as well as used in a wide array of dishes such as salads, tacos, slaws, soups and sandwiches. It also benefits from the health halo of all brassica vegetables.”

#5 Fermented Foods

Jamie admits that he must be hungry for turnips, since so many of his examples center on this versatile root vegetable. “But, think about it,” he says. “When you make a sour turnip, using the amount of salt you’d use in sauerkraut, and then press and submerge it for four, five, six days, you’ve gone beyond fermenting, transforming this turnip into something out of this world.”

He suggests serving this alongside a turnip puree and a grilled turnip, which echoes the single-vegetable theme he’d described above. “Layering flavors through the use of fermentation can elevate that vegetable’s flavor profile in unique and interesting ways.”

In addition, Jamie points out, fermentation is a wonderful way to lower food costs at restaurants and otherwise manage food waste in a delicious way. “Fermentation,” he says, “can transform technically inedible pieces of food into something flavorful and wonderful.”

This trend has been building, with Food Navigator calling fermentation a mega-trend in 2018. Interestingly enough, Forbes shared in 2019 that fermented food consumption was up 149 percent, adding that people want to eat fermented foods that are otherwise unfamiliar to them. That information came from Upserve, a restaurant management platform—and they’re predicting that fermented foods will continue to be in demand in 2020.

People are likely being drawn to fermented foods because of the health benefits, as well, with a chef being quoted in Food and Wine as saying, “I think there will be an emphasis on healthier plant-based options that will focus on the connection between what we eat and how it fuels the mind, body and soul.”

#6 Unusual Vegetables Intriguing Diners

It’s interesting that people are wanting fermented foods that are otherwise unfamiliar to them—because Jamie has independently noted that chefs in general are embracing some of the more unusual vegetables.

“For example,” he says, “rutabaga is a root vegetable that’s making a hard comeback.”

He shares two more examples: salsify and kohlrabi.

The salsify root offers up a faint oyster-like flavor and was once enjoyed by President Thomas Jefferson and French King Louis XIV. Some chefs and diners detect a subtle asparagus flavor, as well.

And, a British newspaper was already noting the increasing demand for salsify as early as November 2018. This paper shared a traditional English recipe using salsify roots: “Scrape and wash the salsify, cut them into small evensized pieces, throw them into boiling water, and add a little butter, lemon juice, and salt. Boil gently until tender, and then drain well. Heat up in a little well-seasoned good white sauce. Have the pastrycases ready, fill them with the preparation, re-heat, and serve.”

Kohlrabi, meanwhile, is incredibly versatile. It can be enjoyed raw, as well as pureed, roasted, steamed, and more.

#7 Changing Perception of Salads

First, let us say that Jamie loves the lettuce from The Chef’s Garden, and he expects that chefs around the county and world will continue to create delicious lettuce-based salads. But, in 2020, Jamie expects the definition of “salad” to become “somewhat looser.”

“People used to think about getting some lettuce, putting some dressing on top and then garnishing that with croutons,” Jamie points out. “Today, there might be a salad that uses shaved radishes instead of the lettuce—or shaved carrots or asparagus.”

Or, lettuce can be the foundation of a salad that’s “buried in other vegetables.” Salads can be warm as well as cold. It’s all up to the creativity of the chef!

In 2019, Refinery29.com quotes a chef who says that the daikon radish is an “ideal salad ingredient,” noting how it has a “fun shape . . . great flavor and texture.” He likes to use purple radishes in his salads. Another chef quotes in the article suggests including fermented vegetables.

#8 Milk Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Dairy

“Do you have an adverse reaction to cow milk? The choices for milk substitutes are getting larger and larger these days. In addition to soy milk and almond milk — which have long-since established themselves — there’s now coconut, rice, hemp, and oat milks.” (PopSugar.com)

“Products such as dairy options become more available as there is more consumer demand for them,” Jamie says, “and this is also true throughout the plant-based space as many decisions made by restaurants and stores are really being made by the consumers. Guests and shoppers vote with their dollars and they shape the economy.”

The vice president of culinary insights for The Hartman Group echoes Jamie’s observation, noting that chefs are no longer the ones single-handedly dictating food trends. She says, “I don’t call them foodies―they’re culinary obsessives. We spend a lot of time with them, and the chefs that are really pushing the envelope. We’ll look at their menus, look at their pantries and fridges.”

And, we suspect that, by looking in fridges of consumers in the United States, she’d see a whole lot of alternative milks. As just one example, according to Marketplace, sales for oat milk have skyrocketed, with 2019 sales in the United States alone up to $29 million. Compare that to figures in 2017 of $4.4 million.

#9 Preference for Petite

“I’ve noticed how chefs are really interested in using petite sized vegetables in their dishes right now,” Jamie notes. “They’re eye-catching because of their unexpected sizes—and yet they’ve grown enough to take on the vegetable’s shape.”

A petite turnip, for example, is about the size of a dime. A radish would be about an inch to 1.5 inches, while a petite carrot would be anywhere from 1.5 inches to three, depending upon the type.

Although chefs may not have always been demanding petite sized produce, specifically, they have been attracted to smaller-sized vegetables for quite some time, with Refinery29.com saying the following a few years ago: “The new big trend in vegetables is…tiny! Miniature versions of everything from onions to eggplants are having a moment at fancy restaurants and farmers’ markets across the country. Their diminutive size makes them lightning fast and mind-blowingly easy to prepare—and they often boast a sweeter flavor and more tender texture than their full-sized brethren. Oh, and did we mention they’re adorable?”

We invite each and every one of you to take a look at upcoming events at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Let’s enjoy our plant-based adventures together, throughout 2020 and beyond!