Friday, May 4, 2012

Diner Chow: The Vegetable Platter Revisited

My dinner tonight: Vegetable Platter wit Fridge Door Cashew Sauce

Back in the last century, when my friend Paul Mamolou became a committed vegetarian, true vegetarian meals were pretty difficult to find. He’s the first person I’d ever met that didn't eat meat. Especially in the rarified college town west of Philly where we studied at the time. Nothing much for him to eat in the dining hall. I’m betting the pizza place down the road probably cooked their meatballs in the same sauce they put in the meatless calzones. The local diner likely cooked their French fries in lard. Nonetheless, there was always the option, back in the day, of the dreaded vegetable platter. Every Mom & Pop restaurant had one as did most diners. Some probably still do. I think Paul lived on pizza and pistachios, and not necessarily in that order.

If you aren’t from the East Coast, you may not understand about diners. They are still around most of the big cities and burgs, often close to highway entrances, and usually open 24 hours. Great places for college students to chow down when the library, or the bars closed for the night. A lot of them were owned and run by Greek or Italian families, and if you were lucky, there’d actually be a real Greek or Italian grandma supplying the diner with a good pan of lasagna or moussaka.  In 2012, you can get plenty of meatless fare. Even the worst place will have a veggie burger. Sadly, for a vegetarian, back then, the options were limited to a few things on the menu like the round-the-clock breakfast, or the infamous vegetable platter.

A vegetable platter usually consists of 3 or 4 of the side dishes of the customers choosing. Most places were not known for their enlightened menu of side dishes back in 1976, so generally you had your choice from canned green beans, canned spinach, canned pickled beets, canned applesauce, coleslaw, mashed potatoes or French fries. Yum. 

Since I brake for farm markets, and have a decent vegetable garden myself, my own crisper can usually supply the fixings for a wonderful colorful vegetable platter. Just about any vegetables will be easily glorified in this sauce. But the star of this vegetable platter is the sauce. A creamy cashew sauce that’s sharp, sweet and unctuous over just about any vegetable, grain, pasta or even fish. Since we are decidedly not vegetarian, we especially like this cashew sauce over fresh steamed broccoli with...meatloaf.

My version here is NOT vegetarian, although if you just leave out the Thai fish sauce, it IS. Better yet, if you have a well-stocked fridge, you’ll probably have all the ingredients on hand. I had it all on the fridge door. Feel free to substitute peanut butter for the cashew butter but please use unsweetened and unsalted. This sauce should only take a few minutes to prepare while your vegetables steam.

Beets, asparagus and cauliflower

I chose cauliflower, beets and homegrown asparagus; the cauliflower and asparagus were steamed, the beets wrapped in foil and roasted for about 1-1/4 hours at 425°F.  A small processor or a stick blender will make short work of the delicious sauce.

Fridge Door Cashew Sauce

1/3 cup unsalted, unsweetened cashew butter
4 tsp soy sauce
2T rice vinegar
1T Thai fish sauce
½ tsp granulated garlic
1 T minced ginger (jarred is fine)
2 tsp hot sauce (I prefer Cholula)
2 T sugar
Optional: chopped cashews for garnish

Whisk together or blend everything except for the chopped cashews with a mini processor or stick blender and serve with vegetables, grain or fish. Garnish the plate with the chopped cashews if desired.

About 2-4 servings depending on how saucy you like things. Ahem.


  1. 1) I ADORE Cholula - favorite hot sauce

    2)Peanut (or cashew) sauce is wonderful on just about any veg

    3) An 8 yr vegetarian phase in THIS century pretty much proved that salad and french fries are most establishment's idea of veg fare. Sadly.

  2. I did the veg /vegan thing too, for years, and probably ate more pizza and pasta and salad out than I care to think about. The Cholula IS wonderful, isn't it? Much less vinegar flavor and more pepper!