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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 very much of it, but we expect it to linger.
Those same qualities are what a vegetable pate is after, and it is, perhaps surprisingly, 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), then, 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.
From chef Rich Landau of Vedge in Philadelphia.
This smooth, sweet vegetable pate is perfectly complemented by the crunch of the nuts and the bite of the mustard. Makes about 2 cups (8 servings).
Make ahead: The pate needs to be refrigerated for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.
For the pate:
2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 medium 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)
Preheat 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, 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.