Peninsula Manila is coming up with something progressive: introducing vegan dishes in all its restaurants.
Involving more than just a salad or carrot and celery sticks, Peninsula Manila’s vegan tack takes on popular international dishes such as Japanese jicama maki, Penang curry, Indian lentil wrap and the European coconut ravioli.
Called the 360 Degrees Wellness, the new menus have been inspired by the dishes at The Farm at San Benito health resort. Veganism espouses that ingredients should not be traced back to creatures with eyes: no meat, no seafood and no dairy.
Executive sous chef Samuel Linder was challenged to cook French cuisine when veganism eliminates cream, egg and butter.
Linder and the culinary team have become skilled at using cashew and almond butters and smears of nutritious coconut meat to lend their recipes unexpected depths of flavor.
At Old Manila, instead of breaking bread, diners can enjoy crackers made from young coconut meat, sesame and flaxseed. They go with the pea mint mole dip made of peas blanched with vegetable stock and mashed with fresh mint leaves and seasoning or with smoked pepper soup, laced with olive oil for a Mediterranean taste.
Linder’s version of vegan cuisine goes classical. The starter is the grilled portobello carpaccio that’s tender at the core, infused with Italian truffle and spiked with pickled beet root.
The warm dish is contrasted with a cold zucchini bisque, a creamy soup made of cashew nut milk and tender zucchini served with basil oil and celery shavings for a fresh taste.
The main event is the eggplant ratatouille involtini, which is a cross between baba ganoush (smoky eggplant) and a finely rolled-up eggplant, teamed with bell pepper pasta called fregula, wild rocket leaves and melted tomatoes.
“People love it because it’s fresh,” says Linder.
The dessert is chocolate ice cream in a cacao-blended coconut wrapper. The wrapper is folded like a dimsum and filled with ice cream (puréed frozen coconut meat if you don’t like dairy) and fresh fruits.
Linder also recommends the coconut ravioli, an eggless pasta made from a dough of dessicated coconut, flour and olive oil. The ragout is a rich blend of mushrooms, coconut meat with fresh vegetables and a spicy but sweet cumin and carrot sauce.
The 360 Degrees Wellness menu at The Lobby was launched with tofu steak. The beauty of the tofu is its premium quality—juicy and packed with fresh soy taste, marinated with soy sauce and coco sugar to bring out the sweetness. These grilled tofu blocks rest on top of fluffy potato purée with artichokes for a bit acidity and enriched by a melange of mushrooms, red wine, onions and garlic.
For a fusion dish, Linder will introduce the wasabi Caesar salad. The strong, hot flavor of the wasabi will be cooled by the salad dressing made with coconut cream instead of egg.
To Indian chef de cuisine Avanish Jain, the meatless diet is nothing new. Born to a Jain family, he is a vegetarian and has grown up watching his mother dry food under the sun.
Spices, the Pen’s Asian restaurant, serves cauliflower samosa as starters. But don’t expect the crispy fried dough with vegetable filling. The wrapper is made of blended coconut purée that’s baked in a dehydrator and filled with chopped cauliflower, carrots, beans, turmeric and onions.
Then there’s the sushi without the rice. Crispy julienned jicamas take the place of sticky, vinegared rice, combined with fruits or vegetables and sheathed in nori.
The lentil wrap is the raw food version of dosa, a fine, spicy, crispy crepe. Instead of the traditional fermented rice, Jain used lentil purée with onions. The filling is made of lightly sautéed vegetables with the traditional Indian spices of turmeric and coriander and accompanied by a sauce made of tomatoes, raisins and coco sugar.
Spices will introduce other dishes such as almond and dehydrated sweet corn as an appetizer, eggplant with organic rice and grilled pineapple. The creamy soups make use of coconut milk, such as the squash with kaffir lime and ginger soup. The pomelo salad is topped with cashew nuts that have been dehydrated instead of sautéed for crispness.
The no-bake desserts eschew refined flour, sugar and eggs. The chocolate banana mousse is served in a small glass, layered with organic chocolate sweetened with honey, topped with a cream made from cashew nut milk and coconut meat and flavored with vanilla.
The pecan tart is made from a crust of pecan, pili and dessicated coconut and date paste. The filling is organic chocolate with coconut oil as binder and honey. The almond roulade is a pastry made of almonds and dessicated coconut that has been rolled and filled with dried banana and dipped with chunky fig sauce.
The mild, aromatic organic coffee and nut milk from The Farm at San Benito is accompanied with dainty chocolate and almond cookies made from dessicated coconut, coconut oil and almond paste and bite-size sesame cookies with pistachio.
The alternative cuisine was born out of Peninsula Manila general manager Sonja Vodusek-Vecchio’s regular visits to The Farm at San Benito to recharge herself. The chefs then spent a week at the Batangas health resort to study its cooking methods and raw food dishes, from appetizers to desserts.
The Farm at San Benito also espouses a meal consisting of 85-percent raw food and 15-percent cooked food. Linder points out it’s not possible for a five-star operation with several outlets.
“We do dehydrate the ingredients and take care of the living enzymes, but we’re not as strict as The Farm. If you go for detox at the Farm, you will have a rumbly stomach. I cannot have a business meeting over lunch and serve them living enzymes which cause more stomach activity. We have to be careful,” says Linder.
The fact that a deluxe hotel is promoting plant-based eating could be an indication that vegetarianism could be the new normal.