Do you know what I could rant on and on about? Restaurants that, in an attempt to cover all of their bases perhaps, offer a sole vegetarian option… that also happens to be super duper healthy, low-cal, low-fat, low-this, low-that, and just totally uninspired. I know – of all the things that could annoy me, this is what I want to harp on about. But it can be so frustrating when you go out to eat, you’re nice and hungry and excited for your meal, everyone around you has boundless options, and then you’re left staring down at some sort of tragic iceberg lettuce salad while your dining partners are totally entranced and elbow deep in something saucy and delicious.
For some reason, a lot of restaurants (at least around here) seem to think that vegetarians = people on diets. (Don’t even get me started on diets, we’ll be here for ages.) Seriously. How hard is it to make a delicious vegetarian main?! Is your creativity really bound to meat? Throw a girl a bone (hehe – get it?)! I hate to be that girl who needs to buy snacks after a meal out, but sometimes it needs to happen.
Anyway! That’s my ranting done for the day. In total contrast to those sad sad meals, these smoky celeriac steaks were inspired by a delicious dish I had at a great place here in Utrecht.
My mom came to visit a few weeks ago, and one day we had lunch at the gorgeous Brasserie Goeie Louisa. The brasserie has a changing menu that always features exciting and delicious vegetarian dishes. For my main, I ordered the celeriac with mushroom gravy, and I was blown away! The celeriac was served on a bed of creamy barley risotto*, and the whole thing was drenched in this incredibly hearty mushroom sauce that I gladly would have used my fingers to mop up at the end if we hadn’t been in such a nice establishment.
*If that sounds up your alley, do check out my roasted mushroom barley risotto!
I was so excited to try celeriac in this way! It’s a vegetable that I always mean to use more but that, quite frankly, typically ends up shrivelled and sad in my fridge for lack of inspiration. Which is a shame, because it’s cheap, it’s delicious, and it can be prepared in so many ways. Like, for example, did you know that it’s absolutely delicious in kedgeree? Or puréed into a soup with lots of lemon juice and some bay leaf? Or at the base of a mushroom risotto? It’s quite fresh and celery-ish (I know – I’ve floored you with this statement), and it brings lots of vibrance to hearty, earthy flavours – which explains why it’s so good with this mushroom gravy.
Confession: I initially learned how to make vegetarian gravy because I wanted to have poutine – fries, gravy + cheese curds, a French Canadian junk food delicacy – while abroad. Quite the far cry from the lovely celeriac dish I had at the Brasserie! (By the way: I have a few poutine-related recipe I want to post on here, so stay tuned! No cheese curds needed… sacrilege, perhaps, but also extremely delicious, not to mention much easier to make when you’re outside of Canada.)
But I digress. The base of the gravy comes together in about 10 minutes thanks to trusty corn starch (instead of butter + flour), and then you really amp up the umami factor with the addition of some roasted mushrooms (can you tell by now that roasting is my favourite way to prepare mushrooms?!).
However, I will say this: this gravy won’t be as good if you prepare it ahead of time, as I find that the cornstarch turns it into a nice jello type of thing when it gets cold, and then when it reheats you’re left with a funny consistency (good but with a bit of an ick factor). To avoid that problem, though, you can roast your mushrooms and prepare the broth for the gravy ahead of time, and then add the corn starch to the reheated broth when you’re ready to eat!
*The gravy doesn't reheat well, so if you want to make it in advance, prep the mushrooms and the stock first, and then only stir the cornstarch in when you're ready to eat. **This amount of cornstarch gives you a very thick gravy - if you want things a bit thinner, start with about 2/3 of that. You can always add more, but it's difficult to thin!