Plant: Vegan. Vegetarian. Asheville.

Vegetarian. Vegan. Do those words make you shudder? Does the thought of bacon being absent from your diet make you sad? Do you wonder how you would ever get enough to eat were you to convert? I think it is safe to say that many people have had these thoughts—including me. I am not a vegetarian. I am what you might call a flexitarian…although labeling is not something I prefer. Vegetables and grains are the focus of my diet with small portions of pasture-raised meats enjoyed throughout each month. I like bacon, but I love my veggies. I am a sucker for creative vegetable dishes, which is why I love to eat at Plant in Asheville.

We discovered Plant last summer. We were searching for restaurants that we had not previously visited. We wanted to enjoy the summer vegetable bounty in the area, and Plant seemed like the perfect place. It did not disappoint.

Nor did it disappoint during our second recent visit. The space is cozy and casual with an open kitchen. You can see Chef Jason Sellars at work creating dishes that are delectable and satisfying. The menu changes with the seasons to provide customers with the freshest ingredients. The flavor combinations are unexpected and genius.  

Our meal began with the Iron Skillet Olives. Warm marinated olives served in an adorable miniature cast iron skillet. Herbs, orange zest, and salty brine had me wondering, “WHY am I not doing this at home?” It was the perfect start to the meal. Then we split an order of the Baby Bok Choy with Ginger, Mint and Berbere. It literally blew my mind. The flavors were perfect together and really intensified the sweetness of the bok choy. My entrée was the Oyster Mushroom Apricot Adobo, which included a poblano stuffed tamale, sautéed spinach, olives, chil- cilantro mojo, pickled onion, and sour cream. Because they do not serve any animal products, the sour cream was made from non-dairy ingredients—and was amazing! Mark enjoyed the Red Curry Tofu. This dish was a lovely combination of jasmine rice/ kaffir lime cakes, teriyaki bok choy/ Thai basil, galangal-peanut curry, and arugula. Sadly, we were so stuffed after this great meal; we had no room for dessert this time.

Vegetarian. Vegan. I hope you will consider restaurants that use these words in their description.   Don’t be afraid. They are satisfying and delicious. I promise.

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Iron Skillet Olives

Iron Skillet Olives

Baby Boy Choy

Baby Boy Choy

Oyster Mushroom Apricot Adobo

Oyster Mushroom Apricot Adobo

Red Curry Tofu

Red Curry Tofu

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Go Meatless, Go Mushroom

As a child, I turned up my nose and made gagging noises when approached with a meal containing mushrooms. A fungus? You want me to eat THAT? My mother always said that I should keep trying things I didn’t originally like because “your taste will change.” How right she was!

I am not a vegetarian. I still eat meat occasionally. I guess that would make me a “flex-a-tarian.” Labeling isn’t important to me, so I just say that I eat meat when I can get pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, local meat. I eat it in moderation. I did not grow up that way. Being from the Midwest—Kansas City, Missouri to be exact—I grew up eating meat at nearly every meal. As a young adult, I finally came to the realization that cooking meat stressed me out. What if I didn’t cook it the right way—should I be grilling, braising, sautéing, roasting? What if it wasn’t done enough? What if it was overcooked? Plus, it was the most expensive thing on my home-cooked menu; so screwing it up could be disastrous for my palate and my wallet!

Eventually, I embraced roasting; let my husband do the grilling; and I occasionally sautéed. Several years ago, we decided as a family that eating more vegetables and grains would probably be best for our long-term health. Enter, the mushroom. It was time to try this little fungus again. I had read that it had some great health benefits and that it was a great meat substitute. I fell in love with the portobello immediately.   Soon, I embraced the shitake, the oyster, and finally…the porcini. Now, I cannot imagine life without mushrooms. They add such a rich, almost meaty, flavor and texture to many of my favorite dishes.

How do you feel about this edible fungus? If you haven’t tried it in a while, you should. Remember what my mother said…and aren’t moms always right? Perhaps having it prepared in a new and exciting way will help. Here are a few recipes that might work…

Stuffed Zucchini

  • 4 large zucchini
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 2 c. finely chopped mushrooms (Shitake/Oyster/Cremini)
  • ½ c. quinoa
  • 1 cup mushroom stock
  • 1 medium shallot – minced
  • 2 cloves garlic – minced
  • 1 carrot – diced
  • ¼ c. dry sherry
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme- chopped (I use lemon thyme)
  • salt & pepper
  • ¼ c. shredded Parmesan cheese
  • ½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Rinse and drain the quinoa. Place mushroom stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add quinoa and cover. Reduce heat to low, simmer for 12 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Set aside.
  2. Remove the ends of each zucchini. Slice in half lengthwise. Using a grapefruit spoon, scoop out the seeds and make a trough for the filling. Set aside.
  3. Melt butter in a skillet and add the olive oil. Over medium-high heat, sauté the shallot and carrot in the olive oil and butter for about 5 minutes.
  4. Turn the temperature down to medium and add the chopped mushrooms. Sauté for an additional 4-5 minutes.
  5. Add minced garlic and sauté for an additional 1-2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the dry sherry to deglaze the pan. Stir well.
  6. Turn the heat to low and allow it to reduce. There should be no liquid left.
  7. Remove from heat, add the quinoa and the thyme.
  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Fill the zucchini with the quinoa/mushroom mixture. Place in a baking dish. Add ¼ cup of water to the baking dish.
  10. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Uncover, top each zucchini with cheese and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes until zucchini is fork tender and cheese is melted.

Mushroom Tacos

  • 3 large Portobello Mushroom caps – thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red onion – halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper – sliced
  • 3-4 tbs. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • ½ tsp. Ancho powder
  • ¼ to ½ tsp. Chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • 2-3 cloves garlic – minced
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place the mushrooms, the onion, and the red pepper into a bowl. Add the olive oil and stir to coat.
  3. Add the spices, the garlic, and the salt. Stir to combine.
  4. Place mixture on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast for 15 minutes. Stir mixture and continue to roast for another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve on corn tortillas with cilantro, onion, avocado, and crema sauce.

Crema Sauce:

  • ½ c. sour cream
  • ¼ c. cilantro leaves
  • ¼ tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1 tbs. lime juice
  • pinch salt
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until combined.  I use a plastic squeezable condiment bottle to store this lovely sauce.