Last weekend I attended Nourish’s 2nd Annual Farm to Table Dinner hosted at Bell’s Best Berries in Monroe. The all-vegan feast featured five courses made with local produce grown in the same field where we were served.
Veganism, a lifestyle that avoids meat, dairy, eggs, leather, fur and any product that comes from an animal, isn’t exactly mainstream here in Charlotte but is certainly growing in popularity in the food scene.
In addition to increased vegan-friendly options in non-vegan restaurants, Charlotte is home to all-vegan food establishments like Luna’s Living Kitchen in South End, Bean Vegan Cuisine on Independence Boulevard and Nourish, a vegan meal delivery service.
Nourish founder and head chef Julia Simon has already proven that she can create demand for convenient, portable, animal-free meals. In 2014, Nourish expanded its Charlotte operation to offer statewide delivery throughout North Carolina. But with this farm dinner series, Simon shows that her vegan food can hold its own as a formal five-course affair.
Maybe if we ask nicely she’ll open a restaurant next.
Live cashew gorgonzola with heirloom tomato relish and sesame vegetable crackers
Featuring: Bell’s Best fresh herbs, N.C. beets and green garlic
Let me begin by saying that I usually consider vegan “cheeze” to be total abomination. I’m offended by it. I also hate real bleu cheese so the idea of a vegan approximation in this course was unsettling to me to say the least. As it turns out, this particular cashew gorgonzola, marbled blueish-green with spirulina instead of mold, was unexpectedly creamy, lightly tart and perfectly paired with the acidic bite of tomato relish. Even my fiance declared after the meal that he really liked “that little pepperoni cracker.” (It’s made with beets not pepperoni but that’s fine.) Sold. Next course.
Falafelled wedge with black garlic tahini drizzle and technicolor pickles
Featuring Small City Farms winter density lettuce, Savory Spice Shop black garlic and Bell’s Best baby turnips
Wine paring: Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs
Hold me back before I lick the screen. This deceptively simple salad was packed with layers of complexity – the bitter brininess of the pickled vegetables, the robust creaminess of black garlic tahini drizzle and the hearty warmth of pecans coated in all the flavors you’d expect to find in traditional falafel. More, please.
Ramen and shi zi tou with spicy spring greens and duo of chili oils
Featuring Urban Gourmet Farm’s oyster mushrooms and stock, N.C. zucchini and scallions, Savory Spice Shop aleppo pepper and Bell’s Best mizuna and Napa cabbage
This dish featured vegan trickery at its finest – mushrooms instead of meat for the umami-rich depth of the broth, spiralized zucchini instead of ramen noodles and a hearty blend of lentils and mushrooms instead of pork in the shi zi tou, a Chinese meatball also known as a “Lion’s Head.” Someone actually asked for confirmation that the meatballs were in fact meatless at this vegan meal. Sneaky.
Terrine de L’annee and smoke cassoulet
Featuring Bell’s Best asparagus and baby turnips, N.C. butternut squash and sweet potatoes and Urban Gourmet Farm mushrooms
Wine pairing: McRitchie Ring of Fire
I wouldn’t be opposed to eating this every single day of my life. The terrine featured alternating layers of creamy “cheese” and vegetables stacked in chronological order according to season – asparagus in the spring, tomatoes in the summer, sweet potatoes and butternut squash in the fall and winter. All that goodness was served over smokey slow-cooked beans. And it was perfect.
Cannoli and ice cream with a perfect strawberry
Featuring live almond ricotta, Bell’s Best strawberries and N.C. pecans
Tea options: Little Sey Salt Cures blends
This dainty little treat packed a decadent punch of rich, can’t-believe-it’s-not-cow’s-milk flavor. It’s a lace cookie cannoli shell stuffed with almond ricotta and served with creamy ice cream and a fresh strawberry. Our table went nuts over this.