These days you can’t go anywhere or read anything about the food industry without hearing the phrase “plant-based”. For most in the restaurant business this may seem like a “trend” but for those that have chosen this path, it’s an ethical choice, or a whole new way of thinking about our place on the planet as well as our relationship to animals. Given climate change, an epidemic of diet related illnesses and issues relating to exploitation hitting the current social conversation, many consumers are re-thinking their approach to food. Plant-based dining will only grow in the future, as many consumers are now demanding these plant-based options. On November 2, New York City just elected its first “vegan” mayor. Restaurant and pizzeria owners should take note. Will it ever completely replace animal product-based diets? Probably not. But the positives of the plant-based movement are undeniable.
We are going to talk about the best five vegan side items for your pizzeria. Salads are an obvious given so we won’t talk too much about them as they are one of the five vegan sides you should have. There are so many salad combinations. The one thing about salads is you should replace any meat and dairy with their vegan substitutes, such as vegan ranch dressing, vegan Parmesan, vegan bacon and chicken, etc. In 2014, when I started in this business there were pretty much zero options for vegan cheese, meat, sauces and salad dressings. In 2021, it’s very easy to obtain plant-based products for your pizzerias. Contact your food distributor to see what they have with regards to plant-based products.
The first side item I recommend would be a hot vegan meatball sub sandwich. At the 2021 International Pizza Expo, I counted at least eight or nine plant-based booths offering vegan meats and cheeses. One particular both piqued my interest with their jackfruit based vegan meatballs. All that’s required of this side item is a good Italian roll or baguette, the meatballs, pizza sauce and vegan mozz shred and/or Parmesan. The meatballs come frozen and they just need to be heated. Keep the meatballs in a warmer with sauce. Place the meatballs and sauce in the sandwich, add your cheese and then toast the sandwich in your pizza oven on a screen until the bread is lightly toasted. Wrap and roll with foil and the customer now has a delicious sandwich to take with them on the go or to eat in. It’s that simple! I recommend making the hero about eight inches long. However, you could do six inches as well. The most important thing that I cannot stress enough is do not use day-old bread. Always make the sub with bread made that day. Otherwise the bread, even toasted, will be chewy. This is my number one pet peeve when I get a sandwich. Often, I can easily tell that the bread is at least a day old.
The second vegan side item I recommend is vegan hot wings with buffalo sauce and a vegan ranch dipping sauce. These just require defrosting and heating up to order. I don’t recommend trying to make them yourself. There are a few plant-based companies offering these wings. I do recommend making your own vegan buffalo sauce. You can find numerous vegan buffalo sauce recipes online by googling the keywords. Sometimes you can find buffalo sauce in the store or from your supplier that’s vegan as well. Again, just ask your distributor. With the wings offer a side of vegan ranch dipping sauce. This can be purchased or made yourself. I know there are a few companies making vegan ranch. To make your own just combine raw cashews, water, apple cider vinegar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley, chives and dill. Then blend to desired taste and texture.
The third vegan side item is vegan garlic cheesy bread. Just use your existing dough for pizza. Make the disk a little smaller than your normal pizza (so the bread is a little thicker.) Spread olive oil and garlic heavily. Add a little good quality mineral salt. Then add a vegan shredded mozzarella cheese and vegan Parmesan or nutritional yeast. You can use fresh garlic, chopped garlic or even garlic powder. Put lots of cheese on the pizza and then top it off with some chili flakes or chili oil. Bake like a normal pizza (It may take longer). Cut in long rectangular strips. Serve with a side of your red pizza sauce for dipping. Customers love to dip their bread in a marinara sauce.
The fourth vegan side item is roasted green olives. I recommend green castelvetrano olives, but any good quality olive can be used. Do not used canned! Toss olives in olive oil, garlic, salt and red pepper. Roast in your pizza oven in a portioned cast-iron skillet. Make them to order. Have a bigger cast iron pan for multiple orders at once.
Lastly, Salads are always a no brainer but I recommend a vegan kale Caesar. Kale holds up really well and doesn’t get soggy or go bad quickly. First rub the kale lightly with olive oil. Top with sunflower seeds (can be toasted) toss in vegan ranch dressing with added vegan Parmesan and vegan bacon bits. Crutons are optional. This is a simple, healthy, delicious salad that will be really popular.
On a side note. a vegan cookie is also a great option. The best thing to do is find a local vegan baker to buy your cookies. These days there are many vegan bakers with online ordering or with a storefront.
As you can see there are plenty of great plant-based side items you can add to your menu. These items serve a triple purpose. These options provide non-vegan diners with different takes on classics and new flavors and at the same time show your openness and sensitivity to the plant-based market. Lastly, they make you more money and of course we all like money!
Scott Sandler is owner of Pizza Head in St. Louis, Missouri and a frequent speaker at Pizza Expo and Pizza and Pasta Northeast.