Green Zebra- Chicago, Vegetarian, and Pretty Good

Our first night in Chicago was the only night we had dinner reservations. In the weeks before our trip, all of the menus we looked at looked good, but it was clear vegetarian fare was an afterthought of almost every chef in town. I insisted that we dine somewhere Sean could order more than one or two things off of the menu, and he suggested Green Zebra, a restaurant he has a fond memory of visiting in the past with his sister.

Green Zebra is a vegetarian fine dining establishment that’s been open since 2004 and the chef/owner Shawn McClain won a James Beard award in 2006 for Best Chef Midwest. There’s a very calm, clean feel to the place, and we enjoyed a really nice, relaxing dinner.

We started with some drinks, of course. I ordered a Michigan cider, he ordered a glass of bubbly, and then a pint… par for the course.

Vander Mill Cider

I’m a huge fan of quality cider, and would LOVE to see even more of it on menus everywhere.  When done well, cider isn’t a sickly sweet slightly carbonated beverage. It can be a lower alcohol effervescent refreshing experience. Vander Mill Cider, on the menu at Green Zebra, is a nice, sessionable cider.

Our first dish was a Grilled Werp Farm Gem Salad with breakfast radishes, green almonds, and an onion vinaigrette.

Grilled Werp Farm Gem Salad

It was delicious. But, we had one tiny little fourth of a head of gem lettuce on our plate, served over arugula, which essentially represented 75% of the greens on the plate. Disappointing at the time, it became a topic of conversation over our similarly priced, yet 100% true to its name, gem salad the following afternoon at The Publican.

Next in line came Hen of the Woods Mushroom Pâté served with rhubarb compote, bread and butter fennel pickles, and bread.

mushroom pate

I’m not a fan of pate, so I wasn’t really interested in ordering this, but it turned out quite pleasing. He, on the other hand, really really liked this dish, so I feel comfortable saying this was a successful appetizer.

We decided to order a bottle of wine while enjoying the first two dishes. Then ordered the Burratta all Panna which was one of my favorite cheeses over freekeh tabbouleh, preserved lemon, Calabrian chilies, and grilled frisée. This was very nice.

Buratta

Our fourth dish was a taste of Black Bean Potstickers with orange suprême and shoestring carrots in a peanut-tamarind sauce.

Black Bean Potstickers

This was a good dish we enjoyed and almost didn’t want it to disappear from our table. I could have popped those little potstickers in my mouth all night.

Next came Creamy White Corn Polenta with garlic scapes, roasted cippolini onions, and kohlrabi salsa verde.

Creamy White Corn Polenta

All I can say is: dangerously good. There was a substantial amount of cream or cheese or both in this polenta to make it so amazingly delectable. I had to leave some of it in the dish just to cut the guilt of so much travel-eating going on this weekend.

Our last “dinner” plate was the Culver Farm Duck Egg with smoked potato purée, parsley, and sourdough bread.

Culver Farm Duck Egg

I must admit, I was disappointed with this dish. We both expected the duck egg to be a bit more runny, especially since the menu was clearly highlighting a local duck egg. The flavors were good and the parsley leaf pressed into paper-thin potato slices was a nice artistic touch, but for $12.50, I do expect the local duck egg to be treated like the royalty it is.

Our last dish was not just a disappointment- it was so memorable of a food experience I think we’ll refer to it for a while now. We ordered a cheese plate, which we almost always prefer to a sweet dessert. Our server was unsure which cheeses were on the plate, so she stumbled a bit before checking with the chef. When she returned with news of a goat, a cow, and an aged cheese, we said, yes, please.

cheese plate

The cheese platter was well presented, and the jams/chutney paired very well. But, our aged cheese was running like a river overflowing its banks out of the center. It was either too old, or too warm, both of which were disappointing for a place that should be on point from start to finish.

Overall, we had a pretty good dinner at Green Zebra. I’m glad to see a vegetarian restaurant in business so many years. It was full of guests when we were there, and I met a couple ladies in the restroom who weren’t vegetarians but were having a great time. So, they’re doing something right.

Green Zebra

1460 West Chicago Ave

312-243-7100

Mushrooms and Bok Choy in Black Garlic Sauce

I am finding uses for the Korean Aged Black Garlic I recently bought. It has a very unique flavor that pairs well with mushrooms and soy sauce for a complete umami experience. Have you tried cooking with black garlic yet? I don’t know a lot about it, but I’m interested in finding some new flavor combinations to play around with.

For this dish, I coarsely chopped some black garlic. You’ll see for yourself upon handling black garlic that it is easier to give it a coarse chop than a fine mince. It is very soft, yet not as soft as roasted garlic. It’s interesting. I like it. It is also black… very black.
I had some of my favorite mushrooms on hand- Hazel Dell, of course. I sliced up some cinnamon cap, cremini, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms, as well as some bok choy I received from my CSA with Ollin Farms.
This side dish is very simple to make.
Heat up a pan with 1/2 TB peanut oil and 1/2 TB butter. When this is hot, add your mushrooms and get them going. After a few minutes when they start to almost stick to the pan, add a TB of soy sauce, some chopped black garlic, and give it a stir.
After a few more minutes, add the chopped bok choy and 1/3 cup or so of white wine to get a little sauce going.
When the bok choy is bright green, it’s done. I sprinkled some toasted sesame seeds on top.
I kept this really simple for three reasons. 1) I wanted to taste the black garlic. 2) the mushrooms and bok choy were super fresh, so I wanted to allow their flavors to show through without added spice. I just might change that if I make this again without farm-fresh foods. 3) I served it with my super flavorful Best Grilled Shrimp.

Tempeh Burgers with Crabapple Mushroom Sauce

Well, Ollin Farms never disappoints! They have crabapples, which I find pretty cool. I picked some up at the market and headed over to my friend Chad at Hazel Dell and asked for mushrooms for a crabapple sauté.

Chad recommended a 1/2 pound mixed bag of small cremini and shiitake mushrooms. Chad knows best…
I got them home and had a plan: Tempeh burgers topped with a crabapple mushroom sauce. Perfect.
I got started on my tempeh burgers and made them according to my recipe. Then, I assembled the crabapple mushroom sauce.
First I sauteed 1/2 of a local sweet yellow onion in 1 TB olive oil and 1 TB butter until they started to turn golden brown.
Next, I added the mushrooms, which I had sliced, and let them start to cook on medium-high for 10 minutes or so in the butter-olive oil mixture until they were nice and soft. I added a little sea salt, tossed them a bit, and added 3 crabapples, chopped into small chunks.
After adding the crabapples, lower the heat to medium. The apples will start to release juice and make a crabapple-mushroom gravy-sauce.
I made some quick vegetarian maple beer baked beans, grilled a zucchini and yellow squash, grilled some tempeh burgers, and topped them with shaved parmesan and my crabapple-mushroom sauce.
Delicious.

Turkey Burger

Turkey burgers are a great way for the carnivore in this house and the mostly vegetarian (me) to compromise. I do enjoy turkey, especially over the last year or so. It has good flavor, and something about it does not trigger the gag reflex so many vegetarians talk about when they smell raw meats. So, I’ve come to like turkey and I’m trying to find good ways to prepare it.
This was my first try at a turkey burger and it turned out great.

I bought one pound of ground turkey thigh at Whole Foods. I put it in a big bowl and added:
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • some scallions, sliced
  • 1 TB Worcestershire
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • some Urfa pepper flakes from Savory Spice Shop (use red pepper flakes if you don’t have the kind I used)
  • a splash of Harry’s Habanero, from the Boulder Hot Sauce Company
  • 3 TB of crumbled feta
Mix this all by hand, form some patties, and grill for 6-8 minutes or so on each side (my burger was approximately 1 inch thick). Make sure they are cooked to a safe temperature of 165 in the middle before taking your first bite. Remember to always be careful with poultry.
I put mine on a small ciabatta bun I picked up at Whole Foods, and topped it with some local lettuce from Munson Farms, and a simple mushroom sauté of a medley of little mushrooms I picked up from Hazel Dell that I sauteed in butter, garlic, and sea salt. Those little mushrooms really didn’t need any special treatment since they were so flavorful on their own… but I do apologize for not recalling which shrooms made it into the mix.
In the end, it turned out to be a tasty burger.
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