Harvest Dinner, Vegan Style

The season's freshest offerings create a fine-dining food and wine experience with nature's bounty all around (and on the plates)

Vegan Wine Pairing, Harvest-Style

Most of us understand that white wines typically go with chicken and fish dishes and reds pair well with beef entrees. But what about the rise in plant-based diets and people wanting vegan meals? What do you serve with this cuisine, and how do you elevate meat-free and dairy-free foods to the fine-dining, wine-pairing level?

vegan wine pairing

Guests Su Barry, Rosa Lo and Layne Beaubien chat and take in the view.

Enter Anna Keeve, the founder and creator behind PlantBased Pop-Up, a local company marrying vegan cuisine and wine in the form of pop-up dinners at area restaurants such as Herb & Wood, Jayne’s Gastropub, Cucina Enoteca and Coasterra. “We’re conditioned to think of wine pairings in terms of meat and cheese complements,” she notes. “The purpose of these dinners is to provide the fine-dining aspect and help people rethink wine and food pairings.”

vegan wine pairing anna keeve plantbased pop up

Anna Keeve, founder of PlantBased Pop-Up, relaxes with guests before dinner.

To help us get a better feel for one of these pop-up meals, Anna partnered with Robert Gaffney, the vegan executive chef at Oceanside’s Bagby Beer Company; and Taylor Sorenson and Ryan Scott, the vineyard manager and winemaker respectively, at Jack Simon Vineyards, to host an innovative and elegant fete at the Jack Simon Vineyards in Valley Center.

vegan wine pairing plant based pop up table setting tablescape place setting jack simon vineyards vegan dinner

Anna kept the decor simple, using placemats instead of a runner and filling vases with seasonal blooms from Jack Simon Vineyards.

Jump to the recipes.

The Setting

The dirt road that leads to Jack Simon Vineyards ends on top of a hill with views of rolling hills and lush vines—and some newly planted ones still wearing blue tubes to protect them from pests and hungry critters—all around.

vegan wine pairing dinner

Taylor Sorenson and guests sample the evening’s first pour, the 2018 Rosado No. 1.

Atop a wooden picnic table sit a trio of white geometric vases filled with cuttings from the vineyard—drought-tolerant flowers grow wherever vines can’t on the property. The ‘Safari Sunset’ leucadendron, protea and rice flowers create an autumnal bouquet in each of the vases and buckets that decorate the space. Anna wanted the table to have a minimalist art deco feel so she ordered fabric and sewed 16-by-16-inch napkins herself. The napkin rings are plastic shower-curtain rings she spray-painted gold. 

vegan wine pairing

The guests toast.

The bar just behind the dinner table is set with glasses for eight, and as each guest arrives, they’re handed a glass of 2018 Rosado No. 1. “Without a food pairing, it provides a nice, light, bright start,” Ryan explains.

vegan wine pairing outdoor dinner popup jack simon vineyard

On the bar, Anna mimicked the table’s arrangements. The wine glasses wait patiently for the first pours.

The Food

As the friends, acquaintances and strangers mingle and take in the view, chef Robert and his son and assistant for the night, Porter, work—without a kitchen but with water and electricity—to cook the components Robert prepped earlier and sealed in Cryovac food storage bags in a thermal circulator, which uses water to cook and hold food at the perfect temperature before serving.

vegan wine pairing dinner

Chef Robert Gaffney and Porter—his son and assistant for the evening—turn the smoked-beet hummus appetizer into individual works of art on each plate.

On the menu: a smoked-beet hummus served with crudités, Szechuan eggplant over jasmine rice gnocchi and chocolate cake with a dollop of salted bourbon ice cream (find all of his recipes on the pages that follow). “I like to push the envelope with vegetables and flavors,” Robert says. “Vegetables can take so many forms—maybe you turn it into a foam or something with a fruit-rollup texture. I like to play and add some whimsy to the dishes I create.”

The Wine

The evening’s first pour of 2018 Rosado No. 1.

Deconstructing the food narrative and the formulaic meat-and-wine pairings, Ryan explains that there are really two ways to successfully pair wines with food. One involves matching notes and flavors. “If there’s lemon in the food, you find a wine with a more pronounced lemon character,” he says. Or contrast the flavors for a more complex experience. “I always tell people to plan their food first, then their wine selections,” he adds.

With vegetable-based dishes, Ryan suggests thinking less about the veggie and more about the spice profile. And following his advice, you can either match the spices or go in the opposite direction to exaggerate the flavors. For this party, Ryan did both. He served a wine with citrus notes to mingle with the smokiness of the beets, introduced a wine with tropical hints to cut through the spice of the eggplant dish and complemented the berries in the dessert with a fruitier wine.

TIP: We asked Ryan to help us deconstruct wine profiles and give us some easy tips on how to taste and fully experience wine. Read the primer here to learn how to get the most out of a tasting and feel like a pro.

vegan wine pairing

Taylor Sorenson (in black) laughs with boyfriend Brian Pendleton (foreground) and winemaker Ryan Scott before dinner.

The Recipes (and Wine Pairings)

Smoked-Beet Hummus

Serves 8

1 large red beet (about 12 ounces)
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained but liquid reserved
1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1-2 lemons)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
Fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped for garnish

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Pierce the beet in several places with the tip of a sharp knife, wrap it completely in aluminum foil and place it on a baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 1 hour. (If you have a smoker, smoke for 15 minutes.) Set aside until cool to the touch.

Peel the beet and cut it into large chunks. Place it in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add all ingredients except the cilantro. Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until a paste forms. With the machine running, slowly pour in between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of the reserved chickpea liquid and continue processing until the mixture is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and season with more lemon juice or salt as needed. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

TIP: In the version that Robert plated for this dinner, he nestled mini veggies, slices of radish, lettuce leaves and beet chips into the hummus and served it with warm naan (recipe follows). “You can honestly serve this with anything—vegetables, pita, chips, crackers, whatever you like,” he says.

Wine pairing: Ryan poured the 2018 Picardan to taste with the first course. “The picardan has a lemon and melon character on it, which gives a bit of complexity and mingles well with the smoky beets,” he says.


Serves 8

3/4 cup warm water (it should be about 110°F)
1 tsp. active yeast (if using fast-acting yeast, cut rise time in half)
1 tsp. organic cane sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (sub up to 1/2 with spelt or see tip for whole-grain blend), plus more for kneading
1 tsp. fine sea salt, plus more for serving
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. plain dairy-free yogurt (coconut is best—try COYO brand)
2 Tbsp. olive or avocado oil, plus more for working with dough
3 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
1/4 tsp. dried cilantro (optional), plus more for garnish if using
Vegan butter or coconut oil for serving

Add yeast and sugar to warm water. Stir and set aside until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, add flour (with or without spelt), salt and baking powder to a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Once the yeast mixture is foaming, add the vegan yogurt and oil and stir to combine. Add to dry ingredients and use a fork to mix—the dough will be sticky.

Turn onto a floured surface and add just enough flour to gently knead for 5 turns and form into a loose ball. Place back in the mixing bowl and rub with a bit more oil and turn to coat. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm place for at least 2 hours (up to 4 hours)

Remove dough from bowl and turn onto a floured surface. Knead for 30 seconds (adding additional flour if sticky). Then divide into 8 even pieces with hands or a knife.

Lightly knead each ball until it forms a loose ball (15 seconds) and set on a clean surface. Repeat until all dough is formed into balls. Then cover with plastic wrap again and let rest for 10 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, begin heating a cast-iron pan (not non-stick) over medium heat. Take a piece of dough and lay it on a floured surface. Then roll out into an oval or circle with a rolling pin. Carefully flip over and pat the dough with a bit of water so it doesn’t stick to the pan. At this time, press the garlic and cilantro (if using) onto the wet side so it sticks. Then place the wet-side down on the hot pan.

Cook for 1 minute or until the edges of the dough look dry and it’s beginning to bubble. Then flip the dough with a spatula and cook until the underside is brown.

Brush with melted vegan butter or coconut oil and sprinkle with sea salt and cilantro if using.

TIP: To help dough rise, Robert likes to set it in a sunny spot in the kitchen or in the laundry room.

TIP: A good whole-grain flour blend can be substituted for the unbleached all-purpose flour. To make, combine 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup spelt flour, 1/3 cup oat flour and 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot starch.

Jasmine Rice Gnocchi

Serves 8

2 2/3 cups water
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice
1/4 cup fresh ginger, sliced
1 (3-inch) stalk lemongrass, halved lengthwise
3/4 cup sweet rice flour (mochiko), plus more for rolling
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup canola oil, divided use

Combine the water, rice, ginger and lemongrass in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 35 minutes. Discard the ginger and lemongrass.

To prepare gnocchi, transfer the hot rice to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the rice flour and salt and beat on medium speed until the mixture begins to clump and come together as a sticky dough. Transfer the dough to a cutting board lightly dusted with rice flour. Shape into a 10-by-4-inch rectangle about 1-inch thick. Using a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut the dough crosswise into 1-inch strips. Dust your hands lightly with rice flour and roll each strip into a 6-inch-long log about 1-inch wide. Cut the logs into 1-inch pieces. Place the gnocchi on a baking sheet lightly dusted with rice flour.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the canola oil in the skillet over medium heat. Cook half the gnocchi, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining oil and gnocchi. Serve with Szechuan Eggplant (recipe follows).

Szechuan Eggplant

Serves 8

For the sauce

1 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari (if gluten free)
1 Tbsp. black vinegar or malt/balsamic vinegar if black vinegar is unavailable
1 Tbsp. shaohsing cooking wine or dry sherry if shaohsing is unavailable
1 Tbsp. chili bean paste or 1 tsp. chili flakes or 1-2 Tbsp. hot chili sauce if gluten free
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup water

For the eggplant

2 Tbsp. cooking oil, plus more for frying the eggplant skins
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 large Chinese eggplant, peeled and chopped into large chunks; reserve the skins for garnish
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns, ground
Sambal oil for garnish

Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. 

Heat the cooking oil and sesame oil in a wok or large frypan over medium heat.

Add the eggplant to the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring and turning often, until golden brown and cooked through. 

Toss in the ginger, garlic and Szechuan peppercorns and cook for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. 

Pour the sauce over the eggplant and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick, glossy and coats the eggplant evenly.

Thinly slice the eggplant skins and submerge them in cooking oil. Once crispy, remove from oil, let cool and pat dry with a paper towel.

To plate, put some of the eggplant mixture on top of some of the gnocchi. Place a few crispy eggplant skins on top of that and dot the plate with a bit of sambal oil.

Wine pairing: Ryan opened the 2018 Albariño for this spicy dish. “There’s a tropical peach character and a lime vibe with an herbaceous note and tomato leaf that come out well with the Szechuan flavor,” he explains.

Chocolate Beet Cake with Raspberry Sauce

Serves 6

For the cake

1 1/3 cups raw beet, peeled and grated
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup sunflower-seed meal (blitz 1/2 cup of seeds in a food processor until they become the consistency of almond meal)
1/2 cup brown sugar, plus 1 Tbsp. if you prefer sweeter
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup dairy-free milk
1/2 cup cacao or cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup olive oil
A pinch of sea salt

For the chocolate sauce

1/2 cup water
2 TBsp. maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
a Pinch of sea salt
2 tbsp. vegan bittersweet/dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

For the raspberry sauce

1 1/2 lbs. fresh raspberries
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp. water, or as needed
1 tsp. lemon juice, or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 320°F and grease a six-count jumbo muffin pan.

Place all the cake ingredients in a large bowl and mix until just combined. Spoon evenly among the greased muffin tins. 

Bake for 20-23 minutes or until cooked through (a skewer placed in the center of one of the cakes should come out clean).

Remove the cakes from the oven, let them cool for 5 minutes, take them out of the muffin tin and let them cool completely.

One the cakes are cool, bring the water, maple syrup, cocoa powder and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk to combine. Reduce heat slightly and cook on a rolling simmer for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened. Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate and vanilla and pour over the cooled cake.

Add the raspberry sauce ingredients to a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes, then strain. 

If serving with the Salted Bourbon Ice Cream (recipe follows), set out for 10 minutes before serving, add raspberry sauce and ice cream on the side of the chocolate-covered cake.

Wine pairing: Ryan served a 2018 Grenache Rosado blend that he conceived with the dessert course. “Chocolate can sometimes be aggressive. This is a mid-body red with a cherry character and some cinnamon notes, so it goes well with the chocolate,” he says.

Salted Bourbon Ice Cream

Serves 8

1 1/2 cups raw cashews (soaked overnight, or for at least 6 hours, then drained)
1 cup bourbon
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
4 Tbsp. unsweetened almond milk
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
3 Tbsp. coconut oil (melted)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp. arrowroot starch 

The night before, place your ice cream-churning bowl in the freezer.

Pour the bourbon and sugar into a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and swirl—DON’T stir—until a bubbly caramel forms. Remove from the heat and immediately add the almond milk and sea salt, and stir. Let it cool.

Put the coconut milk, oil, vanilla and nectar in a blender and liquify until smooth and creamy with no chunks.

Add the starch and HALF the bourbon-caramel reduction and blend again. Chill the remaining caramel.

Place the mixture in the ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions..

Stir in chilled caramel so there’s a swirl.

Transfer to a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Set out for 10 minutes before serving, add raspberry sauce and ice cream on the side of the chocolate-covered cake.

Cheese, Please

vegan cheese board reine cheese

A vegan cheese board. Photo courtesy of Reine Royal Vegan Cuisine.

Though this dinner didn’t include a cheese board, Anna Keeve, founder of PlantBased Pop-Up, usually serves one at the vegan parties she hosts at home. She loves the offerings from Reine Royal Vegan Cuisine. You can find these nut-based cheeses locally at Mission Square Market as well as veganessentials.com, mylkguys.com and billionvegans.com.

Get on the Taste Maker List

  • Want an invite to a PlantBased Pop-Up event? Subscribe at plantbasedpopup.org, and you’ll receive a text message two weeks before an event with details and a link to buy tickets.
  • By early 2020, you’ll be able to sample Jack Simon Vineyards wines at their tasting room in Carlsbad. Until then, sign up for their wine-club parties and purchase bottles through jacksimonvineyard.com.

3 Wine Tasting Tips

We asked Ryan Scott, winemaker for Jack Simon Vineyards for some easy wine tasting tricks to deconstruct wine flavor profiles. Look like a pro at your next tasting or wine pairing dinner!

Categories: Entertaining, Food & Drink, Recipe Top Story