How to substitute healthy, colorful vegetables in typical meat-based dishes

Try carrot-parsnip instead of veal, root vegetables instead of beef and red chard ribbons instead of meat sauce pasta.
July 9, 2024
Use differently colored vegetables for a vibrant vegetable carpaccio. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Use differently colored vegetables for a vibrant vegetable carpaccio. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Vegetables (and the fruits that we label “vegetables,” such as the tomato, chile pepper or string bean) are the most diverse foods that we eat.

We eat them as grasses (the seeds of corn, wheat, barley, and oat), as vines (the fruits eggplant, cucumber, zucchini), as seed pods or legumes (pea, peapod, peanut, chickpea, lentil, the bean ad infinitum), as flowers (cauliflower, broccoli, artichoke, nasturtium), as the bulbs of flowers (all the members of the allium family such as garlic and onion), as roots (carrot, beet, turnip, parsnip), as tubers (potato, ginger, taro, sweet potato, yam), as tree fruits (avocado, olive), and as leaves (spinach, lettuce, kale, parsley, cilantro, basil).

More vegetable cookery here: All green foods (originally written for St Patrick’s Day); Ways with Radishes and Beets; All about alliums: Insights and recipes using onions; My most-requested recipe for vegetables, “Long-Cooked Vegetables”; and Ways with Fresh Corn on the Cob.

This diversity of vegetables also makes them super substitutes for other foods that we may wish either to avoid or reduce in our diets such as red meat or carbohydrate-heavy foods like pasta.

I offer three all-vegetable recipes here, two traditionally centered on red meat, and a third mimicking the shape of long-noodle pasta. But they are 100 percent vegetation.

Root Vegetable Carpaccio

The classic Venetian carpaccio came into being in 1950 at the hands of Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy. Legend has it that a loyal patron, Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo, told Cipriani that her doctor recommended she eat more raw meat as a way to boost her red blood count.

Cipriani devised the recipe that we know today as “carpaccio,” named after a Venetian painter of the late 1400s and early 1500s, Vittore Carpaccio, who favored vibrant red color in many of his paintings.

Substituting the raw root vegetables of carrots and beets allows for see-through thin slices in an all-vegetable carpaccio that is also stunningly colored and comely to the eye, perhaps even prettier than Countess Mocenigo’s raw beef carpaccio.

To slice both vegetables and fruits very thinly, for years I’ve used a Japanese-made mandoline from Benriner. The company makes various slicers, in the $30-$50 range. Any of them slices vegetables as thin as you may wish, even close to paper-thin. Among my kitchen gadgets, my Benriner is a favorite and useful in so many other recipes. (For instance, for slicing several onions for a stew or an onion soup, or for constructing a potato gratin or frying homemade potato chips. A straightforward attachment also allows me to julienne vegetables.)

Root Vegetable Carpaccio recipe

Makes 1, serves 2.


1 medium purple carrot

1 medium orange carrot

1 large radish

1 small to medium golden beet

1 small to medium red beet

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground white or black pepper

1 teaspoon walnut oil

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin seeds

1/2 teaspoon sunflower seeds


Peel all the vegetables. (Note: do not cook them; leave them raw.) On a mandoline, slice them as thinly as possible, keeping the red beet slices separated from the rest. Slice the carrots at an angle so that the mandoline renders ovals.

In a large bowl in which you can freely toss the vegetables, add the vinegars and olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove 2 teaspoons of the vinaigrette to a second, smaller bowl and in it marinate the sliced red beets, turning the slices so that they are coated with the vinaigrette.

To the large bowl, add the other sliced vegetables and toss them well to coat with the vinaigrette. Marinate the vegetables in both bowls for 1 hour at room temperature.

To serve, arrange the vegetables from the large bowl onto a large serving plate or platter in any way that you like, scattering the red beet slices just before serving. (This will prevent them from staining everything.)

Over a medium flame, heat the walnut oil in a small skillet and toast the seeds for 3-4 minutes, stirring, being watchful not to burn the seeds which easily and quickly can occur. Scatter the toasted seeds over the root vegetable carpaccio and serve.

Braised carrot and parsnip “osso buco,” served over polenta.
Braised carrot and parsnip “osso buco,” served over polenta. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Carrot and Parsnip ‘Osso Buco’ recipe

Root vegetables are also sturdy enough to braise, the long-cooking method of simmering (usually tough cuts of meat) in a liquid medium such as broth or wine. This root vegetable “osso buco” is a turn on the regular veal shank braise, using the forgiving (and shank-like) carrot and parsnip. To prepare as a strictly vegan dish, simply use a butter substitute. Serves 2-3 as a main meal, 4-6 as a side dish.


1 pound each carrots and parsnips, thick, peeled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or use vegan substitute)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 rib celery, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2-3 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, canned or fresh

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 bouquet garni

2 tablespoons orange zest

2 slices orange

2 cups vegetable stock

For the gremolata:

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced lemon zest

1-2 teaspoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley


Cut the 2 pounds of vegetables into roughly equal-sized large chunks. Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Brown the carrots and parsnips, without crowding, turning them a couple of times, so that as many sides are as well-browned as possible. (You may need to do this in a couple of batches.) Remove and set aside.

Add the onions and celery and brown those as well. Then the tomatoes, seasoning the mix so far with salt and pepper and scraping up the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Toss in the bouquet garni, orange slices and zest and stir to combine. Lightly flatten the tomato mix and top it with the parsnip and carrot chunks. Pour the vegetable stock so that it reaches halfway to 2/3 the way up the sides of the vegetables.

Bring the pot to a boil, lower to a simmer and top with the lid. Cook slowly for 1 hour, stirring the vegetables every 20 minutes. The carrot and parsley chunks should be very tender; the tomatoes and onions, falling apart. If not, cook a bit more.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata by stirring together the minced garlic, lemon zest and parsley. Serve the vegetables as they are, topped with the gremolata, or over polenta, mashed potatoes or steamed bulghur wheat, again garnished with the gremolata.

Ribbons of sautéed chard flavored with garlic and hot pepper. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Ribbons of sautéed chard flavored with garlic and hot pepper. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Chard Ribbons

Unless the chard leaf is very young and small, cooks worldwide need to prepare separately its leaves and stems—perhaps why so many do not and simply pitch the stems. Chard has been called “the chicken of greens” because its two parts, like the fowl’s breast and thigh, need different or varying applications of heat and are difficult to cook simultaneously and together.

But the stems have more “chard-y” flavor than the leaves, so cook them as well. Cleaned and chopped, stem pieces take a mere few minutes more heat, that’s all. They also add a pleasant crunch. No good to toss away all that.

In its leafy “ribbons,” this preparation of chard (sometimes called “Swiss chard”) simulates noodles such as fettuccine or linguine. Adapted from a recipe for Garlicky Swiss Chard in “Vegetables Illustrated” (America’s Test Kitchen, 2019). Serves 4-6 as a side or topping.


10-12 chard leaves and their stems

4 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and slivered or minced

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (Mexican, Urfa, Aleppo, etc.)

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar or 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


Thoroughly wash and shake off excess water from the chard leaves and strip out the stems, either by carefully pulling them as if ripping off the spine of a book or knifing along them on both sides to separate them from the leaves. Chop the stems into 1/2-inch segments, on the bias. Set aside. Stack the leaf halves atop each other and cut diagonally into 1-inch wide strips.

Variously colored chard: from left, white, rainbow and red. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Variously colored chard: from left, white, rainbow and red. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil and, when shimmering, cook the garlic until it is aromatic, about 90 seconds or a bit more.

Stir in the chard stem pieces, lower heat to medium-low, cover and cook until softened, but just so, about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove the stems and garlic and set aside on a warm plate. Add 1 tablespoon more oil to the pot, then stir in the chard ribbons. Cook the ribbons, stirring up and folding over or using tongs, for 3 minutes. (Add a splash of water or apple juice if drying out.) Season liberally with salt and black pepper.

Add back the reserved stem pieces and garlic, the red pepper flakes, the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the rice vinegar or lemon juice and toss everything together to warm. Serve.

With pasta: Cook portions of long-form pasta (bucatini, linguine) and top with servings of the cooked chard.

With beans: Add 1 cup cooked white beans (Great Northern, cannellini) to the cooked chard before serving. Or add the beans and some broth to the cooked chard to fashion a thick vegetable soup.

Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.