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And the winner of the Bull City Vegan Challenge is ...

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The checkered flag has been waved at the Bull City Vegan Challenge, held throughout February to highlight the dairy-, egg- and meat-free possibilities at local restaurants.

The Refectory Cafe won first place for overall dish and most savory dish—see below for the vegan pesto polenta lasagna recipe—as well as a second in the dessert category for its vegan torte.

And the response was so enthusiastic for Dos Perros' vegan chile with pomegranate sauce that the Mexican eatery is offering a new three-course vegan menu each month. In March, those dishes include vegan chalupas (roasted squash chalupa with mushrooms, tomatoes, corn, green beans and onions with chipotle mustard salsa; torta Azteca, composed of roasted eggplant, portabello musrhoom, spinach, garbanzo beans, soy and vegan cheese over lima-bean purée with a red pepper, arbol chile and potato salsa. Dessert is hibiscus sorbet from The Parlour.


The Refectory Café's vegan pesto polenta lasagna

Pesto

Makes roughly a rounded cup

2 cups, washed, loosely packed stemmed fresh basil or spinach

1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts

1/4 cup macadamia nuts

2 cloves fresh garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, as needed

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Himalayan sea salt, to taste

Combine the fresh basil, nuts and garlic in a food processor  and process the mixture until it turns into a coarse meal. Slowly add extra virgin olive oil in a steady drizzle as you pulse the processor on and off. Process until it becomes a smooth, light paste. Add enough olive oil to keep it moist and spreadable. Add lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Season with Himalayan sea salt, to taste.

Cover and store chilled for at least an hour to saturate the flavors. Pour a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil over the top to help keep it bright green.

TIP: Pesto can darken if heated and basil turns black when heated. Add it to hot dishes, like cooked pasta at the very last minute or only use spinach pesto for hot dishes.

Polenta

6 cups of water

Dash of Himalayan sea salt

1 3/4 cups polenta/cornmeal

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

1/2 diced onion

2 Tbsp. garlic

1/2 bunch of parsley

Gently sauté onions, garlic and parsley with 1 Tbsp. coconut oil in a large heavy saucepan. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in the same heavy large saucepan. Add 2 tsps. Himalayan sea salt and 1 Tbsp. coconut oil.

Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low, until the polenta thickens. Stir often.

Turn off heat. Transfer polenta onto cookie/baking sheet and chill to set up. Reheat in oven or pan.

Mixed grilled veggies

1 small zucchini

1 small squash

1 red pepper

1 green pepper

1 small onion

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Dash Himalayan sea salt

Slice veggies longwise, toss with extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar and Himalayan sea salt. Gently grill or sauté.

Plating: Start with a square polenta base and stack the grilled seasonal vegetables, alternating with a smear of pesto. Top with a layer of grilled polenta and grilled red pepper or onion to top it off. Stick in a long toothpick for stability.

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