Chef Allen Susser, the culinary force behind the Café at Books & Books, wants to introduce you to Latin cuisine as you’ve never had it: sin carne — without the meat.
That means no churrasco, lechon, ropa vieja, carne asada, palomillo steak or Argentine beef. What’s left? A bounty of fresh, local produce. Welcome to Monday night farm dinners at the Café at the Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd.
Every Monday in July, Susser takes whatever just-picked summer produce the local farmers bring to market that day and incorporates it into a unique menu (Monday was Portugal, next week is Mexico).
He still creates the bold flavors he’s been known for since his seminal restaurant, Chef Allen’s, but here, he does it beeflessly.
Summer’s harvest is adorned with fresh herbs and warming spices, enhanced with whole grains or beans and given some luscious textural treatment. Sometimes he builds flavor and richness with cheese, but he’s just as likely to do it using local tropical fruits. This is something Susser knows more than a little about.
Back in the ’80s, Susser was part of the Mango Gang, a bunch of local upstart chefs that included Norman Van Aken, Douglas Rodriguez and Mark Millitello. By putting our tropical flavors and produce front and center, they put South Florida on the culinary map.
Susser’s also the author of the oldie-but-goodie guide, The Great Citrus Book. Fast forward a decade or two and his love for local produce hasn’t waned.
In between farm dinner courses, the chef introduces producers like LNB Grovestand and Urban Oasis Project, growing the okra, eggplant, sweet peppers and jackfruit that might make up your meal. You get to know your farmers, your farmers get to know you, too. Susser invites guests to stand, introduce themselves and tell everyone their favorite vegetable (Susser’s is spinach).
Dinners are communal and convivial, served family-style and under the stars. It all adds up to a multicourse meal with so much style and substance, you’ll never miss the meat.
Many vegetables, mucho gusto.
Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.” On Twitter: @edgyveggie1.
If you go
Chef Allen Susser’s Farm Dinner Series focuses on the following countries:
Mexico, July 13.
Brazil, July 20.
Peru, July 27.
Dinners start at 6:30 p.m. and cost $25 ($36 with wine pairings). Call 786-405-1745 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve.
Black Bean Hummus
Black beans and orange oil give this Middle Eastern classic a Latin accent. The result is a silky, smooth hummus that’s as much at home with tortillas as it is with pita. Try it in a whole grain wrap with spinach, Susser’s favorite vegetable. Serves 6.
2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespooons orange oil (see note)
Freshly ground black pepper
In a food processor, puree the black beans, chickpeas, tahini, garlic, salt, cumin, cayenne, cilantro, lemon juice and orange oil. Whiz together for a minute or two or until smooth. To serve, drizzle a little more orange oil on top, if desired and top with freshly ground pepper.
Note: To make orange oil, cut the rind of a Florida orange into 1/2 strips and place in a large glass jar with 2 cups canola or other neutral oil. Cover and leave at room temperature for at least two days for flavor to develop. Keep covered until ready to use; orange oil keeps for up to 3 months.
Source: Recipe adapted from “The Great Citrus Book: A Guide With Recipes,” copyright Allen Susser (Ten Speed Press).