Isa’s Chickpea Schnitzel v. Ratner’s Vegetable Cutlets

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I made the highly praised recipe for chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon.  When I told my husband I made vegetarian cutlets, he said “Vegetable cutlets? Like from Ratner’s? Oh, good–I haven’t had those in years!”

He was a bit let down when I explained that the chickpea cutlets were more like schnitzel: crunchy on the outside like fried chicken and chewy on the inside like seitan. Not at all like the Ratner’s cutlets. So, I told him I would make the Ratner’s cutlets, too.

The vegetable cutlets from the long gone Ratner’s restaurant were basically crustless potato knishes dotted with little bits of vegetables. The restaurant used to serve them smothered in mushroom gravy.

Haute cuisine they are not, but as retro comfort food they have a lot going for them. In fact, the Ratner’s vegetable cutlet has a bit of current pop culture cachet thanks to a brief cameo in Mad Men (see also here).

Ratner’s Vegetable Cutlets represent an earlier era in American Jewish cuisine, an era in which Lou G. Seigal’s (see also this) represented the pinnacle of fine kosher dining and casual kosher dairy restaurants were places like Ratner’s on the Lower East Side, Gross’s in Midtown (where Mr. Broadway is now) and Famous’s Dairy Restauant on the Upper West Side.

There is a recipe for the vegetable cutlets in the Ratner’s cookbook, but I had to tweak it a bit to make them more as a I remembered. Adding a pinch of poultry seasoning gives the cutlets a taste a bit like stuffing, which I rather like. The tomato sauce recipe is nothing like what I remembered, so I went with a recipe for mushroom gravy loosely adapted from Crazy Sexy Kitchen.

Tonight we will have a throwdown: retro Jewish vegetarian chow v. modernishe vegan fare.

Isa’s Chickpea Schnitzel
Adapted from Isa Chandra Moscowitz’s Chickpea Cutlets, PPK and Veganomicon. These are a good substitute for the vegetarian “chicken” nuggets in the freezer section of the supermarket. In addition to being easy to make, this vegetarian schnitzel has no highly processed soy products in it. Bear in mind that the appearance and texture of the schnitzel is different from the frozen “chicken” nuggets. The schnitzel’s interior is tan and chewy and the exterior is extremely crunchy.

1 cup cooked chickpeas, or half the chickpeas in a 14.5 ounce can (5 ounces*)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs (can  use pulverized pretzels if you don’t have bread crumbs)
1/4 cup vegetable broth or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced, optional
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
cornflake crumbs, for coating the cutlets
Olive oil for pan frying
Put the chickpeas in a mixing bowl and mash them. You don’t need to make a smooth puree, just a coarse mash with no whole beans. Mash in the olive oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix everything together well to make a dough. Knead the dough well for 3 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, with strings of gluten.
The original recipe calls for dividing the mixture into 4 cutlets (6″x4″), but I divided the dough into 8 pieces to make smaller, thinner cutlets. (Update: this will also make 12-15 oval nuggets, each about 1/4″-1/2″ thick and about 1″ wide and 1 1/2″ long)
The original recipe does not call for coating the cutlets in crumbs, but I pressed the cutlets into cornflake crumbs to completely coat them.
At this point, you have two choices for cooking the cutlets: baking or frying. If you want to fry, heat a heavy skillet with oil and fry the cutlets for 7 minutes on each side, or until browned and firm. If you want to bake them (which uses less oil), place them on a baking sheet and spray each side of the cutlets generously with baking spray. Bake for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees, flipping about halfway through.
When the cutlets are done, they will be golden brown and crispy on the outside, firm to the touch, and chewy on the inside. They remind me of fried chicken (the crunchy skin) or the crust of homemade onion rings.

* I weighed the contents of a 14.5 ounce can of chickpeas and found that there is about 5 ounces of liquid and  about10 ounces of chickpeas. So half the chickpeas in the can weigh about 5 ounces.
Ratner’s Vegetable Cutlets
Adapted from The World-Famous Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook. Makes 4 cutlets. This is a third of the original recipe. The cookbook offers a recipe for a tomato mushroom sauce, but I recall the cutlets being served with a mushroom gravy. This is basically a crustless potato knish with diced vegetables mixed in. I haven’t tried making this without the egg, but I think you can–you might need to add a couple of Tbl. of water if the mixture is too dry and you would also need to spay the cutlets with oil to make sure that they brown properly.
1 onion, chopped (5-6 ounces)
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbl. olive oil for sauteing onion and mushrooms
10 ounces mashed potato (1 potato, boiled and mashed or 1 1/3 cups instant potato flakes and 1 cup boiling water)
10 ounces of frozen mixed vegetable (peas, carrots, string beans)
1/3 cup matzoh meal
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten (see note above if you want to leave this out)
1/8 tsp. poultry seasoning (optional, but good)
salt, pepper, to taste
Saute onion, garlic and mushroom in oil or butter until onions are golden.
In a bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, the sauteed onions and mushroom, and the mixed vegetables. Adjust the flavor with the salt, pepper and some poultry seasoning. Add the matzoh meal, bread crumbs and egg (reserve a Tbl. of the beaten egg for glazing the cutlets).
Shape the mixture into 4 thick burgers (these are the “cutlets”). Place the cutlets on a non-stick foil lined baking sheet. Glaze the cutlets with the reserved Tbl. of beaten egg. Bake the cutlets at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and heated through.
Serve hot with mushroom gravy.

Mushroom Gravy
Adapted loosely from Crazy Sexy Kitchen.

2 onions, chopped (Or 1 large onion)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 Tbl. olive oil
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup Sherry, Marsala or Madeira
3 cups broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or 1 Tbl. fresh
2 Tbl. soy sauce
1 Tbl. nutritional yeast, optional
2-4 Tbl. flour (the lesser amount makes a thinner, more elegant sauce; the larger amount makes a thick sauce that is more what I remember being served with the cutlet)
salt, pepper, to taste

In a skillet, saute onion and garlic in oil until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushroom have released their liquid and it has cook down. The mushroom and onions should ideally being starting to stick to the pan so that you can deglaze the pan (dissolve the caramelized gunk sticking to the pan) with the Marsala. If there is nothing sticking to the pan but the vegetables are well cooked, just add the Marsala anyway and cook until the alcohol has mostly evaporated.

Add the broth and thyme and bring to a simmer.

Combine the flour, soy sauce (and nutritional yeast, if using it) to make a slurry (sludge-ey mixture). Whisk the slurry into the simmer mushroom mixture. Keep stirring until the mushroom mixture thickens. Adjust seasoning.

If the sauce is too thick, you can thin it with a little broth or water. If it is too thin, add a little more flour (make another slurry with water instead of soy sauce). The sauce will thicken as it cools. When you reheat this (if you make this ahead), you might need to thin it a bit.

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2 Responses to “Isa’s Chickpea Schnitzel v. Ratner’s Vegetable Cutlets”

  1. Leora Says:

    “Ratner’s Vegetable Cutlets” – thinking maybe my daughter would like these. I suppose if she does not, her father and brother will eat them.

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