02/18/2013 10:37 am ET Updated Apr 20, 2013

Meatless Monday: South Beach Wine and Food Festival Puts Meatless on the Menu

Since it began 12 years, South Beach Wine and Food Festival has always been about extravagance, excess and, for the most part, meat. There's no veggie burgers at the signature Burger Bash. This year's Carnivorous Dinner with Michael Symon is not designed to attract the meatless crowd. And yet this time for the first year ever, SOBEWFF is offering meatless diners a seat at the table. It's featuring a vegetarian dinner prepared by culinary great Nobu. And it's sold out.

Nobu Masuhisa is best known and beloved as a sushi chef. It's been his passion since his first meal in a sushi restaurant as a child. He began cheffing in the opulent eighties and was named one of America's 10 best new chefs by Food & Wine in 1989. Now chef and owner of more than 25 restaurants around the world, Nobu brings the same skill and respect to vegetables he gives to sushi. "Many people prefer eating vegetable dishes," he says. He finds diners today show a greater interest in what they eat than when he first began cooking. They care about how it's sourced, what ingredients a dish comprises. And vegetarian food is no longer frowned on in fine dining establishments.

Recipes for his vegetarian dinner come from "Nobu's Vegetarian Cookbook," which came out just last year. It's a visual stunner, as befits a chef with the soul of an artist. His food is elegant, exquisite to the eye. Nobu prizes his dishes' visuals, but they delight the mouth as well. They also surprise.

Nobu slices vegetables with the surgical precision of kaiseki ryori, Japan's own haute cuisine, but he's no snob. Nobu has a wistful fondness for the homely turnip. "I remember the Japanese turnips made by my mother," he says. He also remembers the intense salty kick of pickled vegetables, served at most Japanese meals.

Nobu's food combines the clean, spare flavors of his birthplace, Japan, with a Latin influence gleaned from his time in Peru (not to mention South Florida). He is open to all the flavors of the world, influenced by "my international staff -- chefs from Italy, France, Latin and other Asian countries. I learned a lot from them." His restaurants serve a perfect example of fusion cuisine, mozzarella cheese tofu. Nobu grew up eating tofu and loves it, but he realizes it can still be a hard sell for Americans. Cooking tofu "with other ingredients -- tomato or miso," makes it delicious and more familiar for Western diners, something even tofu newbies can wrap their mouths around.

He couples a refined style with a simple culinary philosophy. "If you are not happy, the food tastes bad. I always put my heart into my food. I hope people eat my food and be happy."

Chances are the SOBEWFF guests at his sold-out vegetarian dinner will leave pretty happy. It shows meatless is more mainstream than ever and when it's prepared by a culinary legend, it's a reason for celebration. So is Nobu, who is being honored this Saturday at SOBEWFF tribute dinner. But Thursday night, he makes a meatless dinner for a hundred guests.

If you can't be among them, "Try to cook with all the different ingredients." In other words, approach food the way Nobu does. Bring everything to the table. Except meat.

Colorful Ceviche

from "Nobu's Vegetarian Cookbook"

Much of what makes Nobu's cuisine so appealing is the elegant display. This requires prep work and perhaps more time than the average hungry cook may be willing to invest at the end of a busy day. Happily, there's exceptions like this citrus-sparked vegetable ceviche. It's fishless and fantastic.

8 ounces fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, purple or sweets onion, red turnip, and myoga ginger buds. Persimmon can be added when available.
1/3 ounce cilantro leaves, 2/3 of leaves roughly chopped, and the rest finely minced
2 tablespoons ceviche sauce (recipe below)
Micro greens for topping

Cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces. Some vegetables need to be blanched until tender but crisp, such as asparagus, okra, and cauliflower.

Combine minced cilantro leaves with the ceviche sauce in a large bowl, add chopped cilantro and vegetable pieces, and toss.

Arrange on plate and top with the micro greens.

Serves 2.

Ceviche Sauce

4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons yuzu juice *
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspooon finely grated garlic
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon aji Amarillo paste **

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until well combined.

* Fragrant Asian citrus that looks like a small, puckery grapefruit, with notes of grapefruit and tangerine. If unanavailable, substitute a teaspoon each grapefruit juice and tangerine or orange juice.
** A spicy yellow pepper paste, available in many ethnic markets and gourmet stores.