The Vegetarian & Vegan Guide to Nebraska

Nebraska, often referred to as the “Cornhusker State,” is a tapestry of sprawling plains, rich agricultural heritage, and vibrant cities like Omaha, Lincoln, and Grand Island. Historically, its culinary identity has been deeply rooted in hearty Midwestern fare, with regional specialties like the meat-filled Runza, the deep-fried cheese frenchee, and the savory dilly casserole bread.

Yet, as the winds of change sweep across the American culinary landscape, Nebraska is no exception. The state is witnessing a burgeoning vegan movement, with innovative chefs and restaurateurs reimagining its traditional dishes to cater to a growing community of plant-based enthusiasts. This guide aims to navigate you through Nebraska’s vegan transformation, showcasing how the state’s classic flavors are being reinvented without compromising their authentic essence. Whether you’re wandering through the bustling streets of Omaha or exploring the quieter corners of Kearney, Nebraska promises a vegan culinary adventure that pays homage to its rich gastronomic legacy.

The Cheese Frenchee

Vegetarian, but not vegan. 

Emerging from the heart of Nebraska, the Cheese Frenchee stands as a culinary curiosity, a testament to the American love for comfort food. At its essence, the Cheese Frenchee is a cheese sandwich, but not just any cheese sandwich: this dish takes the humble grilled cheese to new heights.

The sandwich, filled with American cheese and the tangy touch of Miracle Whip on white bread, is cut into triangles. It’s then dipped in a rich mixture of eggs and milk, rolled meticulously in Ritz cracker crumbs, and deep-fried to a crispy, golden perfection. The result? A delightful fusion of creamy cheese, crunchy exterior, and a hint of tanginess.

The Cheese Frenchee’s origin story is as intriguing as its taste. It’s believed to have been birthed in the 1960s by the drive-in restaurant chain, King’s Food Host. Described by some as a grilled cheese that’s been transformed by the “State-Fair-Machine,” this dish encapsulates indulgence. And if that wasn’t enough, imagine pairing this deep-fried wonder with a side of onion rings, as was reportedly the tradition at King’s Food Host.

Although King’s Food Host is now gone, you’ll find the Cheese Frenchee at both Don & Millie’s outlets and Amigos/Kings Classic outlets throughout Nebraska.

The Runza

Vegetarian options sometimes available. 

The Runza, a cherished specialty of Nebraska, is a testament to the state’s rich culinary tapestry, blending European influences with Midwestern traditions. At its core, the Runza is a savory sandwich crafted from yeast dough bread, filled with a mixture of beef, cabbage, onions, and a medley of seasonings. While its form can vary, ranging from triangles to half-moons, the quintessential Nebraskan Runza proudly boasts a rectangular shape, setting it apart from its counterparts.

Tracing its origins, the Runza sandwich is believed to have German and Russian ancestry, with its roots dating back to the 18th century. This age-old recipe journeyed across continents, finding its way to the American Midwest, where it became a staple lunch for hardworking field laborers.

For those seeking plant-based alternatives, Runza, a chain with the same name as the sandwich, has previously offered vegetarian versions like the Vegetarian and Southwest Black Bean Runza. Unfortunately, these don’t seem to be a regular feature on their menu.

Dilly Casserole Bread

Vegetarian, but not vegan. 

Hailing from the quaint town of Crab Orchard, Nebraska, the Dilly Casserole Bread stands as a cherished emblem of American baking traditions. With its roots tracing back to the 1960s, this bread is not just a delightful concoction of flavors and textures but also a testament to the creativity of home bakers. In fact, its timeless appeal was recognized in 1960 when it clinched a prize at the Pillsbury Bake-off, cementing its place in culinary history.

The making of Dilly Casserole Bread is a harmonious blend of ingredients and techniques. At its heart is cottage cheese, which is mashed and melded with water, sugar, grated onions, and butter. As this mixture warms, an egg is whisked in, ensuring a rich, cohesive base. The dry ingredients—flour, yeast, dill, salt, and baking soda—are then introduced, resulting in a dough that’s fragrant with the distinct aroma of dill. After a patient wait for the dough to rise and double, it’s baked to a golden perfection. The final touch is a brush of butter and dill, infusing the bread with an added layer of flavor. Once cooled, the bread is traditionally cut into wedges, ready to be savored.

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