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Get ready for total taste salvation as you read this interview with chef Ross Olchvary, owner of the gourmet vegan restaurant Sprig & Vine, which opened its doors in New Hope, PA, in 2010 and has been thriving ever since. Upon discovering the heath benefits of a plant-based diet, Olchvary, who has always had a passion for art and music, turned his creative energy toward cooking. Read on for inventive cooking tips (and a delicious recipe!) from this impressive chef.
How do you make a spectacular vegan cream sauce?
Raw cashews are my go-to-ingredient as a base for cream sauce. I soak them in water overnight (or at least for a few hours), then purée them in a blender with enough water to create a smooth, rich cream sauce. To add flavor, I sauté garlic, onion, and fennel in olive oil, add a splash of white wine, and remove from heat; I’ll blend this mixture with the cashews, vegetable stock (instead of water), salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. This sauce is delicious over vegetables or pasta as is or mixed with tomato sauce for a tomato-cream sauce. I also often add cashew cream to puréed soups to make them rich and creamy.
What ingredients do you recommend for adding pizazz to salads?
Here are some ideas:
1. Toss raw seeds or nuts (such as pumpkin seeds, pistachio, or almonds) with a drizzle of oil, salt, a spice (such as curry powder, chinese five-spice powder, smoked paprika, or cayenne), and roast in a 325-degree oven until fragrant and lightly toasted. Let cool, coarsely chop, and sprinkle on salad.
2. Shave raw whole cashews, macadamia nuts, or brazil nuts with a microplane over a salad before serving for a great presentation and a mouthfeel that is reminiscent of grated cheese.
3. Make kale chips by tossing raw kale with a light coating of olive oil and a pinch of salt, then roasting in a 300 degree oven until crispy. Let cool, then crumble chips on top of a salad.
4. Use a mandoline slicer to quickly and evenly slice fruits and vegetables paper-thin. I like to use thinly sliced radish, cucumber, zucchini, apple, pear, red onion, beet, or carrot to top salads.
What is the most satisfying aspect of running a restaurant?
Running a restaurant requires a lot of work and long hours, but it’s worth it to see guests really enjoying themselves and to know that hundreds of people per week are eating vegan meals at Sprig & Vine, when many of them might not be eating vegan if we were not here.
Try this tasty starter from Sprig & Vine’s kitchen:
Za’atar-Grilled Oyster Mushrooms
This popular small plate has been on Sprig & Vine’s menu since we opened. This recipe makes a small portion for 1 to 2 people and yields leftover spice blend for future use. Look for larger oyster mushrooms so that they will be easier to grill and will not fall through grill grates. Don’t skip the sumac in the recipe; it’s essential, and can be ordered online if you cannot find it in a store. You can save the mushroom stems and use them in homemade vegetable stock.
7 oz. oyster mushrooms, stems removed (3 cups)
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. Za’atar (recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs. sumac
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. white sesame seeds
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried marjoram (can substitute additional 1 tsp. each thyme and oregano)
2 tsp. granulated garlic
1. To make Za’atar: Mix Za’atar ingredients together in bowl.
2. To make Mushrooms: Preheat an outdoor grill to it’s hottest setting or an indoor grill pan on medium-high heat. Toss mushrooms with oil, Za’atar, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium mixing bowl until evenly coated. Using tongs, place mushrooms on grill, and grill on each side until tender and slightly charred.