Chef Sara’s Raw Vegan Academy & Café
6602 E. Cave Creek Road
Chef/owner Sara Siso is on a crusade. With what she calls the first 100 percent raw, vegan, organic, gluten-free, soy-free, low-glycemic, nightshade-free and correct-food academy, restaurant and store in the world, she is spreading the word on the food principles she says saved her from cervical cancer in 1997. Fortunately, her message is a tasty one.
Sink your teeth into coconut-shiitake ravioli stuffed with snow peas, zucchini, garlic, hazelnuts and yacón (a South American tuber), plus a flurry of herbs finished in a touch of olive oil and Himalayan pink salt. Thai curry over kelp noodles is well spiced with ginger and lemongrass and silky from coconut butter, while a “pizza” arrives loaded with Peruvian olives, jalapeño, yacón syrup, Brazil nuts, arugula, spinach, broccoli sprouts and herbs.
Even desserts shine, such as an admirably satisfying tiramisu that starts with Medjool dates, then brightens with vanilla, creamy coconut butter, almond and yacón syrup, plus a touch of crunchy macadamia nuts and sweet coconut nectar.
Blue Nile Café
933 E. University Drive Tempe
On the surface this tiny, colorful eatery is Ethiopian. Owner Abel Meja came to the Valley from Africa, and he entices with authentic vegetarian edibles, but also serves up meaty plates such as spicy shrimp watt, chicken tibs and beef zegeney stew. But on Sundays and Mondays the menu focuses on raw fare.
The lineup changes weekly, but one favorite is a tasty raw rendition of palak paneer, the velvety spinach kicked up with Indian spices, garlic, herbs and cashews, to be scooped with vegetable “crackers.” Delightfully fiery curried carrot soup is sweetened with butternut squash and apple, a zucchini “pasta” is draped in creamy cashew Alfredo zinged with olive-caper tapenade, and if you’ve never tried mulberries, give it a go here, where the sugary fruit is tossed in a pretty green and red cabbage coleslaw bound in Asian dressing.
In Ethiopian style, you can eat with your hands while you sit at one of the low-slung tables, pulling apart and popping in your mouth the most extraordinarily tempting “cinnamon rolls” of figs, nuts and dates sandwiched with raw chocolate.
Meja offers a weekly boxed raw meal package, too, including ingredients from his favorite purveyor, organic-raw specialist Keba Farms of Hidden Valley.
6140 W. Chandler Blvd., Chandler
The sign may say “juices, smoothies, tea,” but step inside and discover a wonderland of vegetarian, vegan and raw temptations.
Owner Sasha Raj doesn’t even have a stove – for non-raw dishes she uses a rice cooker – but no one will miss the heat. Diners nervous about going raw can ease into it with familiar snacks such as the “Raw-ky Road,” made of soaked organic oats, apples, dried cherries, sesame seeds, almonds, flax meal, chia seeds, spices, bananas and almond milk.
Raj recently hired two new chefs to focus on frequently changing raw recipes, such as a chile-spiked papaya noodle bowl of seasonal organic veggies and kale in a ginger lime-miso dressing, or coconut curry spring rolls of garden-fresh organic veggies, coconut spice dressing and peanuts, wrapped in rice paper and served on crisp organic greens.
“It’s about enjoying food in its purest form,” Raj says. “The trick is squeezing out texture and flavor.”
Anyone still not convinced need only try her “Rawkn’ Roll,” an addictive nibble of crunchy vegetable, smooth avocado and nut pâté bundled in crisp vegan nori seaweed, kissed with searing wasabi and dunked in ginger miso sauce.
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