Even five years ago, practicing a plant-based diet in Tulsa meant doing a lot of cooking and meal planning at home.
It’s one reason Robert Stuart III — a vegetarian — was motivated to open Chimera, his Brady Arts District cafe, with a focus on vegetarian and vegan dishes with a few meat options on the side.
“There were only a few family-run operations (serving vegetarian options),” he said. “When we opened, we kind of flipped the tables by serving a menu with plant-based, nutrient-dense dishes.”
Rather than serving variations of salads that some restaurants point to as their vegetarian options, he pulled from his own knowledge of using grains, beans and alternative meats to incorporate protein and healthy calories into the meals served at Chimera Cafe, 212 N. Main St. The menu includes tempeh, tofurky, faurizo and various beans or nuts to provide necessary nutrients used to fuel the body in the absence of traditional proteins found in meat, fish and poultry.
Since opening Chimera in 2012 and serving a menu catering to those alternative diets and lifestyles, Stuart said people seem to have a more open mind to vegan and vegetarian food.
He referenced a customer who would order breakfast tacos with bacon and then one day decided to try a vegetarian taco and became a fan. That customer still eats bacon, but anytime he visits Chimera, he orders the vegetarian tacos.
“He was hooked,” Stuart said. “He still eats bacon breakfast tacos at other places, but he orders the vegetarian option here.”
Moments like that have been the most fun for the restaurant. Customers who are not practicing vegans or vegetarians have been able to satisfy their curiosity about the dishes. He said that small step of trying it for the first time can lead to bigger steps down the road — changing diets, buying from local growers and becoming more aware of one’s carbon footprint.
“That’s what it’s all about for me,” he said. The cafe takes pride in sourcing ingredients — from the bison to the eggs and produce — for its menu from local businesses and producers. “That translates to the customers.”
The image of only eating salads or leafy vegetables has now been replaced with other ingredients like root vegetables, hearty squash and exotic fruits. Grocery stores have a wider selection of produce, including organic and local produce, which means vegetarians and vegans aren’t locked into just eating salads all the time.
When Stuart made the change to the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle about 15 years ago, he was living in Southern California, where his friends were interested in the practice. It was easy there.
And now the availability of products has grown and it’s easier than ever, especially in Tulsa, he said.
Chimera uses this alternative spread on a variety of sandwiches.
1½ cups cashews
5 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
½ cup fresh water
¼ teaspoon salt
1. Blend until smooth in blender or food processor. Keep in fridge for up to 7 days. It will thicken slightly once cooled.
— Recipe from Chimera Café
CASHEW SOUR CREAM SAUCE
This sour cream sauce is made with cashews and almond milk. It is soy-free and gluten-free and can be used in any recipe calling for sour cream.
Makes about ⅔ cup
⅓ cup raw cashew pieces
¼ cup plain unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon sea salt
1. Combine the cashews with enough water to cover in a small saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Set aside for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse. Transfer the cashews to a small blender. Add the milk, lemon juice and salt. Blend until it is as smooth as possible. If not using right away, transfer to an airtight container and keep refrigerated.
— Recipe by Zsu Dever, “Vegan Bowls”
TOMATO BLACK BEAN SOUP (Sopa Tarasca)
This soup, named after the Tarascos people of Michoacán, is a soulful blend of black beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes and chiles. Like many of the best Mexican soups, it’s comfort food that can easily be upgraded with a variety of garnishes. If you want to kick up the heat, add a small handful of chiles de árbol to the mix. — Jason Wyrick
Makes 6 servings
3 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
1½ cups water
3 cloves garlic
½ medium white onion, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons corn oil
4 cups cooked black beans, puréed
2½ cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt
Fried ancho chile strips
Tortilla chips or strips
Chopped ripe Hass avocado
Vegan sour cream, whipped vigorously
1. In a 3-quart pot, combine the tomatoes, ancho and water, and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Transfer the tomatoes, ancho and water to a blender and wipe out the pot. Add the garlic and onion to a blender and purée until smooth. (Press the purée through a strainer if you want it completely smooth.)
2. Add the oil to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the purée and cook for about 5 minutes, slowly stirring. Reduce the heat to medium and add the puréed beans, vegetable broth and salt. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes. Add liquid if necessary to ensure the soup is creamy but not incredibly thick. Serve with any or all of the garnishes.
— Recipe by Jason Wyrick, “Vegan Mexico”/Vegan Heritage Press
PIRATE TACOS (Tacos Piratas)
These tacos are from Monterrey and proudly show their northern heritage, much like their sister taco, the taco gringa, fashioned from flour tortillas and melted cheese. They’re most commonly served after hours, intended to quell the late-night munchies after a night of bar hopping and cervezas. — Jason Wyrick
Makes 4 tacos
1 tablespoon corn or olive oil
2 large portobello mushrooms, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped into 1-inch pieces, or 2 cups meatless strips
1 poblano chile, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup shredded vegan white cheese
4 (5 to 6-inch) flour tortillas, brushed with oil on one side
1 ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 small white onion, minced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges, for serving
Salsa of your choice, for serving
1. Heat a large skillet at just above medium heat, then add the oil. Add the mushrooms (or meatless strips), poblano, salt and pepper, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. While the mushroom mixture is cooking, heat a griddle over medium heat. Spread the vegan cheese on each tortilla on the unbrushed side, then divide the mushroom filling among the 4 tortillas. Add the avocado, onion and cilantro, and fold the tortillas in half. Lay them on the griddle and cook until browned. Flip the tortillas and repeat. Serve with lime wedges and salsa.
— Recipe by Jason Wyrick, “Vegan Mexico”/Vegan Heritage Press