Native Foods Washington D.C. Video Contest Winners!

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In the spirit of our new D.C. area vegan restaurant opening next week in Falls Church, Virginia (WOOHOO!!) we wanted to give a little shout out to some of our most passionate, loyal and creative guests EVER– all of our winners from the Native Foods D.C. Grand Opening Video Contest!! Your entries were seriously above and beyond what we expected…from hilarious to touching to just plain wacky! Thank you again to all of our winners and to anyone who submitted an entry. Today’s post is for all of YOU!

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I Think….Therefore I Cook….

Chef Susen A. Hunter

Native Foods Cafe


People often ask me how I come up with recipes so I thought I would take a minute to explain the “process” for me.   The explanation is that there is NO process.  I can find inspiration in a variety of ways –  from tweaking an existing recipe or using a “new” spice, to having a visual in my head and trying to create it, or even just thinking ”what if I…..”.   I LOVE the “what if” game!

There is nothing I find more refreshing than having 3-5 days with nothing do to but be creative in the kitchen.  I may start out with tweaking a recipe only to think of additional new recipes or methods that I want to try.  Or, I may have a theme in mind and try to brainstorm new ways to present foods/flavor profiles that represent that theme. 

I love it when I’m creating new foods and I have a few friends available to try what I’m making…then I don’t have to constantly eat/taste everything myself!!!  I love getting instant feedback during the creation process because it helps me narrow down the precise amounts of ingredients – most usually the spices and salt content. 

I try never to google any of my ideas before I try them….that way I know my recipes are original and I haven’t been subliminally influenced by some other recipe.  Overall, I rely on my decades of cooking/baking/creating experience to guide me in my inspiration. 

I can tell you that as a chef, there is a great feeling of accomplishment when hundreds of people have tried your food and have responded positively.  That, for me, is why I love doing cooking demos for the public…that sense that I shared a unique recipe and the members of the audience love enough to go home and make it.  How cool is that?

Here is a recent creation!




1 C of Black Forbidden Rice – Steamed/cooked according to instructions

1 C of Black Beans from can – rinsed/drained

1 C of Black Lentils – Steamed/cooked according to instructions

1 TSP Better Than Bullion Vegetable base dissolved in 8 oz water

1 TSP Adobo seasoning

½ TSP Chipotle seasoning +/- by taste

1 C of baked sweet potato – cubed

½ C carrot – diced fine

¼ C orange pepper – diced fine

Vegan Butter- approx. 1 TBS

Pinch of garlic powder, pinch of onion powder, pinch of sea salt


In a large skillet over medium heat, add the water/veggie base and adobo and chipotle seasoning.  Stir and add in the rice, beans, and lentils stirring to get the flavoring distributed evenly.

In a separate skillet, melt the butter over low heat and toss in the sweet potato, carrot and pepper.  Sprinkle with onion powder, garlic powder, and a pinch of salt.  Stir gently over low heat for about 3minutes then gently fold into the beans/rice/lentils in the larger skillet.  Serve with a dollop of chipotle mayo.


Optional — Carve orange peppers into Jack-O-Lanterns, rub with EVOO, and stuff with pilaf.  Place in covered baking dish and bake in oven on 350⁰ for about 25 minutes



Vegan Recipe: Chile Rellenos Stuffed with Vegetable Estofado and Lime Crema

By Alex Placencia

Executive Chef

Native Foods Cafe

Chile rellenos is one of my favorites.  A traditional Mexican dish, it gained popularity during the period of Lent, in which Catholics would not eat meat on Fridays.  I have made a vegan version here that is pretty amazing.  Also fun for summertime not only because of the lime crema sauce, but you can prep the peppers on a grill!  (Which vegans just don’t get to do enough of in the summer).  I hope you enjoy!

Chile Rellenos Stuffed with Vegetable Estofado and Lime Crema

Zucchini, Diced                                                                        1 Count

Yellow Squash, Diced                                                                1 Count

Yellow Onion, Diced                                                                 1 Count

Mushrooms, Diced                                                                     2 Cups

Potato, Peeled and Diced                                                          1 Count

Garlic, Chopped                                                                        1 Tbs

Fresh Cilatntro, Chopped                                                           2 Tbs

Vegan Cheese, Shredded                                                          ½ Cup

Salt and Pepper                                                                       To Taste

Olive Oil                                                                                  1 Tbs


1)     On a grill or gas stove top, place poblano peppers and to cook for about 1 minute on each side, until the skin gets charred and blistered.

2)     Place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let cool.

3)     In a sautee pan over medium heat, place the potatoes and ¼ tbs of garlic and ¼ tbs of oil in and cook until they start to brown.

4)     While the potatoes are browning, you can start to peel the peppers.  Place under cool water and just slide and pull the skin off with your fingers

5)     After the potatoes are soft and browned, remove and place in a large mixing bowl.

6)     Over medium heat, cook the onions ¼ tbs of garlic and ¼ tbs of oil and cook until they become translucent.  Remove and place in the mixing bowl.

7)     Repeat with the squash and zucchini ¼ tbs of garlic and ¼ tbs of oil.  Remove when cooked and place in bowl.

8)     Repeat with the mushrooms ¼ tbs of garlic and ¼ tbs of oil and add to the mixing bowl.

9)     Toss all veggies and mix with cheese and 2 Tbs of cilantro

10)  Slice the top of one of the peppers lengthwise and carefully sever the seed sac from the stem without breaking apart the pepper.

11)  Stuff the peppers with the vegetable cheese mix

12)  Place the stuffed pepper on a plate, (maybe with some refried beans on the bottom!) and drizzle with the lime crema.  Garnish with cilantro if you like, and ENJOY!


Lime Crema

Veganaise                                                            ½ Cup

Lime Juice                                                          ½ Count

Salt                                                                        Pinch

1)     Place veganaise, lime juice, and salt in a small bowl and mix well.



Vegan Recipe: Singapore Cucumber Salad

By Steve Petusevsky

Director of Culinary Innovation

Native Foods Cafe

Singapore Cucumber Salad 

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I’ve been seeing seedless mini cucumbers everywhere lately. They are also called Persian cucumbers. Feel free to substitute Kirby cucumbers in the same quantity. Mirin (rice wine), sriracha sauce and sambal oelek or chili paste with garlic can be found in Asian markets and some supermarkets.

• 6 mini seedless cucumbers or 1 large seedless cucumber, thinly sliced on the bias


• 12 red, yellow or orange mini-bell peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced or 1 / 2 yellow bell pepper   and 1 / 2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced


• 1 / 2 cup thin-sliced red onions


• 1 navel orange, peeled, halved and thinly sliced


• 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari


• 2 tablespoons mirin


• 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar


• 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce 


• 2 teaspoons brown or black sesame seeds


Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and allow to sit 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

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Going Dairy Free is a Piece of (vegan) Cake!

By Kelly Behr 

Native Foods Cafe 


I work most of our store openings. This allows me the opportunity to chat with our guests all over the country. This is an excellent time for me to really get to know our guests and to talk to them more about our menu & plant-based eating. I hear a lot about how our food is fantastic but, “I could never go fully vegan.”  I usually tell them that if it something you want to do, it has become increasingly easier over the years. The mere fact that mainstream super markets are carrying a lot of the alternatives makes it way easier for vegan newbies. I have been doing it for so long that I forget that some people do not know about the alternatives that really make for a smooth transition to plant based eating. 


In fact one of my friends just discovered that her daughter has a severe dairy allergy and was bummed out thinking about all the things she was going to miss. She came to me for advice and have no fear…your dairy-free alternatives are here!


I have made a list that many of you probably use on a daily basis but for people here to see if a vegan diet can work for them I offer you these…not only are they excellent alternatives but they allow making recipes vegan a piece of (vegan) cake!


1.)  Earth Balance

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This is a staple in most grocery stores now and I truly believe people buy it without even knowing there are no cows involved.


2.)  Tofutti Cream Cheese


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This is my saving grace come holiday time when I make all the appetizers. My family members have no idea that the spinach-artichoke dip contains no dairy.


3.)  Veganiese, Earth Balance and Mayo


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These mayo substitutions have the same taste and consistency of the real thing without all that saturated fat! Better yet, they make for excellent homemade ranch dressing. A girl in Portland worked for Mayo and gave me three bottles of their new flavors to try…I was stoked!


4.)  Tofutti Sour Cream

 Is your taco salad lacking a certain white substance? Well, here is a solution for you! It also cooks well in any recipe that calls for the real thing.


5.)  Ice Cream: soy, almond or coconut milk based…choose your favorite!


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This is what my friend was the most upset about, he daughter LOVES ice cream. I told her about these great options and created a very happy momma and child.


So, these are just a few of the very basic ingredients we have come to rely on in our cooking. But, as you can see, you do not have to go without. I always tell people do your research and you will be amazed at all the things you can still eat. And when you are not in the mood to do the cooking, we at Native Foods will take care of that for you! 

Why Cows are Awesome!

By Kelly Behr 

Native Foods Cafe

In preparation in doing some rad things with Farm Sanctuary I was able to take a tour of the location in Acton, CA, about an hour outside of LA. They gave me a private tour which means tons of one on one time with the animals, which for me, was the best day ever! 

My first and favorite group of animals was the cows. I love cows for many reasons. They are large, magnificent animals that are the so gentle and affectionate. I met the group of steers who have made farm sanctuary their beloved home, free from the threat of becoming someone's dinner.  


I bonded with a cow named William and had a baby steer follow me all the way down the hill when we were leaving…. mooing at us, it was the sweetest thing ever. 


What makes cows so cool? Here are some other fun facts: 

  1. Cows are social animals, and they naturally form large herds. And like people, they will make friends and bond to some herd members, while avoiding others
  2. Cows can hear lower and higher frequencies better than humans.
  3. An average dairy cow weighs about 1,200 pounds.
  4. The average cow chews at least 50 times per minute.
  5. The typical cow stands up and sits down about 14 times a day.
  6. An average cow has more than 40,000 jaw movements in a day.
  7. Cows actually do not bite grass; instead they curl their tongue around it.
  8. Cows have almost total 360-degree panoramic vision.
  9. Cows have a single stomach, but four different digestive compartments.
  10. Cows are pregnant for 9 months just like people
  11. Cows spend 8 hours per day eating, 8 hours chewing her cud (regurgitated, partially digested food), and 8 hours sleeping
  12. You can lead a cow upstairs, but not downstairs. Cows knees can’t bend properly to walk downstairs.
  13. Cows can’t vomit


I think if my living conditions allowed I would have a pet cow, but for now my cat will remain an only child in my Chicago apartment. And in case you were not convinced that cows are one of the coolest creatures around….maybe buzz feed can help!




Running on Fumes: Reasons not to watch the Kentucky Derby this weekend


By Sammy Caiola

 Native Foods Cafe

The annual Kentucky Derby thoroughbred race is sometimes referred to as “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” for its approximate duration and level of energy. But for the horses on the roster, the two minutes on the track are just a fraction of the hours, months and sometimes years of pain endured in preparation for the brutal race.


This Saturday marks the 140th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, which takes place each year at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. Novelized by wide-brimmed sun hats and trackside mint juleps, the Derby has long been considered a staple of the southern bourgeois. But Derby viewers, be they gamblers or casual attendees, are not simply watching a race- they’re enabling animal cruelty to a criminal degree.


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Just last month, champion racehorse trainer Steve Asmussen came under fire from media and gaming officials for rule and drug violations and severe mistreatment of his horses. Officials immediately removed Asmussen’s name from the Hall of Fame ballot and are currently conducting an investigation into allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).


This is immediately following the release of PETA's 9- 1/2 minute documentary, "Horse Racing Exposed: Drugs and Death", which they published after a multi-month investigation of Asmussen's training methods at Churchill Downs and in Saratoga. A PETA activist working as a training assistant brought a hidden camera into the stables and recorded Asmussen verbally and physically abusing the horses, including his star horse and derby contender Tapiture, who was "constantly getting injections of all kinds," said the activist.


Studies estimate that three thoroughbreds die every day in North America as a result of overtraining, performance enhancing drugs, neglected injuries or just plain slaughters. Horse's legs and ankles are not designed to support their 1,000 pound bodies at high speeds for long durations, so snapped tendons and hairline fractures are common. Injuries of this kind often go undetected until the horse shows a decline in performance, at which point the damage can be irreparable or very expensive to repair. Rather than pay the price, many trainers find a way to mask the injuries with drugs or, in the worst cases, dispose of decommissioned racers.


Horses have become a priced commodity in American culture, and once they lose their ability to turn a profit, they lose their right to live. And in order to keep them profitable trainers resort to unregulated drugs such as Lasix, which controls bleeding in the lungs, cortiscosteroids for pain and inflammation and, in one case, ecstasy. As John Scheinman of The Washington Post wrote in 2003, “Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible,”


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Fortunately, steps are being taken. In a recent Interview with Newsday, PETA vice president Kathy Guillermo urged the need for more stringent drug regulations and improved course conditions. PETA is currently asking the Jockey Club to adopt a fee structure that would provide pillow money to help retire horses in pastures rather than slaughter them.

In reality, ending horse racing is not a possibility due to the thriving culture surrounding the race, particularly in the south. All we can do for now is discourage friends and family from patronizing such a culture, and support organizations like PETA who are attempting to give voice to the voiceless.


Elephants Escape from Circus Like A Real Life Jumanji

by Kelly Behr

Remember this movie with Robin Williams about a board game gone array? 




Well something a little less dramatic happened right outside my hometown of St. Louis, MO. The event occurred when the Moolah circus was in town last week. Below is the story from ABC news. 




This brings up the obvious issue of the circus itself. I remember attending the circus as a kid. You marvel at seeing large majestic creatures doing tricks you never thought were possible. Here you see clowns riding small bikes, elephants balancing on balls and tigers jumping through hoops. As a child you munch on your popcorn and peanuts and never give thought to how this might not be the best life for these animals. Touring from town to town in small cramped spaces in a total unnatural environment, forced to do tricks for our entertainment or risk punishment is not the picture the circus industry wants to paint. But sadly, the circus is not a joyous place for the animals involved. 

I am sure everyone who has visited a Native Foods has noticed we love elephants and we have them all over our restaurant. Our elephant has become one of our mascots. He is seen surfing in Encinitas, riding a bike to the farmer's market in Costa Mesa, canoeing in Denver and is even at the World's Fair in Hyde Park. We use the elephant as an example that you can be big and strong by eating a plant based diet, after all they are the world's largest vegan. 


Native Foods Cafe: Glendale, CO

We take our love for elephants and animals in general one step further. We are committed to supporting groups who advocate for animal welfare. One of the groups we have worked with over the years is PAWS.

PAWS or The Performing Animal Welfare Society captive wildlife sanctuary is a place where abandoned, abused, or retired performing animals and victims of the exotic animal trade can live in peace and dignity. For more than twenty years PAWS has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue and provide appropriate, humane sanctuary for animals who have been the victims of the exotic and performing animal trades. PAWS investigates reports of abused performing and exotic animals, documents cruelty and assists in investigations and prosecutions by regulatory agencies to alleviate the suffering of captive wildlife.


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We like to see elephants enjoying life like in the above photograph, with PAWS founder Pat Derby who was a former Hollywood animal trainer.
Circuses have gotten a bad rap over the years, but they rightfully should. Animals are wonderful creatures that we can learn from and about. However, there are many different ways to expose our children to these wonderful creatures, not just showing them doing silly tricks that do nothing to represent their species. 

Vegan Recipe: Jicama Pineapple Escabeche

By Steve Petusevsky

Director of Culinary Innovation

Native Foods Cafe

From the tiny beachfront fishing village of Sayulitas, along the  warm Mexican Riviera in the Nayarit  region of Mexico, comes this  unusual recipe for marinated jicama and pineapple. It was so refreshing and juicy yet spicy. Escabeche can be served as an appetizer or salad, but any way you serve it, a fiesta for your taste buds is inevitable.


Jicama Pineapple Escabeche

Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 small jicama, peeled and cut into ½ inch sticks

½ small pineapple, peeled and cut into ½ inch sticks

Chili powder, to taste

2 tablespoons Cilantro, minced

3 tablespoons scallions, minced

¼  teaspoon salt

1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

In a medium bowl, toss the jicama with the chili powder, scallions and salt. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the top. Makes 4 servings.