A Conversation with S+P Plant Based Foods
Shelby is the friend who shows up to a dinner party and unloads a tote bag full of mysterious ball jars. A massive wooden cutting board appears from nowhere and the jars contents - creamy cheeses, blended veggies dips and a literal rainbow of snacks - are artfully placed on top. Turns out, the creamy 'cheese' is actually a cashew dip and suddenly you realize you've been conned into enjoying (and actually loving) a vegan 'charcuterie' board.
She's been playing this trick on friends and family for years, so when Shelby stepped away from her full time gig, we all knew creative foods were in her future. Partnering with her sister-in-law, Payson, has allowed for endless recipe testing, pop-up events and now a pre-made take out menu filled with pantry staples and frozen plant based meals. They're working out of Fork Food Lab in Portland, Maine and have already made a mark on the Maine food scene. Big things are in the works for S+P Plant Based Foods!
What’s your plant based story?
Payson: I attended the world fair expo in Milan, Italy in 2015. The theme for the fair was "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" and was based on climate change, water shortages and long-term projections. After I came home, I did extensive research, learning about the impact of animal agriculture on climate change and subsequently the treatment of animals. A little over three years ago (after many failed attempts) I officially plunged into full time veganism.
I love eating a vegan diet; it has made me a more creative cook. Now, I eat a wider variety of foods and feel the best I ever have – mentally and physically. I recommend anyone interested in veganism listen to the Plant Proof Podcast for scientifical nutritional info or watch documentaries like Dominion, What the Health or Cowspiracy. My number one word of advice is: Go slow! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and remember to experiment in the kitchen
Shelby: I’ve had a dairy allergy my entire life, so reading product labels and paying attention to how food is prepared is just a part of my day-to-day existence. A few years ago, I started Googling ingredients that I knew were dairy-free, but I didn’t know what they were. Additives, preservatives, and other stuff you realize you just shouldn’t be eating are really in EVERYTHING! This natural curiosity about how food is prepared made me want to eat cleaner.
It was a slow transition to get my diet to where it is today! It’s not easy to cut staples from your diet all at once. I always “warn” people that one day you find yourself planning just one plant-based meal a week, quickly that will become one plant-based meal a day until suddenly you realize you are rarely eating animal products at all! I’m so excited watching the plant-based market explode with healthy and convenient options for people looking to switch up their diets. These will for sure make transitioning easier than ever!
How did S+P Plant Based Cooking come to be?
We started making nutritious and delicious vegan foods for our friends and family. Those meals evolved into our sold-out pop-up vegan dinners in midcoast Maine. When COVID-19 hit we evaluated our priorities and realized a restaurant wasn’t in the cards for the time being. However, we saw a growing demand for delicious vegan meals and researched alternative business models. Now, we offer take away meals as S+P Foods out of Fork Food Labs in Portland, Maine. Once outdoor dining weather hits, we will resume pop up events.
What are your pantry staples?
Our pantry is full of herbs and spices, both fresh and dried. (We always keep fresh herbs on the windowsill and top everything with them!) If you can, get your hands on some microgreens! They look beautiful on a plate and are packed with vitamins.
We especially love to have a variety of umami additions: Mushroom powders (or dried mushrooms you can grind up), miso, nutritional yeast, vegan fish sauce, dried seaweed, coconut aminos, and apple cider vinegar. These are great flavor bombs for people transitioning to plant-based meals or if you are looking to kick up your vegetable game.
Agar powder - A vegetarian substitute for gelatin
Variety of oils - Extra virgin olive, avocado, toasted sesame, refined coconut oil
Raw nuts and seeds - Cashews are extremely creamy when blended and are extremely versatile (puree with a bit of water to make a cream you can thicken soups with, create a cashew milk that froths amazingly, or look up some cashew based raw-cheesecake recipes). Hemp hearts and chia are a great addition to smoothies, granolas, or salads to boost the nutritional value (both contain all of the essential amino acids).
Egg replacer - There are many brands on the market that work seamlessly in baking recipes, and if you can’t find them you can use ground flaxseed with water to substitute. Also we are in love with using aquafaba-- it works as a baking egg replacer and creates a truly beautiful meringue without any trace of beany-ness.
Lentils – They’re packed with protein and fiber and are extremely easy to cook! We love to use them in pasta sauce, curries or served cold with salad dressing.
How has your approach to cooking changed since going plant based?
The biggest change is our pantry and fridge often look out of control! We keep so many ingredients on hand. We enjoy making things from scratch, including “milks” and “cheeses”. Our minds have opened to what constitutes a typical “meal” and our plates are now filled with a rainbow of plants and are packed with flavor and nutrition. It seems constraining to cut out things you grew up eating and cooking, but our experience is that there are actually SO MANY things you get to cook with!
Hands down the best appliance in our kitchens is the Vitamix blender. If you don’t have one, you probably think you can’t live without it, but once you have one you won’t be able to! Other than that, we’re pretty basic-- a sharp knife and a cutting board (bonus– you only need one, no cross contamination to worry about!).
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about plant based eating?
The biggest misconceptions are that your food is going to be boring, flavorless, not nutritious enough (“did you get enough protein?”), or that you’ll be hungry all the time!
We have found literally zero of these things to be true.
What’d you have for dinner last night?
Vegan Khao Soi, a new recipe from Food52. We changed it up by adding a couple extra veggies from our fridge and topped with peanuts, fresh herbs, and chili crunch sauce.
You’re currently offering frozen pickup meals in Portland and Damariscotta. What’s next for S+P?
We are working on a vegan crema product that we hope to bring to grocery stores in the coming months! It’s an awesome substitute for sour cream but is extremely versatile for vegan cooking. We’re also looking forward to being able to create and host events and private dinners this summer with a focus on using local and seasonal produce.
Create S+P plant-based food at home with these recipes!
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All photos provided by S+P Plant Based Foods