Pasta, covered in mild, creamy alfredo sauce is a familiar and comforting dish for many. But what if the cream, butter and cheese, the very ingredients that make the sauce so silky-smooth and moreish, were swapped with a vegan alternative? Weighing our options at Nut and Bowls cafe, where the alfredo sauce is made with cashew nuts, we decided it was a small risk to take, since these are among the fattiest of all nuts and, by our logic, most likely to produce the creamiest sauce. As it turns out, our Penne in Alfredo Sauce wasn’t a bad choice. The sauce turned out to be creamy and, unlike the original sauce made with dairy, didn’t leave us with a heavy feeling in the gut. But was it moreish? Not enough, was our judgement. After all, there’s a reason why so many people, especially in India, find it so hard to give up dairy. This, despite vegans crying hoarse for years about the evils of the dairy industry and the harm that dairy products do to the body.
This feeling of it’s-good-but-not-enough plagued us through our meal at Nut and Bowls, which is being promoted as Delhi’s first raw vegan cafe. The Grilled Tofu in Beetroot Sauce, which is served with a portion of rice and vegetables, would have been good — the beetroot sauce had a nice balance of sweet and tangy — but the tofu was dry as cardboard, even when more sauce was called for and poured over it.
Similarly, our Protein Bowl — of chickpeas, brown rice, assorted vegetables and chickpea falafel — would have been good, but for the greasiness of the roasted vegetables. The only dish to really hit the mark was the Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake which, of course, had no dairy in it at all. The base — which is usually made with loads of butter and graham crackers — used almonds, while the “cheesy” mousse on top was made with cashewnuts and almonds. Subtly sweetened with dates, this remains, without doubt, one of the best desserts we’ve had in a long while. The other dessert we tried — the so-called Bliss Balls, made with raw cacao and hazelnuts or almonds — was a tad too dry. Chewing on them, was more like chewing on nutrition bars than a dessert.
Which brings us to the philosophy behind the cafe which supposedly promotes “a better and fitter alternative to junk and unhealthy food”. That is a noble objective, no doubt, but it does raise the question of how much premium diners would place on a dish of food which, even if it is full of so-called “super foods” and free of more “sinful” elements like meat and dairy, isn’t quite what your heart wants. After all, one of the reasons we eat out is for the pure indulgence of it — the ghee dripping off a motichoor laddoo or the melting beauty of a four-cheese pizza is, frequently, the reason why we eat these things. Also, to be fair, plenty of Indian food is already vegan by nature and consumed by a larger number of us than evangelists for veganism would have us believe. In such a scenario, how conscientious is it to serve up foods like quinoa and blueberries which may serve the purpose of making one feel virtuous, but which have a fairly heavy carbon footprint?
Nut & Bowls, M-70, Ground Floor, M Block Market, Greater Kailash 2; 11 am to 10 pm