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Perched on a coastal bluff just south of Mendocino, The Ravens Restaurant at the Stanford Inn by the Sea has been around for almost a decade, yet many vegans and vegetarians still don’t know that it exists.

The eco-resort, which opened in 1980, started serving a vegetarian breakfast in 1996, then added dinner in 1997. After owner Jeff Stanford became an ethical vegan in 2004 (he objects to animal cruelty), both dinner and breakfast menus evolved toward veganism, with a complete conversion — no dairy, eggs or meat — by 2012.

“The preferred human diet is whole plant foods,” said Stanford, who runs the inn with his wife, Joan. “Right now, we’re undergoing our complete conversion of the restaurant to focus almost entirely on whole foods that are minimally processed but delicious, like seeds and nuts, potatoes and tubers.”

To help spread the word, the couple recently published a soft-back cookbook, “Dining at the Ravens: Over 150 Nourishing Vegan Recipes from the Stanford Inn by the Sea” (BenBella Books, 2016). Among the 150 recipes are many of the restaurant’s signature dishes, including breakfast foods like the Stanford Inn Enchiladas, sides and appetizers like the Crab-less Cakes, plus a wide range of hearty entrées, from Eggplant Cannelloni to Barbecued Portobello.

There is also a surprising number of yummy desserts made without dairy or butter, including Lemon Custard Bars, a Peach Huckleberry Cobbler and even a Banana Split.

“You can have Crème Brûlée and all of those classy foods,” Jeff said. “Our most popular dessert, bar none, is the Chocolate Ganache Tart.”

In the introduction, the cookbook tells about how Joan and Jeff, a Kansas City native known for his meaty barbecue, came to create the only vegan resort in the U.S. that also boasts a certified organic farm, a wellness center and nutritionist, Sid Garza-Hillman. Ravens Restaurant is ground zero for their healthy mission.

“The restaurant is our way to make people aware that changes in diet can be just fantastic,” Jeff said. “You feel so much better.”

Jeff and Garza-Hillman give cooking demos and healthy living classes at the inn as well as at venues throughout the country. Because he has a background in acting, Garza-Hillman can put a positive spin on their serious mission.

“We’re interested in people coming here and leaving with a new zest for life,” said Joan, an educator and art therapist who is originally from Winnepeg, Canada. “Having a healthy approach is part of it, and having a positive attitude in the kitchen. This is joyful; it’s not denying anything.”

The couple first met in Canada, where Jeff was studying anthropology. In 1975, they moved to Carmel to join Jeff’s parents, who had purchased a hotel. There was a recession going on, and jobs were in short supply.

Joan fell in love with the quaint hamlet of Mendocino while vacationing. In 1980, the couple decided to purchase the Big River Lodge, a motel with 25 rooms skirting the southern edge of Mendocino, along the Big River Estuary.

With help from the owners and friends, they were able to procure loans for the down payment and embarked on a 35-year journey that involved raising two children and transforming the old-style motel into the cozy, country-style Stanford Inn by the Sea.

“We renovate constantly — we have never stopped,” Jeff said. “It’s a constantly revitalizing of the property.” In 1996, they embarked on a major expansion, building a four-level structure to house a new lobby, offices, a wellness center and a vegetarian restaurant, The Ravens, named for a pair of ravens who took up residence on the property. The restaurant opened to the public in 1997.

With the help of Domenica Catelli, now co-owner of Catelli’s in Geyserville, Jeff developed a vegetarian breakfast menu, then expanded to serving dinner at the 50-seat restaurant, which has since grown to about 72 seats.

“It was such a natural because we’re vegetarians,” Jeff said. “On our fourth night of serving dinner, Narsi David from KCBS Radio came to review us.”

“Dining at the Ravens” cookbook touches on a few milestones the couple encountered in their journey, from planting biointensive garden beds in 1986 to erecting “The Barn” in 1988, which enabled the family to move out of the hotel and into their own space.

That year, the resort also started to welcome interns from the Natural Gourmet Institute of New York, a vegetarian cooking school.

“That added a lot of optimistic infusion in the late 1990s,” Joan said. “They started feeding us interns because the program required hands-on experience.”

By 2000, Jeff had started writing a vegetarian cookbook, which he self-published in May 2005. “People kept asking us for recipes, and we started sharing them,” he said. “Then we started publishing them in the newsletter.”

That laid the groundwork for “Dining at the Ravens,” which took an additional two years of work. He had to convert the recipes to meet vegan requirements, then do additional recipe testing and tasting. Garza-Hillman, the nutritionist and kitchen director, took most of the book’s food photos.

Before launching into the recipes, the cookbook gives tips on vegan cooking, from minimizing the amount of oil used to recommending a few pieces of equipment, including a Vitamix or a Blendtec blender.

“The biggest tool, besides the knife and heat, is the Vitamix,” Jeff said. “You keep the whole food there, and it breaks up.”

At The Ravens, dishes incorporate produce from the resort’s garden as well as local, foraged ingredients such as wild mushrooms and sea palm, a type of seaweed.

In recent years, the menu has taken a dramatic turn toward Latin flavors, with an expanded El Mex Menu that ranges from ceviche and guacamole to tacos and tamales.

“My favorite thing is the enchilada,” Jeff said of the breakfast menu. “We replace the cheese with steamed spinach, so it gives you the mouth feel of cheese, but it’s way healthier. There’s quinoa in there, and it’s wrapped in a chipotle sauce with a salsa cruda.”

Among the book’s entrées, his favorite is the Barbecued Portabello, which he likes to serve with rice or fresh corn right off the grill.

All the recipes call for minimal fat, Jeff said, because fat causes the intestinal tract to become more porous, leading to inflammation.

“We are trying to reduce inflammation,” he said. “We live with a lot of stress. Every time you look at your cell phone, it adds stress. You don’t have to eat stress.”

___

The following recipes are from “Dining at the Ravens” by Jeff and Joan Stanford, owners of The Stanford Inn by the Sea and Ravens Restaurant in Mendocino.

“This is a relatively simple dish made up of organic corn tortillas steeped in Chipotle Sauce, rolled and filled with quinoa (the staple of the Incans) and steamed spinach, and topped with Salsa Cruda,” the Stanfords wrote. “Steamed spinach offers much of the same consistency as melted cheese.”

Stanford Inn Enchiladas

Makes 4 enchiladas, or 2 servings

2 cups Chipotle Sauce (see recipe below)

4 organic corn tortillas

1 cup warm, cooked quinoa

2 cups fresh spinach, steamed

1/2 up Salsa Cruda (see recipe below)

Bring the Chipotle Sauce close to a boil in a skillet. Place tortillas one at time into sauce, turning to coat completely. Leave in skillet until soaked, about 3 minutes.

Remove tortillas and lay flat on a plate. Place 4 tablespoons of quinoa along the center of each tortilla, followed by a spinach layer. Create a roll by folding one side of the tortilla over the spinach and quinoa, then rolling over the other side to form a flap.

Place 2 filled tortillas side by side on a plate. If the tortillas are not “saucy” enough, sparingly spoon a small amount of additional Chipotle Sauce on top.

Finish the enchiladas by topping with Salsa Cruda (about ¼ cup over 2 enchiladas).

___

Chipotle Sauce

Makes about 3 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

1/2 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons finely ground dried chipotle peppers

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 (14.5-ounce) can organic diced tomatoes

1/2 tablespoon salt

3/4 cup water

In a medium stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the onion, and sauté until translucent, then add the garlic, sautéing for 2–3 additional minutes.

Add the chipotle peppers, oregano, sugar and pepper. Combine well and continue to sauté another 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, salt and water. Simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.

Lightly blend the mixture with a hand mixer or in a blender. Add more salt to taste.

___

Salsa Cruda

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

3 pounds Roma or saladette (paste) tomatoes, diced

1 medium red onion, diced small

3/4 bunch (about 3 ounces) cilantro, chopped

1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon salt

Juice of 2 limes

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix together. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

___

If you don’t want to bother making the crust for the tart, you can pour the ganache into a tea cup, chill it and serve it like a pudding.

Chocolate Ganache Tart

Makes two 9-inch tarts

For the crust:

2 1/2 cups raw, unsalted almonds

2 1/2 cups raw hazelnuts

1/2 cup cane sugar

1/3 cup cacao powder

1/2 tablespoon salt

3/4 cup coconut oil, at room temperature or softened

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water (or more as needed)

For the ganache filling and assembly:

1 (14-ounce) package Wildwood Sprouted Silken Tofu (if unavailable, use a firm silken tofu, about 13 ounces if not water packed)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached cane sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup water

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons mint extract

1 cup semisweet vegan chocolate chips

For the Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Finely grind almonds and hazelnuts in a food processor until they form a relatively smooth powder with some small chunks. Add sugar, cacao powder and salt. Using the pulse button, mix the ingredients.

Pour processed dry ingredients into a bowl and add coconut oil and vanilla. Toss, adding water incrementally until mixture sticks together.

Press into two 9-inch tart/quiche pans. Bake for 10 minutes, until brown. Let cool completely.

For the Ganache filling and assembly: Place tofu, sugar, salt, water, vanilla extract and mint extract into a large saucepan.

Mash tofu lightly into smaller pieces with potato masher or whisk. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until liquid reduces and tofu turns light brown, 15–20 minutes.

Turn off heat, add chocolate chips, and mix until melted. Place mixture in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Pour into prebaked chocolate nut crust. Refrigerate before serving.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.