If you think “plant-based, gluten-free, locavore and zero-waste” sounds like a mouthful, wait until you try the falafel waffle from Two Peas Food Truck.
A blend of savory waffle batter and falafel mix, flash fried and topped with cucumbers, a coconut yogurt tzatziki, homemade hummus and pickled red onion, the falafel waffle is the most popular item on the spring menu. And it is a mouthful.
The food truck is the newest venture of Caroline Francis, who moved to Southern Oregon from Asheville, North Carolina, five years ago. She and her husband, Rowdy Keelor, debuted the food truck March 1 at the Medford Growers and Crafters Market.
The ethos and menu at Two Peas might sound like an experiment in trendy hashtags, but Francis is committed to her ideals.
“The zero-waste policy is how I operate at home,” Francis says. “I wanted to see if I could incorporate this into a business.”
Through research and planning, Francis selected materials and packaging that can be either returned to the wholesaler or are biodegradable, compostable or recyclable. Their bowls are compostable, and they use wooden, biodegradable silverware. They’ve opted to work with producers who allow them to return containers to be washed and reused, such as Hummingbird Wholesalers, based out of Eugene, or Pickled Planet, located in Ashland.
“The only trash we’re making is the twist-ties on the cilantro,” she says.
Even spent cooking oil goes to a friend with a biodiesel truck.
A big part of her vision involves sourcing locally and supporting the community. In addition to Pickled Planet, Two Peas has partnered with Whistling Duck Farms, Banyan Botanicals and Fry Family Farms, all in the Rogue Valley. Even items that might seem challenging to find locally, such as chickpeas and quinoa, come from Oregon farms. While some things come from outside the region — the cucumbers currently topping the falafel waffle, for instance — these items are in the minority.
“Anything we can get local, we do.”
A self-taught cook, Francis worked for years as a personal chef, herbalist, and Ayurvedic wellness counselor. The goal for Two Peas, she says, “was to bring all of the resources I have together into one truck — from a knowledge of oils and organic foods to quality spices and minimal packaging.”
Francis has been a vegetarian since she was 10 years old.
“We dissected a chicken in science class and then had chicken for lunch. It was very strange.”
She made the connection and never looked back, and five years ago she transitioned into veganism.
“It was the environmental impact that did it for me,” she says. “If you’re not consuming meat for environmental reasons, then supporting the dairy industry doesn’t make sense, because it has the same issues in terms of water use and carbon footprint.”
But she’s quick to clarify that she doesn’t want anyone to feel alienated.
“We aren’t going out there with the big ‘V word’ trying to scare people. I want to have an inclusionary menu. Whether you’re a meat eater, a vegan or a vegetarian, there’s something for everyone to try.”
That’s also why the menu is gluten-free: She wants her food to be universally accessible.
The spring menu is extensive, with both breakfast and lunch items: from breakfast tacos and vegan “sausage” patties to the falafel waffle, Ayurvedic kitchari, a tikka masala and more.
On a cold and rainy day in March, I went to the growers market at Hawthorne Park to taste their food. I was curious about the kitchari, a traditional Ayurvedic dish with mung beans and brown rice.
“Nurturing, nourishing and easy to digest,” is how Francis had described it to me. I wasn’t disappointed. The spice blend was simple but rich and balanced, not overpowering like some lentil dishes.
Next came the tikka masala. Spicy and hearty, the tomato-based broth wasn’t like other tikka masalas I’ve eaten. The seasoning was more herbal than spiced, and it tasted more like tomato stew than a coconut base. Still, I’d have eaten several more servings if not for the anticipation of my main course: the Nourish Bowl, with deep-fried tofu, seasonal roasted squash, spring greens and warm quinoa. Topped with a pick-your-own sauce — I opted for chipotle cream — and Pickled Planet sauerkraut, this was a winner. A nice balance between warm and fresh, light and filling, it was just what I needed on a chilly spring day.
“Being at the markets enables us to go out in the morning and see what the farmers have,” Francis said, as I sampled the tofu. “We’ll buy a few things from different vendors and incorporate that into our menu for the day.”
I walked around the market while I demolished my Nourish Bowl, stopping at the Fry Family Farms booth, one of Two Peas’ partners. “You’re actually eating our salad mix right now,” said Madeline Rutkah, a vendor for Fry Family, as she pointed to my plate. “Caroline bought that from us this morning.”
When I asked what she thinks of Two Peas, she quipped, “Vegan, local, zero waste? This is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Caroline Francis’s Spring Greens in Creamy Coconut Sauce
½ pound fresh hearty greens roughly chopped, such as spinach, kale or mustard greens (about 6 cups packed)
1 tablespoon coconut oil, or other neutral oil
1-plus tablespoons water
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
¾ teaspoon salt or to taste
1 can (13 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
Heat large sauté pan on medium heat. (While your pan is heating, measure out your dry spices, except for cumin seed, into a small bowl)
Once the pan is hot, add coconut oil to pan.
When the oil has melted, add the cumin seeds. Cook for 30 seconds.
Add the fresh garlic, the rest of the spices and salt. Stir well and cook for 30 seconds.
Add the greens and 1 tablespoon water to the pan, stir well. If all of the greens do not fit, add to pan in smaller amounts while stirring. As the greens cook down you will be able to add more. If the greens start to burn or dry, add a little more water.
After you have added all the greens, pour the coconut milk into the greens and spice mixture. Mix well.
Let simmer, uncovered, on low for 5 minutes.
Cool slightly, and serve as a side dish or mix in your favorite cooked protein for a full meal.
Amira Makansi is an Ashland-based freelance writer and the author of “Literary Libations: What to Drink With What You Read,” due out in September 2018. Reach her at email@example.com.