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Towley's Cashew Queso

Towley's Cashew Queso

Chef Sean Towley


  • 1 jalapeno, charred, peeled, de-seeded and finely minced

  • ¼ C cashews

  • 2 C cauliflower, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1 C water

  • ¼ C plant milk (plain)

  • 2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast

  • 1½ tsp. apple cider vinegar

  • ¾ tsp. onion powder

  • ½ tsp. salt (or to taste)

  • ¼ tsp. black pepper (or to taste)

  • Lime juice (optional)


Char the jalapeno over an open flame or under a broiler. Cool, peel and de-seed. Finely mince and set aside.

Soak cashews in very hot water for 10 minutes.

Drain cashews and add to a pot, along with cauliflower, garlic and water. Simmer until completely soft.

Transfer the cauliflower, garlic and cooking water to a blender; add all the remaining ingredients except for the jalapeno. Blend until completely smooth, taste; adjust the salt and pepper, if needed. Add lime juice, if desired. Fold in the minced jalapeno.


For an American-style menu, Big Grove Brewery and Taproom in Iowa City usually has six choices among appetizers and entrees. Sean Towley, chef de cuisine at Big Grove Brewpub in Solon, said the Smashburger and the Kale Salad are vegan favorites there, and he serves 20-25 of each on a typical weekend day.

Towley was inspired to explore a plant-based eating style after viewing the films “Eating You Alive” and “Game Changers.” His knowledge of food and his many eating experiences during travel adventures have provided him with inspiration to take what already exists and apply a vegan spin. He likes to use seasonal and local ingredients and let delicious vegetables and grains “do the work.”

Requests for vegan foods at the BGB are on the rise, and people want the dishes to be innovative and interesting. For example, at one time the Impossible Burger was on the menu, but because anyone can purchase Impossible Burgers at the supermarket and prepare them at home, Towley was motivated to create his own “Smashburger.”

His recipe, which he worked on for three months, is made with 15 ingredients, including black beans, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, grains and herbs. The burger is served on focaccia bread and topped with vegan American cheese, pickle slices, lettuce, onion and vegan mayonnaise.

Towley has this advice to other restaurant chefs: “Put thought and intentionality behind what you offer and have an attitude of 'I get to do this' rather than 'I have to do this.' Dishes made from plants taste really good, and people will be happy eating them.”

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