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Jun 11, 2012 05:11 PM

Help! Non-vegan looking for plant-based deliciousness...

Well, it had to happen some time. I am climbing down off my bacon-centric high horse and admitting that the vegetarian / vegan community may know some stuff I need to learn.

Last week, I made the painful choice (ignorance really is bliss in some instances) to watch the documentary "Forks over Knives". It's point (outlined more completely in the book "The China Study") is that a whole foods, plant-based diet (in other words, I think, a vegan diet) can do more to manage and even reverse the effects of heart disease and diabetes than surgery and/or medication.

That hits close to home, as fiancé had a heart attack a few years back, and now has a stent. AND he has been diagnosed diabetic. He works very hard at managing his blood sugar levels with diet, and is very health conscious, generally, and quite fit. But he takes a boatload of pills, of course, and they have a boatload of nasty side effects. And he watched the movie too, and would like to try eating like this.

So... Dairy-loving bacon-centric food-snob that I am... I need to re-educate myself.

I know delicious vegan food exists out there. It must. But my experience of both vegetarian and vegan has been pretty negative. Tofurkey (yech!), veggie burgers (double yech!)... Mollie Katzen's well-meaning but unenthralling casseroles...

Can any of you foodie/chow-ish folks out there recommend starting places for someone that wants to dip a toe in the vegan water for health reasons? And perhaps work up to wading or even swimming in the shallow end? Cookbooks you like? Blogs? Ideas? Approaches? Products?

Much obliged, as always!


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  1. One approach would be to try cuisines that have a lot of naturally vegan dishes: Middle Eastern, many Asian cuisines including Indian and Chinese. I'm not vegan or even vegetarian but eat vegan all the time without even trying (or even realizing it sometimes!) with this approach.

    5 Replies
    1. re: jadec

      This is what I was going to say. I'm not vegan/vegetarian either but some of my favorite delicious foods just happen to be vegan.

      My advice would be to not approach a vegan or vegetarian diet with the mindset that it inherently means you'll have to learn to love tofu burgers or else. Instead of trying to find vegan 'substitions,' to things you already enjoy, think of dishes you already like that are already vegan and work with that. In otherwords, don't think you have to make it a form of compromise or sacrifice or you may end up finding you don't like 'vegan cheese,' for example, and decide the diet isn't worth it to you.

      Skip the tofukeys and search for things good and vegan on their own.

      You can easily make a delicious wonderful curry with all-vegan ingredients, for example,: coconut milk, garam masala, onions, garlic, cubed potatoes, chickpeas, ect, whatever combination of spices and vegetable you like in a curry, over some basmati rice. Hearty, filling and all vegan.

      1. re: Jjjr

        I think this is the best way to go. Rather than trying to recreate a meat/dairy based diet using fake substitutes, why not just go with dishes that are vegan naturally? I had garlic toast and green beans with walnut oil tonight that would have been great without the goat cheese and a fresh tomato pasta with herbs, garlic and olives that would have be wonderful without the Parmigiano.

        1. re: Jjjr

          Totally agree with this.

          I read the book "The 80-10-10 Diet" by Dr. Doug Graham and tried the diet for a month. In short, it's a raw fruit-based vegan diet that doesn't allow for salts, oils, or refined sugars - 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 10% fat. I lived off of fruit (lucky that I live in a tropical environment) and salad, with a few nuts, for 30 days. I lost 12 pounds and felt very energetic, but I admit that I became very bored with what I ate (like the rest of you, I love food!).

          After going back to a standard diet for 3 weeks, I've decided to go vegan long-term. I haven't decided yet if I'll do it cooked or raw (would love to do cooked once I have my own kitchen), but I definitely have better energy, better sleep at night and I look & feel better than I did in high school.

          Give it a try - try 30 days - and at least at the end of it you can decide for yourself what to do!

          (I might add - if you do decide to try going vegetarian or vegan, do it all at once and don't ease into it... I find that "easing into" things makes it much easier to "ease out" of them, too.)

          1. re: Jjjr

            I generally loathe fake meat myself. It would turn me off of being veggie if I thought I had to live on that. The only thing I make an exception for are Field Roast Frankfurters or the very very occasional faux chik'n in chik'n spaghetti. I prefer to stick with naturally veg*n dishes. I find myself cooking a lot of Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, etc... I find soups to be a really good food as well b/c they are filling and you can add beans or grains. You just have to master or find a really good no chicken broth and a good mushroom broth.

          2. re: jadec

            I agree.

            I also think that there is something to be said for contemporary Western vegan cuisine.

          3. You may try posting on the new Veg and Vegan Board

            1. -- not always vegan but often, and usually adaptable.

              As an omnivore who loves vegetables and eats vegetarian meals often, I agree that it's folly to try to replace meat with tofurkey and other such franken-foods. Better to eat stuff that's delicious and happens to be vegan than to try to imitate meaty foods.

              The biggest challenge with vegan stuff is umami, IMO. Smoked paprika, cumin, caramelization, miso, soy sauce, vegetarian worcestershire, roasting -- all these are your friends. In my experience, squashes and beans are fantastic centerpieces for vegan meals and great mental starting points. Indian food is a natural, but roasted butternut squash and zucchini tacos with pickled onions? Also delicious. Thai coconut curry soups, stuffed squashes of every kind, posole, roasted veggie tamales or enchiladas, minestrone, all those things are great, and just happen to be vegan or vegan-izable.

              1. I like post punk kitchen.

                1. My daughter went veggie when she was in high school and is now a college student. I also have a best friend that is a veggie. I have quite a few veggie recipes because of them and also though I am a carnivore, I enjoy veggies and veggie food too. I have found some good stuff along the way. I will try to post some recipes for you but might do so on the veggie board rather than here. Be patient. I will get to it I promise.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: twodales

                    Doh! This is the veggie board. That's what a rushed response gets you. Anyway here is one recipe I like. I relalize the use of goat cheese means it is not vegan. Is that what you want or is regular veggie ok too?

                    Sweet Potato, Parmesan & Goat Cheese Galette

                    Serves four or six, depending on size of pan.

                    3 Tbs. plus 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
                    1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
                    1-1/4 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled
                    1 heaping tsp. coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
                    3/4 tsp. kosher salt
                    1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
                    3/4 to 1 cup (about 4 oz.) finely crumbled fresh goat cheese (buy a slightly drier, less creamy brand, which is easier to crumble)

                    how to make
                    Combine the shallots and the 3 Tbs. oil in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the shallots are nicely softened (do not let them brown). Remove from the heat and let cool completely (about 25 minutes at room temperature; cool more quickly in the refrigerator, if you like).

                    Heat the oven to 400°. Rub the bottom and inside edge of a 9-1/2-inch tart pan with 1/2 tsp. of olive oil or spray with olive-oil spray. Put the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.

                    Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible (about 1/16 inch) with a chef’s knife. (Tip: If the potato wobbles, slice a thin sliver off the bottom lengthwise to stabilize it; then continue slicing crosswise.) Discard the ends. Put the potato slices in a mixing bowl, add the shallots and olive oil and the herbs, and toss well to thoroughly coat the potatoes (a small rubber spatula works well).

                    Cover the bottom of the tart pan with a layer of sweet potato slices, slightly overlapping. Start along the outside edge of the tart pan and, making slightly overlapping rings, move inward until the bottom is covered with one layer of potatoes. Sprinkle some kosher salt (a generous 1/8 tsp.) overall and then sprinkle about a quarter of the Parmigiano and about a quarter of the goat cheese. Arrange another layer of potatoes, season with salt, sprinkle with the cheeses, and repeat two more times, until you have three layers of potatoes. (This is a messy job; you’ll need a damp towel to wipe your hands in between layers.) Top the last layer with more salt and any remaining cheese.

                    Bake the galette until the top is a deep golden brown (don’t worry if the goat cheese seems very brown) and the potatoes are tender in all places (a fork with thin tines should poke easily through all the layers), 40 to 45 minutes.

                    Let the galette cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, carefully remove it from the pan, transfer it to a cutting board, and cut it into wedges.

                    I think this is a Fine Cooking recipe.

                    1. re: twodales

                      This looks amazing--thank you for posting!

                      1. re: IndyGirl

                        You might want to consider doubling or play around with pan sizes. This disappeared very quickly.

                        1. re: twodales

                          OK. It has taken me a while to get back here. As promised, here are two veggie recipes that make nice meals for guests. The pie recipe is nice for special occasions.



                          For the second recipe I made some substitutes: I used walnuts instead of chestnuts. I used lingonberry sauce instead of cranberries. You will need veggie pie crust if you are going pure veggie.

                          This web site has many good veggie recipes BTW.

                      2. re: twodales

                        This was great, twodales. My husband loves sweet potatoes, but I don't care for the sugary treatment that they tend to get in a lot of recipes. The savory in this was right up my alley, with just a hint of the natural sweetness of the potatoes. Perfect!

                        1. re: tokyo

                          Tokyo: I am with you on the sweet potatoes. I don't have a sweet tooth and have never been a big fan of sweet spuds, mostly because of the sugary treatment they get. Why add sugar when they are sweet to begin with?
                          Anyway, the tangy goat cheese and the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes is such a nice contrast. So glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the feedback.