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

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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!

Adrienne

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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 http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/89

            1. 101cookbooks.com -- 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.

                    ingredients
                    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.

                          http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/28...

                          http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/17...

                          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.

                    2. Good for you! I did the exact same thing last year, when I realized that I had no idea how to cook for my vegetarian and vegan friends!

                      Not trying for meat substitutes is the first bet. You'll eventually want to try stuff like veggie ground round, but leave it alone for the beginning. Gravitating to naturally-vegan cuisines (Indian, Thai, etc.) is a great idea, since the food is perfect as it is, and isn't just a veg copy of something else.

                      As far as cookbooks go, I only picked up one, if only because I dug the whole Army of Darkness theme: the Veganomicon. Lots of good stuff in there!

                      Good luck!!

                      1. Yep! Ignore all that expensive vegan substitute stuff. In fact, I tend to question going full-vegan, primarily because it seems to require one to be an ABSOLUTE CONTROL FREAK about food and I, personally, just can't take it that far and don't have the will power to pull it off. You're not going to kill yourself or the planet if a little butter or egg or sour cream slips in here or there. Moderation! Moderation! I am an utter dairy-stuffed carnivorically-inclined person myself whose made a number of adjustments over the last few years for health reasons. We've gotten very fond of eating black bean burgers at our house (and they're super-easy to make. Mark Bittman has a good, simple recipe for them that I'll try to dig up and post a link to.). Tofu itself is surprisingly versatile and pretty decent eating when you get used to it. I recommend super-firm tofu and draining the heck out of it, plus marinating it in something before you stir-fry or bake it. I've had some good luck with Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian," which have both been showing up on the discount racks (sometimes as a boxed pair) at the bookstores in recent years. He tends to keep it simple and offer flexible recipes with suggestions for bulking up, spicing up, or otherwise altering the given recipe.....

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: dingey

                          Another vote for Mark Bittman's vegetarian recipes. As a mainstream cookbook author who then went vegetarian, he develops recipes for mainstream tastes using mostly mainstream ingredients. If you happen to be near an oriental store that stocks miso, then you can make his miso variation of "anything-scented peas." If not, there are ten other variations to try, and their number and variety can encourage you to try variations of your own..

                          1. re: dingey

                            trader joes sells a super firm high protein tofu (iirc 14 gm protein per serving) that is SO firm that when cubed, it will completely hold together in a stir fry dish.
                            also imho, the flavor of this tofu is better than that of the varieties that they sell in the plastic tubs.

                            it comes from the refrigerator case and is only wrapped in plastic, NOT THE STUFF IN THE TUBS.

                            1. re: dingey

                              I love black bean burgers too, but most recipes call for egg (including Bittman's iirc). I'm trying to find a tasty recipe for my vegan parents. Any tips or recipes for a vegan burger?

                              1. re: tokyo

                                My daughter uses soft tofu as an egg substitute and I think you can buy a product that mimics eggs for baking too.

                                1. re: twodales

                                  Or you could try this ground flax seed egg substitute. I have used this to replace an egg or two in baked goods, and it works well. I think it's a good binder and would work in black bean burgers too.

                                  http://www.food.com/recipe/flax-vegan...

                                  1. re: chompy

                                    Big second to ground flax as an egg replacer. Works much better than soy, IMO.

                                    1. re: chompy

                                      Thank you. A vegan friend of mine swears by this method. I forgot about it. I also found a recipe from Veganomicom that does not call for egg.

                              2. If you have the space, starting an herb/vegetable garden is also very helpful.

                                1. Thank you so much, everyone! I have trickled along to my favorite Asian grocery for some high-quality super firm tofu. First concerted, attentive effort will be, I think, a black bean sauce/tofu/veg stir fry for dinner tonight... And yes, I'm lucky to have the space for an herb garden, and some great herbs flourishing in it. The (@*#&$@#(*&$ squirrels ate my borage, it is true. But there's other good stuff . I'm going to have to put in cilantro if I'm going to explore Indian and Thai, though! That's on today's to-do list too!

                                  1. My suggestion, as a fellow recent vegan convert, is to forget about trying to replicate Western food in vegan forms. It not only doesn't usually taste very good, but you'll wind up eating a lot of processed food (fake meat products, for example) that isn't very good for you either.

                                    If you read about commonly-used soy protein foods used to make veggie burgers, such as TVP, you'll learn that it's pretty bad stuff, despite being plant-derived. After all, high-fructose corn sweetener is also a plant-derived food.

                                    The foods I've found to be best, and tastiest, are ethnic foods from cultures that have a naturally varied vegetarian diet. In Asia, for example, a lot of observant buddhists don't eat meat, so there's a lot of good stuff in the Asian diet that's naturally vegan and delicious, without using a lot of heavily processed ingredients.

                                    A big favorite of mine lately is vegetarian sushi, made with things like avocado, cucumber, burdock, etc.

                                    Indian is another cuisine that has a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

                                    You can get excellent cookbooks for both of these cuisines. Thai is another one that has a lot of naturally vegan dishes.

                                    Middle-eastern food, too, features a lot of vegan foods. Falafel, hummus, baba ghannouj, ful mudamas, etc. All delicious dishes, and totally meat and dairy free.

                                    I've found these cuisines to offer the most satisfying vegetarian meals by far, and much more interesting than the highly processed fake meat items that try to replicate our American protein-centric diet.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: Josh

                                      Lots of good vegetable based foods from Western cultures too, especially Italian food. And, certainly, French, Spanish, and other European cuisines can be modified to be vegetarian or vegan (sometimes in ways which might horrify traditionalists, but which still taste good).

                                      Think lentils, beans, wild mushrooms, rice, pasta, tomatoes, and so on. It's just a matter of thinking about meal planning in a slightly different way from having a chunk of animal protein as the center of the meal, whether that means making hearty legume based stews, or making a meal out of "side" dishes.

                                      I think full-time vegetarianism among lay Buddhists (i.e., people who are not monks or nuns) is pretty uncommon in Asia, except maybe in Taiwan (lay Buddhists may observe vegetarianism on certain feast days), and in parts of India where vegetarianism is the cultural norm. And even among monks, I think pretty much only in Chinese and Korean monastic orders, and orders coming from the Chinese tradition in some other countries (like Vietnam or Thailand) follow a strict vegetarian diet.

                                      But many people in a lot of parts of Asia (and the world) eat very little meat for economic reasons.

                                      I can't think of many naturally vegan dishes in Thai cuisine. Even in areas where fish sauce is less common, shrimp paste or other fermented fish / shellfish ingredients are common. Yes, they can be omitted, but I wouldn't say that they're naturally vegan dishes.

                                      1. re: will47

                                        I eat out a lot and I mostly go to Vietnamese, Chinese or Thai vegan places. A lot of the dishes use their version of fake meat, a lot of soy. I love the stuff, but if you don't, you've been warned.

                                        Actually, the vegan version of fish sauce is uncannily fishy, so much so that I can hardly stand eating it.

                                        1. re: will47

                                          Greek Orthodox people also eat a lot of mostly vegan food for religious as well as traditional economic - ecologic regions. Italian depends a lot on the region. It is sad in the Americas, from Montréal to Buenos Aires, to find so little of the plant based foods that are so prominent in home Italian cookery in many Italian- cuisines (Italian-Canadian, USAmerican, Venezuelan or Argentine-Uruaguayan...)

                                          I'll never be a vegan as I love cheese, but since I can't consume cow's milk cheese I'm already limited in that. Cheese such as Romano can be mostly a flavouring, and for vegan people there are foods such as seaweeds that also have a complex umami profile and are great with the relevant noodles.

                                          It is high summer here in Montréal and I bought some lovely gourganes (broad beans/favas) and have podded them and made a very good vegetable stock with the pods. I'll make some tasty, protein rich dish with the beans, after shelling them (the inner skink will also go in the stock).

                                          In terms of human health, what Bittman says is key, though of course committed vegetarians and vegans are also looking at the health of other fauna and flora...

                                          1. re: lagatta

                                            my italian friends reported that they were raised having no meat on fridays.
                                            their palates got used to those meatless dishes and they were able to move pretty effortlessly to more of a plant=based diet.
                                            to them, this was just "friday food" nothing strange about it.

                                        2. re: Josh

                                          +1, josh

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            Many Romanians eat vegan dishes during religious fasting, and there are entire branches of Romanian cooking devoted to this "mancare de post". I ate amazing vegan dishes all over the country, without having to ask for "vegan" or "vegetarian" food. Romanian is definitely a cuisine I turn to now when cooking meatless dishes. I'll attach a photo of a meal I had at a side-of-the-road type place in Voronet.

                                             
                                            1. re: Jetgirly

                                              Oooh, Romania, here I come.

                                              1. re: choctastic

                                                seriously.... I never knew

                                              2. re: Jetgirly

                                                Awesome. Thanks for sharing. I'll have to look for a cookbook.

                                            2. I think if you are trying to go from meat centric to plant centric you shouldn't go cold turkey. Start by relegating meat to a garnish. Ie. beans, rice, greens with a crumble of bacon on top. Or do what Mark Bittman did with being a vegan before 6pm. Small concrete steps can be easier. I am fond of the NYT recipes for health with the emphasis on whole grains and letting produce shine. I also second all recs to cook from cuisines that are traditionally vegetarian/ vegan. I'm not a vegetarian, but I eat like one most of the time. Invest in great olive oil, it makes a bowl of canned chickpeas with parsley, salt and garlic sing. Toast breadcrumbs w salt and oil instead of topping with cheese. Smoked tofu makes a great banh mi. Miso is phenomenally useful.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: relizabeth

                                                Another rec for Post Punk Kitchen.

                                                Also, "Chloe's Kitchen" by Chloe Coscarelli.
                                                http://chefchloe.com/

                                              2. It may take a little bit, but your tastes for food will slowly adapt to your new diet. I used to love dairy cheese, but had to give it up for health reasons. I no longer crave all the super creme cheeses I used to sample from the cheese shop. I also really like to eat my greens now.

                                                I grew up in a small hill town in upstate NY. I had never eaten food like olive oil or kale until I was in college and graduate school. Now, I don't know what my life would be like without them.

                                                Play with spices and work with fresh foods. Buy a big thing of nutritional yeast and keep it on hand. Get a food processor to make chopping vegetables easy and efficient.

                                                I very rarely eat anything that may be considered a mock meat, (especially since I can't eat wheat either)

                                                I think the post punk kitchen blog and the author's books would be a great place to start. Earth balance is a great butter substitute. And, don't be afraid to take these changes one step at a time.

                                                1. I'm in the camp of slowly migrating to a more vegetarian diet. And in the meantime, limit yourself to organic / pasture raised meat and dairy, and sustainable fish ... the cost and availability will help with the limits!

                                                  Start experimenting with new dishes - beans and pasta's (starting with just a bit of organic bacon or high quality Parmesan), stir-frys with tofu or nuts, salads with anchovies or salmon. Finding options for meals out. Changing habits takes time!

                                                  1. Thanks, all, for the varied, interesting, and incredibly useful advice! I've bought myself a fun new cookbook to play with as I ease into this: River Cottage veg. Not all vegan, but quite a lot vegan. So that's good. Now (TMI, I know), if I can just get my gut to quit its very expressive commentary on all this new and interesting roughage it is seeing on a daily basis! ;-)

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: linengirl

                                                      It will! After eating mostly vegetarian (and lots of actual vegetables, not "pudding vegetarian") for a few months several years back, the only thing that set me off was too much sugar! (Or too much booze, but that's neither here nor there... ;)

                                                      1. re: linengirl

                                                        Great choice for a cookbook. I liked it but didn't find it satisfied me much as a vegan - lots of cheese in it! Also make sure you have a reasonable protein source (beans, grains) as some of his dishes seem to be side dishes to me, at least, since they can be primarily vegetables. if it helps, I like his green bean and zucchini salad with the tahini dressing, the quinoa salad with zucchini and caramelized onions and the pinto bean chili. The Chinese Five Spice Vegetable and Noodle Stir Fry was also really good.

                                                        __
                                                        http://tastespace.wordpress.com

                                                      2. it sounds like you have already discovered one thing i've found to be true:

                                                        phoney meat usually doesn't taste very good.

                                                        in my experience, the trick is educating your palate to favor dishes made with legumes, real vegetables, real fruits, and whole grains.

                                                        1. I had the same issues when becoming a veggie with fake meats & crunchy-style vegetarianism. I used Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks as an introduction into eating veggie & I still use her cookbooks today. I especially like "Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian" :

                                                          http://www.amazon.com/Madhur-Jaffreys...

                                                          1. Nut butters are a great way to get good taste, food bulk an protein. WF almond and cashew butters are a great start point. Also the non dairy margarines. These two items will make toasted bread into a great meal.

                                                            Nut butters provide backbone for any number of sauces.

                                                            1. Lots of great advice here- especially that about looking to other cuisines than trying to replicate a meat meal. It's always lacking.

                                                              One of my all time favorite dishes is a pasta primavera with an asian twist:
                                                              First cube, drain, and dust tofu with corn starch, fry in a little peanut oil until it's nice and crispy on the outside. Rest on a paper towel.

                                                              Make a sauce of coconut milk, some peanut butter or tahini, chili paste, lime juice, soy or tamari, lemongrass- set aside.

                                                              Cook up any kind of noodle you like- italian pasta, rice noodles, jap chae, whatever.

                                                              Saute whatever veg you like in large skillet. Add the sauce at the last minute, toss with the noodles, top with the crispy tofu. I'll serve this to meat eaters who are amazed when halfway through dinner I tell them it's vegan. That's always a good moment, when people realize that "vegan" doesn't mean 'less than".

                                                              1. One hint that hasn't been made explicitly in all these great responses:
                                                                Think of composite plates rather than main course + sides. A dinner might include a plate with a whole grain such as brown rice; a legume such as beans with a light dressing and some herbs; a cooked vegetable with a light sauce; and a raw vegetable salad.

                                                                Also: Much depends on the quality of the vegetables. You found Mollie Katzen's dishes to be without taste. Perhaps with fresh, local vegetables the tastes will shine through. Or perhas as you get used to a lower-fat diet (and one with less salt) flavors will shine through that were hidden before. Good luck!

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: alc

                                                                  You bring up a good point here. Combining foods means that you get more protein out of a meal. Some foods have certain amino acids and other foods have other amino acids. When you eat both of these foods it forms a more complete protein.

                                                                  For example combining rice and beans or corn and beans.

                                                                  1. re: twodales

                                                                    Yotam Ottolenghi is the BEST. His cookbook "Plenty" is vegetarian, though not vegan. Take a look at his recipe series in the Guardian:

                                                                    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl...

                                                                  2. re: alc

                                                                    Good point. I found that once I joined a CSA I needed to serve *two* vegetables at each meal. Not a bad thing! It instantly makes your meat course, if you plan to have one, to 1/4 of your plate. Also I recommend 660 Curries as a great cookbook.

                                                                  3. I am not a vegetarian but I love veggies and legumes and I practically live at farmers markets in the season. For recipe inspiration, one of my first and most lasting sources has been Deborah Madison's books, Local Flavor, Vegetarian Suppers, etc. Her blog/website is: http://deborahmadison.com/blog/

                                                                    For me, delving deeper into vegetarian cooking means finding what is fresh and delicious and then looking for new ways to prepare it. I just, for the first time ever, bought little globe eggplants and made this: http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/...

                                                                    I also have a big crop of herbs growing on my deck and have to continually find ways, usually veg-heavy, to use those up. Thai basil stir fry concoctions are a personal favorite, sometimes with a little meat but still, much healthier than a slab of meat on a plate.

                                                                    1. Last night I made a thai green curry. I had some baby courgettes/zucchini that needed to be used so I chunked those up along with some green beans, a red pepper and near the end snap peas. Tossed some light coconut milk in. finished with lime juice and cilantro. A hard cider to wash it all down.

                                                                      Sweet corn on the side and watermelon for afters.The corn and watermelon did not disappoint. The curry was nice too. Ah Summer!

                                                                      1. I also have a SO who is diabetic and a prime candidate for a heart attack. We have moved to a more plant-based diet, although not purely vegetarian. We started easy with "meatless Mondays". Once I built up my repertoire of vegetarian recipes that the family enjoys, we started expanding. We now eat vegetarian 3 nights a week and are looking to continue to expand. Everyone is feeling great and both SO and I are starting to lose weight, which is a happy side effect.

                                                                        Last night, in fact, I made what the kids have dubbed "Mexican Lasagne". Corn tortillas stand in for lasagne noodles, salsa verde for tomato sauce. Goat cheese takes the place of ricotta (I have a cow's milk allergy). Fillings were roasted cubed sweet potatoes, black beans, corn, red peppers, and onions. Topped with shredded manchego cheese. The kids begged for leftovers in their lunchboxes today. I have made it with a ricotta substitute made of tofu and walnuts that's passable in a casserole such as this. You could leave the manchego out and it would still be yummy.

                                                                        The suggestion to avoid the meat substitutes and just focus on the great vegetables available now is sound.

                                                                        Since I can't have cow's milk, I've started making a coffee creamer out of a can of coconut milk, a similar amount of almond milk, and some sweetener (maple syrup or honey). Whizz it up in the blender and store in the fridge. I've also used it for baking when cream is called for and it works pretty well.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Bivalve88

                                                                          That just sounds great, Bivalve!! Consider posting on our "What's for Dinner" thread--you will both give and get lots of ideas! I'm copying your Mexican lasagna idea to my recipe program!

                                                                          1. re: Bivalve88

                                                                            I've been making a very similar recipe that I found on eating well.com:
                                                                            http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/chi...

                                                                            I add a package of Lightlife Smart Ground Mexican "crumbles," and it goes over very well. I like your idea of sweet potatoes, though, and will add that in the next time I make it. I just made this for this past Sabbath, and have leftovers in the fridge currently.

                                                                          2. highly recommend www.yumuniverse.com

                                                                            also, second the recommendation to look at cuisines which have big vegan or vegetarian selections "naturally" such as ethiopian, indian, thai, etc..

                                                                            1. Definitely! Have a look at some fantastic blogs, and grab some great cookbooks. I've just recommended some in another thread, but my recommendations are:

                                                                              These ladies create fantastic, tasty, reliable dishes - blog, name, best cookbook.
                                                                              veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.com - Bryanna Clark Grogan (World Vegan Feast or Nonna's Italian Kitchen)
                                                                              everydaydish.tv - Julie Hasson (Vegan Diner - fantastic, fantastic book)
                                                                              plantpoweredkitchen.com - Dreena Burton (Let Them Eat Vegan - should definitely be your pick for healthy, but tasty food)
                                                                              urbanvegan.net - Dynise Balcavage (The Urban Vegan).
                                                                              even justthefood.com (Joni Marie Newman - The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions).

                                                                              If you go vegan, without reducing fat and sugar for a start - you're already making improvements to your health. Let your tastebuds adjust for a while before you jump in. But don't skimp on protein, or flavour. Bump it up!

                                                                              Let me know on Twitter if you have any questions - @mattheworbit.

                                                                              1. I love Indian food and Manjula's Kitchen on Youtube has lots of easy plant-based deliciousness recipes

                                                                                http://www.manjulaskitchen.com/

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: Funkalicious

                                                                                  I also love Manjula's videos & recipes!

                                                                                2. Hi Linengirl,

                                                                                  I was in the same boat as you- husband had a heart attack 2 years ago and we took a hard look at our hamburger-loving ways and made some drastic cuts. Happy to say that a year later, we have not gone total veg or vegan by a long shot, but have drastically improved our diets.

                                                                                  First, there is no more red meat in my house. None. That doesn't mean we can't eat it, but it is only when we go out to eat at a restaurant or for special occasions. Only chicken and seafood in my fridge, and occasionally some ham that we use for flavor, not as a main dish. The simple fact that it is not readily available for us to cook with means we don't cook with it.

                                                                                  Second, we tried a lot of new things. As for veggieburgers, some are horrid. Some are edible. We eat morningstar farms grillers, but very few other "fake" meat products. We made this fun and had a veggieburger taste off night where we invited friends over and got a box of all the different veggie burgers and we all tried them all. We also occasionally make our own. But putting a veggieburger on the grill is quick and easy. I make a pesto-type sauce with a scoop of reduced-fat cream cheese, a couple of grilled tomatoes and grilled red peppers and a handful of fresh basil. Put it all in the food processor and puree and put a dollop on the veggie burgers... very nice..

                                                                                  My goal was to come up with a handful of meatless dishes that we liked so much that we didn't feel like we were depriving ourselves. So that when I came home from work and was trying to put a meal on the table in under an hour, I wouldn't have to think hard to cook something healthy that I knew we would like. It took a while. First you find one or two that you like and you put them in heavy rotation, and then you build out from there. Like someone else said, aim for being able to eat completely meat-free three days a week. Before you know it, you are eating meat-free more than that just because you actually have meatless meals that you like. And you stop thinking of them as being meatless meals, they just become standard meals in your household.

                                                                                  It was easier for me to take the time on weekends to try new dishes instead of during the week after work. And then if a weekend dish was a hit, I would put it in weeknight rotation.

                                                                                  I also got him helping in the kitchen more- it is his health after all. And you are more likely to try things if you cook them yourselves. We have greatly expanded the variety of vegetables we eat by taking the time to get used to them in small doses.

                                                                                  Have a potluck with your friends and have them bring veggie dishes. I would never have believed the tofu ricotta in veganomicon was edible at all had my friend not brought it to dinner one night. It is fabulous. Other people's favorite recipes are their favorites for a reason.

                                                                                  And I remind myself that when I switch from heavy cream to 2% milk with cornstarch or saute in olive oil instead of bacon grease that I may be cutting down on the deliciousness, but the dish is still at least 75% as good as the original version. And that eating something only 75% as good but having my husband around for another 30 years is a tradeoff I am willing to make.

                                                                                  And we have adjusted, as everyone else mentions. We were on vacation recently and I ate meat and french fries for 3 days and felt like absolute crap. Could not wait to get home to broccoli and zucchini.

                                                                                  Last thing, get a grill. We have 4 types of grills on our back porch- I know it is overkill. but things taste better when grilled and if I am grilling something, that means I'm not frying it. Just toss veggies with olive oil, salt, and some spices and then char. Way better than boiling them.

                                                                                  1. I'm recovering from a whole bunch of health problems myself, including a heart attack in February (it was due to hospital error, not an underlying heart condition), and am considered (due to another condition) a high risk for developing diabetes. (NOTE: I'm underweight, not over, so I can't help there...) What I would say is, going vegan is actually not what I chose to do. The reason is my understanding, based on some pretty extensive biology experience, leads me to believe that having animal proteins/fats available to my body is REALLY important for the organ healing/rebuilding my body needs to do. That kind of event is very traumatic for the body (duh, right?) and it has a lot of work to do to rebuild, so I want to feed it the best resources possible.

                                                                                    I cut out red meat, and added more vegetarian items to my diet, but I've kept poultry, pork, and fish/seafood, as well as eggs and dairy, in my diet. It's been working for me. My biggest change has been towards meals that *include* rather than *feature* meat (think pastas or noodle dishes, rice dishes/bowls, sandwiches/wraps, salads, things like that). I also had the opportunity this year to live in Thailand for a few months, during which time I attended cooking classes. The woman giving them was a local who ran a restaurant out of her home and gave cooking classes out of the restaurant when she wasn't busy. Her best friend cooks for the Thai royal family, so that's where I got all my Thai recipes and techniques... Those are some really awesome, albeit far from vegetarian, dishes, if you're interested.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                                      Vegetables have protein.

                                                                                      1. re: Josh

                                                                                        True! I didn't say they didn't though, and I was careful to be specific that I purposefully chose to keep *animal* fat and protein in my diet. I moved toward a heavily vegetarian/plant way of eating, but made a conscious choice not to eliminate animal-based foods altogether.

                                                                                      2. re: chartreauxx

                                                                                        Stress is 30% of the heart disease process. Changing food choices is a state of mind , takes some time, can't be done overnight. It starts with your shopping list.

                                                                                      3. I would suggest that you also read Dr. Joel Fuhrman's book, Eat to Live, which also has a strong focus on plant-based nutrition and some excellent recipes as well. The funny thing is that once you begin trying different vegan and raw recipes, you'll find the taste so amazing that it gets easier to incorporate healthier foods into your diet. I always think in terms of ADDING rather than depriving - when you think in terms of benefits and gains rather than what you're giving up, it makes the whole process easier. While I don't imagine myself ever going whole hog raw :), I've been experimenting a lot with raw foods and have loved everything I've made. I like Jenny Cornbleet's cookbooks. If it's in your budget, do pick up a Vitamix.

                                                                                        1. This is a great anagram for incorporating better foods into a diet to resist, prevent, reverse disease:
                                                                                          B - Beans and berries
                                                                                          G - Greens and Garlic
                                                                                          O - Onions and Olives (oil)
                                                                                          N - Nuts and Nestles (for dark chocolate)
                                                                                          E - Eggs and Edamame (soy)
                                                                                          S - Seeds and Salmon (or any Mercury-free fish)

                                                                                          Also check out WHFoods.org and look at the Food Advisor link to help modify your diet(s); You don't have to give up easy protein. But if you do go vegan, remember to make beans a main component along with veggies.

                                                                                          Type II diabetes is reversible at onset. Getting sucked into the medical wheel will make a diabetic for life. Drop weight and ALL numbers will come down.

                                                                                          These supplements are also beneficial: cinnamon Verum/ Ceylon/ True (NOT cassea); Fish oil (DHA and EPA values equal over 1000mg); Chromium, Biotin, Gymnema......these supplements work at lowering blood sugar so be careful if using along with insulin or Metformin.

                                                                                          Use Swiss Chard and other dark greens in cooking. Swiss Chard especially helps stabilize blood sugar. Kale is one of the world's perfect foods for health.

                                                                                          To incorporate more veggies in diet, try soups (using homemade stocks); creative salads with beets, chopped dark greens, low-sugar fruits. Apples.

                                                                                          Many of out healthiest foods have always been right in front of us all along. Get creative and you will see results.

                                                                                          1. maybe you need to do this quickly. but, if not, i would recommend trying out a "meatless monday" approach to get started.. lots of people are doing this now, for a variety of reasons (health, ethics, economics). I have done this absolutely without my family noticing! That's an easy first step..
                                                                                            and, and easy second step is to change your lunch to a salad. That's not iceburg lettuce with oil and vinegar: that means lots of greens (spinach, kale, arugula, spring mix, etc) with raw chopped veg (carrots, peppers, tomatoes, olives, etc) a potential protein (sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts) and a fabulous vegan dressing (possible chia seed with creamy avacado, or a miso based dressing - you get the idea). In no time, you'll be surprised how great this is to incorporate into your day!

                                                                                            also, the library: your library will have vegetarian cookbooks. It's not that hard to convert recipes to vegan.. there will be info on the internet if you get stuck. Start looking there- you WILL find some favorite cookbooks!

                                                                                            there are some really great vegan websites - my favorite is yumuniverse.com. but there are lots of wonderful blogs out there. Definitely check them out!

                                                                                            oh and, BTW, i hate all those products you mentioned too. WHO spent the time to think of something so nasty? Eat your own food - you'll be happier!

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: rmarisco

                                                                                              Carrots can also be shredded, of course. It is important to make sure these healthy ideas are also accessible to people who have trouble chewing very hard foods. I really like a salad with shredded cabbage and carrot, and add this to green salads as well.

                                                                                            2. Congrats on this decision! I have been veg since um... Forever? 20 years or so, and lactose intolerant.
                                                                                              Anyways, i made this last night (no feta) and it was awesome!!
                                                                                              http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/101475...
                                                                                              And here is a really great recap of some vegetarian and vegan cooking blogs and specific feedback about favorite recipes, also look through the comments for more websites and ideas:
                                                                                              http://tastespace.wordpress.com/2013/...

                                                                                              1. imho, the best vegan food is to be found in the "ethnic food" category.

                                                                                                in particular, INDIAN FOOD, and MEXICAN FOOD.

                                                                                                think legumes.

                                                                                                also, critically evaluate your recipe file and the restaurants that you choose to patronize. when i moved to a more plant-based diet i had to recreate my recipe file and start looking at restaurants that served ETHNIC food.

                                                                                                1. I'd like to challenge you and your fiance to try the 21-day Vegan Kickstart sponsored by Physicians for Responsible Medicine.

                                                                                                  http://pcrm.org/kickstartHome/messages/

                                                                                                  A new challenge begins the 1st of every month. The site supplies education, recipes, support and motivation for anyone wanting to try the vegan lifestyle for a brief period of time. Focus on the wonderful foods you can eat (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetable fats, nuts and seeds and spices) and you won't miss the meat and dairy.

                                                                                                  Though not 100% vegan now, my meals are centered on vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, and I'm enjoying trying new and very flavorful dishes with my non-vegan husband.

                                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: elegraph

                                                                                                    Nice and I agree that most will not miss the meat and dairy once you experience whole plant foods prepared WITHOUT salt, oil & sugar. *Also* PCRM currently has a job opportunity for medical doctor in Washington, DC...if any of you know a physician looking for this kind of work, you might check their website.

                                                                                                    1. re: Val

                                                                                                      I think if I had whole plant foods prepared without salt, oil, or sugar, I'd be heading back to eating meat (and I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years).

                                                                                                      1. re: will47

                                                                                                        really will? you don't enjoy the taste of fresh fruit or veggies on their own? They always have to have something added to them? Just asking.

                                                                                                        1. re: Val

                                                                                                          i make a lot of vegan soups, and i'm with will47 on this;
                                                                                                          soup without salt and oil (the oil is necessary to saute the mirepoix) is, imho, yuck.

                                                                                                          also, i love sorbetto; sorbetto contains sugar.

                                                                                                          most mornings i have a homemade (using soy milk) iced blended mocha for breakfast. the mocha contains 1 TBL organic sugar.

                                                                                                          red pasta sauce made without olive oil, imho, is also yuck.

                                                                                                          the spicy thai peanut dipping sauce that i love contains both salt and sugar

                                                                                                          and on and on and on

                                                                                                          1. re: Val

                                                                                                            I've been cooking without sugar/fat/salt since becoming vegetarian 3.5 years ago. I've lost ~40 lbs and feel better than I ever have before - even signed up for a half marathon next April! It's all about retraining your taste buds - now I can taste how salty plain celery is!

                                                                                                            1. re: adlnc

                                                                                                              For people who don't have specific conditions, there's nothing wrong with eating healthy amounts of salt, especially if you're not eating restaurant food or prepared foods that frequently. Even for people with high blood pressure, low-salt diets only help for some of them.

                                                                                                              And, if you're eating a vegan diet already, there's also no reason for most people to be afraid of fat (again, unless you're trying to solve a specific health condition).

                                                                                                              *Can* you cook without these things? Of course, but I don't think you're going to make a lot of converts to a veg*n diet this way. Yes, a lot of people eat too much salt, sugar, and fat, but that doesn't mean that these ingredients (in moderation) aren't important to making delicious food.

                                                                                                              1. re: will47

                                                                                                                The OP did specifically mention health problems as a reason for checking out a vegan diet. Programs like Eat to Live and the Engine 2 Diet have had great success in turning people's health (& lives) around, based on a diet with no added oil/salt/sugar.

                                                                                                                In many cases "moderation" can be harder to achieve than just cutting something out 100%. Especially when it comes to salt/sugar/fat because those things can set off cravings for more of the same. And frankly, if you are trying to lose weight oil can add a lot calories to an otherwise healthy dish. This is a good discussion of "just a little oil:"

                                                                                                                http://jeffnovick.com/RD/Articles/Ent...

                                                                                                                Anyhow, I just disagree with the notion that food cooked without added oil/salt/sugar can't be delicious.

                                                                                                                To each his/her own, of course!