21-day vegan diet: try it free!

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has developed a wonderful, free program called the "21-Day Vegan Kickstart" to encourage people to try a vegan diet (no animal products) for better health, starting Jan 1, 2010. All you do is sign up online, and you'll receive emails with daily recipes, menus, restaurant recommendations, nutrition webcasts with Neal Barnard, MD, and diet tips from vegan celebrities like actress Alicia Silverstone and writer Rory Freedman, coauthor of Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.

Here are two sample recipes from Rory, examples of how delicious vegan cooking can be.

Green Goddess Pasta

Makes 4 Servings

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons refined coconut oil

6 tablespoons vegan butter

3 quarts water

5 teaspoons fine sea salt

8 ounces whole wheat or brown rice elbow macaroni

2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 broccoli crown, cut into bite-sized florets (about 2 1/2 cups)

1/2 bunch (about 4 ounces) kale, cut into 1/2-inch strips

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup pine nuts

In a 1-quart saucepan over low heat, combine the garlic and coconut oil and cook, swirling occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter, swirling until it melts, and set aside.

In a 4-to 6-quart stockpot over high heat, combine the water with about 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. Bring the water to a boil, add the macaroni, and cook according to the package directions until about 1 minute shy of being done. Stir in the zucchini, broccoli, and kale. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the pasta is cooked, about 1 minute.

Drain the pasta mixture, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the garlic butter, pepper, 3 tablespoons of the pine nuts, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Transfer the pasta to plates or a platter, garnish with remaining 1tablespoon of pine nuts, and serve.

Penne with Butternut Squash, Sage Pesto, and Almonds

Makes 4 Servings

3 quarts water

5 teaspoons fine sea salt

8 ounces whole wheat or brown rice penne

2 tablespoons refined coconut oil

1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch thick sticks

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup Sage Pesto (see recipe below)

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional)

In a 4- to 6-quart stockpot over high heat, combine the water with about 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. Bring the water to a boil, add the penne, and cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Stir in the shallots, pepper, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash and shallots are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and stir in the pesto and squash mixture. If it seems too dry, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Transfer the pasta to plates or a platter, and if desired, garnish with almonds. Serve immediately.

Sage Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup whole almonds

2 cloves garlic

1 1/2 cups fresh sage leaves

3/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves

3 ounces (about 1/3 cup) soy cream cheese

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for storing

In a food processor, combine the almonds and garlic and pulse to roughly chop. Add the sage and parsley and pulse to chop. Add the cream cheese, salt, and pepper and process into a paste. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil, processing until the oil is fully combined. Use immediately or transfer to a small container, cover with a thin layer of olive oil, and store in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.

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