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A vegan feast

Going on 17 years ago, I switched to a vegan diet—forsaking all animal products, including eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin and, of course, meat. The original impetus for the switch was not wanting to harm living creatures. But as I began to study the issue, I learned that not only animals suffer in the typical food picture—we humans do, too. Animal agriculture and its waste are the biggest sources of water and air pollution in this country. And according to the American Dietetic Association, the vast majority of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders are all negatively impacted by a meat-centered diet.

Fortunately, vegan and vegetarian cooking is now something to celebrate. Years ago, it would take me hours to figure out a meal, checking every ingredient and starting over when I couldn’t find a substitute. Ordering anything in a restaurant was just as daunting and often fruitless; when I could find a veg option it was either a plate of veggies or a big chunk of gluten or textured vegetable protein (TVP) with brown rice and black beans. That all changed when I discovered the secret to fantastic vegan cooking: ethnic flavors! Thai, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Chinese, Tibetan, and Ethiopian food is where all the fun is. The food is simple, delicious, and preparing it is often an adventure.

The recipes here—some of my personal favorites—comprise a primarily Mediterranean menu that’s robust with antioxidant-loaded olive oil, herbs, and vegetables. I invite you to experience these incredible flavors with your family and friends. Salud!

Baby Greens, Heirloom Tomato, and Basil Salad

Serves 4 / Ingredient tip: Heirloom tomatoes, usually grown by small-scale farmers, are eco-friendly and far more flavorful than a typical store-bought tomato. They’re definitely worth the extra money when available. View recipe.

Italian Harvest Vegetable Soup

Serves 8 / If my Grandmother had been Italian, she would have made this soup. It is as wholesome and delicious as it is beautiful. Prep tip: If you don’t have fresh spinach, you can use one 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry. View recipe.

Roasted Baby Artichokes with Cici Beans and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Serves 6 / Ingredient tips: Cici (garbanzo) beans add lean protein and texture to this hearty dish. Baby artichokes can be eaten whole after cooking because they don’t have the fuzzy heart typical of larger artichokes. If you can’t find them, use prepared artichoke hearts (canned in water and well drained); roast until lightly browned for flavor, halve, then stir into cici-bean mixture as directed. View recipe.

Mediterranean Stuffed Bell Peppers

Serves 6 / A pleasure for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Ingredient tip: I use Field Roast vegan sausage, made with grains. Look for it in the seitan and tofu section of your market. Prep tip: These are a great item to make ahead; they’ll keep for five to seven days refrigerated in an airtight container (placing them in individual zip-top bags works, too). They also can be frozen and stored for several weeks. View recipe.

Orzo and Chopped Olive Medley

Serves 6 / With a tender, unique texture, orzo is one of my favorite pastas; it’s also attractive on the plate. View recipe.

Chocolate Mocha Cheesecake

Serves 16 / Ingredient tip: I use Ener-G egg replacement (mixed with water according to package directions), but you can also use Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer (3 tablespoons stirred into 9 tablespoons water); or, if you’re not vegan, four medium eggs. Serving tip: Garnish with chilled dairy-free whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, and nondairy chocolate-covered espresso beans. View recipe.

My vegan pantry: Items to have on hand

Earth Balance Buttery Spread. Trans fat, hormone, and cholesterol free, this is an excellent butter replacement. Try it in cookies or melted over corn on the cob.

Extra-firm tofu. The most versatile food for marinating, grilling, baking, scrambling, roasting, and filling.

Frontier Herbs Chicken-Flavored Broth Powder. This delicious broth works anywhere a traditional chicken broth is needed and has no cholesterol or MSG.

Gimme Lean vegan sausage. Really great in breakfast burritos. Be sure to fry in a nonstick or well-oiled stainless steel skillet.

Soy milk. Free of cholesterol and hormones, it makes baked goods particularly rich. I use different flavors for different recipes.

Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and Better Than Sour Cream. Both are hormone, cholesterol, and trans-fat free, and it is a very rare bird that can tell them apart from their dairy-based counterparts.

Yves Meatless Ground Round Original. A plant-based hamburger replacement, great for quick dinners.

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