Times Standard (Eureka)

Thinking about going vegan? Here's what you need to know

- By Nicole Hvidsten

Many of us have gone meatless at some point in our lives. Maybe it was when finances were lean, maybe it was for health purposes or in solidarity with an altruistic child.

Whatever the reason, we could always fall back on dairy and eggs. But a strict plant-based diet eschews those, too, meaning we'll have to be purposeful in planning meals and reading labels.

“It's a lot easier than you think,” said Robin Asbell, a local chef, cooking instructor and author of several cookbooks, including 2011's “Big Vegan.”

“People have a mind-set of `here's how I build a meal,' and it usually starts with picking a protein and building from there,” she said. “It's very hard for people to break away from that and get into building the meal around what vegetables look really great or what's in season.”

Asbell has had plenty of practice. She's been developing recipes her entire career, whether cooking at a small cafe, as head chef at the Wedge co-op deli or posting new dishes on her website. She's been a vegetarian for decades, and while she no longer calls herself a “hard-core vegan,” she does eat mostly vegan foods. “I always say I'm more plantbased.”

We talked to Asbell about the plant-based movement, what foods should be in your pantry, baking and what we can learn from other cultures.

Vegan vs. plant-based: “Vegan really has a strong animal rights component, and it's not just about the food,” she said. “But I'm a food person, so that's what I'm doing — trying to make good recipes for people to help them eat more plants and meeting them wherever they are. I develop recipes with meat in them, but my philosophy is to make it possible for people to eat less [meat].”

How times have changed: “When I wrote `Big Vegan,' that's what kind of put me on this path. Before that I wasn't necessaril­y identified as a vegan author. For more and more people it was more about the carbon footprint, it was about the environmen­t. And it really should be. This is really something everybody needs to think about.”

Take your cue from other cultures: If you want a diet that's entirely plant-based, look around. “Investigat­e the food of cultures that don't eat dairy in the first place. The vegetarian place to go has always been a Chinese restaurant, Vietnamese — all those where there's not cheese on the menu. Look to those ancient cuisines and they've already worked out the flavor ... so it's not like you have to reinvent the wheel. It is really easy to go and make a flavorful curry and use coconut milk, or make a red lentil dahl — lean into the theme dishes of all the other places in the world. Bean soups, pasta e fagioli and all the things that have beans in them, and it's a really cheap and low-impact protein source.”

About protein: “Just make sure there's protein at every meal,” she said, “and I know vegans get tired of hearing about it.”

“But everybody's worried about protein, so make sure you've got beans and nuts and seeds and things like edamame. Try to make something you'd like with tofu, although I know that's a stretch for some.” Asbell has a fondness for mock duck, which is a wheat-based gluten, and recommends using it in place of chicken or beef in stir-fries or stews. It's readily available at co-ops and Asian markets.

If you're going to follow a strict vegan diet, she also recommends buying fortified nondairy milks or cereals so you'll get enough vitamin B12.

Say cheese: “Back when they first came out with vegan cheese, it was just horrible,” Asbell said. Although she still doesn't care for a lot of the nondairy cheese, she does like nut-based, fermented cheeses, like cashew cheeses. “But I'm kind of old school,” she said. One brand that gets the thumbs-up: Miyoko, the groundbrea­king dairy line from California entreprene­ur Miyoko Schinner. It's widely available in stores and comes in many forms, from hard cheeses to cream cheese.*

 ?? NICOLE HVIDSTEN — MINNEAPOLI­S STAR TRIBUNE ?? Chickpeas are a noble stand-in for eggs in a sandwich.
NICOLE HVIDSTEN — MINNEAPOLI­S STAR TRIBUNE Chickpeas are a noble stand-in for eggs in a sandwich.

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