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What are the Options for Vegetable Broth?

If you cook vegetarian or vegan, you need a vegetable broth solution that works for you. There are lots of options, so I thought I’d offer my take on the advantages and disadvantages of each.

A couple of caveats. First, salt. Some prepared broths and bouillons contain more salt than others. Until you’re sure about the broth you’re using, taste your soup or dish before adding additional salt.

Second, back up your supply, whatever option you choose. It’s one of those ingredients that you can run out of without noticing, and you discover too late that you don’t have what you need.

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Vegetable broth powder (aka bouillon powder)

This is what I use. It’s very easy to measure, and each container lasts a long while. It doesn’t go bad and has a nice flavor, although you wouldn’t mistake it for homemade broth from a good recipe. I use Seitenbacher Vegetable Broth and Seasoning, which is easy to buy on Amazon and is not heavy on salt.

Vegetable bouillon cubes 

Cubes have about the same advantages as broth powder, with some small differences. Salt is the main ingredient in some cubes (such as Knorr’s), and the cubes often contain oil and thickeners to hold their shape. But if you like the taste, bouillon cubes are convenient, have a long shelf-life, and are simple to use.

Vegetable Base Bouillon

This very thick concentrated liquid, similar in texture to molasses, comes in jars. “Better Than Bouillon” is the brand people know best. The taste is fine but not any better than the powder I use, in my opinion. I find measuring this product very difficult; it sticks to the spoon, and I often get more than I need. Because of that, it seems to run out quickly, way before I get the 38 teaspoons promised on the label.

Ready-to-Use Broth in Shelf-Stable Quart Containers

Full-strength broth ready to pour directly into the pan offers the ultimate convenience. Pacific Foods makes the most widely available vegetable broths (regular and low-sodium, both organic), but several other national and generic brands are available. For me, the taste of many of these broths is not very good—carrots seem to dominate the flavor of most of them. They’re also much more expensive than all the other options, usually from $2.00 to $4.00 per quart, so if you cook a lot, that can add up. Also, they take up a lot of room, and once they’re open, you have to use the rest within about a week or freeze it.

Homemade Broth from Scraps

Some enterprising cooks clean and collect scraps when they cook and put them in a freezer bag. When the bag is full, they simmer the scraps with water for about an hour, strain the mixture, and use the broth right away or freeze it. They use onion skins, carrot peels, celery leaves, mushroom stems, the green ends of leeks, the tops of bell peppers, and whatever else they’ve cut off their vegetables.

I don’t use this method for two reasons. 1) It’s extra work I don’t feel is worth it, partly because 2) the taste of the broth varies by batch, depending on the scraps, and I don’t necessarily want a surprisingly strong onion, celery, cabbage, or other taste in a soup or dish.

Homemade Broth Following a Recipe

Judging strictly by flavor, this is the best solution. There’s nothing like a fresh broth with balanced flavors made at home. There are many great recipes available for different kinds of broth: basic vegetable broth, mushroom broth, Asian-inspired broth, etc. Of course, the downsides are the time investment and making sure you have the ingredients on hand. For special soups or for the base of a special gravy, I make broth from scratch, but I do it only a few times a year.

Summary of Vegetable Broth Recommendations

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What is Edamame? 

Edamame is the word (from the Japanese) for fresh young soybeans, picked before the bean matures and dries into those familiar yellowish-white beans. Edamame pods aren’t edible—they’re tough and fibrous. But the inside bean is delicious.  

Where to Find Edamame

Edamame is not commonly available in supermarket produce sections. Luckily the frozen kind are very good. I’ve only had fresh once in my life—actually I picked them right from the field at a co-op farm. I have to say they weren’t that different from frozen, so I’m happy with frozen. 

Edamame come either in the pod or already shelled. Trader Joe’s sells “ready to eat” shelled edamame, already cooked. 

How to Eat Edamame

Many people eat edamame in only one way: in the pod as an appetizer at an Asian restaurant. They’re seasoned simply, just with salt. You open the pod with your mouth or fingers and eat the beans inside.

You can use edamame in lots of recipes. Shelled edamame are great added to a stir fry. There are lots of recipes on the internet for edamame hummus and for glazes that you can stir into cooked in-the-pod edamame, so that when you put the pod in your mouth to get to the beans, you get a tangy or garlicky boost. You can throw some cooked shelled edamame beans into practically any salad. 

I’ve create three edamame-centric recipes so far, both delicious!

How to Cook Edamame

Edamame beans are fast-cooking. They can go from perfectly tender and bright green to mushy and olive green in a flash. I don’t use the Instant Pot for edamame except for soup. 

To cook shelled edamame on the stovetop, boil the water, then add the edamame and boil for 4 minutes. If they’re not tender enough for you, let them boil a minute or so longer. Or you can cook them in the microwave for 4 minutes with a couple tablespoons of water. 

For in-the-pod edamame, boil the water, add the pods, then boil till they float, then let them boil another 30-60 seconds. Or use the same microwave technique as for shelled edamame (4 minutes with a couple tablespoons water). 

Edamame is a Champ When it Comes to Nutrition

Edamame (and all soybeans) are incredibly nutritious. One cup of shelled edamame gives you 18 grams of fiber and 22 grams of protein -- with only 240 calories. That’s about 70%of the daily fiber recommendation (25 grams) and 50% of the daily protein requirement for women and 40% for men. 

Soybean Controversies

There have been a number of controversies related to soybeans. I’ll touch on three of them below. I recommend Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s article on soybean myths for further reading. 

The most controversial aspect of soybeans is a compound they contain called isoflavones. Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, which are plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity.For a while, many experts claimed that these phytoestrogens had the same effect as the hormone estrogen in the human body. 

  1. Some claimed that phytoestrogens could have feminizing effects on men. This claim has now been shown in a number of studies to be false at reasonable levels of intake. Evidently one man who’d been drinking three quarts of soy milk every day for over six months developed breast swelling. But once he stopped, the issue was resolved.  

  2. Another controversy relates to breast cancer in women. Since the human hormone estrogen can stimulate breast cancer cell growth, there was an early theory that there might be a link between soy foods and breast cancer. Hundreds of studies followed. No studies in humans have suggested an increase in breast cancer risk; most show a decrease. And in Asian countries, where soy is a staple food, breast cancer rates are much lower than those in the United States.

  3. Do soybeans help decrease hot flashes? Unfortunately, taken together, research studies have not yet established a reliable connection between dietary soy intake and occurrence of hot flashes. However, there is much less occurrence of hot flashes among women living in Asian countries where soybeans are a key part of most people’s diet. 

Five or fewer servings of soybeans a day are very good for you, and there appears to be no harmful effects at all. So eat!

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What is Flaxseed Meal?


Flaxseed meal, or ground-up flaxseeds, is more of a silent partner than a big bold star in plant-based cooking, but it’s incredibly valuable because of its nutrition and texture.

Egg Substitute

Flaxseed meal is one of the most commonly recommended vegan egg substitutes in baking, because if you mix flaxseed meal (1 Tablespoon) and water (3 Tablespoons) and let it sit a few minutes, the mixture takes on the viscous consistency of an egg. You can also add a tablespoon of flaxseed meal to smoothies or oatmeal, or a few tablespoons to a pot of soup for the same thickening effect.

How to Use Flaxseed Meal in Recipes

Recipes that call for flaxseed meal as an egg substitute will provide instructions on how and when to combine it with water and add to the rest of the ingredients. If you have recipes that call for eggs, try substituting flaxseed eggs (1 Tablespoon flaxseed meal and 3 Tablespoons water for each egg – mix them together and let them sit 5-10 minutes before adding to the rest of the ingredients). 

Nutritional Value

The reason to find ways to eat flaxseed meal is that it’s so nutritious. Flaxseeds contain fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids that are very good for your health. 

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acid sare "good" fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. 

  • Lignans have plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities.

  • Fiber is great for the colon and for helping to prevent chronic diseases.

Note that unground flaxseeds can go straight through your digestive tract without breaking apart, meaning that these wonderful nutrients are not released and absorbed. I just buy flaxseed meal already ground. 

Where to find it

Flaxseed meal is now sold in most grocery stores, including many bulk sections—that’s the most cost-efficient way to buy it. It is definitely available in natural food stores. 

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What is Chinese Roasted Sesame Paste?

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Over the years—no, decades—one of the hardest dishes for me to re-create at home was Cold Sesame Noodles. I ordered them almost every time I ate at a Chinese restaurant (as a vegetarian; unfortunately most places use egg noodles). I adored those thin noodles tossed with the sweet-salty, peanuty, sesame-infused sauce. But I could never get close to the taste and texture in my own kitchen, no matter what recipe I tried. Until now. 

Eureka! The secret ingredient!

Finally a recipe by Sam Sifton in the New York Times for Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles clued me into roasted sesame paste, also known as Chinese sesame paste. It’s a thick, dark-brown paste made from roasted sesame seeds. 

Where to find it

You can find roasted sesame paste in Asian grocery stores or online. I drove to the closest Asian grocery store here in Portland and found the elusive ingredient with the help of the staff. The kind I got is translated as “Original sesame jam,” and, in addition to sesame seeds, it contains a little soybean oil, soybeans, and peanuts. There are brands made with 100% sesame seeds (for example, Wang Zhihe Pure Sesame Paste available on Amazon). 

Not the same as tahini

You may be familiar with tahini—a paste made from raw or lightly roasted sesame seeds. Chinese sesame paste smells and tastes more like sesame oil than tahini. Its glorious deep-roasted taste has a slightly bitter edge that only enhances the flavor, in my opinion. It will not be a strange, new flavor if you have used and liked sesame oil.

Cooking with roasted sesame paste

The good news for health-conscious cooks is that roasted sesame paste can substitute for sesame oil in many recipes. In recipes where sesame oil is used in a sauce, you can experiment by substituting the same measure of sesame paste as oil, plus the same measure of water as oil. 

My adaptation of Sam Sifton’s Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles recipe—Cold Sesame Noodles, Without Oil—eliminates the sesame oil, increases the sesame paste and water, offers an alternative to sugar (date paste), and has notes about non-egg noodle choices. 

I also created recipes for Moo Shu Vegetables and Candle-Café-Inspired Stir-Fry that use roasted sesame paste instead of sesame oil.

It’s very, very thick

Be aware that sesame paste is quite thick, so you need to make sure that any thick lumps are smoothed out before putting it into a recipe, unless you’re adding it to a blender or food processor, in which case the lumps will be taken care of. I use a fork to mix the paste in its jar before measuring out what I need, the same way I wrestle with tahini and natural peanut butter to achieve a smooth texture. 

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How to Increase Your Plant-Based Eating? 10 Ideas

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Eating plant-based doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. Maybe you’re trying to eat more plants every day but finding it hard. At the end of the day you go over what you ate and can’t believe you weren’t able to get more fruits and vegetables into your meals, even with your sincere intentions. 

It’s not just you

Humans are naturally built to prefer high-fat and high-carb foods. It takes some engineering to design and build new eating paths. I find it easiest to plan ahead and put plant foods in unavoidable places, so I almost have no choice but to eat them. 

Find your groove

I’ve put together a list of ten tasty ways to fill your day with fruits and vegetables. If you’re new to eating a lot of plants, just pick a couple of these a week and try them out. Pretty soon you’ll find your groove. Your digestive system may need time to adjust as well. But don’t worry – it will. 

1.     Vegetable and legume soups

From a can or from scratch, soups deliver generous servings of plant-based foods and are easy to make part of a meal. Progresso, Pacific Foods, and Amy’s are the best big brands for plant-based soups if you’re buying. Or make your own and freeze the leftovers! Check out this month’s Fiver on Lentil and Split Pea Soups. Or check out other soups on my site.

2.    Spinach salads

Substitute spinach for lettuce in your salads and eat a salad every day. These dark leafy greens have lots of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants and other phytonutrients. If you’re looking for a fancy spinach salad (with an oil-free dressing), check out my Spinach Salad with Curry Dressing.

3.    Homemade bean burgers

Burgers with all the fixings are just good. So why not find a good brand of bean burgers or make your own and have burger night on a regular basis? It means less meat and more nutritious plant food. Bean burgers are generally less processed and have less fat than other types of store-bought burgers. Amy’s, Gardein, Tofurky, and Engine 2 make bean burgers. To make your own bean burgers, try my Easy, Tasty, Baked Black Bean Burgers.

4.    Fruit smoothies with tofu instead of yogurt

Substituting silken tofu for yogurt and non-dairy milk for dairy milk will make your fruit smoothie plant-based and equally delicious. For a nifty twist on smoothies – with raw buckwheat and nuts – see my Have-It-Your-Way Smoothie.

5.    Spray-roasted vegetables

Roasting vegetables makes them so much better! And if you have spray-oil from the store or an oil mister, you can make roasted vegetables with less oil and calories than if you pour oil over them. Use interesting spice mixtures (like Montreal Steak Seasoning), use a hot oven (450 degrees), and get roasting!

6.    Snack bags of vegetables and fruits

Even if you work at home, but especially if you work away from home, pack a bag or two of carrot, celery, and/or jicama sticks along with mini peppers or whatever else you might have in the fridge. And take an apple or other piece of fruit. You can get 2 or 3 servings of plants this way. 

7.    Meatless Mexican food

Mexican is one of the easiest cuisines to eat plant-based. Skip the meat, go for beans, and substitute avocado or guacamole for cheese. Many places have vegan options. If you’re cooking at home, try my Gracious Vegan Vegetable Fajitas.

8.    Vegetable pizza

Pizza is another food that can easily be made vegetarian. Some places offer vegan cheese, but many don’t. I provide a lot of ideas for homemade pizza, even if you’re a beginning cook, in my post Vegan Pizza Like You Wouldn’t Believe.

9.    Meatless stir-fries

Most restaurants have a vegetable or tofu option for their stir-fry dishes. At home you can simply leave out the meat or substitute tofu, tempeh, or seitan. Two of my favorite recipes are Candle-Cafe-Inspired Stir-Fry and Broccoli Rabe or Mustard Greens Stir-Fry.

10. Loaded baked potatoes

Baked potatoes make a great entrée. I provide lots of ideas for toppings in this post: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Easy, Tasty Toppings.


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What is Nutritional Yeast?

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Nutritional yeast is not the kind of yeast that expands and bubbles in bread doughs. It’s deactivated and comes in the form of yellow flakes or powder. It has a pleasant cheesy flavor and is used in many plant-based recipes and as a topping for dishes and snacks. Nutritional yeast is also different from “yeast extract,” which is a dark brown paste. 

How nutritional yeast is made

Nutritional yeast is made by letting yeast grow in a glucose solution for a few days. Then the yeast is deactivated with heat, washed, dried, and packaged. 

Uses in plant-based cooking 

Nutritional yeast is popular as an ingredient in dishes where a cheesy flavor is desired. It’s used in recipes like Gracious Vegan Creamy Tomato SauceSun Dried Tomato RisottoGreen Goddess Garlic DressingCreamy Broccoli Soupand No-Oil, No-Butter White Sauce. It’s also used in recipes for plant-based cheeses, like Gracious Vegan Parmesan Cheese and Gracious Vegan Ricotta Cheese. Many people sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn. 

A+ for nutrition 

Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of fiber and protein. Many brands of the yeast are also fortified with iron and B vitamins, including the all-important B12, which vegetarians and vegans need to make sure they get enough of, given you can’t get enough from plant foods. Taking B12 supplements is probably a less expensive and easier source of Vitamin B12 than nutritional yeast for most people. 

The fiber in nutritional yeast, according to recent research, may help stimulate the body’s immune defenses. In one study, people who ate the equivalent of a spoonful of nutritional yeast a day experienced a 25% reduction in the recurrence of common cold infections and, if they did get sick, a decrease in cold-related sleeping difficulties. 

Where to find it

Nutritional yeast is now sold in most grocery stores, including many bulk sections, too—that’s the most cost-efficient way to buy it. It is definitely available in natural food stores. 

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How to Cook Quinoa

The question of how to cook quinoa elicits strong opinions from those who make it often. Find the way that matches your taste preference and cooking style and go for it. 

Pre-toast? Some cooks swear by pre-toasting the quinoa. It’s worth a try if you are a quinoa fan or didn’t like quinoa the first time you tried it. 

Soak and/or rinse? Some people claim that you have to soak and/or rinse quinoa to get rid of the “saponin,” the natural coating that protects quinoa seeds from pests in the field. According to many, the saponin lends a stronger, sometimes bitter flavor to the quinoa. A lot of quinoa is pre-rinsed, including the kind found in bulk sections of grocery stores. (Note that pre-toasting and soaking shouldn’t be combined. One or the other.)

Amounts.The quinoa will about triple in size, so start with one-third of the final amount of cooked quinoa you want. Cooked quinoa also freezes well, so you might want to make a good amount and freeze it in 1- or 2-cup amounts.

Soak, rinse, and stovetop. Soak the quinoa in plenty of water for at least 30 minutes, up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse the quinoa using a mesh strainer. Put the quinoa in a saucepan with as much water as the amount of dry quinoa you started with (e.g., 1 cup), plus a little salt, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer about 10 minutes. 

Pre-toast, rinse and stovetop. Pre-toast the dry quinoa (or skip this step) by pouring the measured dry quinoa into a sauté pan or skillet and turning on the heat to medium-low. Within a couple of minutes the quinoa starts to smell a bit like popcorn and begins popping. Once it pops a minute or two, take it off the heat. Then rinse thequinoa using a mesh strainer (or you can skip this step too). Put the quinoa in a saucepan with twice the amount of water as the amount of dry quinoa (e.g., 1 cup quinoa, 2 cups water), plus a little salt, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, keep the cover on, and let the quinoa sit for 10 minutes. 

Instant Pot or other pressure cooker.Rinse the quinoa if desired. Optional to spray the insert pot with spray oil to keep the quinoa from sticking to the pot. For each cup of quinoa, use 1.5 cups water. Put them (and a little salt) in the pot, lock the lid and set the steam valve to the “sealing” position. Select “MANUAL” button and cook for 1 minute on high pressure. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes and then release any remaining pressure. 

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What is Xanthan Gum?


Xanthan gum is used in many manufactured food products because it helps thicken foods and keep ingredients blended while they sit on the shelf. Salad dressings, ice creams, and yogurt are commonly made with this ingredient.

It’s popular in gluten-free baking circles, too, because it provides elasticity and stickiness in doughs that don’t contain gluten.

Invented in the 1960s, xanthan gum is made by fermenting sucrose, glucose, and lactose with a bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris, then drying the mixture and grinding it into a fine white powder.

You can find xanthan gum in some supermarkets’ bulk sections, allowing you to buy just a little at a time. It’s also sold in packages by Bob’s Red Mill and others. Bob’s is vegan—check the label to be sure.

I use xanthan gum in egg substitutes, such as Baked Indian Fritters.

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What is “Nutrient Density”?

Examples of nutrient density scores. 70 calories of each food is shown here.

Examples of nutrient density scores. 70 calories of each food is shown here.

“Nutrient Density” refers to the ratio between the amount of beneficial nutrients in a food and its caloric content. Foods high in nutrients (like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber) and low in calories get a high (favorable) nutrient density score, while foods low in nutrients and high in calories get a low (bad) score. 

The gold medalists

There is no single authoritative nutrient density scale, but all of the systems I’ve seen, whether on a 1 - 100 or 1 - 1000 scale, arrive at similar findings. When you look at the leaderboards, the powerhouses are always dark leafy greens like kale, chard, collard greens, and spinach. Dark leafy greens are low in calories and contain many antioxidants, calcium, nitrates, carotenoids and other phytonutrients. 

Also on the platform

Other low-calorie, nutrient-rich vegetables follow, such as romaine and Boston lettuce, broccoli, artichoke, and cabbage. Some rankings might surprise you. Even whole foods like bananas, nuts, avocados, and brown rice rank low on nutrient density scales because of their calorie count—i.e., you can get equivalent amounts of nutrients in foods that are much lower in calories. 

The losers

Not surprisingly, fast food, processed food, oils, sugary foods, meats, dairy, and eggs are low on all nutrient density scales. 

Why getting lots of nutrients matters

Most Americans believe that lots of protein and low levels of fat and carbs are the keys to health and slimness. The obesity rate in the U.S. would suggest that these beliefs are not working. In reality, a focus on whole foods high in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and other amazing micro-nutrients) would help improve our health. Nutrients help the body function properly, including the immune system and cellular repair mechanisms, which protect us from chronic diseases. People who call themselves “nutritarians” focus on eating as high on the nutrient density scale as possible.

For more information

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD, is the best known proponent of nutritarianism and the person who coined the term. He offers books, welcome kits, checklists, and cookbooks. You can download a .pdf copy of Dr. Fuhrman’s nutrient density chart

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What is “Caloric Density”?

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If you don’t have to watch your weight, you can ignore this post. For the rest of us, the 99%, “caloric density” matters. 

Caloric density is the concentration of calories in a food, essentially the relationship between the food’s calories and its weight. Some foods have many more calories per ounce than others. For example, 

  • Vegan chocolate cake – 93 calories per ounce (1488 per pound)

  • Fresh apple – 14 calories per ounce (224 per pound)

Big difference, yeah. But we all could have guessed that one.

Some otherwise healthy plant-based foods are relatively calorie-dense. 

  • Oat bran bagel – 71 calories per ounce (1136 per pound)

  • Raisins – 84 calories per ounce (1344 per pound) (not too far off the chocolate cake)

  • Dry roasted mixed nuts – 166 calories per ounce (2656 per pound) (almost doublethe chocolate cake!) 

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables have the lowest caloric density, as we see from the apple example. Fruits and vegetables tend to have high water content, high fiber content, and low fat content. This means they provide a lot of bulk without a lot of calories. 


Grains are higher in caloric density than the majority of fruits and vegetables. Whole-grain and refined grains don’t differ much in calories, but whole grains offer more fiber, which slows the movement of food through your system. Fiber also regulates sugar levels and helps keep you fuller longer. 


Oils and butter are the most calorie-dense foods. Oil is 100% fat, and butter (even vegan butter) is nearly that, too. 

  • Olive oil – 248 calories per ounce (3968 per pound)

Avoiding hunger pangs

Caloric density matters if you want to avoid hunger pangs. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables means you can eat more and feel fuller. But you can’t live on fruits and vegetables alone—you need protein and grains too. Tilting the balance toward fresh fruits and vegetables and trying to include them in every meal and snack will help you feel satisfied. 

Using dried fruit and nuts between meals to stave off hunger can be dangerous if you really do need to watch your weight. They are deceptively high in calories, even though they are much healthier for you than chocolate cake. 

For more information

If you want a visual representation of the caloric density of dozens of foods, download this chart

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What is Miso?


My first “miso moment” came as I was searching for a vegan pesto recipe. I wondered if there could really be a substitute for the salty, earthy, slightly tangy undertones of parmesan cheese. The pesto recipe in The Candle Café Cookbook called for one tablespoon of sweet white miso along with basil, oil, nuts, and garlic. I was desperate to find a solution to my pesto problem, so I drove to the nearest natural food store and wandered the aisles until I found miso. The result was an epiphany! The pesto was as good as any I’d ever eaten. I was smitten. I’ve since tweaked Candle Café’s approach and created my own Gracious Vegan Basil Pesto recipe. Of course, the  irreplaceable miso is still there. 
Miso basics. Miso is a paste made from infusing soybeans with a mold called koji. The mixture (with salt added) is fermented for weeks, months, or even years, and the enzymes in the koji break the beans down into a thick paste. Traditional miso is made from soy, but miso can also be made from barley, rice, or other grains. Japan is the birthplace of miso, and the paste’s history goes back thousands of years. 
What miso tastes like. Miso is not spicy-hot at all. It has a salty, earthy flavor. There are many kinds and colors of miso, so you might hear about “red miso,” “white miso,” or “barley miso.”Generally speaking, the lighter the color of the miso, the lighter and sweeter the taste. Red and brown misos are the tangiest, with a deep earthy (or umami) flavor. If you’re reluctant to try new things like miso, start with white miso. 
How to find miso. Most large grocery stores stock small white plastic tubs of miso near the tofu, dairy substitutes, and vegetarian meats. Asian grocers often carry a larger variety of miso, some in sealed plastic bags or clear plastic tubs.
How to store miso. Miso keeps a long time, like most fermented foods. It can last 9-12 months in the refrigerator in a container with a tight lid. 
What to make with miso. Miso is not meant to be eaten straight out of the container. The most common use of miso is miso soup. It can also star in gravy, stir-fry sauces, and as part of a paste for broiling tofu. Here are two of my favorite dishes with a healthy dose of miso: Candle-Café-Inspired Stir Fry and Creamy Broccoli Soup
As in my pesto recipe, miso can also be a small but foundational ingredient in vegan cheeses (see my Gracious Vegan Parmesan Cheese and the Mascarpone in my Rich and Creamy Vegan Tiramisu).
Don’t boil miso if you can help it. The healthy probiotics that miso contains (because of the fermentation process) can be broken down in boiling liquids, so it’s important to heat foods containing miso just until hot, not to the boiling point. 
Miso’s nutrients. Although miso has a relatively high level of sodium (200-300 milligrams per teaspoon), recent research has shown that miso does not seem to affect our cardiovascular system in the way that other high-sodium foods can. Miso contains copper, manganese, Vitamin K, and a number of phytonutrients that nutritionists are just starting to understand. 
There appear to be only upsides to eating miso. Given how its unique flavor adds a flavor bump to all sorts of dishes, it’s worth a try if you don’t use it already.

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What is Tempeh?

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Tempeh—like tofu and seitan—is one of those foods you might be reluctant to try. It seems a bit risky, right? What’s inside that rectangular, bumpy, vacuum-sealed package? 

How it’s pronounced. It’s pronounced “tem-pay” with both syllables accented equally. It’s a great source of protein: about 18 grams of protein per serving, about the same as a breakfast of two eggs and two strips of turkey bacon.  It’s also high in fiber, calcium, and iron and is free of cholesterol.

How it’s made. Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is made from soybeans. The soybeans are partially cooked then fermented. This controlled fermentation process binds the soybeans together into a cake form. Some tempeh is made with added whole grains (e.g., “5-Grain Tempeh”). Tempeh’s flavor has been described as nutty, and its texture as chewy—some say it’s meaty. Like tofu, it picks up the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. 

How it’s used. Some cooks use thin slabs of tempeh for sandwiches. The tempeh is often steamed or boiled first to loosen up its texture, then either fried, sautéed, or added to a dish. Diced or grated tempeh is used in chili, stir-fries, soups, salads, and stews. 

Why I like it. I really like tempeh because of its texture, which is firmer and chewier than tofu. It doesn’t have a strong taste on its own, which means it goes with everything—the little black dress of the soybean world. For a few recipes and menu ideas with tempeh, see these tempeh posts and recipes on my website. If you like those, explore the internet for many more. 

Tempeh freezes well and is available at health food stores, Trader Joes, and in many supermarkets. 

Tempeh photo by SalTheColourGeek on Flickr

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How is Tofu Made?


A lot of people who eat tofu don't know how it's made. Don't worry -- it's not gross! 

I watched all the available videos about this on Youtube (so you don't have to!) and found a favorite. A bit more than 3 minutes long, it's worth it if you're curious. 

How to Make Tofu by Food Factory.


Photo by Jules on Flickr


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What is Seitan?

(Psst! It's pronounced say-TAN.)


Seitan is an excellent source of protein. It has over twice the protein of tofu, 50% more than beef, and the same amount as a cup of cooked lentils. Its texture is dense and chewy, which is why a lot of plant-based cooks use seitan as a meat substitute. Another nice thing about seitan is that it’s already cooked, making it very easy to work with.

Origins in China

Seitan’s origins date back to ancient China. It was made by creating a dough of flour and water, then rinsing the dough in water until the starch and bran washed away. All that remained were the gluten proteins, which made a stiff, elastic dough. This dough was simmered in a broth, cut into bite-sized chunks, then usually fried or sautéed. The name for this is usually translated as “wheat meat” or “mock meat” in the U.S. 

Seitan’s emergence

Chinese mock meat is technically not seitan, which is a very similar wheat gluten product flavored with soy sauce. The name was coined around 1960 in Japan. Like Chinese mock meat, seitan is chewy, flavorful, and moist. 

Where to find it

You can find seitan in some grocery stores and in almost all natural food stores. You can also make seitan yourself using powdered vital wheat gluten. There are many recipes for homemade seitan. 

What to do with it

You can slice or chop seitan and use it in sauces or stir-fries. A search on the internet will turn up hundreds of recipes. I combined many of my favorite flavors in this recipe: Banh Mi Sandwiches with Seitan.


Photo of seitan stir-fry by John on flickr

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Food Preferences Survey and "Conversion Chart"

Download the survey in pdf format or Word format.  

Tofu with Universal No sign.jpg

Download the conversion chart in pdf format or Word format

“I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham.” – Dr. Seuss

Just over three years ago, I asked my omnivore husband to try one vegan dinner a week. He agreed, but he warned that he wouldn’t eat what he didn’t like. Fair enough, I thought. With all the amazing vegan recipes I’d collected over the years, my cooking would be sure to please.
My veggie burgers worked in Week 1 — SCORE!  Falafel Salad and Yellow Thai Curry went well, too, in Weeks 2 and 3. But then things started to slide. Out of the next six weeks, he liked three. He rejected Pizza Bowls, Boeuf Bourgignon stew (with vegetarian “beef”), and Spaghetti with Vegetable Meatballs.
What was happening? Was he trying to sabotage my experiment so he could go back to meat? He isn’t that kind of guy. Plus about half the time everything was fine. I couldn’t figure out what was happening...couldn’t see a pattern. I didn’t know what else to do but keep making delicious dishes. It was a crap shoot, but what could I do?
The Spinach Epiphany.  It was spinach that finally clued me in. I noticed, at last, that no matter how I used spinach, or how sparsely, he would see it and wouldn’t eat it. Then I realized it was the same with olives. And chickpeas. And cooked carrots. And mushrooms, except when they were finely chopped. And forget about tofu or tempeh.
Doh! I was making things that looked delicious to me. I was completely ignoring any information about what he liked. When I went back to my notes of what I’d made each week, sure enough, it all made sense. He didn’t like the South Indian Curry, White Pizza, or Vegan Turnovers, all of which were loaded with spinach. He didn’t like the Deli-Style Chickpea Salad or Deborah Madison’s Chickpeas with Pasta. Interestingly, he never said anything like, “I don’t like spinach! Enough already!”—that would have helped. Maybe he didn’t realize it himself?
And the pattern went beyond individual foods and ingredients. When I made vegan versions of dishes he liked—enchiladas, tacos, pizza, Thai curry—my record was almost 100% positive. If I started with a dish he’d never tried or didn’t like in omnivore versions— eggplant parmesan, sloppy joes, stroganoff, bowls—chances of success were near zero. It seems obvious now.
Research Studies. In the last year I’ve read a lot of research on food preferences. My husband’s responses to my cooking mirror their results. People’s likes and dislikes develop and evolve over their lifetimes, but at any given moment they’re strong. Food is a major source of pleasure for most of us. If a dish looks dangerous or unpleasant—because of a disliked ingredient, or it looks too healthy, or it’s unfamiliar—we fear we'll be disappointed. And many studies have shown that once we expect not to like something, we usually don’t.
So if you’re trying to make meatless food appealing to someone, it’s important to make it consistent with their likes.
Food preference survey to the rescue. I don’t want it to take other cooks one or two years to figure out the best plant-based dishes for their spouses, partners, children, or other omnivores of interest.  So I’ve developed two tools. The first is a food survey covering many different dishes and ingredients. It’s like the surveys personal chefs give their clients at the beginning of an engagement. The survey covers familiar dishes from a variety of cuisines as well as individual ingredients. Download the survey document in pdf format or Word format.  

Meatless versions of dishes they love. The second tool is a “conversion chart.” It follows the same order as the preference survey and then links to recipes for plant-based versions of the dishes. It provides ideas for side dishes to go with the entrees. There are also links to recipes that make prominent use of individual vegetables, beans, and meat substitutes, so you can take advantage of any of your loved one’s favorite individual foods. Download the conversion chart in pdf format or Word format

I hope these tools are useful to you. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please write to me via email or comment on Facebook or on the site. Good luck!

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Food Neophobia? Yes, It’s a Thing

When you’re trying to get loved ones to eat your meatless dishes, we all know you have to meet them partway. If one or more of them is a food neophobe, you’ll have to be even more careful and strategic. Food neophobes may decide they don’t like a dish even before they taste it, because they’re automatically averse to any unfamiliar food. But many food neophobes want to eat less meat. If you can find the narrow path to lead him or her to new meatless favorites, you will both have reason to be proud. 

Are You or Someone You Know a Food Neophobe?


If you’re old enough, you might remember Mikey from the Life cereal commercial of 1972. His brother says, “I’m not gonna try it. Let’s get Mikey. Yeah, he won’t eat it. He hates everything!” (Watch the ad). Perhaps you’re not as bad as Mikey, but you like what you like, and you don’t appreciate other people pushing you to try things you’re not interested in.  Or are you on the opposite end with Anthony Bourdain? He’s the Food Network personality who travels the world in quest of culinary adventure, eating ant eggs, sheep testicles, and cobra hearts. Maybe you’re not the ant-egg-eating type, but you like trying a new dish on the menu, you jump at the chance to visit a new restaurant, or you lose hours on the internet picking new recipes to put on your stack.

If you or someone you know is more like Mikey, it may be a case of food neophobia. It’s a real thing, validated by years of research.

For people who are reluctant to try new foods, it’s not just at the moment of tasting that the dislike occurs. Hearing an unfamiliar dish name, reading about unusual ingredients, skimming a description of an untried food, or just looking at a new dish can all elicit a prediction of dislike. (My husband, Doug—a confirmed food neophobe—once said about a soup, “If I ate with a blindfold on, this would be better.”)  It’s often hard to tell whether a food neophobe’s dislike of a dish is because of the taste, or whether it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, a conscious or sub-conscious justification of the pre-tasting judgment. Fortunately, there are things you can do to successfully introduce new ingredients to a food neophobe, and I have some tips below.

Find out if you or someone you know is a food neophobe.

Take the test here (it requires only a few minutes).

Can Food Neophobia be Changed?

Food neophobia appears to be hard-wired in a similar way to personality traits. In one study of female twins, the results suggested that food neophobia is highly heritable: around 67% may be due to genes.  Like personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, etc.), food neophobia can be changed, but only to a degree. Increased exposure to new foods can lower the level of one’s food neophobia. But more experience with unfamiliar foods doesn’t completely counterbalance an innate and instinctive aversion to new foods, no more than learning to speak in public turns an introvert into an extravert.

Cooking for a Food Neophobe

If you are someone who is trying to introduce more meatless dishes to your spouse, partner, and/or children, you might have an increased challenge if there’s a food neophobe under your roof. I’ve found the following six strategies to be helpful in planning and serving plant-based dishes to my husband and other family members who fall on the neophobic end of the scale.

Introduce a new food in the context of a familiar dish

For a food neophobe, if there’s anything worse than an unfamiliar ingredient in a meal or dish, it’s an unfamiliar ingredient in an unfamiliar meal or dish. I learned this the hard way with my husband. For example, I first tried Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) in a new recipe: Mexican Pasta Skillet. After Doug roundly rejected it, I thought TVP would never work. But another time I tried TVP as the basis for a “meat” sauce to go on spaghetti, and he gobbled it up. The same thing happened with TVP tacos—no problem. Duh, he already loved spaghetti sauce and tacos, and he’d never had anything like a Mexican pasta dish.

Introduce only one new ingredient at a time

I’ve found the most success when Doug only has to confront one new ingredient at a time. Early on during our vegan dinner experiments, I thought I’d have an easy winner with vegan nachos. I made a “cheesy” vegan sauce from scratch and a taco-beef-like mixture made from meat crumbles. I piled the tortilla chips high and buried them in the taco mixture and cheesy sauce. Doug wanted to like them but couldn’t eat more than a few—too much change at one time for a food neophobe.

Make new food more enticing by serving it with a favorite side dish or sauce

Never underestimate how a favorite condiment or side dish can help a new dish go down. Doug loves mango chutney, sweet chili sauce, and ketchup, so I make sure to highlight the condiment when serving a not-yet-loved dish. Doug’s favorite side dishes work the same way. Roasted asparagus, baked French fries, fresh corn on the cob, and semi-homemade baked beans have all done their part to increase the acceptance of new ventures.

Give choices

Everyone tends to like a dish better if they’ve had a voice in choosing it. When possible, let them decide on broccoli or cauliflower, green or fruit salad, lentil or split pea soup, these leftovers or those tonight? There is a subtle shift of ownership to the person making the decision, and he or she is likely to be more pleased by the meal than otherwise.

Repeat dishes that were acceptable so that they become favorites

I made the mistake early on of trying one new dish after another, without repeating any of the new dishes for months. Sometimes when we had a new dish a second time many months later, Doug rejected it. I eventually figured out that I needed to repeat any new dish that he liked within a month in order to lock it into his memory as safe and tasty.

Don’t say too much about the dish beforehand, and don’t be defensive or preachy

I recommend saying as little as possible about what’s in the new dish unless specifically asked—give it a nickname (“Dad’s New Enchilada Casserole”) instead of a clinical name (“Tofu-Quinoa-Poblano Enchilada Casserole”). You can cite someone’s praise about the taste of dish, or lightly talk about its healthiness, but don’t come on too strong. Perhaps the hardest rule of thumb is accepting the rejection of new dishes by your resident neophobe. It’s so tempting to whine, “But you love peanut butter! This sauce is mostly peanut butter; it’s on top of broccoli and rice, and you like those too!” Reasonable argument, but the neophobe is not responding to food on the basis of reason. I’ve found that no amount of arguing changes my husband’s mind once he’s decided. And the debating can make meal time more fraught with anxiety in the future. Better to calmly note the dislike and move on. Use your energy on figuring out how to win your neophobe over to the next dish.

Keep at it

The keys are persistence, baby steps, and understanding. If you’re cooking for a food neophobe, remember that somewhere deep in their brain is a strong distrust of new food—it’s part of their survival instinct. You can coax them to like new meatless dishes, and when you do, the accomplishment will be all the sweeter.

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Differences between Indian and Thai Curries

Viva la difference

Many of us love curries of all kinds. But when you stop and focus on the differences between Indian and Thai curries, you realize they're quite different, but in a good way. Some of the differences can influence your meal planning--e.g., Thai curries can be made more quickly than Indian, meaning they might be better when you don't have much time. 

Indian curries

  • Dry spices (coriander, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, black mustard, dried chilies, etc.)

  • More like a stew than a soup

  • Simmered longer

  • Served with basmati rice


Thai curries

  • Fresh herbs and chilies (lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallot, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro stems, etc.)

  • More like a soup than a stew (coconut milk)

  • Shorter cooking time

  • Served with jasmine rice

Make some!

Here are two classic curries, Indian Eggplant, Chickpea, and Spinach Curry and Gracious Vegan Green or Red Thai Curry. Enjoy!

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The Food Neophobia Scale

Please see my blog "Yup, Food Neophobia is a Thing" for an introduction to food neophobia and the implications for home cooks trying to get loved ones to eat more meatless meals. 

The Food Neophobia Scale (FNS) was first published with its background and validation evidence in 1992. Since that time it has been used as the standard measure of food neophobia in hundreds of studies. (Pliner, Patricia, and Karen Hobden. "Development of a scale to measure the trait of food neophobia in humans." Appetite 19.2 (1992): 105-120.)

It can be taken and scored in a few minutes. Circle your answer, then add up the corresponding points. (See what your results mean at the bottom of this post.)

1.       I am constantly sampling new and different foods

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

2.       I don’t trust new foods.

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

3.       If I don’t know what is in a food, I won’t try it.

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

4.       I like foods from different countries

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

5.       Ethnic food looks too weird to eat.

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

6.       At dinner parties, I will try a new food

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

7.       I am afraid to eat things I have never had before

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

8.       I am very particular about the foods I will eat

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

9.       I will eat almost anything

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

10.   I like to try new ethnic restaurants.

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

Your total = _________

More than 20 points means that you are a food neophobe.

20 or fewer points mean you are in the food neophile category.


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Amla Powder, Antioxidant Powerhouse

Amla (Indian gooseberry) powder benefits

In a recent test of 3,000 different foods, Indian gooseberries emerged as the number-one antioxidant-rich food -- ahead of goji berries, raisins, acai berries, and anything else you can think of that might be at the top of the rankings. Check out this video for the details.

Anti-inflammatory too

Amla is also anti-inflammatory and, in one study, it reduced and reversed cancer cell growth in vitro. It can help normalize blood sugar levels in diabetes patients, and it’s high in vitamin C. 

Inexpensive and easy to use

And did I mention it’s cheap? I bought a 12-ounce bag of amla powder a month ago for $13 on Amazon, and we use 1 teaspoon a day in smoothies. It has a slightly bitter taste, but that gets counteracted in smoothies or sweet baked dishes like custards or pumpkin pies. For a smoothie with more antioxidants in one serving than most people get in a week, try my "How Not to Die" Pumpkin Smoothie.

You can also buy amla powder in capsule form. 

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Myths about Protein Combining

About 40 years ago, someone came up with the theory that plant-based proteins were incomplete and that vegetarians had to eat “complementary proteins” during the same meal, for example, rice and beans, or tofu and sesame seeds. This fallacy was refuted decades ago, but the myth persists.

It turns out our body maintains pools of free amino acids that it can use to do all the complementing for us. Some 90 grams of protein are dumped into the digestive tract every day from our own body to get broken back down and reassembled, and so our body can mix and match amino acids to whatever proportions we need.

Plant-based eaters do not need to be concerned about amino acid imbalances from plant proteins. For more information, see this video on


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