New Year’s resolution: the ‘alternative’ vegan approach

We tend to make all-or-nothing food resolutions when facing a brand new year. (I will go raw! I will go entirely sugar-free! I will go strictly vegan!

Kudos to those who manage to obey the confines of such resolutions. I am not one of those. 

Sure, I love raw foods, sugar-free foods and vegan foods. But I appreciate flexibility as well. This is why I think I found a kindred spirit in the new cookbook “Alternative Vegan: Healthy Plant-Based Recipes that Break the Rules,” by San Francisco food photographer and recipe developer Marie Reginato, who authors the popular “8th and Lake” blog. 

At first glance, her recipes contain all the obligatory vegan ingredients: nut milks, coconut oil, quinoa, chia seeds, roots and spices and plenty of massaged kale. But look closely and you’ll find (real) ricotta is involved, as is (real) yogurt, and eggs, poached and otherwise. And – gasp! – fish. As in halibut, salmon and tuna. 

What the heck is going on here? It’s Reginato’s “flexible vegan” way. 

“I think the future of food is gravitating towards greater flexibility. I keep witnessing an increased number of people who do not want to feel judged for their relaxed approach to eating well,” says Reginato in an interview released by her publisher, Page Street. 

Here’s the beauty of Reginato’s way: It encourages your New Year’s desire to incorporate more frequent, flavorful vegan foods into your diet without expecting you to turn full vegan. The woman raised in a family of butchers and fishermen learned to truly appreciate fresh vegetables during her travels in Italy. These fresh, “honest” ingredients became her gateway to embracing plant-based cooking that’s tempered with occasional fish, egg and dairy dishes. 

Despite the addition of animal protein in some dishes, it’s the veggies that shine in the pages of Reginato’s book. For a meat eater seeking more plant-based ways in the New Year, this just may be an approach that minimizes broken resolutions. 

In the very least, the following three recipes from “Alternative Vegan” offer a healthy and flavorful way to kick off the New Year. 

The following recipes and author notes are reprinted from the book “Alternative Vegan,” by Marie Reginato ($21.99), with permission of its publisher, Page Street Publishing.  

Vibrant veggies: Plump orecchiette pasta swimming in a plant-based “brodo” (broth) make for soup satisfaction.
Photo by Marie Reginato

Veggie Orecchiette in Brodo 

“I am always surprised to find that in most cities there is virtually no cafe dedicated to homemade soup.  There have been way too many nights when all I’ve wanted is a steaming bowl and I was left staring at the wall, thinking to myself, ‘Where can I go for homemade soup?’ So during those days of soup deprivation I make this orecchiette in brodo (“broth”). The beauty of this soup rests in its simplicity. No meat is needed to create a scrumptious meal that highlights a few modest greens simmering in broth. Thinly sliced leeks caramelize, creating an earthy base for the veggie stock. Tender peas hide within the crevasses of the pasta, revealing a burst of flavor with every spoonful. It’s a delicious meal that comes together quicker than a trip to the market for a premade soup.” – Marie Reginato 

This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.

¼ pound orecchiette pasta or your favorite pasta shapes 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth 

2 cups broccolini, cut lengthwise into thin strips 

1 teaspoon garlic powder 

Handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped 

Parmesan cheese, or vegan “cheese”

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water (about 1 tablespoon) to a rolling boil. Add in the pasta and cook as the box instructs. 
  2. In the meantime, warm the olive oil in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat for 1 minute.  Remove the green stem portion of the leek and discard (or save for when you’re making homemade veggie stock). Slice the leek in half lengthwise and cut into thin, half-moon rings. Bring the heat down to medium-low and add in the leeks, garlic, chili flakes and sea salt. 
  3. Sauté for 10 minutes. If the pan ever dries out, add a few splashes of veggie broth and mix well. 
  4. Turn the heat to high and add in the veggie broth, broccolini and peas to the sauté pan. Once it starts to boil, bring the heat down to a simmer and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the broccolini is tender but slightly crunchy. Right after it’s done cooking, stir in the garlic powder. 
  5. Drain the pasta once it’s cooked and add it to the sauté pan with the veggies. Mix well. 
  6. Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and parmesan cheese or vegan “cheese,” if you’d like! 

Tip: Choose brown rice pasta for a gluten-free option. 

Chunks of portobello mushrooms and squash bulk up this Three-Bean African Spiced Chili.
Photo by Marie Reginato

Three-Bean African Spiced Chili 

“I got the idea for this recipe from a friend who tried African chili years ago. Essentially, it’s a laundry list of warming spices simmering away with fennel and onions, and then stewed alongside beans, hearty portobello mushrooms and squash. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t enchanted by it, even die-hard meat eaters. Generous chunks of portobello mushrooms bulk up the chili, making it into a complete meal. This is a perfect choice for anyone who is venturing into the world of plant-based eating.” – Marie Reginato

This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.

2 tablespoons olive oil 

1 small yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced 

1 fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced 

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 

1 teaspoon coconut sugar 

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder 

1 teaspoon turmeric powder 

1 teaspoon ginger powder 

1 teaspoon coriander powder 

1 tablespoon tomato paste 

1 large tomato, roughly chopped 

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth 

1 medium delicata squash or sweet potato, cubed (you can leave the skin on) 

1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped 

1 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped 

1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed 

1 cup canned black-eyed peas or kidney beans, drained and rinsed 

1 cup canned cranberry beans, drained and rinsed 

1½ cups portobello mushrooms, cut into big chunks 

  1. In a large sauté pot (I like to use a Dutch oven) over high heat, warm the olive oil and add in the sliced onions, fennel, garlic, cinnamon stick, coconut sugar, all the spices and sea salt. Bring the heat down to medium and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a few splashes of water if the bottom of the pan starts to dry out and mix well. 
  2. Add in the tomato paste and the chopped tomato and mix well. Now add in the broth, cubed delicata, bell pepper and cilantro. Bring the pot to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. 
  3. Now add in the beans and portobello mushrooms to the chili and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce it  to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes until the veggies and mushrooms are tender and the chili sauce has reduced down and thickened. 
  4. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve the chili in a bowl, or seal it up in a mason jar and bring it with you for lunch on-the-go! 

Tip: If you cannot find black-eyed peas or cranberry beans, feel free to use more black or kidney beans. 

Breakfast goals: These fancy pears are poached in ginger-cinnamon-scented honey and served over homemade granola and yogurt. 
Photo by Marie Reginato

Honey-Poached Pears over Black-Sesame Granola and Yogurt 

“To me, this is the fanciest sounding recipe: honey-poached pears. But in reality we’re just relying on a pot of boiling water, cinnamon sticks and honey to cook a very impressive breakfast. After the pears have poached, sprinkle them with a generous handful of granola and a dollop of yogurt. Fancy breakfast done.” – Marie Reginato 

This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.

2 Bosc or Bartlett pears, skin peeled 

1/3 cup honey, or maple syrup if vegan 

1 thumb of fresh ginger, thinly sliced 

¾ cup pistachios, chopped 

¼ cup black sesame seeds 

3 tablespoons coconut oil 

3 tablespoons honey, or maple syrup if vegan 

3 tablespoons coconut sugar 

1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated, or ginger powder 

1 cup yogurt of your choice 

To make the poached pears: 

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Lower the heat to a simmer and add in the peeled pears, honey, cinnamon stick and ginger. Cook the pears for about 20 minutes, or until soft. 
  2. After they’ve cooked, drain them of the honey water and let them cool down for a few minutes before slicing lengthwise to remove the core. 
  1. Start by preheating the oven to 350°F and line a baking pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix the oats, oat flour, chopped pistachios, sesame seeds and sea salt. 
  2. Now in a small saucepan on low heat, warm the coconut oil, honey, coconut sugar, orange zest and ginger for 1 minute. Pour this sauce onto the oat mixture and mix until everything is evenly coated. 
  3. Pour the granola on the lined baking pan. Firmly press the granola with your fingers to keep the batch compact. 
  4. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes while turning the granola once halfway through. Make sure the edges are crisp but not burnt. 
  5. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container (I use a mason jar) for up to a few weeks in your cupboard. 
  6. In a serving bowl, layer the yogurt, then the poached pear and top with a generous helping of granola. 

Tip: Use coconut yogurt to make this meal completely vegan.

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