sassy pepper and friends
A sassy lady pepper stands in the foreground in front of a merry band of dorky veggies doing a kick line
Plant-based cooking with a side of snark
sassy pepper and friends
A sassy lady pepper stands in the foreground in front of a merry band of dorky veggies doing a kick line
Plant-based cooking with a side of snark
sassy pepper and friends
A sassy lady pepper stands in the foreground in front of a merry band of dorky veggies doing a kick line
Plant-based cooking with a side of snark

Pining for Pesto

Do you remember your first time? I do.

It was 1983. We were in Vermont, renting a house with a group of friends for the weekend, among them Fabio, from Italy. We took turns making dinner. Fabio made pasta with pesto. After that night, there was no going back to red sauce for me.

To this day, pesto is my favorite food. Tossed with penne or gemelli and ample amounts of crisp-sweet broccolini; smeared on crostini, cherry tomato on top; dolloped onto a bowl of steamy vegetable soup; smothered on pillowy-with-a-crunch pan-fried gnocchi; the base of a summer-fresh pizza; mixed in a salad of fusilli, fresh arugula, basil and tomatoes.

When I quit eating dairy, pesto was my final frontier. Pesto without parmesan? No other food tested my commitment to a plant-based diet so intensely.

And then.

I interviewed my friend Seba, an Italian plant-based food investor, food snob (in the best sense of the word), Tuscan wine-maker, and chef. Seba told me, “Use fresh basil and garlic, and high-quality olive oil. Parmesan isn’t necessary.”

I disagreed. (But give it a try, and see for yourself).

And now, because I like you, and because I love cows, I am going to share what I learned during my months-long quest to discover Winning Plant-Based Pesto:

  • Follow Your Heart Parmesan (shreds, not chunk) is so good, I am certain neither Seba nor Fabio would detect them in my pesto. (Violife and Whole Foods brands are good too, but I prefer Follow Your Heart).
  • No plant-based cheese will win a blind taste test against dairy cheese. A hearty, flavor-packed pesto needs a salty, slightly musty flavor. That’s what Follow Your Heart delivers.
  • Basil is not the only herb that makes mind-blowing pesto. Fennel fronds? Who knew? (Be open, and click below).
  • Pine nuts make my taste buds sing, but as their price has skyrocketed …in the words of John Lennon, all I am saying is give walnuts and sunflower seeds a chance.
  • Scads of vegan pesto recipes call for nutritional yeast. Do not do this. Nutritional yeast has its place in many plant-based dishes. Pesto is not one of them.
  • Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil is my go-to.

** NOTE: Most of the recipes I’m sharing here call for dairy parmesan. PLEASE replace it with Follow Your Heart or another plant-based parmesan, at least once. Then Open Your Heart by reading this beautiful essay from Best American Food Writing 2021.

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SH*T! Vegans are Coming to Dinner!

What to do when an omnivore wants to invite a couple of vegans to a dinner party? If you’re my friend Chris, you spend months reading recipes until you find it, the perfect wowza! dish.

Only an over-achiever like Chris would attempt a vegan lasagna. Frankly, if I had landed on the recipe I would have kept scrolling. Lasagnas take a lot of time, and eliminating dairy is a challenge.

Chris nailed it. Even her meat-loving, fly-fisherman, vegan-skeptical husband said, more please. The casserole was flawless and beyond delicious. I’ve added it to my dinner party repertoire.

And yet.

Chris had many challenges, which I asked her to share with you.

Reading it, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel Chris’s pain. You’ll cheer for the damn no-cook noodles, and best of all, you’ll learn how to make Vegan Lasagna Bolognese.

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Comfort Food

Quiz Item #1: Which of the following do you consider comfort food?

  • 1) Grilled cheese & fries
  • 2) Meatloaf & mashed potatoes
  • 3) Pizza
  • 4) All of the above.

Quiz Item #2: Why does comfort food typically = unhealthy, not-great-for-us food?

This week I needed comfort. My husband, dog Becca, and I arrived home in Vermont, after six months on the road. Last November, we took off in our Honda CRV, down the southeast coast, across to Arizona, up and down the California coast, and landed in Berkeley for two months.

Favorite restaurants:

The drive home was brutal. Zero-visibility white-out, wind gusts of 70+ mph through the Salt Flats of Utah. Snowstorm at 8,000 ft. approaching Vail. Trump 2024 signs plastered on barns across Missouri.

Ten days of  breathing the stale air of I-70 highway motels; lunches of peanut-butter-on-a-rice-cake-with-a-side-of-vending-machine-pretzels; salt-infused restaurant dinners (insert any entree here) everywhere.

I hungered for my own food: clean soups, fresh salads, pasta with crisp vegetables, tossed lightly — not drowning — in sauce. I missed my Boos cutting board, (alphabetized!) spice drawer, the condiments inside the door of my refrigerator.

Cooking our first meal back home, I had an epiphany: Preparing a healthy meal comforts me as much as eating it. Measuring, chopping, and stirring, knowing the end result will make me (and Max) hum with delight, is my Comfort Place.

These are the first 3 meals I made. Try one, two, or all three. My hope is they’ll bring you comfort, too.

  • Pesto pasta with broccolini. Last summer I experimented with pesto recipes that did not use parmesan. It is with informed confidence I proclaim:
    • The secret to dairy-free pesto that sings: Follow Your Heart dairy-free parmesan. No one has been able to tell it’s not the “real thing.” Not even my dear friend Marjorie, who refers to my pesto as Green Gold.

Save clean-up time by dropping the broccolini into the boiling pasta during the last minute. Close your eyes while eating, and imagine yourself on a sidewalk cafe in Genoa.

  • Wonton Soup: Go to Trader Joe’s (or a supermarket, but TJ’s are the best) and buy two bags of frozen veggie dumplings. Ignore the recipe step that instructs how to make your own. If you do, this soup is ridiculously easy; 15 minutes to put together.
    • Use any veggies you have on hand (bok choy rocks this)
    • Chinese cooking wine is a must. Buy it here. You’ll use it again and again, I promise.
    • Substitute veggie stock for chicken stock; go for No Chicken Broth if your store has it.

BONUS: Considering a road trip this summer? Don’t leave home without these phone apps:

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What’s Up With Kale?

People have strong opinions about kale.

Some — including the health & fitness editor of Philadelphia magazine – hate it so much, they are willing to risk their professional cred by publicly confessing, “I Really, Really, Really Hate Kale.”

Some love it so much, they are willing to go up against fast food behemoth Chick-Fil-A for the right to announce their enthusiasm. (Yes, Chick-Fil-A sued an Eat More Kale t-shirt seller).

To quote the late, great John Lennon, All I am saying, is give kale a chance.

Here’s my beloved geeky Youtube star, Dr. Michael Greger, demystifying why kale’s so friggin’ good for you — in 2 minutes! (If you can’t get enough of this guy, who I understand may be an acquired taste, here’s another 4 kale minutes).

Summary: It lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, and boosts immune systems. It’s a Powerball of health.

Because I love you, and I want you to live a long, healthy life, I’m going to help you find your way to Kale Love. If you’re already there, gather ’round with the non-believers, and read on for some of the best kale-inclusive recipes around.

Start with this kale primer. Then, move on to 10 Ways to Eat More Kale.

Marla’s World Famous Kale Chips have made kale-believers out of kale-naysayers. They’ll make you wonder why popcorn  became the default movie theater food, not kale chips. (Warning: If eating the chips with another human, make sure you ask, “do I have dark green flecks on my teeth?” when you finish).

By now, I bet you’re craving life-changing, kale-affirming soup, salad, stew, and pesto recipes.

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Against Perfection

What do you see in this photo? Take a few moments to list the nouns, verbs, adjectives — yes, even the judgments — that come to mind. 

Here’s what I see: Fear. Embarrassment. A raucous dinner with friends. A fun-fueled mess. 

What you don’t see: Me backing away from this stove, in defeat.

The trouble started when I asked my friend Irina, our dinner host, “What can I do to help?” Irina was busy mixing the sauce for  Pad Thai. She handed me a bowl with batter, a jar of kimchi, and said, “make the kimchi pancakes.” 

That’s when fear set in. I have never made a decent pancake. They come out too thick, spongy and raw inside, or too thin, and stick to the pan. Which is why I avoid pancake recipes.

“Of course you can make pancakes,” Irina told me. “You write a cooking blog.” More fear.

I rolled up my sleeves, splashed a smidgeon of sesame oil into the frying pan, and warmed it.

The batter was way too thick. Had I tested it before I poured it into the pan, I would have known to add water. 

Pancake #1: Thick, spongy, and raw inside. Embarrassment.

Pancake #2: Too thin, stuck to the pan. More embarrassment.

Watching me struggle, another guest, our friend Paola, said, “I’ll make the pancakes. I’m really good at them.” But even Paola was not good enough to turn these pancakes into a success.


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The Golden Age of Veggie Burgers

Do you remember your first restaurant burger?

Was it thick and juicy? A grainy grey disc? Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun? (Remember that TV ad?).

My first was a grainy grey disc at Gino’s, a chain founded in 1957 by three Baltimore Colts (rant alert: I will never forgive the Colts for moving to Indianapolis, nor do I consider the Ravens my home team). Though I could not have been more than four or five years old, I felt strongly that a Gino’s burger was far superior to McDonald’s.

I still crave burgers — but not the meat. Which makes me oh so  grateful to be living in the Golden Age of Veggie Burgers(It is also the Golden Age of Fake Meat Burgers, which I’m glad exist, but won’t eat).

Shake Shack, Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s offer non-meat burgers. At lunchtime, hipsters across the world (!) line up at plant-based chains like Slutty Vegan, Hart House, Hip City Veg, PLNT Burger, and Vegan Junk Food.

This is all good. But not good enough. Because I can make better, healthier burgers at home. And so can you. To quote one of my favorite, non-vegan chefs, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, “Good vegan burgers don’t have to suck.” Here are a few, non-sucky, yummy burger recipes to get you started:

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7 Essential Cooking Gadgets

The first serious home baker I knew was my friend Jan. How do you do this?, I asked, sitting in Jan’s Ithaca kitchen, sliding a forkful of decadent, velvety-dense, tangy-sweet, artery-clogging (yet worth it), New York-style cheesecake into my mouth.

Jan pointed towards the KitchenAid Mixmaster on the counter.

“It’s easier to be a good baker if you have the right tools,” Jan told me. Until that moment, I’d assumed the only people who would own such a serious-looking appliance would already be “good bakers.” It had not occurred to me such an appliance could help you become a good — or better — baker.

Though it would be years until I started to cook, I did not forget my friend’s advice.

Here’s my list of 7 essential gadgets that make cooking easier, and recipes more delicious. Don’t wait until you identify as “chef” to buy them.

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Stevie Wonder, Angela Davis, Crab Cakes & Me

What do the singer, the activist, and I have in common?

We love The Land of Kush, a Baltimore vegan soul food restaurant that serves the World’s Best Crab Cake.

As a native Baltimorean, crabs are in my DNA, the only food I missed (for 32 years!) as a vegetarian. Imagine my happiness when Veg News published The Land of Kush’s crab cake recipe. I ripped it out of the magazine, filed it in my Recipes folder … and never made it. The ingredient list was daunting.

My solution: I scheduled a trip to Baltimore to visit my mother, arrived a night early (don’t tell her), and booked a hotel near The Land of Kush.

Sinking my teeth into that crab cake — crisp-perfection on the outside, moist, flaky chunks of meat seasoned with Old Bay on the inside — I closed my eyes and hummed. I wanted to marry that crab cake.

But I did not want to make that recipe.

Thus began my search for a crab-less, easy-to-make crab cake. And because I like you, I’m going to share what I learned.

Enjoy, hon.

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Let’s Talk Tofu.

It took Americans 216 years to go from tofu-ignorance to tofu-contempt.

  • In 1770, Benjamin Franklin became the first American known to write about tofu, in a letter he sent from London to Philadelphia. He enclosed soybean samples. (And, one can only assume, a how-to manual).
  • In 1986, a Roper poll published in USA Today named tofu “America’s most loathed food.”

Changing the attitude of a tofu non-believer requires, first and foremost, eliminating its squishiness. There’s a two-part solution:

Now that you’ve drained the excess water from the protein-rich, low-fat food, you’re ready to crisp it up to make salad croutons, spice it up for Chipotle-esque burrito bowls, crumble and bake it to mimic ground beef for chili, turn it into an Indian tikka masala that will rock your world, add it to a veggie stir fry or a coconut curry noodle soup.

Either you love tofu, or you haven’t prepared well.

These recipes will have you, your friends and family, asking, “please, may I have some more?
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Just Say No! to Cold Turkey

January 1st kicks off yet another Vegan Holiday, this one a monthlong celebration, Veganuary. (We’ve barely had time to recuperate from World Vegan Day, celebrated a mere two months ago!). Vegans are considered by many to be joyless and dour, yet we certainly have busy holiday calendars.

Veganuary is intended to make our New Year’s resolutions lists, up there with Dry January.

I’ll say it loud, and I’ll say it proud: I’m vegan, and I’m anti-Veganuary.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’d be thrilled if hundreds — even dozens — of Good News Veg readers went vegan this month. A good place to start would be the Epicurious 5-Day Comfort Food Meal Plan. Or, read why chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (who unapologetically hunts, cooks and eats meat) decided to take the 30-day vegan challenge, how he felt about it halfway through, and the 60 Great Vegan Recipes he created for the task.

Why am I against Veganuary?

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Take the Plunge. Make Soup.

I never understood why people ate soup. What’s the point of filling up on a non-alcoholic liquid before a meal?

Then, in grad school, when I went vegetarian after reading Diet for a New Planet, and it dawned on me I had to learn to cook, I made my first soup. (Curried pea, a recipe my classmate Prashant gave me — admittedly an odd choice for my first, but it was simple and delicious). Now I got it.

These days, I make soup at least once a week. Sometimes, if it’s light enough, I eat a bowl before the main course, but mostly I’m drawn to soups substantial enough to be the main course. Add a salad, a side of kale chips (note: I’m kinda famous for these), a piece (or two) of crusty bread, and you’ve got a vitamin-packed dinner. And the next day’s lunch.

This Bon Appetit primer on how to make dairy-free, creamy soups is short, sweet, and spot-on.

Now let’s get this started… 

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My 10 Favorite Cookbooks

In the early days of my learning-to-cook journey, (before Al Gore invented the Internet), I was a sucker for just about any cookbook that had “Vegetarian” in the title. My library was impressive. It took a cross-country move (i.e., packing) for me to realize I didn’t cook from most of those books. Some had a couple dog-eared pages with smears of dried sauce, signifying my go-to recipes. But the rest? Inspired writing, and hunger-inducing, air-brushed food photography do not always translate into useful cookbooks. I gave many of them away. (Today, I’d deposit them in my Little Free Library, but those weren’t invented yet, either).

Now, here’s how I buy a cookbook.

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Holiday Meals: Vegans, Vegetarians, Gluten-Free, WTF?

Show me a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table without a single guest who’s vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free, and I’ll show you a self-sufficient fishing village off the coast of Alaska.

When Aunt Marlene stopped eating gluten, her back pain finally disappeared; cousin Marissa, home from college, is preaching against factory farms; vegetarian Uncle Joe is running a half-marathon on Boxing Day, longing for pasta. What’s a host to do? (Hint: Answering Tofurky on this quiz will get you a C+, not an A).

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Today’s a Holiday! Who Knew?

Do you have World Vegan Day on your calendar? I didn’t. Imagine my horror when I remembered, just two days ago, that vegans throughout the world celebrate their veganocity today, November 1st. With so little time to plan, what was I to do?

I channeled my Inner Vegan Martha Stewart. Here’s what she said: Go to your backyard, and harvest the soybean crop you’ve been lovingly tending throughout the year. Today’s the day! It’s time to make tempeh. You’ll need to soak, de-hull, and mash your beans — but why settle for a decent product that’s readily available for less than $5, when you can spend days making your own? Nothing says, Happy World Vegan Day! like a gift platter of Vegan Martha tempeh. And don’t forget to download stencils of festive vegan themes, to decorate …

That’s when I asked Vegan Martha (politely), please stop!

I’m celebrating World Vegan Day by sharing a sampling of my favorite plant-based weekday suppers with you — simple pasta, tofu, Indian dal, enchiladas, and no-fuss burgers.

If you read these recipes and think, “nope, not ready to tackle any of this quite yet,” that’s okay. Reading is the first step. Happy Cow will happily guide you to a nearby plant-based restaurant.Read More

Welcome Back Good News Seekers

Throughout the interminable four years that Donald Jessica Trump labored to break America, I did my best to help you (and myself) get through America’s Nightmare, by publishing 105 issues of Good News from the Resistance. Now, I’m back with more Good News –news about my new-found passion, thanks to pandemic-imposed downtime: How to make delicious food. From plants.

The idea germinated with my husband Max: During the early, scariest days of COVID, he decided to go full-out plant-based. I didn’t know what to cook. We’d been vegetarian for decades, but eliminating dairy was a challenge. No more pesto (parmesan), Indian curries (butter), or bean burritos with shredded cheddar. The thought of hosting post-lockdown dinner parties (my favorite social activity), left me somewhere between fearful and despondent. What would I serve? Tofu? No one would come over. Witty conversation and Max’s Cabernet-heavy wine cellar would go only so far.

And then.

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