A few years ago, my husband Max wrote a book called, Better, Not Perfect: A Realist’s Guide to Maximum Sustainable Goodness. Here’s my favorite sentence from that book:

“(E)ach positive step a person takes should be encouraged, rather than highlighted for what it lacks.”

We should strive to do better, and congratulate ourselves for moving in the right direction — yet recognize perfection is out of reach. This is the approach I’ve taken to food over the last 30+ years.

Reading Frances Moore Lappe’s, Diet for a Small Planet, decades ago, turned me into a vegetarian overnight. Unlike when I stopped eating meat, my shift to a 100% plant-based diet was more gradual. Of course I knew the health benefits (i.e., stronger immune system, reduced inflammation, decreased risk of cancer), but it took a set of self-imposed, better-not-perfect rules to quit my milk and cheese habit:

  • No more cooking at home with dairy.
  • Pizza outside of the home was allowed. With real mozzarella cheese.
  • Goat cheese from a farm I knew, where they treated their goats kindly, was okay.
  • Light cream in my morning coffee (because I used only a tiny bit), didn’t count.

Over the next two years, I worked my way down this list. Now, I happily, enthusiastically, no-holds-barred, enjoy a 100% plant-based life. The big surprise? Embracing a plant-based diet expanded my food repertoire.

The Single Best Tip for Upping Your Plant-Based Eating

Interested in adding more plant-based meals to your dinner rotation? Here’s the #1 tip I learned on my journey:

Experiment. Be open to foods and ingredients that you don’t recognize, foods that may elicit a “nope, not for me” response.

For me, the first in what has become a love of “ingredient experimentation” was Shaoxing Cooking Wine. I bought my first bottle on Amazon (less than $10), prompted by a COVID-lockdown Zoom class on Chinese cooking. The teacher had emailed a pre-class list of ingredients, and when I got to the Shaoxing, my response was, “What the hell is that? Where the hell do I get it when I’m afraid to leave my house?

Thanks to Google, I had the answer to both questions within 30-seconds. It’s basically fermented rice, water and yeast. If you’ve eaten in a Chinese restaurant, you’ve tasted Shaoxing, because it’s a staple in Chinese cooking. You can buy it on Amazon or any Asian food store. It’s key to delicious, restaurant-worthy 20-minute Won Ton Soup, which I make with Imagine No-Chicken Vegetable Broth and frozen Trader Joe’s veggie dumplings. (You can use other rice wines, available everywhere, as a substitute for Shaoxing, but trust me, they’re not as good).

Here are three recipes to help you explore new spices, foods, and supermarket aisles. But don’t stop with these! Thanks to their newly-gained popularity (and better quality), foods and ingredients formerly relegated to hippie health food stores or the dusty bottom shelves of supermarkets, have been promoted to their own dedicated areas in supermarket aisles and refrigerator sections.

1. Star Anise: Ginger Garlic Noodle Soup

The secret ingredient in this uber-healthy, flavorful, 20-minute soup is Star Anise, an unsung hero of nutrition. A powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, the spice is a staple of Chinese cooking. But you don’t have to go to a specialty store to find it. Just look in the spice aisle of your supermarket.

vegnow Vegan Ginger Garlic Noodle Soup With Bok Choy

Photo by: Jessica Randhawa

2. Plant-Based Meatballs

Meatballs made without meat? You betcha! This recipe comes from my friend Sylvia, who reluctantly allowed me to take her to lunch at Wildseed, one of the top plant-based restaurants in San Francisco. To say she was skeptical of a plant-based restaurant is an understatement. As always, Wildseed was packed, and the only seats were at the bar, so of course we had wine. But it was the Andalusia with lentil walnut “neatballs” that won Sylvia over. So much so, the next time she hosted her book club dinner, she searched the internet until she found a plant-based lentil walnut meatball recipe. It was a hit with the gals … and has made its way into Sylvia’s supper repertoire.


Photo by: That Vegan Babe

3. Miso Coconut Tempeh

Go wild with this one, and discover the pleasure of crispy tempeh with mushrooms, marinated in coconut milk, ginger and garlic. Umami-rich miso, soy sauce, and coconut sugar (brown sugar is an excellent substitute) add layers of flavor, which only get better the next day, on the off-chance there are leftovers.

Miso Coconut Tempeh

Photo by: Lisa Kitahara