By Maris Callahan
When I hear that someone is a vegan, my first thought is, “How can you live without cheese?” My second thought is, “What will I do if I ever have to cook for you?” Aside from the knee-jerk reaction of awe and curiosity that accompanies learning about a dietary lifestyle different from your own, you might come to realize that eating vegan is really not too difficult. Despite pop culture references, most vegan diets aren’t all about eating tofu, seitan, and “chicken” nuggets derived from textured vegetable protein. Most vegan diets focus on healthy foods that improve most people’s everyday diets: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein-packed beans.
People choose to be vegan for health, environmental, and/or ethical reasons. Some people avoid animal products because of conditions associated with their production. Others opt to follow a vegan diet for health reasons, as it’s very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein as long as calorie intake is adequate.
There is a common misconception that vegan cooking has to be challenging and that to cook a vegan meal you need to buy special ingredients and have fancy kitchen appliances. Well, if you have even the most basic kitchen skills, you can make a vegan meal. Whether you’re cutting down on the meat in your diet to save a few dollars or to boost your good cholesterol, you can be a part-time vegan (or even an occasional, accidental vegan).
Me? I could never give up cheese. Or ice cream. Or pizza. Well, you get the picture. Yet, every once in a while I like to treat myself to an occasional vegan meal, which I enjoy all the more knowing that I’m doing something especially good for myself by eating a meal featuring lycopene-packed tomatoes and fiber-boosting vegetables.
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1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup (loosely packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves, torn in half
3/4 cup + 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 lbs eggplant, cut into 1″ cubes
2 tsp salt
2 large onions, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3 bell peppers, assorted colors (green, red, and/or yellow), cut into 1″ pieces
4 medium zucchinis, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 3/4″- thick pieces
1/2 tsp black pepper
Serves 8 to 10
Step 1: Place tomatoes in a 5-quart heavy pot with garlic, parsley, basil, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.
Step 2: While sauce is simmering, toss eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large colander and let stand in sink 30 minutes. This draws the liquid from the eggplant and helps it retain its texture and shape during cooking.
Step 3: Meanwhile, cook onions in ¼ cup olive oil, with a pinch of salt, in a 12″ heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer onions with a slotted spoon to a large bowl, then add 3 tablespoons oil to skillet and cook bell peppers with 1/4 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
Step 4: Transfer peppers with slotted spoon to bowl with onions. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet and cook zucchini with 1/4 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer zucchini with slotted spoon to bowl with other vegetables.
Step 5: While zucchini is cooking, pat eggplant dry with paper towels. Add remaining oil (about 1/4 cup) to skillet and cook eggplant over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes.
Step 6: Add vegetables, remaining teaspoon salt, and black pepper to tomato sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour. Cool uncovered, and serve warm or at room temperature.
About the Author:
Maris Callahan is the author of In Good Taste, an avid self-taught home cook, and is widely knowledgeable about all things culinary. She is especially passionate about helping new cooks learn how to prepare healthy, delicious meals and snacks, even when life is busy. She believes in Ghirardelli chocolate, farmer’s markets and cooking from scratch when possible. When she is not in the kitchen working on her next recipe, Maris works as a marketing professional in Chicago and in her spare time, contributes to several websites including SheKnows.com, Diets In Review and Shape.com.