Try these vegan recipes for a hearty stew and cheese sauce

Try these vegan recipes for a hearty stew and cheese sauce

Like most people, I grew up eating meat. It was exactly what everyone did – including my family and the families of everyone else I knew.

I met my first vegetarian during my freshman year of college. She was a nice person, and I wrote off her vegetarianism as a quirk or mild eccentricity. In short, I haven’t thought much about it. At least not consciously.

Fast forward many years to a day in 1998 when I came across an article in The Atlantic magazine titled, “Could Mad-Cow Disease Happen Here?” The article discussed the recent epidemic of mad cow disease in Britain, which necessitated the slaughter of 3.7 million cattle.

That was disturbing, but what really caught my attention was the fact that Britain also banned the sale of certain cuts of beef. Why? Because 27 people had contracted a variant of mad cow disease known as Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease from consuming beef products.

As I continued reading, the article explained that CJD is a fatal nervous system disorder. Unable to control my alarm clock, I looked up to my husband and shared what I was reading. His nonchalant response caused another shock. “Yes, that’s why I can’t be a blood donor.” Then he reminded me that before we met, he had lived in Tunbridge Wells, England, for several months in the 1980s when Britain had its first outbreak of mad cow disease.

He was told that he was forbidden to become a blood donor. His revelation sparked a longer discussion that ended in both of us deciding to ditch meat. We did like fish and dairy. It seemed like a reasonable choice at the time.

Fast forward to 2006. Again, I’m reading. This time it’s John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America. Robbins, whose father was the co-founder of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company, had refused his inheritance. Why? Because, having become an ethical vegan, he could not in good conscience inherit the riches of his family’s industry.

His book is an illuminating exposé explaining why dairy is no less ethically troubling than meat and, in many ways, more so. Until I read Robbins’ book, I didn’t realize that cows have to be impregnated to produce milk. I felt ridiculous because I had never thought about what now seemed so obvious.

So, what happens to the male calves? They are separated from their distraught mothers so that their milk is available for human consumption. And the calves become veal.

What happens to the dairy cow when she can no longer produce milk? She’s going to the slaughterhouse.

At that point, our earlier decision to eliminate only meat no longer made sense to me. It made even less sense when I read about the egg industry, which I won’t get into here.

And again I looked up at my husband. Our eyes met. So were our thoughts, as I had already shared many of the details of my talk. Silence.

Then I blurted out, “I think we should go vegan.”

“Yes,” he replied.

And that was that. The next day we cleared our kitchen of all animal products. In practical terms, it wasn’t exactly a big switch as we had left meat behind for years. But for both of us, it was the best and most personally transformative decision we’ve ever made.

Going vegan has brought huge benefits in terms of our health. Despite our ages (65 and 79), we sleep well, have great energy and rarely get sick.

And unlike many, if not most, people in our age group, there are no medications for chronic illness in our home. We don’t spend time in doctors’ offices. Instead, we hike and bike, and I still walk several miles most mornings.

We took the Whole Foods Plant-Based approach to our vegan food, meaning we don’t eat any processed vegan “meat.” For starters, those processed vegan foods are still processed foods. So they’re not what anyone might call “healthy choices.” And they can be expensive, even if they’re helpful in helping people make the switch to vegan food.

We found that eating plant-based foods tastes better, is more satisfying, and is even cheaper than the standard American diet that includes meat, dairy, and eggs. When we want to try something new, we just type “Whole Foods Plant Based Recipes” into our search box to find an endless supply of easy and tasty recipes. The bottom line is that we eat a lot of delicious foods without having to pay attention to our weight, knowing that it is the biggest factor in keeping us healthy. That is quite reassuring.

I think a lot of people assume that going vegan is a sacrifice. They tend not to think about – because they know nothing about – the remarkable benefits that come from making that choice. What I’ve “sacrificed” to become vegan feels utterly trivial compared to the powerful health benefits, peace of mind, and sense of wholeness that awaited me on the other side.

Creamy African Stew

(Adapted from The Plant Pure Nation Cookbook by Kim Campbell)

Yield: 10 cups

  • 2 onions, cut into half rings (about 4 C)
  • 1 large carrot, diced (about ¾ C)
  • 1 tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 2 medium to large sweet potatoes, cut into inch cubes (about 3 C)
  • 1 C vegetable stock
  • 1-28 oz. can cut tomatoes into cubes
  • 1 tbsp. curry powder (or more to taste)
  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • ⅓ C peanut butter
  • 1-15 ounce can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 C coconut milk (light or regular)
  • 2 C chopped frozen spinach

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over high heat until bubbling (10-15 minutes). Reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.

Remark: You can also place all the ingredients in a slow cooker over medium heat and cook for 2-3 hours.

Serve as a stew or over rice.

All Purpose Vegetable Cheesy Sauce

Yield: 4 cups

  • 1 cup potatoes (about 6 oz.), peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup carrots, diced
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup broth from cooking the vegetables
  • ½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained (or ½c white beans if you have a nut allergy)
  • 4 tbsp. Nutritional yeast flakes (available in most supermarkets)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ⅛ tsp. Bell pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

In a medium saucepan, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Place the potatoes, carrots and onions in the pan and cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

When the vegetables are cooked, drain them and put them in a blender. Add the reserved 1 cup cooking stock. Add all other ingredients; mix until smooth.

Use in nacho cheese dip, mac-n-cheese, a topping for steamed broccoli, on veggie burgers, or anything else when you need a creamy, cheesy sauce.

Remark: This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Deborah Gallagher lives in Iowa City with her husband and two cats. She recently retired from the University of Northern Iowa, where she was a professor of education.

For questions or concerns about the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, email [email protected] or visit Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.