Now, this time between seasons is when garden plots everywhere are brimming over with bounty — and choices. Use this golden moment to experiment with all that growing greenery. Don’t relegate vegetables to side dishes, let ’em be the stars of dinner.

There’s plenty of inspiration out there that you can reap for your own dietary advantage, however you define it. Cooks, chefs and cookbook authors are expanding the boundaries of what it means to enjoy a vegetable-centric diet. At one end, it might be all about going vegan — no animal products at all, including honey or dairy. At the other, it might be cooking just one dinner a week where meat or fish or poultry isn’t the star protein.

This reality is noted in a new cookbook, “The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods” (Ten Speed, $25).

“I eat a vegetarian diet with a few sustainable seafood options on occasion — my husband eats everything and I plan to let my kids make their own decision,” writes the author, Sara Forte. “I don’t draw a hard line and suggest that the choices I make are right ones for everyone, but I do believe that you are responsible for making wise choices in the proteins you choose to eat.”

Lisa Ekus, who represents many food writers and authors at her eponymous agency in Hatfield, Mass., is seeing more “vegetable-driven” cookbooks, with emphasis on the veggies even if some of the recipes contain meat as well.

People are willing to try new ingredients, she said, and meat or fish doesn’t have to be the protein on the plate. A number of those who do cook and eat meat have a family member who is vegetarian, she adds. Unwilling or unable to cook two meals at a time, these cooks are “eating less meat and looking to do more than a simple nod to vegetarians,” she said.

Moroccan stuffed squash

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Note: This recipe is adapted for vegans from Sara Forte’s “The Sprouted Kitchen.” It can be embellished for non-vegans or carnivores.


  • 2 medium acorn squash
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) light coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon each: ground coriander, ground cumin
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced preserved lemon peel or 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds
  • ¼ cup chopped kalamata olives


  • 1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise; scoop out seeds. Rub 1 tablespoon coconut oil on the cut sides; sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Pierce the skin a few times with a fork. Roast in the oven, 20 minutes. Flip squash over; cook until you can easily poke a knife through the flesh at its thickest part, 10-20 minutes depending on size. Remove from oven; let cool.
  • 2. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa; drain. Heat the coconut milk to a gentle boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Add the quinoa; turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, 15-18 minutes; turn off the heat. Let the quinoa steam in the saucepan, 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil, the paprika, coriander and cumin to the quinoa; toss to combine. Add the preserved lemon peel, mint, cilantro, orange juice, pomegranate seeds and olives; toss together.
  • 3. Divide mixture among the squash cavities. Garnish with chopped olives. Serve.

Servings: 4 servings

Nutrition per serving: 400 calories, 18 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 57 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 516 mg sodium, 8 g fiber.


Cheese: Replace the chopped olives with ½ cup crumbled feta cheese.

Shrimp: Grill or saute 1 pound shrimp. Roughly chop shrimp; add to the quinoa mixture.

Japanese-inspired brown rice and millet casserole

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 1 hour, 40 minutes

This vegan recipe from “Grain Mains: 101 Surprising and Satisfying Whole Grain Recipes for Every Meal of the Day” (Rodale, $24.99) is inspired by a traditional dish served in the fall by many Japanese cooks to celebrate the arrival of the new rice harvest.

Authors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough recommend cooking this dish in a flameproof 2½- to 3-quart casserole or Dutch oven; reposition the oven racks as necessary so when the covered casserole is placed in the oven there will be a couple of inches of air space overhead. Mirin is a sweetened Japanese rice wine available at Asian groceries and some supermarkets.

The recipe can be embellished following the variations below for non-vegans or carnivores.


  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 5 ounces shiitake mushrooms stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 piece (1-inch long) ginger, peeled, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup medium-grain brown rice
  • ½ cup millet
  • ¼ cup each: soy sauce, mirin
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled, diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 ½ cups shelled edamame
  • 1 ½ cups jarred peeled chestnuts


  • 1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat; swirl in the sesame oil. Add mushrooms and shallot. Cook, stirring, until just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add ginger and garlic; cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
  • 2. Dump in the brown rice and millet. Stir to coat the grains in the fat and liquid. Pour in the soy sauce and mirin. As the liquid comes to a full bubble, scrape up any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pot.
  • 3. Stir in the broth, sweet potato, edamame and chestnuts. Raise heat; heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally to keep the millet from sticking.
  • 4. Cover; slide into the oven. Bake until the liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 1 hour. Turn the oven off; leave covered pot in the oven to steam, 15 minutes.

Makes: 6 servings

Nutrition per serving: 443 calories, 11 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 74 g carbohydrates, 13 g protein, 996 mg sodium, 7 g fiber


Butter: Substitute 3 tablespoons butter for the toasted sesame oil.

Chicken: Saute ½ pound diced boneless chicken thighs in the butter at the start of cooking. Add the mushrooms and shallots and continue with the recipe. Three cups low-sodium chicken broth can be used instead of vegetable broth.

Bill Daley | Chicago Tribune

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