04/11/2012 12:30 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Ten Classic Recipes Made Healthier

One of the things I hear most often about vegan cooking is that this "new food" is unfamiliar and family members are reluctant to try it because they worry that the food just won't taste good. After all, the reputation of healthy food is that, while good for you, you will never enjoy food again once you decide to eat for your health.

It just ain't so... and these recipes are proof!

Mac and Cheese
There are lots of vegan recipes for mac and cheese but a lot of them have ingredients that I don't really like. They're complicated and the results make the dish seem unfamiliar. In this version, the techniques are the same but the ingredients are healthier and just as delicious.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

3 tablespoons vegan buttery spread, like Earth Balance
2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
8 ounces vegan mozzarella-style cheese
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
Sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
Cracked black pepper
1 pound elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons vegan buttery spread, like Earth Balance
½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
½ cup almond meal

Preheat oven to 350°F and bring a pot of water to a boil with a generous pinch of salt.

Place vegan spread in an oven-proof Dutch oven (that is oven proof) over medium heat. As the spread melts, stir in flour, vegan cheese, and almond milk. Whisk into a smooth paste. Season to taste with sea salt and whisk in garlic powder, paprika, turmeric and black pepper to taste. Whisk very well.

While the sauce cooks and when the water boils, cook macaroni until about 80 percent done. Stir pasta into sauce, mixing gently to coat evenly.

In a small saucepan, melt vegan spread and mix in bread crumbs and almond meal. Top the macaroni mixture with the bread crumb mixture and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the topping is browned.

Spicy Black Bean Burgers
There's something wonderfully meaty and satisfying about a burger made from beans. And the spice in these babies is just the ticket to getting meat off the table without much of a fuss. The lack of saturated fat and density of nutrients makes these burgers the perfect entrée.

Makes 4 burgers

1 (15-ounce) can of black turtle beans (organic if possible), drained and rinsed well
½ red onion, finely diced
3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and diced
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup silken tofu, pureed
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
Avocado oil for frying
Romaine lettuce leaves for serving
2 tomatoes, diced
3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon extra- virgin olive oil

Mash the beans with a fork in a large bowl and mix in onions, garlic, hot sauce, red pepper, cayenne, tofu, and salt and pepper to taste. Fold in bread crumbs in small amounts to hold the burgers together (you may not need the whole cup). As soon as the burger mixture holds together, stop adding bread crumbs or the burgers will be too dry. Form the bean mixture into thick patties.

Heat about ½-inch oil in a deep skillet and fry the patties until firm, about 4 minutes on each side. You can also grill them over medium heat on a gas grill.

To serve, arrange lettuce leaves on plates with the burger in the middle of the leaf. Mix together the tomatoes, parsley and olive oil. Mound the tomato mixture in the center of each burger and serve.

Note : You can also serve these in the traditional manner on a bun with the usual condiments.

Wise Guy Chili
My Uncle Ralph, a true wise guy, used to make the best chili. And served with my Aunt Laura's home- baked bread, it was the "hit" of the "family." My vegan version is just as spicy as Uncle Ralph's but won't shorten your lifespan, since it has no saturated fat to clog your arteries.

Makes 3 to 4 servings

Extra- virgin olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 red onion, diced
Sea salt
3-4 teaspoons chili powder (or to your taste)
Scant pinch smoked paprika
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small can chopped green chilies
1 (32-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 squares dark chocolate (non-dairy), coarsely chopped
½ cup quinoa, rinsed well
1 cup dried pinto or borlotti beans*, rinsed well
1 bay leaf
Spring or filtered water
Cracked black pepper
2-3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Place a small amount of oil along with garlic and onion in a soup pot over medium heat. When the onion begins to sizzle, season with a pinch of salt, chili powder to taste (it gets hotter as it cooks), and paprika and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in celery, a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Add chilies, tomatoes, tomato paste, and chocolate and stir well. Add quinoa, beans, bay leaf, and 3 cups of spring or filtered water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or until the beans are soft.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer for 3-4 minutes more. Remove bay leaf and serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Veg Head Pot Pie
Loaded with antioxidants and none of the ingredients we don't want, like saturated fats, hormones, or steroids found in meat, this truly is comfort food. If you family isn't wild about veggies, then this is the recipe for you. Who can resist veggies topped with a flaky crust in their own individual cup?

Makes 3-4 servings

1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch sea salt
⅓ cup avocado oil or vegan buttery spread like Earth Balance
Cold spring or filtered water

2 cups spring or filtered water
4-6 small new or fingerling potatoes, unpeeled and diced, do not peel
½ head cauliflower, broken into small florets
4 medium carrots, diced
1 zucchini, diced
½ cup frozen corn
2 slices packaged baked tofu
⅓ cup whole wheat pastry flour
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
Generous pinch rubbed, dried sage
Generous pinch cumin

Preheat oven to 425°Fo and lightly oil four 10- to -11-ounce ramekins, including the top rim.

Make the crust. Combine flour with salt and cut in oil with a fork to create the texture of wet sand.

Slowly add water to create a crust dough that just holds together. Knead a couple of times; gather into a ball and wrap in plastic. Set aside while preparing vegetables.

Bring water to a boil and cook potatoes for 5-6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl. In the same water, cook cauliflower for 4-5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Drain and transfer to the bowl with potatoes. In the same water, cook carrots for 3-4 minutes. Drain, reserving the broth and transfer the carrots to the bowl with the potatoes and cauliflower. Reserve broth. Gently stir in zucchini, corn and baked tofu. Set aside.

Place broth on low heat. Combine flour with salt and pepper to taste, sage and cumin. Whisk flour mixture into broth and cook, whisking constantly until it thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Pour thickened broth over vegetables and mix gently to combine. Spoon vegetables evenly into ramekins.

Divide the crust into 4 equal pieces and roll them out to be slightly bigger than the ramekins. Lay a crust over the top of each filled ramekin and pleat the outer edges of the crust. Make 4 small slits in the crust to allow steam to escape.

Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling it bubbling, about 25 minutes. Serve hot.

*You can purchase ready-made whole wheat pie crusts and cut them into the sizes needed for these individual pot pies or use the crust as they are to create full- size pies.

Tempeh Reuben
The key to a good Reuben is the thousand island dressing, in my view anyway. A traditional Reuben is loaded with meat and cheese, but it's really the oozy dressing we love so much... in this vegan version, you'll whip up a creamy dressing in no time with none of the stuff in the bottled versions that you might not want.

Makes 2 sandwiches

1 cup vegan mayo,( like Veganaise)
⅓ cup natural ketchup, (no sugar or artificial additives)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
Generous pinch sea salt
3 tablespoons natural sweet pickle relish
Avocado or extra virgin olive oil
8-ounce tempeh block, sliced in half and then in half thicknesses, making 4 pieces
4 slices whole grain rye bread
2 slices vegan Swiss cheese
2-3 tablespoons natural sauerkraut

Make the dressing, adjusting seasonings to your taste. Set aside.

Place oil in a skillet to cover the bottom of the pan. Lay tempeh slices in the oil over medium heat and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. In the same skillet, lay the bread slices with the cheese on 2 of them. Allow the cheese to melt as the bread toasts.

Remove the bread from the skillet and spread with dressing. Place 2 pieces of tempeh on top of the cheese. Spoon sauerkraut on top of the tempeh. Lay bread with melted cheese on top to close the sandwich. Slice diagonally and serve hot.

Philly "Cheesesteak"
"Wit or Witout" is the phrase most associated with Philly cheesesteaks, and refers to with or without onions. My version is "witout" meat and "witout" Cheese Whiz (God forbid) -- no saturated fat or compromised ingredients but "wit" all the flavor and texture you love.

Makes 4 sandwiches

Extra- virgin olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced thin into half moons from top to bottom slices
Sea salt
3 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
1 pound package seitan, shredded
4 whole grain hoagie rolls, split lengthwise
1 8-ounce package vegan "cheese," shredded
Unsweetened almond or soy milk

Place a small amount of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion, with a pinch of salt until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in roasted red peppers, season with salt to taste, and sauté for 2 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out skillet.

Place a small amount of oil in the same skillet. Sautée seitan, with a light seasoning of salt until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and wipe out skillet one more time.

Lay rolls, cut side down, in the oily skillet and cook over medium-low heat until the bread browns lightly. Remove from skillet.

While the rolls brown, make the sauce. Place cheese, enough milk to cover, and salt to taste in small sauce pan and cook, whisking, until cheese is melted and the sauce is thick and creamy.

To assemble, lay rolls open, mound seitan, pepper, and onion on each and spoon cheese sauce over top.

Beefcake Stew
My dad was a butcher, so when I was growing up, our dinner table was all about meat. Not cool for me, but I did love the veggies -- in beef stew, the potatoes, the tomatoes (we're Italian; there were tomatoes in everything!). There's no beef (so no saturated fat, growth hormones, or steroids) in this version, but it will make you look and feel like a pin-up.

Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 pound seitan, cut into 1-inch cubes
⅓ cup arrowroot
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
3 red onions, quartered
4 carrots, chunk cut
2 parsnips, chunk cut
1 large can (16 ounce) diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Spring or filtered water
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
1 cup frozen peas

Cube seitan. Combine arrowroot with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge seitan in arrowroot mixture and set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy pot and pan fry seitan pieces until the coating is crispy, about 5 minutes. Add onions, carrots, parsnips, tomatoes, and bay leaves. Season lightly with salt and pepper and add water to almost cover ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Add potatoes, adjust seasonings to your taste, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes more. Add more water, if needed to keep a stew-like consistency. Remove bay leaves, stir in peas, and cook 5 minutes more. Stir gently to combine and serve hot.

Eggless Salad
If you have your doubts about tofu, then this is the recipe for you. With the texture of egg salad and all the flavor you expect, well, you could become a convert in no time. Your heart will thank you!

Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 pound extra firm tofu, hand-crumbled
2 roasted red bell peppers, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small carrot, shredded
4 whole green onions, green and white parts, diced (use the whole green onion)
½ cup vegan mayonnaise,( like Veganaise)
2-3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
Combine tofu with peppers, celery, carrot and green onions.

Make the dressing by mixing mayo, parsley, garlic powder, turmeric, mustard, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. Stir into tofu mixture to combine. Chill completely before serving on bread or crackers.

Sloppy Joe the Vegan Sandwich
There is something about a messy, meaty sandwich that has stolen America's heart . . . and health. In this version, the filling is lean, meat-, and saturated fat-free, but loaded with the taste and texture we have come to adore . . . and the nutrients we need.

Makes 4 sandwiches

2 tablespoons avocado or extra virgin olive oil
½ small red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Sea salt
1 (8-ounce) package tempeh, crumbled
1 roasted red pepper, diced
¼ cup tomato sauce (no sugar added)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
Scant pinch chili powder
Scant pinch cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
4 whole- grain hamburger buns

Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt for 2-3 minutes. Stir in crumbled tempeh and cook, stirring until the tempeh begins to brown. Add peppers and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in tomato sauce, soy sauce, syrup, spices, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes.

While the tempeh mixture cooks, heat a lightly oiled griddle and lay the hamburger buns, cut side down, on the hot griddle to lightly toast them.

To serve, spoon hot tempeh mixture onto buns and serve with lots of napkins.

My pal Dennis thought I'd lost my mind when I first served these. He thought I had pulled the wool over his eyes and made Duncan Hines brownies. It's in the zucchini, man! It adds moisture and antioxidants.

Makes 16

1½ cups whole- wheat pastry flour
½ cup semolina flour
½ cup maple syrup granules
½ cup cocoa powder
Generous pinch sea salt
Generous pinch ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups finely grated zucchini
½ cup avocado oil
⅔ cup brown rice syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup non-dairy, grain- sweetened chocolate chips
½ cup chopped walnuts (or other nuts)

Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly oil a 10-inch- square pan.

Mix dry ingredients together, whisking to combine. In a small bowl, mix together zucchini, oil, syrup, and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients to form a thick batter. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.
Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes or until the center of the brownies bounce back to the touch. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve frosted or not.

½ cup non-dairy, grain- sweetened chocolate chips
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
Almond milk (unsweetened)

Place the chocolate and rice syrup in a heat-resistant bowl. Bring about ⅔ cup almond milk to a rolling boil and slowly pour over chocolate while whisking. Use only enough almond milk to create a thick, smooth frosting. You may have heated more almond milk than you need. Just cool it down and return it to the container for later use. Whisk the frosting untill smooth.

Once the brownies have cooled completely, spread frosting on top of each one.

The Best Chocolate Chunk Cookies
No kidding, the best--ever. Vegan, not vegan, healthy or not, everyone who tastes these says they are the best.

Makes 28 to 30 cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) vegan buttery "baking sticks," like Earth Balance , softened
½ cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup coconut sugar
1 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch sea salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 (3.5-ounce) bar dark chocolate (70 percent% or more), coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a hand mixer or a whisk, blend the buttery stick with syrup, vanilla, and coconut sugar until creamy. Mix in flours, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda to form a stiff cookie dough. Fold in nuts and chocolate until incorporated through the batter. Wet a teaspoon and your fingers and spoon cookie dough by the tablespoonful onto the lined sheets, allowing room for the cookies to spread, (about a dozen cookies per standard sheet). Bake for 14-16 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately move cookies to a wire rack to cool.