By Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD

We would all like to eat healthy and tasty vegan meals. Carefully selected ingredients and thoughtful preparation help to create wonderful meals that do not require the addition of oil, salt, or sugar. You can easily prepare healthy vegan entrées from ingredients that may already be stocked in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Pasta, rice, barley, couscous, beans and legumes, and potatoes can all form the base of healthy dishes. These ingredients are naturally low in salt and fat.

Remember, we need to include a bit of healthy fat in our diet, and this can come from soy products, such as tofu or tempeh used as an entrée base, soymilk (available in different fat 'levels') or silken tofu used as a cooking ingredient, as well as avocados, nuts and seeds, and olives.

Veggie Burgers and More

Veggie burgers can be created without salt and using just a small amount of fat. Prepare your veggie burger mixture ahead of time and use it to form burgers, veggie balls, veggie loaves, or use it as an unformed ingredient when creating a veggie 'meat' sauce.

Pile a veggie burger high with raw vegetables such as sliced tomato, lettuce, onion, bell pepper, shredded carrots, beets, kale, or red or green cabbage and you have a quick entrée. Take your healthy veggie burger mixture a bit further by cooking and crumbling it into tomato sauces (to make a vegetarian 'meat' sauce), using it as a filling for tacos, burritos, and veggie scrambles (along with a small amount of extra-firm or smoked tofu), using it as a vegetarian pizza topping, or using it in casseroles (such as tamale pie, chili, or shepherd's pie).


Pasta is a convenient way to go for healthy vegan entrées. Select or prepare higher fiber or whole wheat pastas or brown rice or lentil noodles (available in ethnic markets and online). Create a marinara sauce (tomato sauce with vegetables) or mushroom sauce (minced mushrooms and onions), add sautéed or steamed mushrooms, minced garlic, and extra tomatoes, and serve over cooked pasta for a fast entrée. You can also toss pasta with sauce, place it in a baking dish, top with chopped tomatoes, bell peppers and onions, then cover and bake until hot for a quick casserole. Additions to the tomato sauce can include chopped seasonal vegetables (such as summer squash, carrots, and different varieties of mushrooms), cooked lentils or white beans, roasted garlic, and fresh chopped herbs (try basil or oregano).

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes are easy to prepare and versatile (use no-salt-added canned or dried). Make a hearty four bean soup (try kidney, navy, garbanzo, and black-eyed peas), pair it with a baked potato (topped with chopped veggies), steamed brown, red or wild rice or pasta, and you have a fast and healthy entrée. You can also season red or black beans with onion, cumin, and pepper and serve them on a steaming bed of quinoa, barley, or brown rice. Cooked beans can be puréed and seasoned and used as a protein-rich sauce to top pasta, rice, or other cooked grains. Toss cooked beans into a rice pilaf for another fast entrée.

Baked Beans

Baked beans can be a side dish or a meal by themselves. Baked beans can join you at the breakfast table, served in the English style on toast, as a side dish for lunch or supper, or as a hot sandwich filling. Baked beans are colorful, flavorful, and don't require salt or fat to make them tasty! They are a nearly perfect dish, as they are creamy and saucy in texture and can have flavors ranging from nutty to smoky. And of course, the star ingredient in baked beans is a great source of nutrition. Beans have no saturated fat and very, very little unsaturated fat (except for soybeans, which are relatively high in unsaturated fat). Beans are digested slowly, so they are good for long-lasting energy and for people trying to reduce their food intake (as a feeling of fullness after a bean meal lasts several hours). Depending on the bean type you choose, beans can contain iron, calcium, some B vitamins, zinc, and potassium. The fiber content in beans is tenderized during baking, but still adds health to the dish.

New England Baked Beans are traditionally made with small white beans. Expand your baked bean horizon and have some fun selecting from the multitude of bake-able beans. Try some of these: Appaloosa (black and white striped), cranberry or Christmas beans (green and red striped), calypso (bright red), Tongues of Fire (brilliant crimson), yellow split peas, baby limas (very small, very white), Great Northern (very white, very mealy), lablab or hyacinth (crimson, black or brown), or caviar lentils (black lentils). Mung beans can be found in beige, brown, red and black, and lentils come in white, yellow, gray, green, orange, and red.

Baked beans can be made equally well with dried, no-salt-added canned, frozen or fresh beans. You'll have to steam or boil and drain dried beans before baking them. Canned beans can be used as is or can be drained and rinsed to remove any of the surface salt. Fresh or frozen beans may need to be briefly cooked before baking to 'plump' them up. You should select the bean form that fits in most easily with your lifestyle. If you have lots of time, use dried beans. Fresh, frozen, or canned beans can be baked quickly for a fast and satisfying dish.

Baking Beans

To bake beans, you need cooked, drained beans and a sauce or liquid to bake them in. The sauce is used to moisten and flavor the beans. Decide on which role your baked beans will play: entrée, casserole, side dish, or dessert. Then you can decide on the ingredients.

A rule of thumb for baking beans is to start with 3/4 cup of sauce for every 1 1/4 cups of cooked beans. The beans will absorb a lot of the liquid and will help to soften the fiber. If you would like your beans to taste strongly of a certain flavor, add it at the beginning of cooking. If you'd like just a hint of a flavor, add it during the last 10 minutes of cooking. For example, if you would like to have an oniony bean casserole, finely chop onions and mix them with the beans before putting them in the oven. If you'd like just a whisper of onions, sprinkle them lightly over the beans several minutes before removing from the oven.

Baked beans benefit from slow baking. Try to bake them between 300 to 325 degrees over a long period of time, from 2-6 hours. If you bake beans quickly, you may wind up with tough, dry beans. Slow cookers and Crock-Pots® work very well for the 'baking' of bean dishes.

You can select one type of bean and vary the sauces, or vary the beans and the sauces. We've given you some ideas below. If you use about 3 cups of cooked beans, you can add about 2 1/4 cups of sauce, baked in a covered 8 x 8 inch glass casserole dish or a small glass loaf pan. It's always a good idea to bake beans in a nonreactive dish (no metal) so no off flavors develop.

If you like one type of sauce, then vary your beans for a different flavor. Tomato-based sauces work well with white, pinto, cranberry, black-eyed peas, and green and gray lentils. Garlic- and lemon-based sauces work well with kidney, appaloosa, garbanzo (chickpeas), red and lima beans, as well as split peas and yellow and orange lentils.

Ideas for Baked Bean Sauces

Green Gratin: Combine soymilk with fresh shredded spinach, kale, or collard greens (if using frozen greens, thaw them and squeeze out as much water as possible), dried thyme, dried sage, and fresh garlic. Add beans and bake. If desired, top with dried bread crumbs and place baked beans under a broiler for several minutes until browned.

Lemony Vegetable: Combine vegetable broth with chopped onions, garlic, mint, and lemon juice. Toss with beans and bake.

Cacciatore Baked Beans: Combine canned no-salt-added tomatoes (with juice), tomato purée, garlic, oregano, basil, black pepper, and white wine. Toss with beans, top with a small amount of nutritional yeast, and bake.

Curried: Combine vegetable broth, chopped tomatoes, fresh ginger, curry powder, fresh cilantro or parsley, and ground cumin. Toss with beans and bake.

Traditional New England: Combine chopped onions, prepared mustard, black pepper, vinegar, molasses, and maple syrup together. Toss with beans and bake.

Pizza Baked Beans: Combined chopped tomatoes, prepared no-salt-added tomato sauce, sliced mushrooms, chopped bell pepper, chopped onions, basil, and black pepper. Toss with beans and bake.

Fruit Dishes

Some commercial sorbets or fruit ices contain very little added sugar. However, if you have extra fruit, such as strawberries or melon, you can purée it and freeze it to create your own sorbet. For vegan desserts, use apple juice or orange juice concentrate for sweetening and 'dessert spices,' such as cinnamon, ginger, lavender, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice for flavor. Sorbets will contain the natural sugar found in the fruit, but don't need added sugar for a pleasant taste.

Fresh sliced fruit sprinkled with cinnamon makes a refreshing dessert. For a warm dessert, bake, broil or microwave apples, pears, or fresh pineapple slices with cinnamon, ginger, and maple syrup. Cobblers can be made by thickening canned apples or peaches with cornstarch and topping with granola mixed with dried fruit.

Fruit sauces are easy to make (and a great way to use those extra strawberries that are looking a bit peaked). To make 2 cups of fruit sauce, purée 3 cups of fruit (fresh or frozen); bring 2 Tablespoons of apple juice concentrate and 1 Tablespoon of water to a boil (this makes a simple syrup). Add the syrup to the fruit purée, blend and add a bit of lemon juice for some tang. Refrigerate until ready to use. An alternative to fruit sauces are compotes; simply stew fruit combinations (fresh or dried) until tender, spice and flavor, and serve hot or cold.

Some fruit has its own natural container. Take advantage of this. Serve a scoop of frozen sorbet in a quarter cantaloupe, Persian or honeydew melon and garnish with fresh berries. You've got a simple (and healthy) dessert. Oranges or grapefruit can be scooped out and the pulp replaced with sorbet or even stuffed with whole grapes and then frozen.

Multi-Veggie Burger

(Makes about 10 burgers)

If you don't have the tofu needed in this recipe, you can substitute more prepared and cooled mashed potatoes. Use this mixture to create burgers, balls, or loaves.

  • 5 cups peeled and steamed baking potatoes (start with approximately 8 potatoes)
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 1 cup finely minced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cups minced cooked carrots
  • 1 cup cooked green peas
  • 2 cups cooked corn
  • 1 ½ cups crumbled firm tofu
  • 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 Tablespoon dried parsley

Mash cooked potatoes. Set aside.

Steam the onions and mushrooms until soft. Combine mushroom mixture with mashed potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients, except breadcrumbs and parsley. Mix thoroughly. Add just enough crumbs to have a mixture to form patties. Mix in parsley. Form into 1/2 cup 'burgers' or 2-Tablespoon balls.

Cook on a hot, nonstick griddle or bake in a 350 degree oven until browned on both sides. Serve hot, or allow to cool and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Total calories per burger: 211 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 41 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 113 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Tofu Primavera

(Serves 6)

  • 3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • ¾ cup chopped onions
  • ½ cup chopped bell pepper
  • 3 cups cubed extra-firm tofu
  • 5 cups cooked, drained pasta (begin with 2 cups uncooked pasta)
  • 3 cups silken tofu
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons white pepper
  • ½ cup frozen, thawed diced carrots

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Meanwhile, sauté mushrooms, onions, and peppers in a nonstick pan over a very high heat until soft, about 5 minutes.

In a 9 x 9-inch baking dish combine mushrooms, onions, peppers, tofu, and pasta. Toss with silken tofu until combined. Stir in yeast and white pepper, then garnish with peas and carrots. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Total calories per serving: 327 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 35 grams Protein: 25 grams
Sodium: 40 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Not-Cream of Cauliflower

(Serves 6)

This soup is creamy without dairy and flavorful with a nice spicy aftertaste. It's a great way to use leftover mashed potatoes. Plus you don't have to use the stove!

  • 1 Tablespoon no-salt-added vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup onion, chopped
  • ½ cup carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 ½ pounds fresh cauliflower (about 3 ½ cups) chopped
  • 4 cups no-salt vegetable broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon white peppe1 Tablespoon no-salt-added vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups prepared mashed potatoes

Combine vegetable broth and onion in a 3-quart casserole or bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 30 second intervals until the onion is tender. If using a stove, place broth and onion in a medium pot and steam, covered, for one minute.

Next, add carrots, cauliflower, 4 cups vegetable broth or water, white pepper, cumin, nutmeg, and dill and stir to combine. Stir in mashed potatoes.

Cover with a lid and microwave on HIGH for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. For stove method, cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Add soup by batches into the canister of a food processor or blender. Process the mixture until puréed and smooth. Return to casserole or bowl, cover, and microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes, or return to stove, cover, and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes or until soup is warm.

Notes: Fresh broccoli, broccolini, or broccoli rabe can be used in place of the cauliflower. Also, this soup freezes well. It will be a little thinner when thawed, and can be thickened with additional mashed potatoes.

Total calories per serving: 99 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 21 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 140 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Fruit Salad with Avocado Dessert Salsa

(Serves 6-8)


  • 1 cup peeled and chopped ripe avocado
  • ½ cup soy yogurt (flavor of your choice)
  • 3 Tablespoons lime juice
  • ½ cup drained, canned crushed pineapple packed in juice

Combine all ingredients for salsa in a medium, non-reactive bowl (non-metal so that it won't affect taste or color) and toss. Allow to chill.


  • Romaine or red leaf lettuce for underliner
  • 1 cup thinly sliced bananas
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup diced ripe mango (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup diced ripe papaya (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 small guava, peeled and diced (approximately ½ cup)
  • ½ cup halved green grapes

Line a serving platter or individual plates with lettuce leaves. Combine bananas with orange juice and then arrange bananas in a single layer on top of the lettuce. Arrange the mango and papaya on top of the bananas. Garnish with guava and grapes. Right before serving, top with avocado salsa. Serve immediately.

Total calories per serving: 145 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 27 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 15 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Eggless Pumpkin Custard

(Serves 5-6)

This can be served as a lowfat, no cholesterol custard and eaten by itself, or used as a pie filling.

  • 2 cups canned pumpkin (not "pumpkin pie filling")
  • 1 ½ cups silken tofu
  • 1 cup rice or almond milk
  • 4 Tablespoons apple juice concentrate
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon powdered cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon orange zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine pumpkin, tofu, and milk in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine.

Pour into individual custard cups or a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes or until custard is set. Serve warm or chill until ready to eat.

Total calories per serving: 156 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 22 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 31 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Cold Tropical Fruit Sauce

(Serves 3)

  • ⅓ cup chilled pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup chopped strawberries
  • 2 Tablespoons mashed banana

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Serve as a dessert sauce, spoon over hot or cold cereal, or add a small amount of vinegar and serve as a salad dressing!

Note: for a 'baked' banana split, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place peeled, halved bananas in an oven-proof, nonstick baking dish. Top with minced pineapple (canned in juice) and the tropical fruit sauce. Bake until bubbly, about 3 minutes.

Total calories per serving: 27 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 1 milligram Fiber: 1 gram

Fruit Coulis

(Makes 2 cups)

  • 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen, thawed berries, rinsed
  • 2 Tablespoons orange juice concentrate
  • 2 Tablespoons white wine or 1 Tablespoon grape juice and 1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar

Blend all ingredients. Strain, if desired. Serve over hot or cold cereal, yogurt, steamed rice, or use as a base for a smoothie.

Total calories per serving: 10 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 2 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: <1 milligram Fiber: <1 gram

1 serving = 2 Tablespoons

Nancy Berkoff is author of Vegan Meals for One or Two and Vegans Know How to Party.