The plant-based diet has come a long way since the 1970s, when the emerging health food movement experimented with dishes that were mostly brown, bland and boring.
Nowadays, people are boosting the flavor of vegan fare with fresh herbs and spices, avocados and nuts, mushrooms and dates to create a wide range of dishes that are tasty, comforting and familiar.
“People eat this food and are always surprised at how delicious it is,” said Cathy Fisher, author of a new cookbook, ““Straight Up Food,” that features nearly 100, plant-based recipes that are free of salt, oil and sugar. “Salt is just a super cheap, easy way to get flavor.”
With the decadent holidays behind us and a few months of winter still ahead, it’s a great time to reboot your palate and cut back on all that extra salt, sugar and oil as a way to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, lose weight and get back into the healthy eating groove.
“For most people, the weight comes off naturally when you eat this way,” said the 49-year-old cooking teacher, who started her own blog (straightupfood.com) in 2010. “Plants are low in calories ... and instead of using oil, you sauté in water or vegetable broth.”
One of the hardest things for people to kick, she said, is the flavor-boosting salt that has become ubiquitous in many processed foods and in restaurant meals.
“At first, people often miss the salt, but generally they just want flavor,” Fisher said. “Salt, sugar and dairy, especially cheese, can be very addictive. That’s because they are unnaturally concentrated. Our brain gets the salt-oil-sugar (message), and it wants more.”
But those serious about changing their diets, she added, must learn to develop patience when trying to adapt to life without the flavor boost of “SOS” (salt, oil, sugar.) It takes a few weeks for your body to readjust.
“My recipes rely on subtler but naturally delicious sources of sodium, fat, and sweetness,” she said. “The goal is not to give up flavor, but to eat great tasting food without sacrificing health.”
A long-time Sonoma Valley resident and Sonoma County native, Fisher has worked for plant-based nutrition expert Dr. John McDougall of the McDougall Program of Santa Rosa (drmcdougall.com.) She also teaches cooking classes at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa (healthpromoting.com), which specializes in medically supervised, water-only fasting and promotes a plant-based diet free of added salt, oil and sugar.
“The book came about because students always ask, ‘Do you have a cookbook?’” she said. “The look and the content are created to make it easy for people who are just jumping in and may be nervous about cooking this way.”
Most of the recipes in the book call for user-friendly ingredients that are easily accessible to home cooks. That means no “fake meat” or other exotic fare.
“My recipes are all-American, familiar recipes,” she said. “I’ve just given them a makeover. If people recognize it, it makes it easier to try it and serve it to others.”
Some are dishes in the cookbook are ones that are normally linked to oil, such as hash browns and French fries.
Instead, Fisher cooks her hash browns in a good -quality, non-stick pan and bakes her French fries in the oven.