Celebrating with Healthful Foods

By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian

Recipes are from the new Cooking Vegan by Vesanto Melina and chef Joseph Forest (in Canada as an E-book titles Cooking Vegetarian by chef Joseph Forest and Vesanto Melina, publisher Harper Collins, and soon to be released in paperback; same content–great recipes, menus, nutritional analysis, chef tips).  These books make an excellent gift for those who are trying to eat healthfully, and for the vegetarians and vegans on your holiday list.

9-15-2013 2-38-05 PM9-15-2013 2-37-43 PMWhat comes to mind when you think of holiday meals? Gravy? Aromas of sage and other herbs? Being so stuffed that you require a forklift to get up from the chair after dinner? It is appealing to know that we can celebrate with those we love—yet have healthful fare and not overindulge to the point of discomfort.

Here we include a well-loved recipe for stuffed squash, a Light Mushroom Gravy, also Roasted Root Vegetables, and Rosemary Gravy

Holiday Winter Stuffed Squash

makes about 8 servings

1 winter squash such as Hubbard, butternut or acorn, about 5 lbs
1 recipe for Quinoa stuffing

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pierce the top of the squash with a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle 2 inches over from the top. Pushing the knife blade away from your body, cut around the top of the squash and remove the cone-shaped top piece. Remove any fibrous material from the cone and set the top aside. Remove the seeds and pulp from the cavity of the squash with a spoon. Put the top back on the squash, put on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Spoon the stuffing into the squash cavity. Set lid in place, return squash to baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick can be easily inserted into the side of the squash. Leftover stuffing can be placed in a loaf pan, sprinkled with 2-3 tablespoons of water, covered and heated in the oven for the last 20 minutes of the cooking time for the squash. Remove the squash from the oven and place on a warm serving platter. Slice into wedges and serve.


Quinoa Stuffing

Makes 5 cups 

1-1/2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp coconut or olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup diced sweet red pepper
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 tbsp lime juice
1-1/2 tsp each of basil and dill
1/2 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp pepper


Bring water to a boil over high heat in a small pan. Stir in quinoa and salt, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Put into a large bowl and allow to cool. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook onions for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and celery and cook for 3 minutes then add to the quinoa along with the corn, red pepper, sunflower seeds, parsley, lemon juice, tarragon and pepper.


Light Mushroom Gravy

Makes 4 cups

This tasty gravy is ideal with Holiday Winter Stuffed Squash, UnTurkey, Tofurkey, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or to add a festive touch to veggie burgers. You may experiment with different brands of stock cubes or powder; flavorful stock makes a big difference. Stocks vary in saltiness so adjust the amount of tamari or salt accordingly. If the gravy is too thick, add water; if too thin, simmer uncovered to reach the desired consistency.


1 tbsp vegetable oil (such as coconut oil or olive oil)

2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup fine diced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups vegetable stock or water

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose or whole wheat flour

2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce

1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp dried sage

Pinch of pepper

Salt (optional, to taste)

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)


Heat the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook the mushrooms and onion for 5 minutes or until they start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Put one cup of cold vegetable stock or water, flour, tamari, nutritional yeast, thyme, and sage in a jar, tightly cover with a lid, and shake until blended. Put the stock and flour mixture plus the remaining stock into the sauce pan, bring to a boil, decrease heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in pepper and salt (if using); top with parsley and serve.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Makes about 8 cups

This colourful, warming combination makes a very welcome addition to festive meals. Other favorites that can be substituted are sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, or squash, for a total of 8-9 cups of chopped vegetables. Those with deep yellow and orange hues are rich in vitamin A (beta-carotene).


2 carrots

2 yams

2 potatoes

1 large red, yellow, or white onion

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs or 1 tsp dried (eg basil, thyme, oregano, dill)

1/4 tsp salt

Pinch pepper

Heat oven to 375F. Cut carrots, yams, potatoes, and onion into 1-inch pieces; place in large bowl. Sprinkle with oil, herbs, salt and pepper, tossing well to coat vegetables. Transfer to 9×13 inch baking dish (or similar size).  Bake, uncovered at 375F for 35 to 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.


Rosemary gravy

Makes 3 1/2 cups

1/4 cup coconut oil or olive oil
1/4 cup each of diced onion, carrot, and celery
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup all purpose or whole wheat flour
3 cups vegetable stock
2-3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp pepper
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat; add onion, garlic, carrots and celery and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir flour into the vegetable mixture to absorb the oil and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent flour from burning. Add stock gradually until it is smoothly mixed in, bring to boil, decrease the heat to low. Add tamari, parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If gravy is too thick, add more stock; if too thin, simmer uncovered to let some moisture evaporate. Season to taste; serve.


Vesanto Melina is a BC dietitian, author (www.nutrispeak.com), phone 604-882-6782. Other books that include great recipes for select dietary patterns are The Food Allergy Survival Guide, Becoming Raw, and The Raw Food Revolution Diet.

Bonnie’s Bone Bonanza

by Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian 

Bonnie was thinking about going vegan. Of all the dietary choices she had considered over the years, this made perfect sense and fit her values. Yet she wanted to be certain that her new way of eating would provide every essential nutrient. The women in her family were blessed with slim figures—and cursed with frail bones and eventual fractures. Magazine and TV ads and a pamphlet at her medical clinic (provided by the dairy industry) hammered home the message that milk products at every meal were her only choice. She didn’t want to be an ethical person with brittle bones! She began an information search that wasn’t linked to the dairy industry and came up with a summary that she posted on her fridge.

9-15-2013 2-36-40 PMSolid Solutions for Better Bones

1. Eat dark green vegetables daily. Put broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy and Chinese (napa) cabbage on your shopping lists. Grow kale late into the fall; request greens in your weekly organic produce delivery. Learn delicious ways to prepare greens. (See Cooking Vegetarian by Forest and Melina).  Steam vegetables for minimal mineral losses; use the cooking water in soups. These greens give you bone-building vitamin K, too.

2. Use calcium-set tofu. Tofu is versatile; it can be used in everything from soup to dessert without menus being repetitious. Check labels for calcium content. The isoflavones in soyfoods (tofu, tempeh, soymilk) are linked with reduced risk of bone fracture.

3. Rely on calcium-fortified beverages. Fortified non-dairy milks and juices help bring total calcium intake to recommended levels.

4. Make almonds, almond butter, sesame tahini, and blackstrap molasses a part of meals and snacks. By replacing 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with an equal amount of almond butter, you increase calcium intake by 73 mg. With a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses instead of jam, you boost your intake by 168 mg of calcium. These options provide iron and zinc too.

5. Don’t keep company with calcium thieves. Avoid high intakes of salt, alcohol, and caffeine; avoid a sedentary lifestyle; of course, don’t smoke. Not the difference in our habits with those of our ancestors and from other, more strong-boned cultures (as in the picture).

6. Add sunshine (or vitamin D) to your day. Stretch your legs and walk around the block on your lunch break. Like cow’s milk, nondairy beverages are fortified with a little vitamin D. From cloudy October to April, add a vitamin D supplement.

7. Exercise. Walk, jog, dance, play ball, hike, and step your way to lifelong bone health. Whether you are young or old, these activities cause bones to retain minerals. With bones, it’s a case of use ’em or lose ’em.

9-15-2013 2-37-16 PM8. Top up your intakes with a supplement. If you doubt that you are reaching recommended intakes (1000 mg calcium daily from age 19; 1200 mg for women over age 50 and for men over 70), include supplementary calcium

9. Calcium is not the whole story. You’ll get the whole team of bone building nutrients from a plant-based diet. Even lettuce can play a significant part!

Bonnie took these messages to heart. Her next X-ray showed that her bone density had improved; she felt fit and powerful. On a September 2013 trip to Toronto, she saw strongman Patrik Baboumian set a world record by shouldering 550 kilos (1212 pounds) and carrying that weight for over 10 meters (32.8 feet), then letting out a roar and the words ‘vegan power.’

9-15-2013 2-36-21 PMVesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and author:  www.nutrispeak.com, 604-882-6782. Her newest book is Becoming Vegan Express, co-authored with dietitian Brenda Davis (pictured here doing handstand and with Vesanto) and packed with great reading for optimal health.


  1. www.ecorazzi.com/2013/09/09/patrik-baboumian-breaks-world-record-with-vegan-power/
  2. Becoming Vegan Express by B. Davis and V Melina, The Book Publ. Co., 2013

Vancouver Restaurants

By Vesanto Melina with Nancy Callan

Vancouver is the first Canadian city to embrace “Meatless Monday,” encouraging residents to forego meat one day a week for the sake of the planet and their health. Whether you choose an entirely vegetarian restaurant or one that includes plant-based options our fair city offers a lot to the adventurous and to those who prefer more familiar menu items on Monday or any day.

Kitsilano’s many possibilities include:
The Eatery, www.theeatery.ca,  3431 W Broadway (dinner; lunch on weekends) with funky surroundings and many new creative, plant-based variations on Japanese favourites. For a taste of paradise, try their Mango Paradise Roll.
For a less adventurous quick bite, check out Tera V Burger http://www.teravburger.com/ 2961 West Broadway (lunch and supper) where their No Bull Burger has been known to fool many a meat eater.
The mother and daughter who run Indigo Food Café www.indigofood.org/ 2589 W 16th Ave  (lunch and supper Tues to Sat, reservations Fri & Sat, 604-537-7288)  offer both raw and cooked cuisine, with each menu item a masterpiece of creativity and flavour. Try their perogies or call in advance to order High Tea, a multi-tiered tray of bite sized sweet and savory treats.
Golden Aura  http://goldenaura.ca/, 2680 W. Broadway, Sun to Wed 11- 7pm, Thurs to Sat 11- 9pm. a new addition to Vancouver’s raw scene, has a delicious variation of Pad Thai.

9-15-2013 2-33-53 PMHeading to East Vancouver, options include Chinese cuisine at
Po Kong at 1334 Kingsway (lunch and supper) (the pressed mushroom stems are surprisingly meatlike) or
Bodhi Choi Heung at 3932 Fraser St (lunch and supper) where the (veggie) pepper steak with green beans is a favourite.
You’ll also discover Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants: the new
Veggiebowl 2222 Kingsway, (604) 620-7672 (breakfast, lunch, and supper),
Three Jewels at 1179 Commercial Dr (604) 568-5425, Three Jewels Vermicelli, Spicy lemongrass tofu on rice, and
Chau Veggie Express, 5052 Victoria Drive  (near 33rd between 34 and 35 ave) http://www.chowatchau.ca (lunch and supper). The latter’s Vietnamese sandwich, Family of Five on a Scooter, is not to be missed!
East Van has a selection of Ethiopian restaurants, such as
Axum, 1279 E Hastings St, dinner, (604) 253-2986. For a mere $10, enjoy the veggie sampler plate, eaten by hand with the famous flat sourdough bread injera.
Or for an inspiring glimpse of ethical food preparation, visit
Graze restaurant at 3980 Fraser Street where they grow their own herbs and vegetables, collect rainwater for later use, compost, and generate solar hot water! Their Antipasti and the Dip Board are each a fabulous adventure to share with friends.

Downtown: 9-15-2013 2-34-05 PM

Nuba (www.nuba.ca) has several locations: 207 West Hastings Street in Gastown open noon to 4:30 and then 5 pm to late  604.688.1655;
1206 Seymour Street in Yaletown open noon to 9 Mon to Sat 778.371.3266; plus
3116 West Broadway in Kitsilano 604.336.1797, open noon to 4:30 Mon to Sun, then 5 pm to late Mon to Sat;
146 East 3rd Avenue in Mount Pleasant 604.568.6727 (lunch and supper). La Feast is a two person plate, with a variety of plant-based Lebanese specialties. Najib’s Special, their cauliflower dish, was described in a news article as one of the hundred things you should try before you die.

Ba Bo Jai Chinese & Vegetarian Cuisine (formerly Whole Vegetarian restaurant) has outstanding food; truly superb. Their menu is mixed if you also have people in your group who want a nonvegetarian menu item.  1018 Beach Ave.,Vancouver, BC V6E 1T7 Tel: 604.569.0928  This is a favorite with my family. Wonderful service; excellent vegan menu. They have free parking too, in a covered lot next to the restaurant and under the bridge.

Gorilla Food http://gorillafood.com/ 101-436 Richards St. (lunch and supper) has an extensive, tasty raw menu and warm-hearted staff.


In Marpole, Cravings www.cravings.ca/ 8808 Osler Street (Oak St. and 72nd Ave – Behind the Coast Hotel) 604-261-7779, (daily lunch and supper; weekend brunch) makes eating out with a group with diverse dietary needs stress-free as they cater to those with gluten sensitivity, those who want plant-based food, or to those choosing non-vegetarian items. Their tasty veggie stir-fry far surpasses expectations.

In New Westminster, the vegan café Karmavore www.karmavore.ca 610 Columbia St   (11 to 7 pm; weekends to 9 pm) features some dishes, including a raw food selection, baked items, burgers, and deli food for take-out.

In North Vancouver, Pasparos Taverna www.pasparos.com 132 West 3rd Street (604) 980-0331 (daily 4 pm to 10:30 pm) has hearty Vegan Moussaka. There also are fine raw food restaurants: Café by Tao and Buddha-Full.


As you head to the Fraser Valley, try Wendel’s Café in Fort Langley 103-9233 Glover Road, 604.513.2238, 7:30 am to 10:00 pm daily and the

Jungle Juice Company at 259A Wallace Street  in Hope BC (604) 869-3363, http://junglejuiceco.tumblr.com/.

For more, see www.vegdining.com and www.happycow.net.


If you’d like to dine in good company and explore some delicious food, try Meatless Meetup (www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup). Each month features restaurant meals, potlucks, and more. With many non-vegetarian members, all those simply wanting to sample healthy, tasty food are most welcome. There’s never been a better time to do a little culinary exploration on the veggie side.


Vesanto Melina is a Registered Dietitian, consultant, and author, www.nutrispeak.com; 604-882-6782. Nancy Callan organizes Meatless Meetup.

Good Hospital Care and Fare

By Vesanto Melina

When people speak of hospital food, they don’t often use the adjective “good”. In fact I don’t recall having heard those three words in combination.  However I recently went to University of British Columbia Hospital for hip replacement surgery and overall, I was blown away by a thoroughly positive experience of our medical system, and the expertise of our health professionals and staff in managing various aspects of healing and recovery.

9-15-2013 2-33-31 PMThe orthopedic surgeons (Dr Bas Masri and his team) are a very skilled and capable team. The anesthetist and those who determine or administer pain medications were extremely good at their jobs. I’m not much of a person for pills, but the nurses and others sure know what they are doing! I had heard scare stories regarding hospital-induced infections; yet staff took such care regarding sanitation that any fears were allayed. Physio and occupational therapists provided tips that were powerfully effective when followed with care. Two weeks after surgery I could walk around home without crutches.

I had requested vegan meals, though I was uncertain whether I would need to rely on my partner or the occasional visitor to bring items from outside. To my surprise, the standard vegan meals on the menu were both tasty and nutritious.

The lunch and supper rotation included: baked beans; curried rice with beans; curried chickpeas; falafel plate; hummus salad plate; lentil stew casserole; pan fried tofu (nicely seasoned, by the way); vegetable jambalaya; vegetarian chili; vegetarian macaroni and tomato pasta; vegetarian stew; vegetarian wieners and beans; and veggie burger. Side salads with vegan dressings were available, and it was possible to order more than one. Dessert was fresh (orange or half banana) or canned fruit. The breakfast tray arrived with some combination of Cream of Wheat, oatmeal, or dry cereals; toast with peanut butter; soymilk; fruit juice; and prunes. With this menu a person consumes no zero cholesterol or trans fats and little saturated fat, reduces one risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, overweight, and obesity, and can expect to live longer! Similar menu rotations have recently been put in place or are evolving at Vancouver General Hospital and at St Paul’s.

I write on this topic because I am aware of how different my experience could have been if my nationality had been different and I had joint problems, which are the Achilles heel of my family.  For example, if I were Nepalese with decreased mobility, the boundaries of my life would shrink, access to health care could be extremely limited, and life would be far shorter. If I were American, such an operation and hospital experience could cost between $45,000 and $90,000. I could choose to fly to India or Thailand for the surgery and hospital stay, paying a tenth that price plus airfare, yet I would have less confidence in the sanitation.

In visiting Vancouver General Hospital and the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre at various times as an outpatient, I was further impressed by the quality of healthful food available in hospital cafeterias and other food service outlets.

So this is really a column of gratitude for what we have in our fine country and of thanks to our health professionals and health care and food service workers. We are blessed.

Vesanto Melina is a Registered Dietitian based in Vancouver BC. She recently did a cross-Canada tour sponsored by Dietitians of Canada, on 2 topics: on diabetes prevention and on vegetarian nutrition. Three months after the hip surgery she was able to take up cycling again. She is pictured here with Cooking Vegan coauthored by herself and Professional Chef Joseph Forest, The Book Publishing Co. Her website is www.nutrispeak.com; phone: 604-882-6782.

The Beefs about Beef

By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian

9-15-2013 2-38-05 PMWhen barbecue season comes along, we may have fond memories of summer events with meat sizzling over the coals. Yet there are great reasons to cook up something else that is superbly tasty and less potentially carcinogenic for summer get-togethers. Recent information from the Harvard-based Health Professionals Follow-up Study which observed 37,698 men for more than a dozen years and from the Nurses’ Health Study which followed 83,644 women for over 18 years showed clearly that eating red meat significantly increased their risk of death. All of these people were free of cancer and heart disease at the beginning; their diets and health status were checked every 4 years. As it turned out, the more meat they ate, the greater their risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancers, and other diet-related chronic diseases. For each daily 3 ounce serving of beef, pork, or lamb, their risk of death was increased by 13% for unprocessed meat and by 20% if the meats were processed (such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, and corned beef).

What factors in meats can be triggers for cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes? Here is a brief summary

Cholesterol. We are all aware that this fatty component of meat can get stuck in the arteries of the consumer, with an end result that blood supply to the heart or brain is blocked.  Cholesterol is in chicken too, as it is part of all cell membranes in flesh foods. Our bodies can make all we need; dietary cholesterol is an unnecessary extra. Meat is loaded with saturated fat, too.

 Hormones. The Japanese have been curious about their vast increases in the hormone-related cancers (such as prostate, breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers) and whether this could be related to hormones in the beef they import from North America. For a clip about anabolic steroids in beef, lamb, boars, and their possible link to cancer, see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/anabolic-steroids-in-meat/  Six hormones are permitted in Canadian beef that are not used in Japanese-raised cattle nor in Europe.

Carnitine. We used to think this amino acid might be a valuable component of animal products. Now we find that within 24 hours of consuming beef, the gut bacteria convert carnitine into a toxic compound known as TMAO that may increase our risk of heart attack, stroke, and prostate cancer. Our bodies can use a little carnitine—but we also can make enough to supply all of our needs.

Barbecuing is not the healthiest way of cooking, but if you do, tofu and veggies are better choices than animal products and especially than red meat. Marinated grilled tofu can be very tasty!

Tofu Marinade
Makes about 2 cups

To prepare tofu, tempeh, or veggie kabobs for summer barbecues, here is a superb marinade from “Cooking Vegan” by Vesanto Melina and Joseph Forest, The Book Publishing Co, 2011  (soon to come out in print Canada as“Cooking Vegetarian” by Joseph Forest and Vesanto Melina, Harper Collins, 2013, now as an e-book). The marinade can be used as a sauce for stir fries, as a light salad dressing, simply warmed and served over brown rice, or to baste vegetables for cooking on a barbecue or in another manner.

1/2 cup fresh or canned tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup rice or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced, peeled gingerroot
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Place the tomatoes, water, tamari, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and turmeric in a blender and blend for 15 seconds or until smooth. This marinade will keep, refrigerated, for 2-3 weeks.

Vesanto Melina’s website is www.nutrispeak.com; her email is   vesanto.melina@gmail.com .


Pan A et al. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:555-563.

Rohrmann S et al. Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and NutritionBMC Medicine. 2013;11:63.


Carnitine, Choline, Cancer and Cholesterol: The TMAO Connection.


Koeth RA et al. Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nat Med. 2013 Apr 7.