Look Who’s Cooking: Delicious vegan recipes for everyday eating

  • Food coach Ellen Abraham makes kichari with the help of Goldie in her Greenfield home. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Food coach Ellen Abraham serves up some kichari in her Greenfield home on April 30. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Ellen Abraham’s finished kichari. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • WEGEGARTNER Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

For the Recorder
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

To go vegan is to introduce not only new food, but new words to your culinary vocabulary. Seitan, not chicken. Kombucha, not Mountain Dew. Tempeh, not ground beef.

Ellen Abraham, of Greenfield’s Burning Heart Yoga, is passionate about vegan cooking and eating, so passionate that her vegan food-centered blog is known as the “Vegan Love Project: recipes from a vegan loving yogi food activist animal lover.”

All of those attributes became clear to me as I entered her home and was greeted by her two rescue dogs, Ginger and Izabel, and her two cockatoos, Goldie and Rosie, as well as the aromas of Abraham’s kichari being prepared. Goldie is fond of perching on Abraham’s shoulder while she cooks.

Abraham has trained worldwide with various yoga teachers and holds several certifications. She also trained as a whole foods chef at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.

Coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, the founder of The Vegan Society, the term vegan refers to a daily diet that refrains from eating all animal products, not only meat, poultry and fish, but also eggs and dairy products. Many vegans, Abraham among them, also do not wear leather or consume any products derived from animals.

Roxann: When did your vegan, yoga lifestyle and diet begin?

Ellen: I’ve been cooking vegan for more than 23 years, done yoga for 17. I studied with Annemarie Colbin at the Natural Gourmet Institute, which was life-changing. My blog, the Vegan Love Project, came about because of my desire to get the recipes and philosophy of vegan cooking out there for everyone to learn about. My approach is that cooking with seitan or tempeh, or cooking with rice and the other grains and beans as a main source of protein, can work for everyone. Dress the food up by adding greens or other vegetables or dress it down by eating the grains as a wholesome addition to your meals, especially for breakfast.

R: What do you see as the challenges of being a vegan?

E: Obviously, it may be harder for people who are gluten-free to follow a strict vegan diet, but I say “Make it about what you can eat, not what you can’t eat.” It can be done. Also, you may have to be a bit more imaginative and experimental about your cooking, use more spices for instance, use greens that you might not use regularly, like kale.

And then there are desserts. I want to make food that tastes great regardless of what kind of diet you follow. I wrote the “Simple Treats” vegan dessert cookbook so that people could see that you can have delicious treats that are eggless and aren’t made with animal dairy. So many vegan treats were dry and flavorless. I wanted to make a cookie that tasted just like the non-vegan cookie my mother made when I was a kid.

Probably the hardest thing is that you have to plan ahead for your meals. By that I mean, I make my seitan from scratch. So I have to have the time to do that and think about making enough that I can use it again in different ways for different meals. Think of it as roasting a chicken and having some of it left over for sandwiches or with pasta. The same is true with the kichari recipe. I usually make enough so that I can have it for breakfast and for a meal later with vegetables.

R: What is one of the more creative things you make regularly?

E: Well I needed to have a substitute for butter. So I experimented with making a vegan cultured butter made with fermented cashews. I’m going to make you taste it and defy you to think it’s not butter and not delicious.

R: You’re on. And I’m not a butter fan. At least not to just eat on bread.

E: OK. Here, try this. Tell me what you think.

R: Wow! That really is good. It tastes just as good as regular butter. Maybe better.

E: See! That’s it. You can make great tasting vegan food for every day eating.

R: Your Vegan Love Project blog is filled with enticing sounding recipes. I’m thinking of the vegan seitan “chicken” paprikash and the “I Totally Winged It Amazing Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli.”

E: Yes, for the paprikash, I wanted a dish that was like the Hungarian version using chicken that my grandmother used to make. As for the mac and cheese, I had a craving for a mac and cheese, so I had to come up with something.

R: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Ellen’s kichari (lentil and rice porridge)

Kichari means mixture, usually of two grains. It’s wheat-free and gluten-free. Kichari may well be the most perfect therapeutic recipe of all because it detoxifies the entire system, while kindling the body’s digestive fires called “agni.” This recipe is nourishing and easy to digest, and can literally be paired down to just the rice and beans and still be utterly satisfying. It can be eaten more on the soupy side or as a thicker porridge. You can cater this to your specific needs and tastes by adding more vegetables, spices or greens.


½ cup yellow split mung dal, washed and drained

1 cup white basmati rice

1 tsp. turmeric

1 T fresh ginger, sliced or grated, or 1 tsp. dried

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds or 2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. pink salt

2 T coconut oil

5 cups boiling water

1 tsp. salt or to taste

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil.

In a large soup pot, add the oil and toast the spices (cumin, mustard seeds, pepper, turmeric, salt and ginger if using dried) until aromatic. Add the rice and coat well in the spice mixture. Add in the mung dal and cover with the hot water.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, partially covered, stirring often, adding additional water if needed. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the fresh ginger and adjust the seasonings before serving.

Serve with optional fresh, chopped cilantro. You can also serve it alongside the greens or vegetables of your choice.

Vegan cultured butter from cashews

This recipe is adapted from the vegan website, “Full of Plants: Tasty Vegan Recipes.”


Cultured cashew milk

½ cup (75g) raw cashews

cup (160g) water

1 capsule (about tsp.) of acidophilus tablet (or a pinch of mesophilic culture)

Cultured butter

½ cup (130g) cultured cashew milk

1¼ cup (250g) refined coconut oil

1 cup (64g) grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)

1 tsp. liquid sunflower lecithin (or 2 tsp. powdered lecithin)

2 tsp. carrot juice (for color)

¼ tsp. salt

Place the raw cashews in a bowl. Cover and let soak overnight, or for at least eight hours.

Drain the cashews and put them back in the bowl. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, pour the water over the cashews. This step will kill possible bacteria. Drain the cashews.

Add them to a blender with the ⅔ cup water, and blend on high speed until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides from time to time until everything is smooth.

Transfer to a small bowl or container and stir in the acidophilus powder. Cover with a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours. The cashew cream should have a light sour taste, and you should see some air bubbles.

Melt the coconut oil over low-medium heat, then put it in a blender. Add the cultured cashew cream, neutral oil, sunflower lecithin, salt and carrot juice. Blend on high speed for about one minute.

Line a 6x4-inch container with parchment paper. Transfer the mixture to the container and place in the freezer at least one hour, or until firm. Once firm, transfer to the refrigerator. It will become softer after a few hours.

This vegan butter will keep for up to seven days in the refrigerator. Since this butter contains live cultures, it might get stronger in taste/smell as time passes. If the smell is too strong, trash it. It will keep in the freezer for up to two months.

In the “Look Who’s Cooking!” monthly column, Roxann interviews and shares the recipes of people from around Franklin County who may be well-known in their professional or political lives, but not necessarily for their lives as passionate cooks, bakers or all-around foodies. Send ideas for Look Who’s Cooking to roxanndw6@yahoo.com.