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Mar 15 / suzanne

Meet This Grateful Vegan Neighbor: Amanda

Amanda Pilcher with husband, Mike, and twins Gavin (left) and Colin

You probably have your go-to dishes, the sure-fire hits that you feel confident bringing to recuperating friends or new moms or to a party. But what if you’re, say, the queen of pork tamales and your recipient is a vegan?

You get creative and learn how to cook outside your comfort zone. That’s what Amanda Pilcher’s family and friends did to help out the family when one of Amanda’s twin sons, Coln, was hospitalized for intestinal surgery at just 6 weeks old. Amanda and her husband, Mike, longtime vegans, live in Houston, a cosmopolitan city, sure, but not exactly the mecca of seitan stir-fry. Amanda, on staff as a hospital fundraiser when her boys were born, says her colleagues rose to the occasion despite being life-long meat-eaters.

“The wives of all these hospital executives were going online looking for vegan recipes,” says Amanda, whose twins, Gavin and Colin, are now 2. “I felt such an outpouring of love. The meals made a huge difference for us during a scary and overwhelming time.”

One family delivered a pot of vegetarian chili along with a loaf of French bread and a bottle of wine. “Another family made the cooking an adventure and a challenge for themselves and brought a puff-pastry dish stuffed with mushrooms and other vegetables,” Amanda recalls.

Amanda also was grateful for the efforts of her mom and mother-in-law, both meat eaters who helped out when the babies were born. “My mom came for a week and made three vegan meals a day from scratch,” says Amanda. “One recipe was a traditional Polish stuffed cabbage dish with meat and rice. My mom made it with soy crumbles and tomatoes, and it was delicious. It was so special that she brought in a family tradition and made it vegan for us.”

Mike’s mom adapted her own favorites, such as chicken enchiladas. “She’d say, “What would you use for sour cream, and I’d tell her Tofutti Sour Supreme works great.”

Amanda says vegan cooking is neither boring nor complicated, as it may seem to meat-eaters. I’ll weigh in on that topic tomorrow, as I myself have gone vegan . . . for the month of March. At any rate, here is a no-fail recipe called Big Curry Pot, an insanely tasty noodle  dish made with coconut milk. And following are Amanda’s tips on cooking for vegans. (Come back later this week for tips from a vegan chef.)

•You don’t need to make a special trip to Whole Foods or a health food store. Your local grocery store carries all the ingredients you need — veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans. Vegan cooking is simple — you really can’t mess it up.

•Check out quinoa. People are scared of it because they can’t pronounce it (KEEN-wah, FYI). But it’s packed with protein, and you don’t have to do a whole lot to it. Here’s a quinoa cooking primer from Savvy Vegetarian, along with several recipes. Or try this hearty Quinoa and Black Beans salad.

•Go nuts. I put a lot of nuts in our salads, like sliced almonds or toasted walnut. Nuts add texture and substance and some of them, like walnuts, are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

•Embrace tofu. It’s got a bad name — any time you hear a comedian talking about vegetarianism, they talk about tofu. But it’s harmless and filling and takes on the flavor of anything. You can dice up some tofu and throw it in a noodle soup or into a stir fry. Use firm tofu rather than silken.

•Check out reliable vegan cooking websites such as vegweb and vegsource. On the cookbook front, Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian Recipes is filled with simple, kid-friendly recipes. Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook is more gourmet.

•Don’t forget dessert. We’re really into baking cupcakes. We love Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

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