Vegan home-cooking recipes that inspire

Vegan home-cooking recipes that inspire

I was visiting my partner in Oakland last weekend, and we decided to drive up to Sebastopol and Healdsburg for the day. As we drove into Healdsburg at lunchtime, our stomachs were grumbling, and we didn’t have a plan for where to eat (as anyone who gets hangry knows, this is dangerous territory for a couple). The first sign I spotted was for a vegan restaurant called Little Saint. Neither of us is vegan, but my partner’s pretty close, so we decided to give it a shot.

In a town filled with high-end Italian restaurants and steakhouses, Little Saint was a breath of fresh air. The menu was filled with crisp salads and comforting stews that put a laser focus on fresh vegetables and grains and fermented tonics and pickles. We left that meal feeling full but refreshed — a rare combination — and it got me thinking about the types of vegan home cooking I love, where it’s simply about great vegetables that are cooked so well that you never miss, or think about, the meat.

Keith Corbin’s Vegan Gombo fits right into that category. Corbin roasts root vegetables to make a flavorful stock, then adds it to a mix of Fresno chiles, okra and red miso paste for a heady stew that hews more to the original West African dish than its Louisiana analogue. His recipe makes a lot of gombo, but it’s just the sort of thing you can keep in the freezer to pull out when you need an emergency dose of comfort after a long day.

Another project-style recipe that I love is Genevieve Ko’s Vegan Picadillo Empanadas. Instead of a ground meat filling, Ko uses nutty, rich ground pecans, which I love for their earthy flavor — it pairs better with the traditional roast tomatoes, raisins and olives than beef. Another freezer staple, these empanadas are for days when I’m too busy to make lunch. I can warm one in the oven for 30 minutes and have lunch on the go.

My Spicy Watermelon and Tahini Salad With Pistachios and Mint is a refreshing salad that’s unintentionally vegan. Crisp, cool watermelon is drizzled with a jalapeño-spiced tahini dressing, then showered with toasted pistachios and fresh mint. Watermelon season is coming to an end soon, but this dish works equally well with cantaloupe or other melons in the market, or even figs.

And I always love having a couple of ace baking recipes up my sleeve to bring out for visiting friends who are vegan. First is GGET’s Vegan Strawberry Muffins, which use macadamia (or almond) milk and coconut oil in place of eggs and dairy to add a richness that still allows the floral strawberry flavor to shine through. It’s a great all-purpose muffin batter that works well with other berries, apples and pears, or other ripe fruit (make it with the same jam flavor as the fruit you use, and you’re good to go.)

And for a low-key but impressive dessert, try my Vegan Carrot-Banana Cake. This comforting cake is all about ripe bananas and carrots with just enough spices, dried fruit and nuts to support their floral aromas. A simple lime-scented coconut-oil frosting gilds the lily but this cake is also great with a simple dusting of powdered sugar on top.

Keith Corbin’s Vegan Gombo

In this recipe, a chile-enhanced gombo sauce of cooked okra and shallots is amped with red miso paste, in place of a traditional roux, and lime juice. For serving, Corbin starts with a layer of cooked California brown rice, then adds the gombo stew and tops it all with sautéed, charred or grilled vegetables that change with the seasons and add texture to the dish.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 3 hours, 15 minutes, mostly unattended.

Chef Keith Corbin's vegetarian gumbo, in two bowls sitting on a wooden surface.

(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Vegan Picadillo Empanadas

Finely chopped pecans take the place of beef in these picadillo empanadas seasoned with spices, raisins and olives.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour.

Two whole and one half vegan picadillo empanadas on a stoneware tray

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Spicy Watermelon and Tahini Salad With Pistachios and Mint

This salad adds a spicy richness to lean, sweet watermelon. Fresh jalapeño chile adds necessary heat to cut through the fatty tahini, but if you want the salad less spicy, omit the chile’s seeds.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 30 minutes.

Spicy Watermelon Salad with Tahini, topped with sliced jalapenos and pistachios

(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Vegan Strawberry Muffins

Strawberry runs through these super-soft muffins with swirls of jam in the batter and fresh-cut fruit on top. Coconut oil and macadamia milk bring richness to the two-bowl batter, which comes together quickly.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour.

Strawberry Muffins on a rack, seen from above.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Vegan Carrot-Banana Cake

This cake is friendly to substitutes. Bananas stand in for eggs, both binding the batter and giving it body — use bananas whose peels have gone mostly black for the best flavor.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

A round, frosted Vegan Carrot-Banana Cake with a large slice cut out

(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)