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Cancer Survivor and Cooking Instructor Shares Vegan Holiday Recipe

Caryn Dugan, who teaches plant-based, whole-foods cooking in Town and Country, explains how to make chickpea couscous with cashews.

A plant on every plate—that’s Caryn Dugan’s mission, and it can be a hard one to follow during the holidays.

In the onslaught of turkey, stuffing and sweets, Dugan, a vegan cooking instructor in Town and Country, offered a simple and tasty vegetable side recipe: chickpea couscous with cashews.

“Don’t be fooled by the list of ingredients,” Dugan said. “Once the vegetables are soft, you add a few more items, turn off the heat and cover until the liquid is absorbed. It’s as close to a fix-it-and-forget it as you can get on the stovetop.”

Dugan’s quest for a healthy diet started after college, when she said she decided to “clean up her act” and stop eating the junk food that fuels so many students. She had been eating prepackaged, low-calorie, low-fat diet foods, more interested in the numbers on the back of the package than in the ingredients.

In 2008, Dugan was diagnosed with cancer weeks after her father died from the disease. She battled and beat her cancer and now lives cancer-free, but the brush with the disease coupled with the loss of her father inspired a hunger in Dugan for information on food’s effects on our bodies.

She landed on a plant-based whole-food diet, meaning she makes the majority of her meals without using processed ingredients. She teaches a plant-based cooking course at Whole Foods, both at the Town and Country and Brentwood locations, helping residents bring plants to their plates with recipes such as her chickpea couscous.

Dugan said her couscous dish works for holiday gatherings because, “aside from being a true feast for the eyes, it is easy to make and easily portable to take to anyone’s table.”

The couscous works as a meal on its own, containing enough carbohydrates, protein and fats to keep the body fueled and energized. It’s also healthy, as the fats come from the cashews, not from fatty oils.

There is a “cheesy, nutty” taste to the couscous thanks to the nutritional yeast, an inactive yeast high in vitamin B12. For those unfamiliar with cooking with yeast—or even with where to find it—Dugan said not to fear.

“There are probably a million recipes that include nutritional yeast, so don’t be afraid to try it,” she said. “Especially if someone is trying to get away from dairy, this will really help.”

Yeast is available at in the bulk aisle as well as in

Best of all, when all the holiday fuss is over but you’re too worn out to cook, Dugan’s couscous is a perfect leftover. Tightly covered, it lasts up to five days. Dugan suggests eating it cold for breakfast, like she does. 

Here's the recipe:

Chickpea Couscous with Cashews

 ¾ cup cinced crimini mushrooms

1 minced red bell pepper

4 minced green onions (green part only)

1 shredded carrot

1 ½ tablespoons ground coriander

1 ½ tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon ground allspice

3 1/8 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

One 15-ounce can chickpeas rinsed and drained

1 ½ cup couscous

1 cup frozen baby peas

½ cup golden raisins

½ cup cashew pieces

2 tablespoons minced, flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

Over medium heat, sauté the mushrooms in 1/8 cup of vegetable broth. After about 2-3 minutes, add the pepper, onion and carrot and a pinch of salt. Once the vegetables are soft, add coriander, cumin, garlic, allspice, yeast and broth.  Increase heat and bring to a boil. Stir in chickpeas, couscous and peas. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let stand 10-15 minutes (until water is thoroughly soaked in). Stir in raisins, cashews and parsley. Serve immediately.

For more from Dugan, try one of her cooking classes. Her next class at the Town and Country Whole Foods Market focuses on recipes for teacher, neighbor or hostess gifts, including small gingerbread loafs, maple-roasted herbed almonds and anise and pine nut cookes. The class starts at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 and costs $25.

Tracey Eakin December 06, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Great article and the recipe sounds delicious! I am a Plant-Based Nutrition Counselor and I blog on Peters Patch. There seem to be a lot of us out there on the various Patches educating people about the enormous benefits of a low-fat, plant-based lifestyle. Best of luck to you!!!

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