Deborah Madison has done for vegetarian meals what the television show "Extreme Makeover" has done for the dowdy: transform them into something sexy and appealing.

She's done it with a combination of relaxed charm, a warmly reassuring writing style and reliable recipes in such classics as "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" and "The Greens Cookbook." Now comes her newest book, "Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison's Kitchen" (Broadway Books, $27.50).

And just in time, too. A new Stanford University School of Medicine study found that a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans has twice the cholesterol-lowering power of a conventional meat-based low-fat diet -- even when both diets contain the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.

The study of 120 adults found that, for example, eating a bean burrito, spinach salad and an oatmeal-carrot cookie is healthier for you than stir-fried lean beef with asparagus and a low-fat chocolate chip cookie. Even such conventional low-fat foods as Weight Watchers lasagna and turkey bologna weren't as effective at lowering cholesterol as vegetarian choices such as dark green salads and lentil soup, according to the study.

All of which makes Madison's book extra-welcome. For those wanting to add more plant-based, vegetarian meals to the dinner schedule, "Vegetarian Suppers" is a good place to start. Madison provides a variety of options to consider, such as a grilled vegetable sandwich with chipotle mayonnaise, tofu stir-fries, and whole-wheat pasta and chickpeas.

One caveat, however: Although she includes chapters on supper sandwiches and light meals for warm weather, this is not necessarily the book to rely on for fast weeknight cooking. While the recipes from those chapters come together quickly, others are more suited to weekend cooking and entertaining when there's more time for peeling and chopping.

Still, Madison does what she always does, providing a fresh, creative perspective on vegetarian meals. Because she herself is a part-time vegetarian, she understands those of us who still eat meat occasionally but who want to make non-meat meals a bigger part of our diet. And because she knows that vegetarian meals can be just as sophisticated as those with meat, she also includes a wine recommendation with each recipe.

Pasta and Chickpeas

4 servings

In the book, this recipe calls for fresh sage to stand up to the heartiness of whole-wheat pasta, but we liked using basil -- to give it a pesto flavor -- and regular pasta.

This is also an easy dish to vary based on what's available. When tomatoes are at their peak, cut up a few and add them at the very end. Some cooked dark green or black lentils can be substituted for the chickpeas (or used in addition). You can also add some mild ricotta or slivers of the stronger-flavored ricotta salata to this dish. A zinfandel from Sonoma would be a good wine to serve.

12 ounces dried regular or whole-wheat pasta shells

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional as necessary

1/2 large onion, diced

A few pinches of hot red pepper flakes, or to taste

11/2 cups cooked chickpeas, or one 15-ounce can, drained

1 bunch (about 11/2 cups, unpacked) flat-leaf parsley, leaves stripped from the stems

2 large garlic cloves

Small handful (about 3/4 ounce to 1 ounce) basil (may substitute sage leaves)


Freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons water, plus additional as necessary

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain it well. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and add the onion and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the drained chickpeas.

While the chickpeas are warming through, chop and combine the parsley, garlic and basil. Add a third of the mixture to the skillet. Season well with salt and pepper to taste; add a tablespoon or two of water to the pan and cook slowly, adding more water as the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes.

Toss the pasta with the chickpeas, the remaining parsley mixture and extra olive oil, if desired. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. To serve, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top and an additional pinch of hot red pepper flakes, if desired.

Per serving: 454 calories, 17 g protein, 82 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 11 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Candy Sagon; e-mail questions to

Seared Tofu and Mushroom Saute

4 servings

Tofu is simmered in water in this adapted recipe instead of being fried, so it will be firm. This and other prep work can be done while the water is heating for the rice noodles, which only take a few minutes to cook.

Although it looks like a lot of garlic and tarragon, their flavors meld into the dish. Be sure you taste and salt as you go -- in spite of the soy sauce, salt is needed. For wine, a spicy, dry Gewuerztraminer would be a good choice.

6 ounces wide, dried rice noodles (may substitute wheat or egg noodles)

14 ounces firm tofu packed in water, drained and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

2 teaspoons mushroom soy sauce or tamari

3 tablespoons naturally brewed soy sauce, such as San-J

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

3 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons chopped tarragon

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons peanut or vegetable oil

3/4 to 1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, including shiitake, if possible

1/2 cup finely diced shallots

4 finely slivered scallions, both white and green parts, for garnish

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the rice noodles until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

In a large skillet half-filled with salted water on medium-low heat, gently simmer the tofu for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tofu cubes to a colander to drain.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauces and brown sugar, and set aside.

In a separate small bowl, combine the garlic, tarragon, salt and pepper and set aside.

In a wide nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the peanut or vegetable oil. Add the garlic mixture and cook, about 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms and shallots, stirring often, until the mushrooms are brown and their juices have been released and reabsorbed, about 7 minutes. Add the tofu, the soy-sugar mixture and the cooked noodles, stirring gently to combine until just heated through. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to a platter, garnish with scallions and serve.

Per serving: 368 calories, 21 g protein, 46 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 2 g saturated fat, 581 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Candy Sagon; e-mail questions to

Labor Day Spaghetti

4 servings

Madison likes to use the yellow bell peppers that come into season at her neighborhood farmers market in New Mexico around Labor Day, but the ones in the supermarket work just as well in this colorful pasta dish. This adapted recipe is vegan, but you can add cheese. Non-vegetarians could serve it with grilled chicken or shrimp. A crisp, chilled white that is also a little fruity -- a sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc or chenin blanc -- would support this robust dish.

12 ounces dried spaghetti

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 to 5 yellow or orange bell peppers, seeded, stemmed and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chopped black olives

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed

2/3 cup chopped parsley, loosely packed


Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups (whole) cherry tomatoes or baby Roma tomatoes, cut into quarters

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until it is al dente, then drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Transfer the spaghetti to a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to lightly coat. Set aside.

In a wide, deep pot such as a Dutch oven on medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the peppers and onion and cook, stirring often, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the wine, which will deglaze the pan. Stir to scrape up and combine the pan juices.

Reduce heat to medium and add the olives, capers, half the parsley and the reserved liquid from the pasta pot and cook, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute, then turn off the heat.

To serve, divide the spaghetti among warm serving bowls, spoon the vegetable mixture over each and garnish with the remaining parsley.

Per serving: 531 calories, 14 g protein, 85 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g saturated fat, 486 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Candy Sagon; e-mail questions to