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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Put More Plants on Your Plate: Westchester Area Pros Offer Tips for Trying Vegan Options at Home

Feb 28, 2022 01:53PM ● By Allison Gorman

Michael Barootjian, founder of MindFull Meals         Photo: Rob Espinosa

With vegan options on most menus and vegan eateries sprouting up everywhere, it’s never been easier to enjoy a plant-based meal. But keeping it going at home can still be a challenge. For professional perspective, we talked to Michael Barootjian, founder of MindFull Meals; Sandra Marinelli, chef and owner of Brooklyn Organic Kitchen (BOK), in Mahopac; and Laurie Gershgorn, chef and owner of Good Choice Kitchen, in Ossining. They discussed the latest trends in plant-based eating and shared tips for making the most of the earth’s bounty.

Michael’s Tips

Michael Barootjian’s advice? “Stop overthinking.”

Ease into plant-based eating by subbing ingredients, like nuts for cheese. For “parmesan,” blend nuts or seeds with a little salt and garlic powder. Or replace the cheese in pesto with ground cashews or sunflower seeds. Barootjian also subs out spaghetti noodles for spiralized veggies, and he’s learned to make kale more flavorful by massaging it. Most people—including professionals—are still figuring things out, he says.

“The plant-based food world is still in its infancy,” he says. “It’s been nice to see how supermarkets, restaurants, fairs and even gas stations have quickly adjusted to the growing demand for plant-based foods.”  

And these changes can’t come too soon, he adds—animal agriculture is unsustainable.
“It’s inevitable that the prices of animal meat will increase to a point that it will be more affordable to eat plant-based meats,” he says.

MindFull Meals makes weekly deliveries to Westchester and parts of Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Rockland and Putnam counties. It is fully plant-based and gluten-free. For more info, visit

Laurie’s Tips

Laurie Gershgorn takes a systemic approach to plant-based meal planning: 
“List the vegetables, grains, legumes, spices and ethnic cuisines you really like, then modify dishes with animal products by replacing them with the items on your plant-based list,” she says. “There are so many items on the market now that make it a bit easier, such as cashew-based cheeses and butter and nondairy milks. To eat seasonally, your best bet is to shop at your local farmers market.”

As for “fake meat,” Gershgorn advises reading labels. “If you can imagine it growing, it is probably a whole-food, plant-based ingredient. Keep it real.”

Good Choice Kitchen is proving that comfort food can be vegan, she says.
“We try to offer new dishes and specials on our menu, such as comfort foods, which are often associated with containing animal products. We do this by still maintaining the whole-foods approach and steering clear of bad fats, sugars and high sodium.”

Good Choice Kitchen, which has an all-plant-based vegan menu, is located at 147 Main St., Ossining, NY. For more info, call 914.266.3003 or visit 


Sandra’s Tips

​Sandra Marinelli suggests hiding extra nutrition in soups and fruit smoothies. “Sneak a little spinach into a berry smoothie and a shot of lemon juice for extra vitamins. Or add ground chia or flax seeds for extra nutrition, flavor and texture.”

She’s also a fan of dried nori and kombu. 

“Sea veggies are jam-packed with essential vitamins and minerals we all can use more of,” she says. She’ll make a quick stock by soaking them in hot water for half an hour and then draining the liquid, which she’ll add to soups. She also chops them to add to salads. 

With so many new plant-based products, there’s no reason to eat animal-based products anymore, Marinelli says. “Our favorites at the restaurant are Just Egg, Impossible Beef and the Violife cheeses. We’ve created many delicious recipes based on these ingredients.”

Brooklyn Organic Kitchen, located at 890 S. Lake Blvd., Rte. 6N, Mahopac, NY, serves organic vegan and traditional meals. For more info, call 845.621.2655 or visit