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Keep fat, taste in vegan fare

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CONCORD, N.H. — Another season of resolutions and waistline reductions is beginning, so let's start by debunking a popular vegetarian myth.

Following a meatless diet is no guarantee of being reed thin.

Quite the contrary, actually. Because oils play such a crucial role in keeping animal-free fare interesting and, for many, edible, the tendency can be to overindulge.

Want a vegan vanilla cake that has that luscious buttery flavor? Load it with corn oil. How about a salad that combines creamy flavors with satisfying vegetable crunches? Bring on the avocado.

Still, the new year, and new commitments to getting or staying trim, need not mean the end of flavor. In fact, too drastic a reduction makes it all the less likely a person will stay the course of their reformed eating habits.

The reason is pretty simple. Without the fat, vegetarian food is reduced to little more than noodles and rice heaped with steamed vegetables. Yum!

Here are a few tricks for keeping the fat in food without sacrificing health or weight-loss goals.

For stir-frying, start with a bit of vegetable broth and a handful of pine nuts or cashews.

For salads, make a dressing from 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup all-fruit jam, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Blend until smooth.

For roasting vegetables, cut them into large chunks and marinate in 1/8 cup olive oil, 1 cup cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and a dash each of salt and pepper.

For a tasty low-fat — but not no-fat — dish, try mushroom pecan burgers from Dreena Burton's "The Everyday Vegan" (Arsenal Pulp Press, $18.95).

The combination of pecans, mushrooms and hoisin sauce (a dark, thick Asian marinade made from soybeans and spices) gives these burgers a satisfying, meaty taste.

The trouble with just about any so-called "veggie burger" is getting the ingredients to hold together as a patty. To make this one a little easier, puree 1/4 cup soft, silken tofu and 1 tablespoon soy sauce and add to the onion and garlic mixture.


MUSHROOM PECAN BURGERS

(Preparation 45 minutes, cooking time 10 to 12 minutes)

1 1/2 pounds white mushrooms

1/2 cup tightly packed fresh parsley

1 1/2 cups red or white onion, roughly chopped

2 medium-large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed butter)

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped (other nuts could be substituted)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 1/2 cups bread crumbs

Combine the mushrooms and parsley in a food processor and pulse until well chopped. Remove and set aside. Place the onion and garlic in the processor and pulse until well minced.

In a saucepan, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil over a medium flame for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the tahini and hoisin sauce. If using the pureed tofu and soy sauce, add to the onions now.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Work the mixture with your hands or a wooden spoon until it forms a dense, moist mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

After chilling, scoop the mixture with your hands and form into patties the size of small hamburgers (larger patties may not hold together well).

In a lightly oiled skillet, fry patties on each side over a medium flame for 5 to 7 minutes, or until brown and crispy. Avoid flipping the patties too frequently.

Makes 10 to 12 patties.

Nutrition information per patty, based on 12-patty estimate: 111 cal., 5.5 g total fat, 3.4 g pro.

(Mushroom Pecan Burgers is taken from Dreena Burton's "The Everyday Vegan," Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001, $18.95)