Livin' on the Vedge

Learn to cook the vegetarian way from the Chicago Diner

Vegetarian food doesn't have to be wimpy.

Fans of the Chicago Diner, one of the city's oldest vegetarian restaurants, know this in their gut. They've been snacking on meat-free burgers, vegan French toast and vegan milkshakes at the diner for years.

With the Diner's new cookbook, The New Chicago Diner Cookbook ($20), all of its secrets are in the open.

"This isn't some crunchy granola health food book," insists author Kat Barry. "We're Midwesterners. We want to eat good meals."

And good they are. Sure, there is a recipe for kale salad. And for those who can't tell their tofu from their seitan, the book has an entire section of instructions meant to demystify the vegetarian life.

But there are also recipes for vegan cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crust ("I hadn't eaten a piece of cheesecake in 10 years until I came to the Diner," explained Barry), truffled portobello mushrooms with potato pancakes and creamed leeks, and a corned "beef" treatment that turns seitan into a sandwich that would make any Jewish deli proud.

Barry insists, "There's nothing that you make with animal products that you can't make just as well without them."

Case in point: vegan French toast, made with coconut milk and covered with blueberry compote. The recipe elevates the breakfast standard, the coconut milk adding an extra layer of creamy decadence that eggs just don't match.

"Every day I meet someone who tells me that they would eat more vegetarian if they knew how to do it," says Barry. Problem solved.