Catherine McMenamin Niggemeier, owner of Plant to Plate Education and Health, teaches plant-based cooking and consults with clients on pantry makeovers and healthy food shopping. She lives in Sayville with her husband and two daughters.

How did you become interested in a plant-based diet?

I had been reading a lot about plant-based foods. I saw the film "Forks over Knives" and that was a life-changer for me. I went to study plant-based nutrition through eCornell with T. Colin Campbell, from the film, and received my certification in plant-based nutrition. I lost weight and I gained incredible energy. That's when I started my business. My husband loves it. Both of my girls love plant-based foods as well.

Do you have tips for cooks who want to go more plant-based?

Just try to enjoy as many plants and whole grains as you can. If you focus on eating a lot of good stuff, you'll find that most of the unhealthy stuff just naturally gets left out. It's a far simpler approach to focus on what you need to include than rather what you have to take away. I never said to myself, "I'm not going to eat this." If it's nuts, grains, plants, I'm just going to eat as much as I possibly can.

A bowl of Catherine McMenamin Niggemeier's creamy potato corn chowder. This healthy version of chowder is made without oil or cream. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

How do you get rich flavor and texture without using a lot of animal products or a lot of fat?

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There are lots of great ways. We always say in our house, "Avocado is nature's mayonnaise." It adds such a layer of richness to sandwiches and other foods. Coconut milk adds richness and luxury to foods. It's great because you can go sweet and savory with it. I love nuts. I make a great cashew cream that's an alternative to heavy cream.

Where does this recipe come from?

This is my version of a dish I had at the Cornell Club in New York City when I was celebrating my certification. I really loved it and wanted to be able to make it myself. The coconut milk is delicious. The potatoes are filling. The whole thing is so good for you.



1 large leek, cleaned and chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeAo pepper, seeded and finely chopped

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and diced very small

1 1/2 cups canned vegetable broth, divided

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1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup frozen corn

1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

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1. In a large soup pot, cook the leek, garlic, jalapeAo and potatoes in 1/2 cup vegetable broth over medium-high heat until the vegetables are tender.

2. Add chickpeas, corn, coconut milk and remaining 1 cup vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender and the soup has thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Makes 6 servings.