Catherine McMenamin Niggemeier of Sayville with her creamy potato corn...

Catherine McMenamin Niggemeier of Sayville with her creamy potato corn chowder. She makes it with light coconut milk instead of heavy cream. Credit: Heather Walsh

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.

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

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.

A bowl of Catherine McMenamin Niggemeier's creamy potato corn chowder....

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

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

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

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.

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