Review: The How Not to Diet Cookbook by Dr. Michael Greger/Recipes by Robin Robertson

My latest cookbook collaboration is with friends Dawn and Dave. We usually gather for board game nights and share snacks and drinks along with our fierce competitiveness, but we got to talking food and nutrition, which led to a dinner party over dishes we made from The How Not to Diet Cookbook.

My Quick Take: With some upfront effort, these recipes were (mostly!) satisfying and hit the vegan, healthy mark. There’s tons of “back to the basics” too, so we learned a lot.


Trish: This cookbook collaboration with friends Dawn and Dave was sparked by conversations we had around changing up our eating patterns in a big way and tweaking the healthful daily habits that we were already doing. Dawn had read and recommended Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not To Die for some great nutrition education, and I listened on audiobook. It was a comprehensive overview of nutrition, with a fundamentally plant-based approach. Check out my review here. After reading it, I added turmeric spice, ground flaxseed and walnuts to my daily diet. He’s also got a book called How Not To Diet, which I haven’t read. Dawn had cooked a few recipes from the companion cookbook The How Not To Diet Cookbook, and suggested we have a dinner party based on the book’s recipes. Sounded like a great cookbook collab to me!

The recipes are by Robin Robertson, who has presumably taken Dr. Greger’s vision and ideals, and collaborated to bring his vision to life through the recipes. Robertson is an accomplished vegan chef and author in her own right!

Dawn, what drew you to this cookbook for our dinner?

Dawn: I have cooked from vegan recipes before but they did not always hit the mark with flavour and texture. I have found the How Not To… cookbooks go that extra step for richer, deeper flavours. There are a lot of tasty vegan recipes in the book, so passing up meat wasn’t a big sacrifice.

Trish: I’m not big into “diet” cookbooks, but he calls his book “A diet book about not dieting,” focusing on a sensible approach to general health and weight management. I like that Dr. Greger always comes back to the science. I also appreciate his non-profit site that doesn’t sell anything and has no corporate sponsors. He donates all of the proceeds from his books to charity! Given all the conflicting info out there, he says:
“I’m not interested in offering dueling anecdotes, and the last thing we need is more dietary dogma. What I am interested in is the science. When it comes to making life-and-death decisions as important as what to feed yourself and your family, as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one question: What does the best available balance of evidence say right now?”
When thumbing through the book, I chose recipes that reflected different courses: a soup, a salad and a main. On reflection, they were all warm and cosy recipes. I think the cooler fall weather had me longing for comfort foods!

Dawn, how did you choose the recipes you wanted to make?

Dawn: I was interested in the fall flavours and was really drawn to a pumpkin theme: Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce and Crust Free Pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is loaded with vitamin A which women need lots of.

When I asked Dave what else we could make he wondered if there were any cauliflower recipes, as cauliflower is a real favourite in our house. There were eight cauliflower recipes to choose from in The How Not to Diet Cookbook! From Cauliflower Alfredo Linguini with Roasted Asparagus, to Cauliflower Mash, to Cheesy Cauliflower Bake. We love cauliflower because it is relatively cheap and very versatile. You can grate it, cream it, and in the recipe we chose you can roast it. The cookbook explained the Black Cumin-Rubbed Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower as an excellent dish for a great dinner date “centrepiece,” and, “with its gorgeous dark bronze glaze, it is just stunning.” That fit the bill for us. Also, the balsamic glaze on the cauliflower sounded superb.

We kind of missed the meal “coming together,” when we chose our recipes, since we had opted for a pasta dish along with the potatoes in the cauliflower recipe. However, in the end they all worked well together even though it could have been too much starch. We don’t usually eat potato and pasta in the same meal but it worked!

The Recipes


Cheesy Broccoli Soup

This one was a no-brainer when I saw the title and the ingredients! I’m going to say upfront that in terms of vegan food, I’m a sucker for faux cheese and cream made with things like cashews and nutritional yeast (or “nooch” as it’s often called). I suppose it’s not for everyone but I love it. This was a super easy recipe once I had made the Light Vegetable Broth, an entire recipe on its own. And to make the Light Vegetable Broth, I had to make Dr. Greger’s Special Spice Blend, so perhaps this was three recipes in one.

I had the ingredients on hand, because I have a fairly well-stocked vegan pantry, including nooch and white miso paste. I made good use of my Vitamix (I love that thing!) and it blended up beautifully. I chose to keep the broccoli in small florets rather than pureeing some of it into the soup, though either option is given in the instructions.

What I learned is that it’s not only me who loves a good old nooch-y faux cheese sauce. This was everyone’s favourite dish of the night, with seconds all around.

[Dave: You can easily serve that dish to company without mentioning that it’s vegan and nobody would be suspicious. Very hearty and savoury and the first leftover that I looked to eat for the next day.]

Rye Berry Salad

If you’re ever in need of a potluck dish, whole grain salads usually fit the bill: They stand up well and a little goes a long way. This salad would do well on a communal table, and I actually had rye berries in my cupboard. I used my Instant Pot pressure cooker to cook them in short order, and assembling the other ingredients was simple. I may have erred in making the dressing though. The recipe asked me to peel and quarter an orange, then add it to the other dressing ingredients in my high speed blender. I did just that, but the dressing tasted mildly bitter. I think I left the orange pits in! I added two teaspoons of agave syrup but I could still taste the bitterness. It was mild, though, and no one seemed to mind. The recipe got a positive review, functional but not outstanding, and it lasted for a couple of days well in the fridge for leftovers...basically the definition of a good potluck dish!

[Dave: It also kept well for the next day and was a versatile pairing. Can definitely put on a meat lover's plate without apology.]

Baked Grain Loaf with Umami Gravy

Oh the loaf. Sigh. One recipe had to be a miss, right? And that’s fine! The cookbook picture shows a beautifully formed faux-meatloaf. I used my Instant Pot to pressure cook lentils and oat groats (my only challenging ingredient to source, but I found them at a specialty bulk store), boiled up quinoa and mixed them all with an enticing array of spices, miso paste, nooch…how could it go wrong? It was oh so bland. And mushy.

I made an accompanying Umami Gravy, the saving grace. It also was a recipe that required other recipes. I used the Light Vegetable Broth I’d made for the Cheesy Broccoli Soup, then used that to make the Umami Sauce Redux, which was an ultra flavourful and concentrated marinade-like liquid and those went into the gravy. Totally delicious!

In the poor loaf’s defence, I used it over the next week crumbled on my lunchtime salad as a healthy protein alternative and it was pretty decent used that way. Seriously, you can find a use for anything.

[Dave: I found the very dark brown colour of the loaf to be unappealing. While the gravy was tasty and covered somewhat the blandness of the loaf, its colour was also dark and somewhat off putting.]

Dawn and Dave:

Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

It's interesting that all three recipes that we chose to cook all were considered “Easy” but I would say for a novice vegan cook these recipes were not as easy as Chef Robertson made them out to be. There were many side dishes we needed to make in order to complete the meal from scratch! The Pasta With Creamy Pumpkin Sauce was the easiest of the three recipes: add the ingredients to the pan; sauté in broth and blend it all in the Ninja Blender. There were two side recipes I had to prepare beforehand: Light Vegetable Broth and the Brazil Nut Parm, which were both super delicious!

I guess for a new vegan cook, it could be overwhelming to make a meal with that large a list of ingredients, and spices one may not have in their pantry. However, since we have been dabbling in eating vegan for a year now, we had all the ingredients.

Black Cumin-Rubbed Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower

We will definitely be making this dish again! The ingredients were straightforward, but we had to make date syrup from scratch. If you don’t know what nigella seeds are (AKA black cumin) then that might turn you off. This was an absolutely beautiful dish and so tasty. You precook the cauliflower in boiling water and prep the veggies for roasting. We went with a combination of red and white new potatoes to contrast with cherry tomatoes and sliced red onions. With the cauliflower in the centre of the dish and homemade balsamic glaze poured over, this meal looked spectacular.

Crust-Free Pumpkin Pie

Ok, with this dish you really did need the right kitchen appliances to pull off a win. We blended down the nuts with our Ninja Blender but it just wasn’t powerful enough to get the nuts smooth enough. Although half the dinner guests found this desert to be delicious, the other half found the sandy texture to be annoying. I’m glad that I planned ahead because this desert really needs to be made a day ahead. It has a one to two hour cool down time and a three hour refrigeration time. Most pumpkin pies are full of sugar but this pie was made from date syrup (yep, I pre-made it for the cauliflower dish!) and molasses.


Trish: Overall, cooking from The How Not to Diet Cookbook was a great experience. I think it suits a cook who is either familiar with vegan cooking (like me), or who wants to put some time in to learn the basics of cooking with alternative ingredients. I was glad I’d looked over my recipes several days beforehand, because you need to be a bit methodical: making spice mixes, broths and sauces before making the main recipes. But now I have those basics on hand and I can use them to explore more dishes from the cookbook!

Dave and Dawn: Our overall impression of cooking from the cookbook was that you have to look the recipe over closely, as there were several recipes we had to make to complete the main dish. However, making everything from scratch really enhanced the flavours. A well stocked pantry is a must. I had a vegan soup business so I have many appliances that can make the job easier but even with all my appliances I wish that I’d have had a more powerful blender to get the pumpkin pie crust smoother.

Trish: Thanks for a great dinner party. It’s always wonderful to see how vegan and healthful food cooked well can appeal to all of us, vegans and omnivores alike. I’ll for sure be cooking more recipes from the Dr. Greger and Robin Robertson team!