Julianne Penner and the Plant Power Revolution







Chef, dietician, teacher, and loveliest example of how a plant-based diet can make you feel and look terrific, native Tennessean Julianne Penner answers our questions about getting energy back after holiday food indulgences. Now based in Loma Linda, California, she is currently developing a cookbook featuring over 100 gluten-free vegan recipes.


Julianne, amidst desert flowers near Anza Borrego Desert State Park not far from San Diego.

The idea of a whole-food, plant-based diet, based on foods derived from plants including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruits, with few or no animal products, is becoming more visible and widespread. Some of the most popular books in Julianne’s neck of the woods now have their own companion cookbooks, including How Not to Die, Forks Over Knives, and The China Study.

We attended Julianne’s nutrition and cooking classes at Loma Linda University Medical Center and are delighted to share some of her recipes and other exciting developments in vegetarian cooking.

After the holiday where we might have overdone it with rich foods, why do these recipes seem just the right thing to try?

Sometimes we fall off the track during the holidays. We are with relatives, traveling, not doing the cooking, etc. Getting back into a healthy routine can feel so nourishing and give us back some of our energy by detoxing from potential sugar or other junk foods we may have over-indulged in during the holidays. Focusing back on whole foods, dark-green leafy vegetables, berries, and other superfoods helps our body detox and supports the immune system to fight off illness.

You share many protein options that taste fabulous. Are there protein sources that you most recommend?

Sometimes vegetarians are thought to have few protein options but, in reality, if they get a variety of foods, they should be supplied with all the essential amino acids to build proteins. Soy (edamame), quinoa, and nutritional yeast flakes contain all the 9 essential amino acids, while other plants contain parts of them and complement each other. Often a grain and legume together provide all the 9 essential amino acids, but they don’t need to be eaten at the same meal as was once thought. 

I love using all the plant sources of protein: legumes (beans, lentils), nuts/seeds, vegetables, and organic whole-food soy (avoiding processed soy products as much as possible). 


With a colorful final product.

What vegetables and legumes do you enjoy using? Do you like to try a variety and mix them?  

It is far too difficult to choose a favorite vegetable! But, I will say it is so satisfying to enjoy kale in a variety of ways, especially when I can ‘trick’ my patients who think they hate it, and they end of loving it! Kale chips, kale-herb pesto, kale salad, kale stir-fry with tofu and other veggies. . . . 

I’d say my standard legumes are chickpeas (garbanzos), pinto and black beans, and lentils. Chickpeas are so versatile from ‘chicken salads’ to avocado-chickpea spreads with lime and cilantro, hummus, chickpea curries, burgers, chickpea ‘croutons.’

 I also love lentils: they’re one of the richest foods in fiber and nutrients and can be flavored up in Indian dahl soups, Persian-style over rice, as taco meat with toasted walnuts and spices, in burgers and vegetarian loaf/roasts. But beyond that I love finding recipes that tweak us out of the norm like white bean hummus.

You do such a beautiful job with spices. What are some spices that you most enjoy using?

Herbs and spices have the power to change ordinary into extraordinary! They are what make a dish Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, Italian, or Mexican. You should see my spice/herb cupboard full of them! They bring life and excitement to our taste buds. Because I love variety so much, I really can’t pick a favorite spice or else I’d become bored! But some of the essentials are oregano, parsley, cumin, chili powder, turmeric, and dill.

The Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) is known worldwide for healing and placing emphasis on the whole person. Tell us about your work there.

I am the dietitian for the Cardiopulmonary Rehab Department, which involves talking to the patients one-on-one, visits to discuss nutrition goals, teaching a series of eight classes on nutrition, and doing cooking demonstrations. Being able to show patients how healthy food can be delicious is my favorite aspect of the job!

Originally, I started work at LLUMC as an inpatient dietitian, which involved seeing any patient admitted for any cause. Though this wasn’t my first choice in job because it has limited time with patients and little follow-up, it was rewarding in other ways, and this institution encourages sharing Christian values and offering prayer with patients if they would like.

Some of my most meaningful experiences at my job have been times like these when I’m not directly meeting a nutrition need but reaching out with them to the Great Healer and Creator.

What do you think is fun about cooking? What have you found as a teacher that people most enjoy hearing about?

I think the most fun thing about cooking is that I get to create something nourishing for my body, delicious to the taste, and beautiful to the eye all at once! It is both a challenge and a privilege that is well worth the investment and effort.


Julianne in the kitchen.

Here are some of Julianne’s recipes that prove her point! You’ll find that many grocery stores stock some of the products that may not be as familiar, such as chik’nish and coconut aminos.


Medley of Brussels Sprouts, Squash, and Beets with Hazelnuts

4 medium size beets, tops trimmed (may use 8-10 smaller beets)
1 ½ lbs. Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
1 ¼ lbs. winter squash or yams
1/3 c. minced shallots or onions
1/3 c. hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp. honey
salt to taste

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Wrap beets in foil or place in a covered baking dish; bake until tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Cool, peel, and cut each beet into 6-8 wedges.

Cut the squash or yams into cubes and bake the same way until just tender.

Steam Brussels sprouts in a saucepan until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes.

In a saucepan, place the honey, crushed garlic, shallots, and lemon juice and sauté until the shallots are tender. Add chopped hazelnuts and continue to lightly sauté for about 3 minutes.

Mix all the vegetables together and in a serving dish or on a platter, toss with the hazelnut mixture. Toss in the thyme and serve hot or chilled.


Brussels sprouts.

Winter Lentil Soup

1 onion, chopped
1 T. olive oil (or water)
28 oz. can whole tomatoes
4-5 kale leaves
6 c. water
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into ½ inch pieces
1 cup lentils, rinsed
½ tsp. thyme
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. curry powder or paste
1 T. Chik’Nish
¼ tsp. savory
dash of cayenne
pepper, to taste

Sauté the onion in olive oil or water and add the tomatoes, water, seasonings, and all other ingredients, except the kale. Allow the soup to simmer for 25-30 minutes. Add the kale and continue to simmer for 10 minutes or until kale is tender. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Note: Make sure you buy a good quality curry powder as this significantly changes the soup’s taste.


Blueberry Chia Seed Jam

3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2-3 T. maple syrup
3 T. chia seeds
½ tsp. vanilla

Combine blueberries and maple syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat slightly and simmer, about five minutes. Mash to desired texture. Stir in chia seeds and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

It should keep in airtight container at lease a week or two. You can also freeze it and swap out for other berries.


Nutty Rice Roast

2 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup nuts, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup oats
l cup soy milk
3 T. coconut aminos
2 tsp. salt
¾ tsp. garlic powder or 1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp. sage, optional
2 T. fresh parsley, minced
1 T. Chik’Nish

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into slightly oiled 9 x 13 casserole or loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Sprinkle with paprika and lightly cover with Apricot Sauce (see below) or a balsamic glaze and fresh parsley.


Apricot Sauce

 8 oz. apricot jam
¼ c. tomato paste
1/3 c. water
1 T. olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
¼ ginger powder, optional
¼ tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend.


Rice loaf.

And the freshest of salads or desserts (and one of Julianne’s absolute favorite dishes):

 Christmas Salad

 1 whole pomegranate
1 c. seedless green grapes, may slice in half
1 c. seedless red grapes
1 granny smith apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 kiwis, peeled and cut into wedges
¼ c. honey
1 tsp. finely shredded lime zest
2 T. lime juice

In a large bowl, combine grapes, apples, kiwis, and pomegranate seeds.

In a small bowl, combine honey, lime zest, and lime. Pour over fruit and toss. Chill up to 2 hours before serving.

If you multiply this recipe, you will need to multiply the dressing. Some people like to add more lime or zest.