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Meat-free and loving it: Rip Esselstyn releases new ‘Engine 2 Cookbook’

If you’ve ever shied away from a vegetarian diet because you worried that you’d be eating the same scoop of black beans and side of spinach every night, you should check out the latest from Rip Esselstyn.

The Engine 2 Cookbook” (Grand Central Life and Style, $28), a companion to Esselstyn’s 2009 book, “The Engine 2 Diet,” includes creative dishes like chili made with tart cherries and sweet potatoes, baked “tater tots” made with red potatoes enrobed with hummus (they look like armadillos), brats made with garbanzo beans, brown rice and oats, deep purple butter made with beets, and bright green muffins made with kale and blueberries.

Esselstyn, a former firefighter and pro triathlete, teamed with his sister Jane Esselstyn, a nurse, researcher and recipe developer, on this latest project. The book, which is subtitled “More than 130 Lip-Smacking, Rib-Sticking, Body-Slimming Recipes to Live Plant-Strong,” hits store shelves this week, just before New Year’s resolution season.

I tested the Engine 2 diet for a month back when it first came out, then wrote about the experience. The book espouses an eating plan that focuses on plants, eliminates meat, fish, dairy and added oils, and limits sugar, salt and fat. For 28 days, I became a bean-, tofu- and vegetable-eating machine, and blood tests showed that my cholesterol dropped an impressive 40 milligrams.

I felt great but struggled when it came to sticking to the program. I still eat plant strong and saute stuff in vegetable broth instead of oil, but some old habits have slipped back into my lifestyle. I eat meat a few times a week, and I love ice cream and cheese.

Esselstyn, self-proclaimed Head Lettuce of the Engine 2 program, swims on the same U.S. Masters Swimming team that I do, at Western Hills Athletic Club here in Austin. I hold him responsible for getting me hooked on a 15-minute medicine ball tossing session to strengthen my core after every practice. He also taught me a pretty fun way to warm up my arms before swim practice.

The cookbook, I hope, will help me reboot. The food looks and sounds amazing, with healthy versions of things I love, like lasagna, burgers, scones, burritos and curry.

Esselstyn’s got more exciting news, too. He’s working on a documentary that he says debunks the widespread belief that animal protein is necessary for strength and performance. He joins James Cameron as executive producer of the film, which will debut in 2018 and feature interviews with world-class athletes and researchers.

Two-Handed Sloppy Joes

A proper sloppy Joe requires two hands, a big appetite and focus. If you dare to put your sloppy Joe down, it is hard to pick up again! So load up with napkins and lean over your plate while you devour this American favorite. We stand by these Joes. We also like to make a smoky, sloppy twist on shepherd’s pie by topping the filling here with mashed potatoes. If you are not using canned lentils, combine 1 1/2 cups dried lentils and 4 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Drain if necessary.

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

3 cups cooked brown lentils, or 2 (15-ounce) cans lentils, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1 tablespoon 100 percent pure maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke, or 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons chili powder

4 whole-grain buns

Fixings: butter lettuce, sliced tomato, sliced red onion

In a skillet over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, bell pepper and mushrooms until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and diced tomatoes and continue to cook and stir over low heat until all warmed and mixed together, about 3 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils, barbecue sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke and chili powder, and thoroughly mix. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste and tweak mixture to your liking: Add more maple syrup for a sweeter flavor, or more barbecue sauce for a smokier or more fiery flavor. Load the filling onto your whole-grain buns and add your preferred fixings. Serves 4.

— From “The Engine 2 Cookbook” by Rip and Jane Esselstyn (Grand Central Life and Style, $28)

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