If this is what ageless vegans eat every day, they're in for a long, happy life.

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The best plant-based recipes pay attention to one thing that seems to come more naturally when meat is involved: texture. By that, I mean layers of soft and crunchy and maybe even chewy, all on the same plate.

Tracye McQuirter obviously gets it. In her inspiring new cookbook, “Ageless Vegan” (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2018), she scatters pine nuts on collard greens; sprinkles nutritional yeast, cashews and cayenne on stuffed mushrooms; and stirs slices of raw celery into grains right before serving. The book, written with her 80-year-old mother, Mary, is a guide to the health-giving qualities of a well-balanced vegan diet, and it’s full of smart tips and strategies. What I might appreciate most about it, though, is McQuirter’s way with those textures (not to mention flavors and colors).

When I made her spicy basil eggplant dish, I knew I’d love the combination of the soft eggplant and crisp orange bell pepper. But it was the last-minute addition of sweet Medjool dates and raw cashews that truly captivated me. If this is what ageless vegans eat every day, they’re in for a long, happy life.

Spicy Basil Eggplant With Dates and Cashews

4 servings

4 teaspoons sesame oil

One 12-ounce eggplant, cut into bite-size cubes (5 cups)

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 medium red onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, chopped

½-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped

1 orange or red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar (may substitute fresh lemon juice)

2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari (may substitute coconut aminos), or more as needed

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped

5 large Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

½ cup chopped raw cashews

Cooked brown rice, for serving

  1. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the eggplant cubes, sprinkle with the salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the cubes are browned and tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl.
  2. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in the same skillet, over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion, garlic and ginger; cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and cook until it loses a little of its crunch, 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Return the eggplant to the pan, along with the vinegar, tamari and cayenne; cook, gently tossing, for 2 to 3 minutes, so the flavors meld and the pan juices form a sauce. Taste, and add more tamari, as needed. Remove from the heat, then stir in the basil.
  4. Sprinkle the dates and cashews on top. Serve warm, over brown rice.

— Nutrition | Per serving: 220 calories, 6 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar

— Adapted from “Ageless Vegan: The Secret to Living a Long and Healthy Plant-Based Life,” by Tracye McQuirter (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2018)