Shelly West is a Midwestern vegetarian with a sweet tooth. Here, she shares her delicious meatless comfort-food dishes.

By Kristin Donnelly
Updated May 23, 2017

Here, the blogs you should be reading right now with recipes and tips from their creators.

The Blog: Shelly West of Vegetarian Ventures shares delicious meatless comfort-food dishes, like Savory Pumpkin Hand Pies and lots of awesome sweets (Milk Stout and Sea Salt Caramels, anyone?).

You live in the Midwest, known for its meat and potato diet. What are some of the challenges of being vegetarian there? Any favorite local vegetarian restaurants?
I was very fortunate to grow up right outside Chicago, so vegetarian restaurants and vegan bakeries were only a short train ride away. I now live in Bloomington, Indiana, which is a college town and known for being a Midwest mecca of international cuisine, vegan baked goods and meat-free restaurants.

Unfortunately, stepping outside these two cities is usually a rude awakening about how little the rest of the Midwest accepts the vegetarian lifestyle. Most Midwest families still have half a cow in their freezers from the farmer down the street, and take their boys on family hunting trips. However, I can’t completely complain about these traditions since growing up around them is what pushed me to learn to cook vegetarian for myself and ultimately led to realizing I love to be in the kitchen.

You’re having meat-loving omnivores over for dinner. What do you make for them?
My go-to is roasted veggie enchiladas (top them with enough gooey cheese, and no omnivore will ever miss the meat) or in the winter, a big hearty stew with fresh homemade bread. And always end with a delicious (usually familiar) dessert, because no one can resist sweets and it’ll remind them that vegetarian food can be just as comforting as anything they are used to.

If you have only 20 minutes to make dinner, what are some of your go-tos?
A big taco salad—I usually have some leftover black beans and salsa in my fridge so I just pile them on top of a huge bed of lettuce and add whatever else we’ve got on hand (avocado, sour cream, tortilla chips, ranch dressing, rice, tomatoes, Sriracha). And if I’m feeling extra-motivated, then I’ll sauté strips of bell peppers and onions in a little ghee and cumin.

Or a one-pot chili for the cooler evenings. I love being able to just throw everything in a pot and leave it alone to simmer for 20 minutes.

What is your current ingredient obsession?
Fresh figs! They rarely make it over to us here in the Midwest more than once or twice a season, but they’ve been all over this year! Eating them fresh makes even the blandest yogurt and granola feel fancy, and chopping them up to put into baked goods creates the perfect winter fruit recipe.

What blogs are you loving right now?
Oh, man. I have a list of more than 100 blogs I follow on the regular through Bloglovin. To narrow it down, I’m always feeling inspired by Reclaiming Provincial, Princess Tofu, Happyolks, Top With Cinnamon and My Name is Yeh.

Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.