A July 2012 Gallup poll indicated little to no change in the number of people who claim to be a vegetarian (or vegan) in the United States from 2001, but Heather Goldberg and Jenny Engel's experiences in teaching vegan cooking classes through Spork Foods give another perspective.

“We've seen a huge growth over the years from us teaching. Most of our students are not vegan or vegetarian; they just want to learn about the cuisine. We have seen people become much more accepting in L.A.,” says Engel.

She credits in part restaurants like Elf Cafe and Cafe Gratitude for making vegan food delicious and as a result more accessible. Goldberg points out that the awareness expand well beyond Los Angeles.

“For the past six years we've been attending the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim as chefs for different corporations — and during these years, we've seen a huge increase in the show. It's not only with the amount of booths, but the amount of people who are interested in natural foods. There's a demand across the country,” says Goldberg.

Goldberg adds, “I was in Jamaica about two weeks ago and I was at a market in a town called Ocho Rios. I looked over and I saw Go Veggie vegan slices. I didn't even know that our product (Goldberg and Engel are Go Veggie spokespeople) was there.”

The sisters have witnessed such products become more commonplace — at a Vons or Ralph's as well as Whole Foods. Vegetarian food sale figures back this up: Between 1998 to 2003, sales reached $1.6 billion.

When it comes to a meatless meal, Engel says there might be a misconception about how much protein is needed everyday.

“Our culture is extremely protein-centric and a lot of people think they are just going to starve if they don't have double the amount that they need. So depending on your size and how much physical activity you do, you actually need a lot less protein. There is virtually no protein deficiency in the United States,” explains Engel.

“Try not to think of your plate as a protein, a carb, and a veggie. You can think of it as trying to create a full meal. You don't have to separate your plate and you don't have to think of how to replace chicken with fake chicken, because there's so much more to it,” says Engel.

The two run Spork Foods in West Hollywood, a vegan food company that features cooking classes, diet consultations and menu development. They shared a recipe for black bean burgers (below) with cashew cheese from their cookbook Spork-Fed.

Southwest Black Bean and Corn Mini Burgers with a Smoky Paprika Cashew Cheese

From: Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg

Makes: 12 mini burgers

1 tablespoon neutral tasting high-heat oil, plus 2 tablespoons

1⁄2 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

1⁄2 cup corn, fresh or frozen

1⁄2 large red or orange bell pepper, finely chopped

Dash sea salt, plus 1⁄2 teaspoon

1⁄4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed

1⁄4 teaspoon chipotle powder

1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons agave nectar

3⁄4 cup rolled oats

1 cup bread crumbs or 2 slices spelt bread

Cashew Cheese (gluten-free)

3⁄4 cup cashews

1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder

1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons agave nectar

1⁄2 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons neutral tasting oil

1⁄4 cup unsweetened almond or soymilk

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed and finely chopped

Whole grain mini burger buns

Ketchup, mustard, pickle relish, tomato and lettuce (optional)

1. Preheat a large (6-quart) pot over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add onion and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.

2. Add corn, bell pepper, dash of sea salt and black pepper. Cook until mixture is slightly browned, about 3-4 minutes, and set aside.

3. In a food processor, combine black beans, chipotle powder, 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and agave. Pulse together 5-8 times.

4. Add oats and bread crumbs or spelt bread. Pulse until uniform, scraping down sides to further incorporate into food processor. Transfer to a large bowl.

5. Add cooked onion and pepper mixture to bowl and fold into veggie burger mixture.

6. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add remaining oil. With damp hands, form burgers into patties and place in heated pan. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side or until browned.

7. For the cashew cheese, in a large food processor or high-powered blender, pulse cashews, garlic powder, sea salt, agave, paprika, oil, almond or soymilk and lemon juice. Blend until smooth and uniform, scraping down sides of machine as needed. Fold in thyme once mixture is creamy.

8. Serve the burgers on on a toasted mini bun with the cashew cheese and some or all of the fixings.

And in related news:

Meatless Monday Weekly Series: Sage Organic Bistro

A Recipe for Pistachio Pesto With Brown Rice From Spork Foods

L.A. City Council Approves Meatless Mondays

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