Celebrity chef and NFL wife shares tips for healthy vegan comfort food

Looking for healthier takes on comfort food to get back on track after the holidays? Charity Morgan has you covered.

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

It may be hard to imagine high-performance athletes like football players, for whom work life is literally a full-contact sport, dining on anything but red meat after a game. But Le Cordon Bleu graduate Charity Morgan, who also is married to retired Tennessee Titans star Derrick Morgan, says plants can be powerful.

Chef Morgan, who specializes in comfortable vegan food, isn't here to push veganism. But this time of year interest in plant-based comfort food begins to peak, with some of our most-read stories anchored by methods for vegan holiday meals and plant-based takes on classic soul food staples.

Vegan comfort food staples are the heart and soul of Morgan's book, “Unbelievably Vegan: 100+ life-changing, plant-based recipes.” It's full of recipes to help you find healthier choices that won't taste like a bowl full of penance.

Celebrity plant-based chef Charity Morgan partners with Ripple Foods at an event to reimagine iconic New York City foods made dairy-free with the brand’s plant-based milks, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Jason DeCrow/Invision for Ripple Foods/AP Images)

Morgan has a variety of reasons for feeding her family meat-free food, but one key motivator was keeping her husband healthy while he was still active with the NFL.

"Many people don't understand that playing sports comes down to how healthy you can stay," she said.

As taxing on the body as the sport can be, keeping a football player's body fueled right is the key to high performance, Morgan said. That's crucial in the NFL, where athletes are often devalued when they suffer persistent injuries. Morgan believes plants have the power to keep players on the field.

The rest of us who battle nothing more than the morning commute might not be looking for full-scale overhauls, but rather small tweaks. Morgan can help with that.

"It's about eating the things that you love to eat and just changing some of the ingredients," she said. "That's not hard to do when you think that you can have your cereal every day, but instead of cow's milk you can have oat milk."

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Morgan compiled more than 100 of her most approachable plant-based meals for her book.

"I based it on what people really wanted when they're going plant-based," she said. "It's usually not that they don't want to eat meat or skip the thing that reminds them of grandma or the things they grew up on."

In that vein, she tries to recreate healthier versions of familiar foods. One of her most popular recipes is on the cover: fully loaded, decadent-looking nachos, covered with nut-based "cheese" you can whip right up in a Vitamix (recipe below).

Similar comfort foods are popular among her celebrity clients and athletes.

"If they say, 'I'm dying for chicken and dumplings,' I'll say, 'OK, I'm going to make some.'"

Her easy nacho "cheese" is a huge hit among clients and kids. It's based on cashews, the cornerstone of the rich "cream" she also uses in her vodka sauce for pasta and a "lobster" bisque where lobster mushrooms stand in for shellfish. A splash of sherry makes it taste traditional.

But that's somewhat advanced-level stuff. Morgan recommends starting simple when first cooking meat- and dairy-free at home.

For an easy vegan breakfast, start with overnight oats made with nondairy milk. We've provided three recipes below, which can be customized with different flavors, fruits and nuts.

For lunch, go decadent with that cheese sauce, which you can have over nachos, roasted veggies or mixed with plant-based ground meat and served over noodles, a take on chili mac that kids absolutely adore, Morgan said.

For the perfect cold-weather dinner, there's Morgan's chickpea masala served with basmati rice. Like all of her recipes, the one below can be adapted with different heat levels, extra veggies, or swapping tofu for the chickpeas. It's all about learning how to play with your food, Morgan said.

"It's also understanding that these things were put here for our nourishment and benefit and looking at the empowerment you get from eating healthier," she said.

Morgan provided all recipes and headnotes. They've been lightly edited for length.

Chickpea tikka masala

Before I cut out meat, I would frequent Indian restaurants where I could be found chowing down on bowls of chicken tikka masala, sopping up every last bit of creamy, spiced tomato gravy with naan. Luckily, one of the many great things about Indian food is that it can be easily made vegan. Cashew heavy cream has all the richness of dairy and ghee. Serve this with steamed white or brown basmati, and vegan naan or roti (some ready-made frozen are vegan; be sure to check the label).

Serves 6-8


For the spice blend:

  • 2 teaspoons fine pink Himalayan salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground Indian red chile powder, such as Kashmiri or deggi mirch, or substitute ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper and another ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika

For the tikka masala:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Flavored coconut oil, such as Nutiva, or a neutral oil, such as avocado or grapeseed
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1½-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced or grated
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomato purée
  • 1½ cups vegetable broth or water
  • 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained, if canned)
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen okra, diced (no need to thaw if frozen)
  • 1 cup cut fresh or frozen green beans (2-inch pieces; no need to thaw if frozen)
  • ⅓ cup fresh or frozen peas (no need to thaw if frozen)
  • 1 cup cashew heavy cream (recipe follows)
  • ⅓ bunch cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • Hot cooked brown or white basmati rice


Make the spice blend: In a small bowl, combine the salt, garam masala, coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, and chile powder. Set aside.

Make the tikka masala: Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté, stirring often, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the spice blend. Toast the spices until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every few seconds to prevent burning. Add the tomato purée and cook, stirring, until fragrant and lightly caramelized, about 1 minute. Add the broth and sugar. Stir until smooth and all of the ingredients are well combined.

Add the carrots, chickpeas, cauliflower, okra and green beans. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the vegetables from sticking and to help them cook evenly. Stir in the peas.

Slowly whisk the cashew heavy cream into the tomato gravy. Simmer, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes to allow the flavors and cream to marry, stirring frequently. Add the chopped cilantro and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve over basmati rice. Garnish with cilantro.

Tip: Try using other vegetables, such as Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus or zucchini.

Cashew heavy cream

This is one of the recipes that I rely on the most. Cashews blended with non-dairy milk truly act like a heavy cream with the perfect consistency for velvety sauces and soups. Cashews and plant milk create a cream that's much more luscious and milder in flavor than using solely plant-based milk or just cashews and water.

Makes 2 cups


  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked and drained
  • 1 cup unsweetened, unflavored plant-based milk
  • ½ teaspoon fine pink Himalayan salt, or to taste


In a high-speed blender, combine the cashews, milk, and salt. Cover and blend for 2 to 3 minutes, until very smooth.

Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to I week or freeze for up to 6 months

Nacho average nachos

My easy "all in a blender" homemade queso turns cashews into an explosively flavorful cheesy sauce with added depth from mild jalapeño, smoky chipotle chiles and good-quality salt to counteract the cashews' sweetness. Finish it off with the zest and juice of a lime.

Serves 8


For the queso:

  • 3 carrots, scrubbed and trimmed (no need to peel) and coarsely chopped
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce
  • Tialapeño, stemmed and seeded, or 8 slices pickled jalapeño
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups unsweetened, unflavored plant-based milk
  • 2 cups raw cashews, soaked and drained
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons fine pink Himalayan salt, or to taste
  • ⅓ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime

For the nachos:

  • 1 (16-ounce) bag tortilla chips
  • 2 cups cooked beans (black pinto, red, or chili beans, rinsed and drained, if canned), or refried beans, warmed
  • 2 cups plant-based chorizo or taco "beef" crumbles, browned
  • 3 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced

Optional garnishes: Pickled jalapeños, pickled or fresh sliced red onion, chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado and/or guacamole, brazil nut sour cream, grilled and diced pineapple (yes, so good!), sliced scallions (green and white parts)

Tip: I usually add 1 chipotle and 1 seeded jalapeño to the queso and it's mild enough for even my kids. If you're a heat monster, feel free to add more. For a deeper, more fermented taste, add 1 heaping teaspoon white miso paste.


Make the queso: In a high-speed blender, combine the carrots, chipotle chile, jalapeño, garlic, milk, cashews, nutritional yeast, onion powder, paprika, salt, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, turmeric and black pepper. Blend on high until completely smooth and the exterior of the blender is warm, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the lime zest and juice and blend for 10 seconds. Taste for consistency and flavor. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Make the nachos: Arrange half of the tortilla chips on a large sheet pan or platter. Top with half of the queso, beans, and chorizo. Add the remaining tortilla chips, beans, chorizo and queso.

Top with the lettuce, tomato, and any garnishes (if using). Serve immediately.

Overnight oats trio

These no-cook overnight oats saved me from having to wake up at 4 a.m. each morning to make Derrick breakfast before he had to run off to practice. Instead of standing over a pot and cooking oatmeal for 30 minutes before dawn (for real), I mixed the raw oats with nondairy milk before going to bed. While I slept, the oats soaked in the fridge overnight until the liquid was absorbed and the oats were soft enough to eat.

These three versions are Derrick's favorites, but the sky's the limit when it comes to flavor combinations. Overnight oats can be served cold or warm and can be made up to 5 days in advance, so double, triple, or quadruple the recipe as needed.

Cinnamon-matcha oats

  • 1 cup unsweetened, unflavored plant-based milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or agave
  • 2 teaspoons matcha powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder or vanilla extract
  • ⅓ to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • Optional toppings: chopped nuts, hemp seeds, fresh berries and/or sliced bananas

Cacao-nut butter oats

  • 1 cup unsweetened, unflavored plant-based milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or agave
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cacao powder
  • 2 tablespoons smooth or chunky peanut butter or almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder or vanilla extract
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • Optional toppings: chopped nuts, hemp seeds, fresh berries, banana slices and/or cacao nibs

Tropical (mango-pineapple-coconut) Oatmeal

  • 1¼ cups cold full-fat or light coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar, or your favorite sweetener
  • I teaspoon vanilla powder or vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons diced fresh or frozen pineapple
  • 2 tablespoons diced fresh or frozen mango
  • 2 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • Optional toppings: chopped nuts, hemp seeds, diced pineapple, diced mango and/or toasted coconut flakes

Pour the milk into a 1-pint glass or ceramic jar with a lid. Add the sweetener, flavorings and any other additional ingredients, such as fruit. Place the lid on tightly and shake vigorously. Add the oats and shake again. Top with the desired toppings. Cover the jar tightly with the lid and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 5 days.