The doctor is in.

Dr. Tapan Buch, a West Scranton resident and cardiology fellow at the Wright Center, adopted a plant-based diet a few years ago, and he imparts lessons on the lifestyle change to his patients.

A plant-based eating plan focuses on meals consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes and beans. Plant-based diets have been shown to help with everything from kickstarting weight loss to promoting heart health to protecting against chronic illness.

However, healthy eating should never be boring. That’s why Buch’s Peruvian Plant-Based Burritos with Habanero Salsa recipe earned him a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore.

A lover of Mexican food, Buch combined a few recipes to create these burritos filled with sweet potatoes, peppers, broccoli, corn, quinoa, black beans and more on a whole wheat, chia and quinoa tortilla. Buch also piles on the habanero sauce, spicy verde (aka green) sauce and more heat. Cooks are more than welcome to dial that down, however.

“The best thing about this is you can do whatever you want and make it taste however you like,” he said. “That’s within reason, though. Don’t start adding the cheese and tons of salt, because that defeats the purpose. Whatever kind of vegetables or spices (you want), though, go for it.”

Buch began to notice the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle during his journey to become a doctor. He heard some of the top medical professionals and plant-based advocates in the country speak about food and exercise as preventive medicine, with some results even reversing the effects of chronic illness in patients. Buch’s wife also is big into health and fitness, and she inspired him to do the same.

While growing up in upstate New York and eating lots of vegetarian food thanks to his Indian heritage, he still reached for pizza or fast-food options during his grueling hours as a student. While he told his patients about the benefits of eating well, he wasn’t following his own advice. Though he’s naturally thin, he noticed his health declining and introduced more plant-based foods, which helped put him on a better path.

“I was talking the talk (with patients) but not walking the walk,” he said. “I started to make some changes, and my levels began to even out. I also noticed an immediate improvement in the way I felt.”

Buch advised anyone scared of a lifestyle change to start with small goals. First, phase out red and processed meats. Once your body gets used to that, cut out dairy by swapping in almond or oat milk. Then, it’s time to cut back on eggs, saturated fats, sugary drinks, and processed snacks and sweets. Plates should consist of leafy greens, colorful vegetables, plant proteins such as nuts and seeds, whole grains and plenty of water.

Buch also believes in the “85% rule” – eating plant-based, whole foods at least 85% of the time, with exceptions carved out for special occasions including family get-togethers, holidays and celebrations.

“Food is tied to emotions and memories,” he said, joking that he speaks as the husband of a psychiatrist. “But once you get into the habit, it’s just like anything else; it becomes your reality. You’ll feel a lot better, and you’ll be healthier. That’s the goal.”


Dr. Tapan Buch’s Peruvian Plant-Based Burritos with Habanero Salsa

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, diced (about 1 to 2 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Mexican chili powder
  • Black pepper
  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 4 to 5 broccoli heads, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 ear of corn (1 cup corn kernels or 1 cup frozen corn)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 whole wheat, chia and quinoa tortilla
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Dice sweet potatoes into any size cut and place in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil on top and add Mexican chili powder and black pepper (enough to coat the potatoes). Toss to coat and place potatoes on a baking tray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
In separate pan, make quinoa (use a ratio of 3/4 cups quinoa to 1 1/2 cups water in an instant pot or rice cooker) and set aside.
In a separate pan, add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and heat over medium heat.
Add onion, broccoli, garlic, corn and bell pepper and sauté on medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons Mexican chili powder, salt and oregano to vegetables.
Rinse black beans and place in pan over medium heat. Whip black beans as beans start to heat. Heat just to a boil, turn off heat and let stand.
Take one whole wheat, chia and quinoa tortilla and warm in a nonstick pan (do not use oil; just warm on medium heat). Warm until charred to desired level. Add all above ingredients to the tortilla and wrap into a burrito.
For the habanero salsa:
  • 5 habaneros
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound tomatoes
  • 1 whole jalapeño
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tablespoon chili-infused olive oil
Add habaneros (cooks must wear gloves), garlic, tomato, jalapeño, onion and chili-infused olive oil to a blender. Blend until desired texture of salsa is reached.
Top burrito with habanero salsa, verde sauce and guacamole.