For some reason, there is an assumption out there that plant foods taste like dirty lettuce or a fresh-mowed lawn (though I guess you wheatgrass shooters don’t mind the latter 😉 ), and that vegan meals are consequently too “healthy” to be anything but boring and tasteless.
I would bet you that, if you spent a bit of time writing out your top ten current most frequently consumed meals and looked at the ingredients, many of these recipes would only require a few small changes to make them vegan, or at least vegetarian. And, being honest, it’s not the chicken OR the tofu that makes a meal – it’s the cooking method, the flavoring, and the combination of ingredients as a whole. Boil a piece of chicken, throw it on a bed of unflavored rice and most people wouldn’t describe that as “flavorful” or choose it as their last meal (except maybe my dog). Let’s not revert to our five year old picky eater days and decide that all vegetables are gross before we even give them a fair shot. 🙂
So, how do you make vegan meals that taste good? Practice and experimentation.
Calm down and don’t overcomplicate things.
Take one of your favorite non-vegan meals and write out all of the ingredients. Cross out the animal-derived ingredients and list some vegan items that could easily be substituted. This can, in many cases, be a simple 1:1 replacement, leaving you with all of the other flavorings from your original recipe and just replacing the main protein.
- Instead of scrambled eggs, replace the eggs with scrambled tofu. Add the same vegetables and flavorings that you typically would with your eggs. If you don’t usually add anything to your eggs, do a quick Google search for ‘tofu scramble’, or check out these recipes:
- Replace beef with seitan, vegan sausages, or jackfruit. Upton’s Naturals makes a nice selection pre-flavored options that can be added to a variety of dishes.
- Many people interested in moving toward a plant-based lifestyle hold on tightly to their cheese addiction. I’m here to tell you that, should you be searching for a fantastic pre-made non-dairy cheese replacement, you may be looking for a while. BUT, homemade vegan cheese recipes (typically tofu or nut-based) really do add a nice flavor and have a lot of versatility! Two of my favorites are listed below, which I’ve used on sandwiches, pretzels, pizzas, and pasta dishes.
Grant Mrs. Dash a sabbatical and give the simple flavors a shot.
In my house, we keep a variety of basic flavorings on hand, which I’ve learned to use through trial and error when I’m tweaking my own recipes. My favorites include: a giant jar of minced garlic (what can I say, I’ll pay for convenience), squeeze basil (because I never get to the fresh version before it wilts and dies), liquid aminos (soy sauce on a mission), lemon juice (because, again, the whole lemons will die on my watch), nutritional yeast (for a nice cheesy flavor), pure maple syrup (as a sweetener for both baked goods and sauces), and various jars of turmeric, onion powder, chili powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, and cumin.
Below are a few recipes that use really delicious combinations to make a spice blend, a creamy pesto, and an Asian inspired peanut soy sauce, which could be applied to your own recipes – like soups, pastas, sandwiches, or stir fries. These can easily replace the store-bought too-many-ingredients-to-count condiments that really aren’t very exciting.
Color, color, color.
You can’t really go wrong with a colorful plate – nutritionally, or flavorwise. A colorful plate is not only appealing to the eye, but also to the body (“look at all those nutrients!”). An easy way to make a colorful meal is to throw together a stir fry:
Easy colorful stir fry:
- Make a pasta, quinoa or rice of your choice
- Chop up a variety of vegetables (red onion, yellow pepper, purple eggplant, tomato, broccoli)
- Cube some tofu or seitan
- Throw the veggies into a wok with a little oil and heat until soft. Add the tofu and cook another few minutes. Add a Tablespoon of garlic, a handful of cashews, a teaspoon of ground ginger and a few Tablespoons of liquid aminos for flavoring. Cook a few more minutes to meld everything together.
Mimic other people.
Seriously. If you’re new to the plant-based cooking scene, I strongly encourage you to find a plant-based recipe blog or cookbook that you like and USE IT. Start there. I love making my own recipes, but I also have a rotation of four or five cookbooks that regularly make their way onto my weekly meal plan. Check out the blogs below for some inspiration.
Lastly, give yourself a break and be patient. You’ll learn what it takes to make great plant-based meals, just like you’ve mastered any other change in your life. Going plant-based means that your tastes and cravings will eventually change, too, so don’t be surprised when you find yourself hankering for some kickass homemade pizza rather than the greasy, bloated carryout version. It can happen!
I can’t wait to see what you make! Post some pictures of your masterpieces on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/lpanoff or tag me in your meal photos on Instagram @chronicplanet 🙂