Vegan Meal Hacks

So, you know things now.  Things that mean you are going to eat more plants, fewer critters.

Now what?

You call a friend, Google some stuff, feel excited or overwhelmed or both…

I am asked for plant based recipes almost daily.

After talking to several friends who have helped people transition their diet and, thus, their lives, to vegetarian, vegan or plant-based, I have some hacks for you.

First, know if starting slow (a few meals a week that are veggie versions of what you are used to eating) or flipping a switch (changing everything all at once) is going to work for you.

Most people prefer to start slow.

You can look online for vegan versions of your favorite dishes and you will usually find a lot of recipes but it’s hard to know what is actually good and what is more suited for someone who has been vegan their whole life, has access to crazy ingredients or can’t taste anything.

Here are my tips for transitioning to plant meals.  

Hack one: Go heavy on the flavor

So, I lOVE jerk and I’ve learned over the past few years that I love that flavor on a lot of things.  It works on potatoes (especially sweet) and it works in a lentil bowl. If you are trying to replace the flavor of a plain, unenhanced, slab of meat, this is going to be harder for you.  If, on the other hand, you appreciate the complexity of Thai curry, you won’t really miss the meat because the flavor is still there when it is all veggies.  Choose meals that have a strong flavor profile to help you get used to skipping the meat. (Garlic makes everything delish:)

Hack two: Get familiar with the hefty stuff

A lot of the time, all a meat brings to a meal is heft.  It is the focus because it is simple and something that can be dressed up any old way to suit the desired flavor.  In vegetarian cooking, we still use hearty anchor foods but you need to be familiar with them.  Check out lentils, all kidney shaped beans, garbanzo beans, different rices, quinoa, amaranth, pastas, and starchy veg like potatoes.  All of  these are common in vegetarian meals as anchor ingredients upon which veggies and flavors are layered.  For example, one of my favorite things is subbing garbanzo beans for chicken in my old chicken salad recipe.  It is a mayo base with celery, red onion, grapes and nuts…you get the idea.  

Hack three: Ground beef substitute

If I’m feeling like my family would miss the ground beef in something, I use red quinoa and finely chopped mushrooms in it’s place.  

Cook the quinoa: 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water over med-high heat, stirring regularly, until it looks like it has curled tails.  

Separately, saute your mushrooms in olive oil, onions, garlic, salt and whatever seasoning you are using then add the cooked quinoa to the mushroom mixture.  

It works on nachos, as a casserole layer and in the tacos below.  

Hack four: Find a veggie “burger” you like

First, don’t think a veggie burger is like a beef burger.  It isn’t.  It can be amazing and even preferable, but they aren’t the same thing so get that out of your head right now.  

Second, many veggie burgers taste terrible and/or have terrible ingredients in them.  

That said, they can be made out of almost anything.  I love beet burgers, bean, greens, lentil…the list is long.  

For store bought, I like Dr Prager.  They are as clean as I have found and I love some of the varieties.

Keep the ones you like around for fast food in a pinch.  I am sometimes places where not eating will offend someone so I bring a “burger” for myself to cookouts and people rarely notice what’s in my bun.

How you top them matters.  Get creative.  I personally love Sriracha, jalapenos, tomatoes, onions and sprouts on the kale burgers.  

Hack five: Get out of the salad box

The term salad is much broader than the bitter iceberg based garbage most Americans got used to before meals.

Salad doesn’t need to be lettuce based at all.  It doesn’t even have to be cold.  Chopped, diced or shredded fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes…anything put together and dressed after construction pretty much counts as a salad.  Remember the green stuff with marshmallows at the church picnic?  Salad.  (Just in case you were thinking this is my new fangled construction of the word. Don’t eat that stuff, btw.)  

So go ahead and throw a fresh Asian veggie blend in the food processor to be julienned and then top with a sesame dressing.  Salad.

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Hack six: Shop for veggies often

Some cultures and areas go to the market every day to get their food.  There are several reasons for it but whatever the reason, it’s a good thing for your well being and we need to move in that direction a bit.  There is this thing in the US where we all accept that we are going to buy veggies, shove them in a drawer and then get back to them just in time to throw them out because they have gone bad.  Besides the ethical issue of food waste, this is stupid.  Buy veggies and eat them immediately.  Don’t save them.  Start using them that day and keep making them the focus until they are gone.  Now, go back to the store and do it again.  No, this doesn’t mean you can shop once a month.  You might need to go more than once a week because most refrigerators won’t hold enough veggies for a plant based family for a week.  This is GOOD.  The fresher you eat them, the better.  And shopping for veggies is inspiring.  You should be focused on this.  I would go to the store every day if I could just to get but as it stands, I live in the sticks and go to my gardens for most of the food for each meal.  Same principle.  No wonder we don’t love our veggies when for us they are old, nasty things in the bottom drawer of our refrigerator.  

Here are some of our regular recipes:

The closest town to me has 14k people and I can get all of this at my local Kroger.

Tacos/burritos

The great thing about this is you can use whatever you have handy and you already know the basics of how to make it the way you like it.  Here is how we do taco night:

Organic taco shells or tortillas

A can of organic refried beans

Use the “ground beef”substitute above and season with your favorite taco seasoning mix to save time.  We like Simply Organic from Frontier.

Now layer on whatever veggies you like.  Avocados, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, jicama, corn, cilantro, lime…the sky is the limit.

Spiced lentils

There are several types of lentils and several great Indian inspired sauces available these days.  I don’t love the texture of red lentils but we do a lot of brown and green.  

Get a large saute pan put a cup of lentils and 2 cups of veggie stock.  Water will also work.

Add more water as needed until they start to soften.  Then add the simmer sauce you have chosen.  Tikki Masala is a common jumping off point.  You can add, peas, diced carrots and onions to taste to this simmer.

While the lentils simmer, make a batch of basmati rice.  Add a tablespoon each golden raisins, slivered almonds and unsweetened shredded coconut, as desired.  To make your basmati loose like at the restaurants, rinse it until the water runs clear before you add it to the pan to boil it.

Serve your lentils over the rice.  

Falafel

You can use this recipe or go super easy and buy refrigerated falafel.

Put them in a pita with chopped cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, shredded cabbage or lettuce, and top with tzatziki sauce.  (or sit at your desk and dip them in the sauce late at night:)

Use a blender of some sort and combine a clove of garlic, ½ teaspoon of dill and a 1 inch seeded section of cucumber, a small pinch of salt and a teaspoon of lemon juice with ½ cup olive oil and blend until smooth.  

This is usually made with dairy but I find dairy substitutes either taste terrible in this, aren’t available in small towns or cost a fortune.  If you plan ahead, you can make fresh cashew cream as a base.

There are some ideas to help you make the leap.

I answer questions on the FB page and am happy to continue this topic.

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Love from the farm

Happy eating, Katy

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