27 Jan 9 Tips for Cooking Better Plant-Based Meals
3. Experiment to learn what you like
Beans can be mashed, air fried, or mixed into rice. Lentils can be puréed into soups, put on salads, or mixed into spaghetti sauce. Chances are good that you’ll like some of these uses more than others, so just like we recommend trying out a variety of meat substitute brands, we also recommend trying out a bunch of different ways to use the plant-based foods you’re cooking with now. Also keep in mind that there are many different varieties of beans and lentils (not to mention nuts, seeds, and other sources of plant-based protein). Some are better for certain uses than others, and you may love some and dislike others.
4. Learn how to prep and cook amazing vegetables
If you grew up in a meat-and-potatoes family (or even if you didn’t!), chances are good that vegetables were sort of an afterthought — low on flavor, mushy, and often waterlogged. We find that many people don’t know how to cook vegetables well, or they’re scared to try new veggies. But when done right, vegetables are so much more than just the boring side dish you include because you “should.” Vegetables can be fun, beautiful, and make your meals so much more flavorful when you know how to cook them!
Sometimes that means tossing them in a marinade or vinaigrette before roasting; other times it means topping them with a sauce before serving; and still others it means sprinkling them with fresh herbs to bring out savory or sweet flavors. (One of the best parts of our meal plan service is that we encourage you to try new vegetables and teach you how to make them delicious!) For short video lessons on prepping a wide variety of produce, check out our Produce Prep Guide.
5. Explore a variety of cooking techniques
Variety is the spice of life, and that’s just as true with cooking techniques as it is with ingredients. We all have our defaults, whether that’s grilling or sautéeing or roasting in the oven, but changing things up will keep your plant-based meals interesting and allow you to choose the best cooking method for any given meal.
6. Don’t try to wing it (yet)
Follow a recipe until you get a better understanding of how plant-based meals work and what you do and don’t like. It’s not too complicated once you get the hang of it, but in the meantime, no one wants to eat meals that just seem out of balance. Seeing how recipes are put together will give you a better understanding of what proportions of ingredients to use, how to balance textures and flavors in a dish without added meat, and how much of each type of ingredient fills you up.
7. Understand the purpose of each animal-based ingredient in a recipe
If you’re starting with a non-plant-based recipe and want to convert it into a plant-based recipe, it’s helpful to understand why the recipe developer did what they did. For instance, oil can often be used instead of butter in a recipe, but there are times when it just won’t work. If you’re making a cold sauce or topping for a dish, such as miso butter, it’s better to use a plant-based butter because oil will be too thin.
Another example: Egg serves as a binder in foods like meatballs or baked goods, meaning it helps the finished product to stay together instead of crumbling. Rather than just leave out an egg to make a dish vegan, you’d want to substitute in a plant-based alternative, such as ground flaxseed mixed with water. Without understanding why an ingredient is included in the first place, it’s impossible to know how to swap it out effectively.
8. Add some extra umami
Vegetarian meals sometimes feel like they’re missing something because meat can provide umami flavors that balance out the other flavors in a dish. Without that umami, the flavors often seem thin. But meat is far from the only way to get umami into a dish — using umami-rich, plant-based ingredients can go a long way toward making up for this deficit.
These ingredients include miso paste, soy sauce, mushrooms (fresh or dried), tomatoes (especially concentrated versions, such as tomato paste), and vegetarian dashi. Keep in mind that many of these ingredients contain significant amounts of salt, so you may need to reduce the added salt in a recipe to keep things from getting too salty. For an example of how this can work, see our Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup, which uses ham in the original version of the recipe and adds miso to the broth in the vegetarian version.
9. Give your body time to adjust
Just like when introducing new foods to kids, it helps to keep tasting ingredients you may not like at first to see if your tastes change. We naturally crave the foods we eat frequently because our gut microbes demand more of what they like to eat. Eat more sweet potatoes, for example, and the microbes that like sweet potatoes will flourish — and they’ll tell your brain to start craving sweet potatoes too. That’s one reason dietary changes are so hard at first but quickly become second nature. (Aren’t bodies cool?!) So keep tasting those “just okay” foods and your preferences will quickly catch up.
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