When people ask me for advice on going vegan, the first thing I tell them is to look at the meals that they are already making regularly. Most of us tend to make the same things week after week. So I suggest starting there first. At my house, tacos, scrambles, pizza, and salad make regularly weekly appearances.
When you’re looking to make a big dietary shift, you set yourself up for success when you make change easy. Instead of cracking open a cookbook three times a day, think about how you can “veganize” the meals you’re already making. While it can be really fun and exciting to try new foods and dishes (and I highly recommend buying some vegan cookbooks to make your transition a delicious one), I also know that sometimes we are hungry and just want to eat without it being a lengthy project. Sometimes we want to quickly put together a sandwich, throw together a plate of pasta, or make some peanut butter toast and be done with it.
To get you started, here are some ideas of ways to tweak meals that might already be regular favorites in your household into something vegan-friendly.
Most dried pastas are vegan. (Beware of fresh pasta, though. Oftentimes there’s egg in the dough.) Throw cooked pasta in homemade or jarred spaghetti sauce (many of those are vegan too). Instead of meat in the sauce, sauté lots of extra vegetables like onions, garlic, mushrooms, and bell pepper. For a punch of protein, add cooked lentils. Top it with ground walnuts and nutritional yeast instead of parmesan cheese.
2. Tacos or Burritos
It is a rare night when tacos don’t sound good. They’re like little handheld packages of perfection with crunchy vegetables, cool guacamole, and spicy beans. Instead of beef or chicken in your tacos, add pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, or seitan that has been sautéed with garlic and onions and seasoned with cumin, paprika, and chili powder. Stuff the tacos or burritos with tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, and plenty of avocado.
I know many people are aghast at the idea of a cheeseless pizza. I totally get it. I used to turn my nose up at the concept too. But one taste may just change your mind. The flavor of the toppings really comes through with no cheese to hide it. Plus, there are no pools of grease to blot off the top.
Use your favorite pizza crust recipe or grab one from the freezer section. Add homemade or jarred pasta sauce and cover it in as many vegetables as you like. In lieu of cheese, I like to add creamy avocado, roasted garlic, salsa, sauerkraut, jalapenos, or hot sauce as a final topping. If cheeseless pizza is unappealing to you, there are also a variety of non-dairy cheeses available in many grocery stores. Daiya is particularly popular.
What could be simpler than a sandwich? Pick the classic peanut butter & jelly. Grab hummus from the refrigerated section of your grocery store or make your own and top it with bell pepper slices, cucumber, and onion. Instead of tuna salad, I like to make chickpea salad sandwiches. Break down chickpeas in the food processor and mix them with eggless mayo like Vegenaise, diced pickles, and chopped celery. Similarly, you can make an eggless salad sandwich by breaking up tofu, adding Vegenaise, spring onion, and a little kala namak for a sulfury finish.
5. Soup or Chili
Obviously you can pick up a can of vegetable-based soup from the grocery store, but it’s not hard to make your own. In the winter I particularly enjoy creamy potato soup, butternut squash, lentil soup, or split pea that’s made smoky with smoked salt or liquid smoke instead of ham or bacon. Make a simple vegetarian chili by using lentils or a variety of beans instead of ground beef in your favorite recipe. Top with crushed corn chips, salsa, or guacamole.
Stir-fries are a great way to use a ton of vegetables, and they can be ready in twenty minutes. Baked tofu or seitan can take the place of shrimp or chicken. Sauté vegetables in a bit of oil, and add splashes of tamari, rice vinegar, and Sriracha to taste. Top with cashews and cilantro, and serve over brown rice or rice noodles.
7. Mediterranean Feast
Say goodbye to meat on a kebab and load your skewer with onions, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Then serve it with falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, dolmas, tabouli, mujaddrah, or cucumber salad. Whether you pick up some prepared items at the store or make everything from scratch, the options abound for this feast.
Especially in the summer when so much produce is in season and at its best, I love tucking into a huge salad with a side of crusty bread. For a base, use your favorite leafy green, top it with as many vegetables as you can, add roasted chickpeas or baked tofu, and drizzle it with balsamic vinaigrette, tahini dressing, or a creamy cashew dressing.
So many Indian dishes are easy to make vegan by using oil instead of ghee and coconut milk instead of cream. There are lots of vegetarian options in Indian cuisine like chana masala, aloo gobi, and masala dosa. If you regularly make curry at home with seasonings like turmeric, cumin, or curry powder, replace meat with chickpeas or tofu. Serve with brown basmati rice and cilantro chutney.
Image credit: Photos by Cadry Nelson