I love to invest in beautiful recipe books filled with impressive pictures, interesting techniques and inspiring ideas. But following directions isn’t necessary for normal, every day meals.  The ingredients, tools and timing are developed with experience, and become the ‘easy’ dishes that we create for comfort and convenience. As I have learned to cook vegan, my recipes have evolved in to a ‘formula’. Simply put, though every meal is one-of-a-kind because I use mostly fresh and seasonal produce, my routines are predictable.  I can create worldly cuisine, inspired by Italian, Mediterranean, Thai, Indian or Mexican flavors, or throw together a pizza with more veggies than I’ll ever admit to my kids. My methods are predictable. Once I discovered the framework for success, it became easy to plug and chug the variables.

Vegetables

Vegetables are so low in calories and rich in nutrients and fiber that the more you eat, the better. And if weight loss is your goal, the more vegetables you eat, the more weight you loose. Antioxidants in plants are the colors you see, and the key to disease prevention, health and happiness.

  1. Green vegetables have more protein per calorie than meat.
  2. Include a rainbow of color in every meal.
  3. Buy organic, fresh, in-sesason and local– but don’t be afraid of frozen.
  4. Try new things. Why use a red pepper when you can add orange? Potatoes come in purple. Rainbow chard tastes similar to Swiss, but it’s prettier. Shitake mushrooms are chewy, and much more fun than boring button. White asparagus looks yellow and leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens, collard greens and bok choy offer as much PROTEIN PER CALORIE than red meat!

A note on veges….The more the merrier. And if your kids ‘don’t like them’, put your lightly cooked assortment into the blender and hit “puree”. Add a jar of spaghetti sauce, salsa, baked squash or scheese sauce and everybody’s happy. Win/win.

Grains

All types of rice, quinoh, couscous, polenta, millet, oats, kasha and bulgur. Pastas, tortilla shells, breads and even chips count too!

Beans and Legumes

Kidney, northern, black, chickpeas (garbanzo), navy, pinto, adzuki…I buy the organic canned variety as it just doesn’t get any EASIER than that. But it’s cheaper to buy dry, soak, and cook. Don’t forget to check out the wide variety of colored lentils!

Plant Proteins

These are the meat substitution products, and the reason the word vegan leaves some people with a bad taste in their mouth…because when done wrong, they leave a really bad taste in your mouth.  But when you have kids, or you are transitioning from a carnivorous palette, these can be a great way to bridge the gap. There are such a wide range of products out there, starting with tofu, tempeh (my favorite) and moving to ‘fake’ chicken cubes, ‘fake’ beef crumbles, not dogs, shamburgers”, soy sages, facon, and so on. There are also wonderful brands of vegan cheese like Daiya and Follow Your Heart that melt (almost) as well as dairy varieties.

As many of these are processed, it is essential to buy high quality, organic brands. And don’t worry if you don’t like them; you certainly don’t need them. In fact, the longer you eat a plant-based diet, the less you’ll use them.

Oil for Satiety

Olive and canola oils are classic, and can be used in just about anything, as long as you keep the heat medium to low. If higher heat for searing or breading, try coconut oil (btw, popcorn loves coconut oil!) or peanut oil. My Asian dishes usually get sesame or safflower oil. Mediterranean flavors lend to grapeseed oil, and black truffle oil is THE BOMB.  I like to rub it on veges and broil/grill. My absolute favorite is from butter infused olive oil from the Olive Twist.

Seeds, Nuts and Sprouts

I love adding sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, slivered almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, or walnuts to whatever I am making. These add salt, healthy fat, essential amino acids (aka: protein), depth of flavor and a little crunch. You can crush into a powder or whip them into a delicious cream sauce. Some dishes just naturally lend themselves to sprouts…which I grow at home, having heard too many lysteria contamination stories to feel comfortable with grocery store varieties. It’s so easy, grown in a jar next to the sink…new batch every four days. Getting that started is another blog.

Seasoning and Flavor

Seasonings do not just come in a jar from the spice isle. Your best bet is to get what you can fresh. Garlic is number one. Buy it in bulk and use it in everything! If your wondering, the difference between chopped garlic in a jar and fresh garlic you chopped is the equivalent to black and white TV vs. high def digital. Yep. Chopping garlic is a skill, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll look for reasons to ‘hit’ one more clove.

Grow your own herbs if you can, but stock your pantry with as many dried spices as possible. More natural flavor means less salt.

My favorite “stand by” is a simple balsamic glaze.

Liquid

Of course sauteing requires liquid, and you don’t want to use too much oil. Supplement with anything from water to wine, various vinegars, cooking sherry, beer—mmmmm, soy sauce, vegetable broth and more. If you do want to use oil, add it after you turn off the heat. Oil that gets too hot denatures into unhealthy trans fat.

So if these are the variables, what is the formula?

1. Get the tools.

2. Open a bottle of wine. Select a playlist.

3. Find favorite knife, cutting board, and raid produce bin or garden for whatever looks good. Ask kids to pitch in as you prepare, and they’ll be more inclined to eat.

4. Choose a grain. Options include pasta, rice, quinoa, dough, bread, and even tortilla chips.

5. Saute veggies to desired texture. Turn off heat when colors are the brightest for optimum antioxidant and enzyme retention. Add fresh herbs after removing from heat.

6. Add canned/prepared beans, seeds, sprouts and/or nuts.

7. Get creative as you pull it together. (With kids, a blender is a great way to introduce new flavors and textures!

8. Serve with love.

Everything tastes even better the next day, so be sure to keep leftovers for lunch. You’ll never eat fast food again once you taste your own potential.