Despite the concerns many people have about vegan living being complicated and foreign, it’s actually a lot more simple and familiar than most would think. Even if you’re used to relying on certain ingredients such as meat, cheese and eggs, there’s no reason that ditching animal products should be a big deal.
Here are a few super-simple tips to help you navigate your way around a vegan kitchen:
- Fruit and Veg! Yes, you’ve heard it before, but you can never go wrong eating more of either one of these. Fruit can be eaten with absolutely zero preparation, and it provides instant, clean energy and fantastic nutrition. Veggies are the same, and they also add flavor, texture and variety to all sorts of prepared dishes, making vegan dining both delicious and nutritious.
- Starchy Staples. Whole grains, potatoes and pasta are favorites in our kitchen, as well as squash and sweet potatoes. They are super-filling and provide a fantastic base for anything you want to serve alongside them. Brown rice, millet and quinoa are our favorite grains, and we recommend organic Tinkyada brown rice pasta for a surprisingly good gluten-free version of the original.
- Plant Proteins. There is plenty of protein available in the plant kingdom, but certain foods stand out as stars in this department. Many whole grains have a high protein content on their own, but they also team up well with beans and legumes. For a quick and easy lunch or dinner, try cooking brown rice mixed with brown lentils (especially the small French kind) or quinoa mixed with red lentils. And of course, tofu and tempeh can become wonderful friends of yours if you allow them a place in your kitchen.
- Eat Your Greens! Dark greens should be a part of everyone’s diet, and they can be incorporated into both smoothies and salads, as well as being steamed or sautéed. Look in the produce aisle for mixed salad greens that include spinach, kale, bok choy, and totsoi, as well as the common (but not very nutritious) lettuce. Adding grated beets and carrots goes a long way.
- Angel’s Magical Dressing Recipe. If you want to increase your salad intake, it helps to have a variety of dressings to keep things interesting as well as tasty. I like to play around with different ingredients along the same theme: In a blender, along with water, blend together “something creamy” – oil, tahini, tofu, avocado, steamed carrots/squash; “something tangy” – vinegar, lemon, mustard; “something tasty” – miso, nutritional yeast, mustard, fresh herbs. Voilà! You can make endless combinations to keep your salad-eating enthusiasm alive.
- Standard Seasoning Combos. A few simple ingredients can go a long way toward adding flavor to food. In my world, there’s a magical combination that I know I can count on to add tasty flavor to a number of different dishes, from salads and veggies to potatoes and pasta. Olive oil, tamari and nutritional yeast. As one of my friends put it, it’s the “Holy Trinity” of vegan cooking. Try drizzling it on bread instead of butter or margarine!
- Veganize Your Baked Goods. Vegan baking has come a long way since muffins and brownies that used to thud to the counter like a soft brick. There are a huge number of vegan recipe blogs now with tips and tricks to help you find your way around the multitude of vegan techniques that have been developed over the years. Check out this article for some vegan baking tips.
- Learn How to Read Ingredients. Yes, people think vegans are weird for this, but honestly, who wouldn’t want to know what goes in to the items they are ingesting or using? It may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it doesn’t take long before you learn what to look out for. Here is a good guide to learning to read labels.
- Check Your Drinks. Many people are surprised to learn that a number of alcoholic beverages are not actually vegan. Thankfully, there are many that are, and there’s no reason you should have to become a tee-totaller just because you’re a vegan. Check out this guide to vegan drinks.
- Learn the Alternatives. If you don’t feel ready to give up certain animal-based foods, take a look around the health food store and see if there’s a vegan substitute. There are many brands of vegan meat analogs, non-dairy milks, cheeses and yogurts, margarine, mayo, ice cream, chocolate and more desserts than you could ever possibly try in a single lifetime… Unless, of course, you wanted to make that your life’s mission. Not a bad idea!
Finally, keep in mind that vegan living goes way beyond the kitchen. As you make your way along the vegan path, keep looking into the rest of your belongings to see where there might be items still tying you to your non-vegan past: leather shoes, purses, belts, furniture, wool sweaters and silk scarves can all be replaced with animal-friendly alternatives, and it feels fantastic to get these items out of the home once and for all. As always, shop second-hand for your new vegan wardrobe!