I have been a plant-based chef for over 25 years and have taught hundreds of others the art of vegan cuisine.
Here are my top 10 tips for improving your creativity and confidence in the plant-based kitchen.
1. Template recipe concept
Break out of the recipe trap and use several recipe formulas instead—one for a salad, a soup, a smoothie, a bowl. The template recipe style of recipe development will greatly expand your creativity in the kitchen.
To view recipes as a template, you look at a recipe in the most general form possible and break it down into its component parts. By changing just one of the component parts, you create an entirely new recipe.
2. Monk bowls
The monk bowl consists of combining a grain, a green, and a protein in one meal. It is another perfect example of a template recipe and is an intuitive way to look at meal creation that allows for so much variety and flavor combinations.
Revolutionary in its simplicity, the monk bowl is an easy, delicious way to introduce healthful eating.
>> Grain component. Rotate through different types of rice, millet, quinoa, brown rice pasta, and so on.
>> Green component. Change it up to serve your favorite vegetable or vegetables—raw, steamed, roasted, grilled, sautéed.
>> Protein component. Legumes, tofu, or tempeh. The tofu or tempeh can be roasted, sautéed, or grilled, and made with various marinades. Legumes can be boiled, refried, or made into patties. Dried spices can be added to your legumes to create even more variety.
Most monk bowls can be prepared from beginning to end within 20 to 30 minutes. One of our main go-to meals is a monk bowl with quinoa, steamed vegetables, and roasted tempeh or tofu, served with a side salad.
We love adding a simple topping of hemp or flax oil, wheat-free tamari, and nutritional yeast. You can get more creative by serving yours with any number of different sauces or dressings, such as peanut, barbecue, sweet-and-sour, or others.
3. Global spice blends
One of the top tips for bringing the world of flavors to your table is to create global spice blends. Store-bought or homemade versions of Italian, Mexican, Indian, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Cajun, and more are all at your fingertips.
4. Vegan umami
Umami is a flavor you’ll want to incorporate into your meals for a satisfying, deep, flavorful taste. Think savoriness. Umami exists in any plant-based foods that contain the amino acid L-glutamate.
There are several ingredients to achieve umami: tamari, nutritional yeast, miso paste, mushrooms, nori, and sea vegetables. Add any of these to boost the flavor in your dishes!
5. Master core techniques: cashew cream
One of the most versatile techniques, especially in raw cuisine, is to create a cashew cream by blending water and cashews. Once created, this cream can be adapted for sweet and savory flavor profiles.
Adding maple syrup will create a dessert cream, and adding lemon and nutritional yeast can create sour cream and cheese flavors.
6. Transitional food/analogue products
As vegan and plant-based lifestyles are becoming more accessible, we are seeing mainstream markets carrying analogue products—products that aim to replicate the flavor and texture of animal products. Although these products are typically highly processed and contain higher levels of sodium, they are incredible in helping people transition to a plant-based diet. There are plant-based versions of chicken, pork, beef, and even salmon. Some of my favorites include Beyond Meat, Field Roast, and Tofurky.
7. Prepare in advance
Preparing your meals in advance is key. It is easy to lose sight of your health goals when you are in a rush and not prepared. On your least busy day, start planning and organizing your meals for the week. Put together salads and overnight oats in mason jars, use frozen vegetables and fruits to create daily smoothies, and cook your rice or quinoa in bulk for easy use during the week. Search online for meal prep recipes for inspiration.
8. Build your pantry items and kitchen gear
Every kitchen needs to have pantry staples, as well as the proper kitchen gear. Having both of these parts in your kitchen will make your journey to cooking and health a lot easier.
Having a well-stocked pantry will allow you to create a vast array of vegan dishes with the least amount of effort and prevent you from not being able to cook at home.
Consider this list of pantry staples: fresh fruits and vegetables, non-dairy milks, nutritional yeast, fresh herbs (basil, thyme, parsley), nuts and seeds, beans, quinoa and rice, pasta, oils and vinegars, seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne, chili powder, paprika), protein (tofu, tempeh, seitan, Beyond Meat), dried fruit, sriracha, tahini, and miso paste.
As for the kitchen, here is a list of key tools you’ll want: chef’s knife, cutting board (preferably bamboo), blender, food processor, pots, pans, measuring cups and spoons, spatulas, baking sheets, casserole dishes, citrus juicer, juicer, and mixing bowls.
9. Zen out
To simplify the preparation and cleanup of the dishes you are preparing, try to minimize the equipment. See whether you can cook your veggies in the same pot as the pasta, use the same bowl for different recipes, and so on. Also, before beginning any preparation, create a clean work area and gather all your necessary ingredients and kitchen gear.
10. Food is medicine
Each time you eat something, ask yourself whether that food will serve as fuel to “turn back the clock” and optimize your health and nutrition. To help get plant-based foods in the rotation, take what you are eating and think “plus one.” What one thing can I add to my plate to add a bit more nutrition to what I am eating? Maybe it’s adding a few fresh berries to your cereal, sprinkling some sunflower seeds or chia seeds on your vegan yogurt, or adding a handful of fresh arugula the next time you break out a frozen vegan pizza.
These plant-based tips can help create a positive space in the kitchen by cutting cooking time in half and giving us delicious, healthy meals.