If you are a newcomer to veganism, or even a curious omnivore, the learning curve of a cooking with a plant-based diet can be a bit of a challenge. The same dishes keep being plated. Certain habits still have to be unlearned. Certain cravings can sneak in (many vegans get them from the time, so you are not alone). For the new vegan (and sometimes more experienced vegans), the overwhelming transition may lead to get a cooking rut. The food and the experience of veganism becomes less exciting and more frustating.
However, it certainly doesn’t have to be like this. Cooking is an art and cooking while vegan requires a bit of patience and creativity. Vegan cooking is often no different from cooking as an omnivore as the two are quite similar and often share the same principles. And the transition does not have to be hard. Here are a few tips to get you going:
Start with Aromatics
Many a great dish starts with a simple aromatic or flavor base – a simple combination of sauteed vegetables. Aromatics are a major factor in the flavors and scents in the dishes you love and recognize. Using them in vegan cooking has the same function as it does omnivorous cooking – it is an easy, and practial way to add mindblowing flavor to any dish.
Since aromatics are vegetable-based, they are often either vegan automatically or can be made vegan with some slight adjustments. The ingredients of aromatics are often so common that it is likely you have made it before without even knowing it.
The Most Common Flavor Bases Are:
Possibly the most well known aromatic, this consists of of the classic combination of carrots, celery and onions. Although it is often fried in butter, any vegan oil will do just as well.
- Battuto/ Soffritto: The Battuto is the uncooked (and the Soffritto is the cooked) combination of onions, carrots, and celery. While a close cousin of the mirepoix, this aromatic is bolstered by parsley, garlic and fennel.
Using an aromatic as a base of any stew or stir fry, will give your cooking delicious new depths.
Add Some Spice!
One you are comfortable with a simple flavor base, you can easily begin experimenting with what seasonings you want to use. There is where the mighty herbs and spices come in.
For as long as they’ve been utilized, herbs and spices have added loads of flavor and taste to food. Not only can herbs and spices can take a dish from bland and boring to absolutely amazing with just a sprinkle or a teaspoon, but years of scientific research and traditional medicine tells us how spices give amazing health benefits.
Herbs and spices provide color, fun and zest. You have to learn which agree with your taste buds and the food you pair it with, which can take some time and experimentation. For now, here are some suggestions:
- Infuse herbs like bay leaves, parsley, or thyme to your soups and stews to give them an extra kick.
- Add heat and vibrant color to your soups and chilis with spices like cayenne and turmeric.
- Mix mint or peppermint in sorbets or teas for a refreshing taste.
Ramping Up The Umami
It may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but for vegans transitioning away from animal based foods (and for some more experienced vegan who get the occasional craving), adding a meaty, robust flavor and texture, or umami, can really benefit a meal.
Coined by a scientist, umami is a term that describes food that is high in glutamates, a trait usually associated with animal products. However, there are loads of vegan friendly foods that give you the umami feel. Try using these foods to add a little umami to your vegan cooking.
- Nutritional Yeast – Not only is this an umami food, it has a salty, cheesy flavor and is packed with a ton of nutrients. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn.
- Toasted Seeds and Nuts- When you crunch a toasted seed between your teeth, you get an immediate satisfaction along with all those vitamins. You can add nuts and seeds to your salads or granola.
- Vegetables – While many vegetables offer umami, certain vegetable just pack a larger punch. Mushrooms and tomatoes are major examples of this. Mushrooms are strong enough to “stand in” for meat in many a meatless meal. Roast or caramelize these veggies to get the full umami flavor when you eat them. A delicious combination of mushrooms and tomatoes can be found right here.
There are so many ways to liven up vegan cooking, but with a few tips or even some culinary courses, you’ll be whipping up a delicious meal in no time. Have you ever been in a cooking rut on your vegan journey? If so, how did you break out of it?