If you’re going vegan or vegetarian for the first time, you may be thinking you’re going to be terribly bored. You might imagine a bunch of plain salads, simple pastas, or fake meats like veggie burgers and soy hot dogs. You’re not wrong to worry. According to most media, vegans eat cardboard and soy everything.
When I first decided to give up meat, I dreaded eating food. I gave up meat to be kind to animals, but I still craved all kinds of things that my heart wouldn’t let me eat anymore. But the more I read about the vegan diet, the more I realized that the world is full of all kinds of delicious foods I had previously walked right past. I started experimenting with new fruits and veggies, spices, and bulk foods that I didn’t even know existed before. Eventually, I stopped missing meat. I mean, I literally have ZERO desire to eat the stuff I used to eat because the foods I discovered are so much better!
Here are some of my favorite vegetarian foods that will make any meal restaurant worthy.
First, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about your childhood Thanksgiving boiled, soggy brussels sprouts. In fact, make me a promise right now. Promise me you will never boil another Brussel’s sprout in your life. Never. Just say no. When cooked properly, these little green veggies give a POP of flavor to anything you want to eat. The real magic comes from baking them.
Start by choosing the right sprouts. You want them to be small and firm. Thoroughly wash the sprouts, and chop off the ends. Then, cut then lengthwise down the middle. Toss your sprouts in a little olive oil and lay them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with your favorite spices (I just do a bit of salt and pepper, but if you’re into spice, a little cayenne would also be great), and then bake them at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes (until they start to brown). When they’re finished, you can create any number of dishes. If you’re vegetarian, toss them with a little balsamic vinegar and goat cheese. If you’re vegan, mix them with some chopped avocado and a drizzle of lime. I’l be honest. They usually never even make it to a plate before I demolish them.
The secret to chickpeas that you can’t get enough of is spice! Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas and toss them in a bowl with any spices you love. I use salt, pepper, coriander, and cumin, but you can really use whatever speaks to you. Once they’re coated, toss them into a dry pan over medium heat and keep tossing them so they don’t stick. Once they’re finished, use them in a salad or as a side dish for something really delicious and memorable.
First of all, if you’re new to vegetarianism, don’t expect to be familiar with nutritional yeast. It was an enigma to me when I first heard about it. Now it’s a staple in my kitchen because it is JUST. SO. GOOD. Nutritional yeast looks kind of like corn meal. You usually buy it in bulk. It has a cheesy flavor and can go in just about everything you make to make it cheesier. It’s also a great source of vitamin B12, which is one of the only vitamins you’ll need to supplement on a vegan diet. (If you’re vegetarian, you don’t need a supplement, but it’s still delicious.) I keep some in my cupboard all the time and frequently toss a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast into stews and soups. It’s a great addition to macaroni and “cheese” and helps with a lot of sauces and dips. It’s also a fantastic topper for late night popcorn.
Pine nuts are not cheap. However, it doesn’t take many pine nuts to make a big impact in a dish, so you can just buy a small amount. Toast them lightly in a dry pan and then add them to anything. One awesome way to use pine nuts is to add them to cooked couscous and top it with some steamed kale or chard. You can toast all of your pine nuts at once and then keep them in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.
The next time you’re at the grocery store trying all kinds of fun new ingredients you’ve never tasted, give these a shot. You’ll immediately regret the portion of your life that didn’t include roasted chickpeas in a salad.