If you are new to a plant based diet you may find yourself a little daunted at the thought of finding vegan options and alternatives to the meals you have been used to. Many of us have the same bunch of meals week in and week out, so celebrate the fact that you’ll be eating a whole new menu of new tasty foods and much more variety than you may have been used to. Plant based eating is an exciting way to improve your health, culinary skills, and taste experience. Here are a few tips on how to veganise some of the meals you may be used to.
Forget the greasy bacon and sausages and veganise your English breakfast with some plant based sausages (either shop bought or make your own and keep in the freezer), scrambled tofu flavoured with kala lamak (black salt) for an eggy flavour or nutritional yeast, and loads of yummy mushrooms and tomatoes (sprinkle on some oregano). Carbohydrates and grains should be eaten in moderation, but you could include some wholegrain toast or sweet potato rosti if you fancied it.
Pancakes can be made without eggs, and buckwheat flour makes an excellent choice added to plant milk and cooked in coconut oil. Add some blueberries and ‘nice cream’ made from chopped frozen bananas blended in a food processor to ice cream consistency.
Overnight oats or porridge are simply made with rolled oats and plant milk and are delicious with added chopped apple and cinnamon. If you have a sweet tooth and are used to a drizzle of honey you can replace this with maple syrup (go easy though!).
Nut butter (peanut, almond, hazelnut, cashew) or avocado on wholegrain toast or rye bread is a quick and filling breakfast. Try to avoid shop bought cereals as they are loaded with sugar. You can make a healthier granola by roasting oats, nuts and pumpkin seeds in coconut oil and a little maple syrup. Add some raisins and store in an airtight container. This is lovely served with coconut yoghurt and some berries.
If you are used to eating sandwiches or wraps for lunch some vegan options you might try are hummus and peppers, nut butter, avocado, tofu or falafel, with lots of added salad or roasted veg and additions such as fresh herbs, sundried tomatoes or olives.
However, it makes more sense nutritionally to vary your lunches and not rely on bread and wheat based options. Foods such as quinoa, puy lentils, chickpeas, and nuts can be added to salads or leftover veg to make tasty lunches to take to work. Try adding olive oil and balsamic vinegar, citrus juice and rind, tahini dressing, smoked paprika, sumac, dried oregano or fresh herbs such as basil or parsley to vary the flavours. Toasted pumpkin or sesame seeds are great sprinkled on top for extra nutrients and flavour.
Sunday lunch can be a plant based extravaganza when you are focusing more on the huge variety of vegetables you can use. Maple glazed parsnips, butternut squash or sweet potato roasted in coconut oil with rosemary and garlic, cauliflower cashew ‘cheese’, steamed mixed greens (such as kale, savoy cabbage, leeks, broccoli), Brussels sprouts stir fried in coconut oil and tamari, Portabello mushrooms stuffed with nuts and herbs, spiced red cabbage, the variety is endless really!
For the protein source there are many ready made vegan alternatives but as a nutritionist I would encourage you to make your own – research some recipes for tasty cutlets, nut loaf, shepherd’s pie etc. made with pulses, beans and nuts. Soaking nuts and dried pulses prior to cooking helps to improve their digestibility and nutrition. There are lots of vegan gravy options but it’s easy to make your own using vegetable bouillon, shallots or porcini mushrooms.
I’ve already mentioned cashew cheese and if you haven’t tried it you must – it’s delicious and filling and great for nachos, lasagne, cauliflower cheese etc. It’s easily made with soaked cashew nuts, plant milk, lemon juice, pink salt and nutritional yeast. I like to add smoked paprika which improves the taste and colour. Cheese sauce can also be made with veg such as butternut squash or carrots and potatoes. You’ll find recipes for this online.
Red lentils are great to have in the cupboard for adding to recipes in place of mince. You can use them for Bolognese and shepherds pies as well as quick soups and dahls.
Gram flour (chickpea flour) makes great pancakes, wraps and flatbreads that are protein and calcium rich. Just add water, a little olive oil and spices such as cumin seeds, black onion seeds, smoked paprika or sumac. The wraps/pancakes/flatbreads can be stored in the fridge for easy lunches or dinner accompaniments. You’ll find recipes online for traditional ‘socca’ or ‘farinata’ made with gram flour.
Stir fries can be made with marinated baked tofu and lots of veg. Use garlic, fresh root ginger and tamari for flavouring. There are also a few good vegan curry pastes available that only have natural ingredients – these are great with a tin of coconut milk added, a protein source such as tofu, cashews or chickpeas and of course lots of veggies. For a variation on grains try cauliflower rice instead of regular rice.
At this time of year you can easily make warming casseroles, chillis and one pot dishes with chestnuts, squash, beans and lentils, buckwheat or quinoa. Try topping with an oat based crumble flavoured with lemon zest, garlic and parsley.
Well hopefully that’s given you lots of alternatives and vegan options to think about and try. Always aim to balance your meals to ensure you get all the required nutrients and vary the ingredients you use.
Looking for new sweet vegan options? Look no further than Pulsin’s delicious High Fibre Brownies for a guilt free snack!
Louisa Richards is a Registered Nutritional Therapist at Heads Up Nutrition and Vegucate Nutrition. She supports her clients with weight management and health issues through nutrition education, plant based eating, mindfulness and neuro-linguistic programming.