Borrow from the vegan playbook now and then to mix up your menu and enjoy plant-based meals.
Most likely, it happens on the way to the meat department at the grocery store. You know you have to find something fast and easy for dinner … not too expensive … tasty, oh, and nourishing, too. And then it happens. You enter the fresh produce department and find everything you need.
• Fiddleheads and Soba Noodle Primavera
• Herbed Tomato-Leek Sauce
• Thyme-Tomato and Zucchini Bulgur
• Tarragon Brazil Nut Rissoles
• Wild Leek and Couscous Loaf
• Fennel, Spinach and Orange Salad with Ginger Dressing
• Green Curry Paste
• Green Curry Asparagus
• Asian Five-Spice Seasoning
• Baked Bananas with Garlic Citrus Caramel Sauce
• Asparagus, Peas, Sorrel and New Potatoes in Cashew Cream
• Online Exclusive Recipe: Garlic White Sauce
• Online Exclusive Chart: Herbal Nutrition
It’s possible you have just become an accidental vegan, someone who borrows from the vegan pantry on a regular basis. Being a dietary vegan simply means not eating meat, dairy foods, honey or other foods derived from animals. Adopting a full-time dietary vegan philosophy is often a personal commitment arrived at over time and with careful thought, but if your food style is in need of an overhaul, especially if you are motivated by a desire to save on food bills and eat more in-season vegetables, both you and your pocketbook may benefit from the wide variety of whole foods that vegans enjoy.
Eating vegan may save money because you can fill your grocery cart and your dinner plate with in-season fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Many of these choices have achieved superfood status and are high in phytonutrients and low in fats. These same vegan staples are the very foods most of the world’s people thrive on. Today, even the least expensive cuts of beef average $3 per pound compared with dried beans and lentils that weigh in at around $1 per pound. There may be additional health-related payoffs, depending on how much processed foods and trans fats are currently in your diet.
You can benefit from the basics of a vegan diet by borrowing some plant-based recipes and working them into your routine. Spring is an especially good time to reach for lighter fare featuring fresh produce.
There are a few ways to incorporate vegan mealtime strategies into a flexible and consistent diet plan with absolutely no feelings of sacrifice. The first is to learn to use fresh herbs and spices in new combinations of pastes (see our Green Curry Paste), seasoning blends, dips and sauces to add a flavor spike to plant-based dishes. Another is to designate one or two days each week as being “vegan-only.” Perhaps the most popular way of achieving a “mostly vegan” approach is to choose only vegan foods for two out of three daily meals, or be “vegan ’til six,” to quote author and New York Times writer Mark Bittman, who claims to have lost 35 pounds and resolved some lingering health issues by following this plan. No matter why or how you increase plant foods, one happy result of paying attention to what you eat by following vegan guidelines is that processed foods and trans fats, as well as many junk foods, are immediately eliminated.
It’s not only for their flavor that herbs play a major role in the diets of most vegans. Herbs can contribute significant amounts of phytonutrients, which in turn assist a wide range of healthy body conditions. To see a chart comparing three herbs with common foods, visit www.herbcompanion.com/nutritioninherbs.
Vegan cooking is the act of preparing strictly plant food with care and enthusiasm. For great-tasting vegan and vegetarian recipes, herb/spice blends, pastes, marinades, sauces, glazes and salsas are essential tools that will take dishes from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
When blending herbs and spices, aim for a balanced mixture that combines woody with fruity; pungent with sweet; or hot and biting with subtle flowery notes. For lighter, fresh spring dishes, we recommend having both fines herbes blend (widely available in food stores) and the Asian Five-Spice Seasoning on hand. Our Cashew Cream and Ginger Dressing are also versatile additions to a vegan pantry—or your accidental vegan routine.
Author of 12 cookbooks including her latest, Everyday Flexitarian (Whitecap Books, 2011), Pat Crocker is a culinary herbalist and green cook.
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