One of the main pieces of advice for new vegans is don’t try to replace meat or dairy products with fake versions. I wholeheartedly agree with this—fake meats and cheeses are usually made with soy and a lot of processed ingredients, and also they’re not going to taste “right” to you anyway. It’s way easier if you just redefine your concept of a meal entirely, so that it’s not focused on meat or dairy.
But wait–just redefine your concept of a meal entirely? Um hello, that sounds a little (a lot) overwhelming. And what does that mean exactly? What does a non-meat-centered plate even look like?
Back when I was “interviewing” naturopathic doctors (until I found Doctor Molly, our ND extraordinaire forever and ever amen) and talking about making the transition to vegan, one of them drew me a really helpful diagram. It looked something like this…
That’s a complete meal (for an adult, babies and kids need different fat/protein/carb ratios).
It doesn’t have to look exactly like that on the plate of course: it could be a big green salad with veggies and quinoa and garbanzos and a great dressing. It could be an adzuki bean burger on a bun with greens and avocado and a side of roasted veggies. Or a tortilla filled with tofu and veggies with a side salad.
But when I was eating hummus and crackers for dinner? Not a complete meal. A green salad? Lovely, but not a complete meal. (And from before I was vegan: cheese pizza with red wine? Not a complete meal.)
This may seem obvious to my foodie friends, but I am learning this from scratch. Maybe some of you out there are too.
Of course I’m not the food police, and I’m not should-ing anybody here. Sometimes you just want hummus and crackers for dinner and it is what it is. But I found this diagram very helpful as I was transitioning.
And now, it helps me to fill in the gaps as I’m meal planning. It acts as a checklist. So for example, I know a night where I want to keep it simple with beans and rice will at least need a side salad or some sautéed kale or something to round out the vegetable side.
Which brings me to my next point: I am feeling really lazy lately.
Actually, let me re-phrase that, since “lazy” should never be used to describe someone who parents a toddler all day long: I am feeling like I would rather not spend much of my precious time cooking dinner every night. After parenting said toddler and making other food throughout the day, I am looking for a dinner that pretty much makes itself.
The problem is, dinner is the only time all three of us reliably sit down to eat together every day. So it’s important to me that it’s a nice meal.
I want it to be a complete meal, made with all whole (organic when possible) foods. It also needs to be delicious–ie it needs to be something “foodie” enough that we are not just eating big lumps of beans and rice with the same exact salad every night (ahem).
In a way, I guess I am looking for a crash-course in the fundamentals of “nice” cooking. I know the basics but I don’t know how to make everything come together, and being vegan makes it even harder.
I want to be able to whip up something that meets all of the above criteria, ideally using some items that can be kept in my pantry rather than having to juggle a lot of fresh ingredients (I’m cool with having my fresh veggies on hand, but I just don’t see myself making special side sauces that call for fresh marjoram or something bonkers like that).
This seems downright impossible, I know. But! I have a secret ace up my sleeve…
Her name is Emma, and besides being super-knowledgeable about birth and babies and natural living (seriously, if I have a question about anything remotely “crunchy” I always want to get Emma’s opinion on it)…she is a great whole-foods cook.
According to Emma, so much of taking your cooking up a level is about adding the right sauce. She even clams that this can be easy and fun (what!!–I know!)
And even though she is an omnivore, she has agreed to give me vegan versions of five different sauces to experiment with. And we’re going to blog it all here. So stay tuned for Emma’s easy sauces, explained for non-foodies! We’re going to feature one per week, and I’m going to show what meal I made with it.
I’m so excited!
Do you have a favorite easy sauce that instantly makes a meal feel all fancy? Or what’s your favorite complete vegan meal?
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