Plant Based Cooking Tips for New Converts
It’s often said that the most difficult step towards making positive lifestyle changes is deciding to make them in the first place. In reality, that’s not actually the case at all.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more or start taking your job more seriously, it all sounds pretty simple on paper. Then when you get started, you realise that old habits do indeed die hard!
Truth is, it’s actually the second step that is the most challenging by far. This is the step when you put your positive intentions to action, mapping out some kind of plan of action to make them stick. Even this can seem straightforward at first, until you find yourself well and truly in uncharted territory.
Going plant-based (exclusively or primarily) is no exception to the rule. Millions make a conscious decision to quit animal products on a relatively regular basis, only to subsequently fall off the wagon soon enough.
Fail to Prepare, Prepare to…Well, You Know the Rest!
If you can forgive this undeniable cliché for a moment, you’ll shortly understand why it’s just about as apt as it gets. Whether your intention is to go vegan or simply reduce your consumption of animal products, it is essential to plan in advance what’s to come.
Now, this doesn’t mean taking things to such a formal and regimented level that the whole endeavour becomes downright unpleasant. Freedom for experimentation and making it easy as you go along are all part of enjoying a new healthy lifestyle.
What it means is that there are certain things you will have to plan for (and to some extent compensate for) in advance. None of which are a big deal with the right approach, but could quickly scupper your chances of staying plant-based if you fail to take them into account.
Don’t be - it’s all as easy as getting to grips with these 12 golden plant-based cooking tips for new converts:
1. Reinvent Your Old Favourites
First up, the transition away from animal products can be simplified by learning how to put a plant-based twist on your old favourites. There’s really very little you won’t be able to create an absolutely decadent plant-based version of, with a little forethought (and the right ingredients). Stews, casseroles, stir-fries, international cuisine and a ton of desserts - nothing is off the cards. There are even steaks, imitation pork chops and the most convincing veggie-bacon the market has ever seen up for grabs right now, making it that bit easier for those who may otherwise struggle.
2. Master the Art of Properly Cooking Vegetables
At the risk of offending a few folks who know exactly what they are doing, the vast majority of people don’t know how to cook vegetables properly. Or if they do, they’ve mastered getting the job done with perhaps one basic cooking method they never stray from. When you truly master the art of cooking vegetables in different ways, you realise just how delicious and versatile they can be. Compare roasted broccoli to steamed broccoli, stir fried asparagus to boiled asparagus, maybe flame roasted peppers to the raw variety. Or for that matter, even a crispy baked potato to a basic boiled spud - there really is no comparison.
3. Embrace New Ingredients
Rather than being put off by all the weird and wonderful ingredients you’ve never heard of, try to get into the habit of embracing the opportunity for innovation. Learn your way around the block of tofu, but don’t for one minute limit yourself to this one vegan staple alone. Check out what’s available in tins, bottles, jars, packets, making a conscious decision to pick up a few new things each time you go shopping. Once you’ve got them, you’ll have to do something with them - and the results could be amazing.
4. Get An Old-School Cookbook
This is probably going to ruffle a few feathers, but traditional cookbooks are better than online recipes. They just are - there’s something about being able to curl up on the couch with a beautifully presented cookbook and lose yourself in a world of inspired cooking. Not that online recipes aren’t also fantastic, but they just don’t have quite the same ‘soul’ as a traditional cookbook. Some will agree, others will call it a complete waste of money - we’ll leave it up to you to decide!
5. Use Recipes as Basic Blueprints
While it may contradict the above to an extent, it’s nonetheless far more enjoyable to use recipes as basic blueprints only. If you make the unfortunate discovery that half the recipes in a book you’ve bought contain an ingredient you cannot stand, don’t write it off entirely. Experimentation is all part of the enjoyment of embracing new lifestyle choices and a new approach to coping. Feel free to get as experimental as you like, though be sure to jot down what you put in as you never know when your own exclusive million-dollar idea might manifest by accident.
6. Learn How to Make Your Own Staples
This may sound like an old tip from a retailer that sells this kind of stuff, but it can nonetheless be hugely rewarding to learn how to make your own staples. By staples, we mean the basics like plant-based milks, cheeses, butters and so on, which you’ll come to rely on for almost every recipe you cook up. Making your own isn’t about convenience, but more a case of ensuring you never run out. And again, there’s limitless room for experimentation, if you fancy getting a little more creative than the average producer.
7. Get to Know Nutritional Yeast
No self-respecting vegan who enjoys spending time in the kitchen would ever be caught without a decent supply of this stuff. It’s admittedly a strange little product and one that sometimes raises eyebrows at first sight or sniff. Nevertheless, nutritional yeast takes versatility to levels most never would have dreamt possible. It’s a low-sodium substitute for salt, it has a savoury quality that boosts the umami punch of countless dishes and it’s also what’s used to make vegan cheese products taste cheesy. Once you learn how to include nutritional yeast in your recipes, you’ll probably find yourself putting it in everything!
8. Learn How to Veganise Recipes
It takes time, effort and research to get yourself into a position where you can look at almost any recipe and immediately know how to veganise it. You know what to put in to replace the animal protein, which dairy substitutes to use and how much, how to pull off a bake-off-worthy dessert with nothing but plant-based ingredients and so on. It’s at this point that you completely stop seeing vegan cooking and eating as a challenge, with the whole thing having become second nature.
9. Don’t Overstock Your Kitchen
On one hand, buying a decent quantity of vegan staples in bulk can and will save you money. At the same time, it is possible to take things too far when it comes to the sheer variety of things you have in your kitchen. Overstocking unnecessarily isn’t quite the recipe for innovation and creative freedom it may appear. If anything, you’re more likely to find yourself overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Meal-planning to a certain extent is therefore a decent idea, which like buying in bulk will also save you money by cutting down on waste.
10. Treat Yourself to the Gift of Inspiration
You’ve made a positive lifestyle change, you’re contributing to the cause and you’re doing a damn good job so far. You’re therefore more than deserving of a regular treat, so why not seek inspiration for your next recipes by dining out more often? Hit up the best vegan joints in your area, order the most decadent dishes on the menu and set your sights on recreating them at home. This can be a great way of combining a well-deserved reward or two with a valuable lesson in vegan cuisine.
11. Use Soy Sauce in More of Your Recipes
Soy sauce is an absolute dream come true for vegan cooking, and is also the not-so secret ingredient used by the world’s most successful chefs in more dishes than you could possibly believe. Substituting salt for low-sodium soy sauce in just about any savoury dish you can think of takes the umami wallop to new heights. And of course, the fact that there is an absolute ton of different types of soy sauces and infusions available to experiment with is a real bonus.
12. Prep Staples in Advance to Keep Things Simple
Last but not least, the quicker and easier it becomes to knock up dishes you absolutely love, the more enjoyment you will get out of doing so. This is why it can be useful to prep at least some of your ingredients in advance - anything that would otherwise prove time-consuming and laborious on the day. Cook up some rice and use it over the course of the next few days, prepare plenty of dried beans to give you a stockpile to work with and so on. All guaranteed to speed up and simplify your exploits in the kitchen, adding up to an easier ride in general.