Usually, I write or speak about how to successfully transition to a healthy vegan diet, but the main impetus for making that transition is to first and foremost make the transition to a delicious vegan diet. There are, of course, those people who can eat simply for nutrition and fuel and ignore the pleasure side of food, but those people are completely alien to me. Their way lies chaos and madness and, for most other people, failure and guilt because we all know when we fail at a healthy dietary change, there is quite a bit of guilt that accompanies said failure. I know, I’ve been there. And we all know that, deep down, most of us eat not necessarily because we’re hungry, but because the food tastes good. If it doesn’t taste good, we don’t stick with it for very long. That’s why it is vitally important to make any dietary change a delicious dietary change and with vegan cuisine, it’s not that hard. This series of articles will cover some of the most important tips and tricks I’ve found over the last nine years that worked for both me and my students. Speaking of which, on to your first tip!
Go Overboard with Flavor
I often liken eating meat and dairy to having a strobe light flashed in your face. You can still see, but the strobe effect drowns out all color and turns the world into a surreal panorama dominated by the strobe. After the strobe light ceases, you may find yourself in a disorienting adjustment period. The same is true with your palate, except that instead of having trouble seeing, you may encounter trouble discerning the more subtle flavors of some vegan cuisine. Fortunately, there is an easy way to make that adjustment and that’s to overload your food with flavor and with vegan cuisine, that’s not a hard thing to do. There are so many bold ingredients available to kick your meals up to an intensely pleasure filled experience! My favorite spices include smoked paprika, chili powders of all kinds, but particularly chipotle powder, cumin, coriander, cracked pepper, and a variety of salts. I also love garlic and caramelized onions, mushrooms of all types, and black beans. For herbs, I find myself using fresh thyme, followed by sage, and then oregano in frequency of use. I also absolutely love avocadoes, mangoes, and sweet potatoes. Each of these ingredients carry strong flavors that will make your food pop and sing (if you can’t handle heat, the chipotle powder will make your food pop and make you cry, so be careful!)
Not only should you try using the above ingredients, I suggest using them in prodigious amounts. The rule should be, if you’re not sure there’s enough of a particular spice, add more. It’s better to overdo it than under do it until you become accustomed to the way various flavors work with veggie intensive dishes. This is particularly true if you are using dishes with beans, lentils, and potatoes as they all cut flavors tremendously. When using those ingredients, my general rule is that if I think there’s enough spice in the food, I add a touch more. Don’t worry about measuring or getting the proportions exact.
There are also a couple techniques I use to maximize flavor. First, I love caramelized (that means browned) onions. Don’t be afraid to make your onions overly dark as it’s rare that it will ever adversely affect a dish. To do this, crank your stove up to a medium high heat and add the onions. Wait for them to start to brown, then give them a stir, and leave them alone for a minute or so. The exposure to the direct heat of the pan is what gets them browned and every time you stir them, you reduce the contact the onions have with the pan. They will eventually caramelize if you keep stirring them, but it takes about ten minutes instead of four to five. Once they are heavily browned, add a very thin layer of water to the pan, stir, let the water evaporate, and you’re done! Super easy and incredibly effective. I also use lots of smoked foods and if you’ve got a wood fire grill and you’ve got the time, you can make smoked portabellas, smoked zucchini, BBQ, and a host of other goodies. The flavor is intense and ruggedly divine. It’s also a proven way to win over family members that still might be stuck in the meat mentality. Finally, go for sauces that pack a lot of flavor punch. A good sauce can carry a dish and a strong sauce will leave you extra satisfied.
Below is one of my favorite transition recipes and one of my favorite recipes in general. This is a black bean chili in a fire roasted tomato and roasted red pepper sauce. Stay tuned for my next tip, how to lose your fear of the kitchen!
Fire Roasted Black Bean Chili
8 oz. of crushed fire roasted tomatoes
½ of a roasted red bell pepper
¼ to ½ tsp. of salt (this varies by individual taste)
1 tsp. of ground cumin
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. of chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. of olive oil
Water or ale
¼ cup of chili powder (mild if you need it)
2 cups of cooked, rinsed black beans
Puree the fire roasted tomatoes, roasted pepper, salt, and cumin together and set the sauce aside.
Dice the onion.
Mince the garlic.
Chop the oregano.
Over a medium high heat, sauté the onion with the oil until the onion is very heavily browned.
Add the garlic and oregano and sauté for 30 seconds, stirring slowly the whole time.
Splash some water or ale into the pot until there is a very thin layer of liquid (about ¼ of an inch).
Reduce the heat to medium.
Immediately stir and let the liquid evaporate (this will happen quickly).
Add the chili powder to the pot and immediately stir if, stirring for about 15 seconds.
Add the roasted tomato and pepper sauce and stir.
Add the beans.
Reduce this to a simmer.
Simmer for at least 5 minutes, but preferably 10.