This month we want to share some tips to help make vegan cooking at home quick and easy. In this article Lisa “interviews” Barbie and Emma, asking them some of the questions that we often get asked at the retreat. Lisa, owner and founder of La Crisalida Retreats, designs the menus and has studied nutrition. Barbie is one of our fabulous chef’s, who delivers tasty plant-based vegan food to our guests and comes up with some of the recipes. Emma is one of our health and wellbeing mentors, who has studied raw vegan nutrition and loves to share her passion.
Question. If someone is new to vegan cooking, what would be your tips to help them get started?
Lisa: Think about your favourite vegetables and grains. If you love courgette, carrots and rice, take a look on the internet to find a recipe that combines these items – there are lots out there. Think about your favourite herbs or spices (I love coriander and ginger), so start with the things you know and love. Build from there. Find a local restaurant that offers vegan dishes and try a few. We have some great recipes on our blog, scroll through, pick one that you like the sound of and try that. I would probably not try to incorporate dried beans into my dishes at first, but lentils are easy, versatile and can be added to most dishes.
Barbie: I would look around the internet, to see what other people suggest to make your meals. There are lots of different things you can make: dips, raw, cooked, “burgers” and so on. There are many great plant-based and vegan cooks sharing recipes on the web, Instagram is a great place to start.
Emma: If you are new, start simply. Work out which flavours work well together, and then you can build and experiment dishes around that. If you are unsure, flick through magazines and cookbooks. I love using Pinterest too for loads of ideas.
Question. What are your top tips for saving time for vegan cooking?
Sometimes it can feel that vegan cooking takes time – to buy the ingredients, to prepare everything and then to cook. It seems to take a long time and after a busy day it’s the last thing you might want to do.
Barbie: Prepare what you can upfront. Pre-soak beans overnight – make more than just one meal, you can “can” the beans for next time. Use last night’s left over stir fry vegetables to add into today’s lunch – add to veggie burgers, or make into a soup. This gives you two very different meals with not much more effort. Make a basic dressing. Store in your fridge and add different things to it to change the flavour, e.g. mustard, herbs etc.
Emma: I find planning ahead is the best way to make the most out of your time. I like to plan a 5-day menu. This way I know if I have to soak anything in advance, and slowly it becomes habit. Slow cookers are a fantastic invention too. Especially if you are a busy parent or have a stressful work day!
Lisa: Planning and preparation helps. Double the amount of vegetables that you prepare and cook. For example, if you plan to cook roast vegetables, double the portion – this will make a stunning soup the next day (simply add some stock or water, heat, blitz using your hand blender and serve). Buy containers that you can put in your freezer – most things freeze, including our veggie bean burgers and hummus.
Question. Any tips on how to make food tasty or add flavour?
Emma: I like to use a wide variety of fresh herbs. Spices and different oils are great too. For example, I love using sesame oil for Asian style food. Coconut oil also imparts a wonderful subtle flavour, that most recently I have been pairing with turmeric. If cheese is what you miss on a vegan diet, then nutritional yeast may end up being your new favourite friend!
Lisa: When using herbs I would pick one, maximum two for a dish – adding too many herbs in one dish can lead to a confusing taste. Sometimes fewer ingredients are actually better. I always add lemon to my food – I prefer this to salt. Remember, seasoning includes: lemon, lime, herbs, spices, pepper, not just salt! Toasting or roasting nuts can also add flavour.
Barbie: Make a “stock”. One way is to blend raw garlic, raw onion, spices or herbs all together. You can add this into soups and stews. Adding lemon to food also brings out flavours.
Question. How do I bring variety into my diet?
There are a limited number of fruits and vegetables available, so it feels like vegan cooking can be restrictive.
Lisa: When creating menus here at the retreat I try to include something from each group for each meal: carbs / grains (sweet potato, potato, rice, millet, buckwheat, couscous, polenta, rice noodles, quinoa), protein (lentils, chickpeas, tofu, white / black / red beans) plus some vegetable dishes. Adding nuts, seeds, dried fruits can change the dish, plus using different herbs and spices. Then think different textures (crunch, gooey, soft, chunky, dry, wet) and shapes.
Emma: Nowadays, with the rise of supermarkets you can find all sorts of weird and wonderful fruits and vegetables to widen your palate. However, this can increase costs and means you’re not really eating local and seasonal, which I believe isn’t really the best for our bodies or the environment. To bring variety think about eating the rainbow, this will ensure you are getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as flavours and textures.
Barbie: Think of what to do with your vegetables, you can mask, grill, steam, boil, roast, or eat raw. For example, carrots. You can make carrot “fries” (long thin shape, grilled or roasted), make into a dip (e.g. creamy carrot dip), add into burgers, eat raw with hummus, long stew carrots with tarragon (allow to brown, add tarragon plus some water and cook over a very low heat for 90 minutes). If you love carrots and want some ideas, read our article “ten recipe ideas for carrots”.
Question. What is your favourite piece of equipment in your vegan kitchen and why?
Barbie: I have two: my personal favourites are a hand blender and a mandolin. The hand blender because you can do so many different foods with it (soups, burgers, dips like hummus). The mandolin because you can make different shapes with the vegetables. When it’s not possible to use a mandolin, you can do it with the knife.
Lisa: It has to be a blender. I love soups and dips so a good blender (either hand blender or kitchen top blender / food processor) is essential. I started with a relatively cheap blender and then, as I realised how much I used it, I upgraded to a more expensive version with different accessories, which gives me flexibility and variety in the meals I serve.
Emma: Food processor. I love to make raw vegan food, and my own nut milk at home. With a good blender I can do all of this quickly and easily – chuck it in and press ´go´!
Question. What products or ingredients would you consider core in your vegan store-cupboard?
Emma: In my cupboard I have nuts, seeds, oils and un-sulphured dried fruits. In my fridge, I always have a homemade soup on the go. Vegan pesto can be expensive so I have taken to making my own, it’s so simple and delicious. I get through a lot of courgettes, they are so diverse! We share five ideas on one of our articles about courgettes here. Sauerkraut is a new favourite too. Plus, I have lots of pots of herbs; I have to admit I am not very green fingered but luckily I have wonderful housemates that keep them alive!
Barbie: Garlic, mustard, lemon, ginger, nuts and seeds.
Lisa: I love lentils and rice so these are my store cupboard staples. I always have some dried herbs and spices: in particular oregano, cumin, ground coriander and basil. A good quality olive oil is also essential. In my fridge, you will always find lemon and ginger, plus broccoli and courgette. I try to keep a tub of hummus there too, for snacking with celery.
Question. What utensils do you think are particularly useful?
Barbie: A sharp kitchen knife of course, is a worthwhile investment and a peeler. A grater is also really useful.
Lisa: A lemon squeezer is one of the most used items in my kitchen, in addition to a large kitchen knife, large chopping board and a blender. A couple of decent pans, one large roasting tray and a wooden spoon would mean I could create almost everything I enjoy eating.
Emma: I think a good blender is an essential, but you could get away with a stick blender. Garlic press (someone once told me pressing garlic is better for you than chopping as it releases a particular enzyme. Also, I hate chopping those pesky things!). Spiralizers are fun, particularly if you want to try raw food. I recently bought a mandolin which has been amazing for creating vegetable lasagne sheets, or apple slices to turn into ´crisps´.
Question. How do you control the cost? There’s an impression that vegan cooking is expensive. Is this true and if so, how do I control the costs?
Emma: To make things cheaper buy seasonal, and from greengrocers as opposed to supermarkets, it´s incredible the difference in cost! For things like beans, pulses, & grains, it tends to work out cheaper if you buy them dried and soak them yourself (as opposed to tins), it can be a little cheaper if you buy them in bulk too.
Barbie: A good way is to buy seasonal fruit and vegetables. It’s many times cheaper than others. Make your own products! Like mustard, tahini. Buy dried beans and cook them, can them yourself. You can keep the cost of vegan food to almost the same level of other food costs.
Lisa: As Emma and Barbie said, the best way is to buy local seasonal products and buy in bulk. We have a weekly market here in Spain so you can pick up some bargains! I used to go to the local market when I lived in Croydon, London and came back with enough vegetables for two people for a week. I actually think cooking from core ingredients can make it cheaper than buying lots of prepacked, precooked food. I tend not to buy the premade “vegan” alternatives, as I prefer to avoid processed food as much as I can. If you do buy veggies in bulk, you can roast them and put them into the freezer to make a soup or dip at a later date.
Question. How do I make the food attractive?
Emma: Eat the rainbow! Always aim to have at least 3 different colours per meal, this way things don’t look so bland. Aim for fresh foods, not only will it look better, but it will taste better and offer you more nutrients than the pre-chopped, pre-packaged version.
Barbie: To make your food attractive, it’s all about the colours and shapes. Veggies come in many different colours, combine them together, so it’s already nice and colourful. Adding herbs and spices
Lisa: We all eat with our eyes. As Emma and Barbie said, use different colours and shapes. Think about how you serve the food. Sometimes a sprinkle of chopped parsley on the top of a soup or burgers can bring colour, as well as taste. Treat yourself to some lovely plates and dishes for serving up.
Question. Do you have any other tips that could help someone new to vegan cooking?
Emma: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Play and experiment. Taste as you go, and remember you can always add more in terms of herbs and spices but once it’s in, it’s in! Remember to make fun vegan ´treat´ food every so often too, it doesn’t have to be all vegetables curry and salads. Last year for my birthday I had a vegan chocolate torte, and oh my! For fresh new inspiration I follow vegan foodies on Instagram, this way I always I have new ideas and exciting dishes to tempt my palate, that way I don’t even notice not having animal products in my diet.
Lisa: When you are new to vegan cooking, it does take a change in mindset and you do need to think outside the box. It takes practice. Sometimes you can create a vegan version of your favourite dish – for example I loved chili con carne, but no longer wanted to eat ground beef. Now, sometimes I replace the beef with lentils, other times I simply add more vegetables into it or more beans. By using the herbs and spices I get the taste I love, and feel better after eating it!
Barbie: Enjoy the cooking and have fun with the way you go about putting your plate of food together. Don’t be scared – use all kinds of herbs and spices. Eating healthy and good food makes everyone happy!
We hope that you find these tips useful! Each month La Crisalida Retreats publishes one vegan recipe on our blog. You can sign up to receive this recipe into your inbox, through our monthly newsletter, which also includes tips and ideas for your health and wellbeing. See the box “sign up for our newsletter”. Have fun with your vegan cooking.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).