Adopting a plant-based diet can seem daunting… at first. If you don’t know an egg replacer from an Eggo waffle, it helps to have a little guidance. And who better to lend a hand than a vegan chef, teacher, and cookbook author?
We talked to Chef Mark Reinfeld, co-author of The 30-Minute Vegan and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Raw, among other books, and teacher of the Vegan Fusion cooking courses, about his top 10 kitchen tips.
Perfect for newbies or vegan veterans, these suggestions will make anyone’s time behind the stove a little (or a lot) easier.
Advance prepping is key, says Reinfeld. Pick a day when you’ve got some free time, and get kitchen tasks out of the way. “Having prepped ingredients on hand makes it easier to create meals on the go,” he says. “You can cut vegetables and store them in a glass container in the fridge. You can also cook a squash, grain, or pot of beans. You can then use these foods in recipes over the next two or three days.”
World spices are a must.
Making your own spice blends means tastier food. “Mexican, Italian, Indian, Moroccan, French and even Ethiopian spice blends are super easy to prepare and allow you design world flavor meals with the flick of a hand,” Reinfeld suggests. “Store spice blends in glass jars in a cool dark place and use within a month or two.”
Make recipes into templates.
Learn to look at recipes as formulas with different interchangeable parts, he says. “By changing an ingredient in a component part, you can create a new recipe and allows you to use whatever ingredients you have on hand. This also allows you to break out of the recipe box. For instance, if you see a recipe for broccoli soup, the broccoli can be viewed as the ‘vegetable component’ of the dish that may be replaced with other veggies you happen to have on hand.”
Build monk bowls.
These go-to meals consist of a grain, a green, and a protein. “With this formula, viewed as a template recipe, you can create thousands of simple and flavor dishes, many of which can be prepared in 30 minutes or less,” says Reinfeld. “For the grain component, rotate different grains such as quinoa (botanically a seed), rice, buckwheat, rice pasta, millet, couscous, etc. The green component can consist of any vegetables of your choosing (think rainbow of colors). These veggies can be raw, roasted, sauteed, grilled, or steamed. For the protein, rotate through any of the legumes, or roasted tempeh or tofu.”
Try new things! Plant-based eating is an adventure, after all. “Experiment with one new ingredient a week or every other week,” Reinfeld offers. “Ask at the grocery store or research online to see how to incorporate the ingredient in your meals. This will allow you to expand your repertoire and further refine your palate with the new flavors and textures you will be experiencing. With more options, you will gain more confidence in your culinary prowess.”
Learn how to make cashew cream.
A super versatile ingredient, it’s easier to make than most people think. “To prepare, soak raw cashews in water for 30 minutes up to a few hours. Rinse and drain well, discarding the soak water. Transfer to a strong blender or food processor, add water to reach desired consistency. Once blended, you can take this puree in a sweet direction by adding desired sweetener to taste and serving with your desserts as a vegan cream. You can also take it in a savory direction, creating vegan cheese, by adding nutritional yeast, fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste. The soaked cashews can also replace the oil in dressings to create creamy oil-free dressings.
Start simple with soups.
Soup stock is a super simple kitchen staple to make, and it’ll add to the flavor of sauces, soups, grain dishes and more, Reinfeld says. Plus, it saves you from buying expensive, commercially made stocks. “To prepare, add 6 to 8 cups of vegetable trimmings to a large stock pot filled with cold water and simmer on low temperature for 45-60 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to about 50-75% of its volume. Strain well. The stock may be frozen and defrosted for future use. You can even pour broth into ice cube trays, freeze and use as needed. Try using trimmings from potatoes, celery, carrots, tomatoes, onions, parsley, mushrooms, parsnip, zucchini, leeks, corn cobs and garlic. Many avoid using vegetables that become bitter such as bell peppers, radishes, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. As far as herbs, the only one I use freely is parsley. You can use a few stalks of other herbs such as thyme, fennel, oregano, dill, basil, or marjoram. Keep in mind that too much of these herbs can overpower the stock. If you find that you do not have so many trimmings to use, you can keep a bag or small bucket in the freezer to save the trimmings. Once you have enough accumulated to fill a stock pot, get your soup stock going.”
Keep a well-stocked pantry.
Make sure your cupboards have some key ingredients. “Top items for me include includes nutritional yeast, which provides a nutty and cheesy flavor, as well as b-vitamins and protein; wheat-free tamari, a soy sauce which is a by-product of the miso making process and provides the umami flavor profile, which brings out the flavor of many other ingredients; and chipotle chile powder, one of my top tier spices because of the smoky heat it adds to dishes. Other favorite staples include quinoa, legumes, rice pasta, and coconut milk. Experiment until you find your favorites.”
Buddy up in the kitchen.
Food is better with friends, and so is preparing it. Togetherness in the kitchen can make the cooking experience way easier and more fun. “You can also learn from each other and enhance your skills in the kitchen,” he says. “Consider joining or hosting potlucks where others are contributing towards the meal so you get to experience the culinary creations of your friends.”
Celebrate your success.
Cooking should be a pleasure — not a chore. “Play your favorite music, keep a clean workspace, even do a little jig and cultivate gratitude while preparing your food with love. If you wish, think of the incredible positive impact that plant based meals have on our planet: preserving the environment, supporting human health, and protecting innocent animals. Let those good vibes enter into the food. Your guests will notice the difference.”
Ready to hit the kitchen? Check out our quick meal ideas for lots of ways to get started!