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Friday, March 6, 2009

Easy Vegan - Getting Started

Okay, so maybe you're finally convinced that reducing your consumption of animal products is a good idea. Awesome! But now what???

Inspired by Skila's comment on my last post, I'm launching a series called 'Easy Vegan'. Skila writes, "Tell me an easy cookbook or website for vegetarian meals that you like. Here's what I mean by easy - small amount of ingredients, basic stuff here, no hour long prep. I HATE to cook... Get me started. P.S. Without the 'fake meat' would be even better."

Your wish is my command. This will be the first in an ongoing series of posts aimed at inspiring and guiding the veg-curious (but possibly culinarily-challenged) along the path to a more plant-based diet. I'm going to focus on practical, easy ideas and recipes to make the transition as smooth as possible.

First, I'd like to point out that reducing your intake of animal products does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Of course, I am a strong proponent of a vegan diet, and I will always encourage that choice; however, I realize that it may not be realistic for every person at this moment in time. But as one of my vegan idols often says, "Don't do nothing because you can't do everything." In other words, if you don't feel able to make a huge change, make small changes instead. Pledge to reduce your meat consumption by half, or eliminate animal products from your diet during two meals a day - whatever works for you. Any movement in that direction is an improvement, and who knows, once you experience the amazing foods, health benefits, and peace of mind that comes with eating vegetarian some of the time, you might just be inspired to take the full-time plunge.

Moving on... let's talk about familiar foods. Swapping out your old omnivorous standards for healthier vegan options doesn't have to feel totally foreign and unfamiliar. Start with what you already know and like; many of the typical foods enjoyed by most American families can easily be made vegan or vegetarian. Consider the following:
  • Pizza - vegetarian toppings for pizzas are plentiful and delicious, from veggies such as onions, bell peppers, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and olives, to tofu- and seitan-based 'meats', if you like that sort of thing!
  • Burritos - in fact, almost all Mexican foods are easily veganized - think tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, fajitas, layered dip, nachos... heat up some beans, chop up a few veggies, throw on some salsa, and you're done! If you have a bit more time, rice is a nice addition, as well as sauteed or roasted veggies for an extra boost of vitamins and minerals.
  • Pastas - spaghetti is a no-brainer here - either a simple marinara sauce over noodles, with some bread and a salad on the side, or with some mix-ins... veggie 'meat' balls (available in the frozen foods section), chopped veggies (zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach...). Asian pasta dishes also lend themselves well to the vegan touch - veggie stir-fries, either with or without tofu or seitan, pad thai, etc.
  • Burgers - whether you opt to make your own or buy one of the myriad varieties now available pre-made, your options here are endless. Go traditional with all the fixings, or try one of my family's favorites, a 'Luigi burger' - top your burger patty with caramelized onions, marinara sauce, and vegan mozzarella.
  • Baked Goods - granted, most baked goods are already free of meat, but you can still do better - swapping out eggs and dairy products for more healthful (and certainly more humane) vegan alternatives is as easy as pie (ha ha). Milk is an easy one - simply replace dairy milk with soy, almond, rice, or hemp milk. Eggs can take a little more experimenting, but you have several options - egg replacer, flax seeds, applesauce, and bananas can all be used successfully in place of eggs. I recommend 'The Joy of Vegan Baking' for simple baked goods recipes and some great basic information on stocking a vegan kitchen and making substitutes for dairy and eggs.
I could go on (and on, and on), but I'd better save some information for future posts.

I'd love for this series to be interactive and collaborative, so please, if you're among the ranks of the currently-omnivorous-but-veg-curious, leave a comment letting me know what information I can share that would be most helpful to you at this stage of your journey. And to my readers who are already enjoying the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, please chime in with suggestions for books, websites, or specific recipes that you think qualify as 'Easy Vegan'!

I don't want to ramble on too long, so I'll wrap up this first installment with a plug for VegWeb, a website with tons of vegan recipes that are conveniently categorized and searchable. Skila, you might want to check out their 'Quick and Easy' section.


Becci said...

Heehee, this post made me kind of hungry.

Skila said...

Oh, quick...uh...I ask for a trip to Europe! No, wait....uh....I ask for a full time chef....or, maybe at the spa!

(I just thought I would try it since you are granting wishes.) :)

Now I'm off to check out recipes...

winterskeeper said...

Can you talk about some of your best cheese alternatives, please? Preferably the kind that still melts for cooking. Oh, and is there a replacement for soft cheeses, such as brie or camembert for crackers and sourdough slices?

Tamara said...

Ooh, that's a great idea, Rebecca - thanks for the suggestions! I have some really good ideas for that post but I don't want to give them all away... stay tuned.

vko said...

Loving the Easy Vegan post- what a great way to show non vegans how easy it can be and yes, I believe in baby steps...

Tami said...

I agree that it can be hard to quit eating meat "cold turkey" and I think it’s great that you're helping others reduce their meat intake gradually. Cutting out meat even once a week lowers your risk for many preventable illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
I just started working for a non-profit campaign called Meatless Monday which tries to educate Americans about the environmental and health benefits of removing meat from their diets once a week. We have lots of tasty recipes in the archive on our website which will hopefully help make the transition easier. You can check them out at