Turn Your Favorite Meals Into Plant-Based Recipes with These Tips

Two professional chefs shares their secrets for creating plant-based meals.

For a long time, I rebelled against vegan foods. I had no problem making vegetarian meals, but I had such a hard time living without butter, cheese, and dairy! All of my vegetarian tips and tricks involve these no-no vegan foods, so I just figured eating plant-based meals wasn’t in the cards for me. In the past year, I’ve found myself craving more fruits and vegetables, and it turns out I’m not alone. A recent study revealed that 39 percent of Americans are trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet. If you’re on that list, we’ve got the perfect resource for you: We’ll teach you how to turn your favorite meals into vegan recipes with these tips.

I have a few tricks up my sleeve, but I wanted to make sure we were really giving you the best advice possible. So I reached out to Rob Morasco, the Senior Director Culinary Development at Sodexo USA. Chef Rob is uniquely qualified to help us with this task because Sodexo (one of the largest foodservice companies in the U.S.) just released a whole new set of plant-based menus to hundreds of accounts worldwide. To create their new mindful menus, Chef Rob helped develop 200 plant-based recipes!

Why Eat More Plant-Based Foods?

Before we get into how to turn your favorite meals into vegan recipes with these tips, let’s chat briefly about why more people are looking to vegan recipes. It’s not just vegetarians and vegans anymore, either: No matter what their dietary preference is, many people are looking to put more plant on the plate.

A big part of eating plant-based foods is wellness. For some, it’s all about weight loss–including this couple who lost 230 pounds by becoming vegan! You don’t even have to become a full-time plant-based eater, either. Eating plant-based meals a few times a week will increase your overall nutrient consumption, and it’s also reported to improve energy levels and help you sleep better.

Other than wellness, there are other motivating factors to eat plant-based. Since plants cost less than meat, incorporating a few plant-based meals into your week can help you save a significant amount of money over the course of a year. It can also help you reduce your environmental impact, reducing carbon emissions and water usage (as animal husbandry uses significantly more fresh water than growing plants).

Turn Your Favorite Meals Into Vegan Recipes with These Tips

No matter what your reason is for consuming more a plant-based foods, most people have one giant fear: What if plant-based foods won’t satisfy me and I’ll always be hungry? Following these tips and tricks, we’ll help you make your food taste just as good as those meaty meals. In fact, it’ll be so good, you’ll find it “crave-worthy,” as Chef Rob likes to call it.

Okay already, let’s get to the good stuff: Tips from professional chefs for making your vegan meals taste just as good as your meat-filled favorites. If you have any questions as you read along, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments! We always love hearing from you, especially if your personal experience can help others along in their wellness journey.

1. Use Real Foods Whenever Possible

There’s definitely a time and a place for store-bought analogs–vegan substitutes like breaded “fish” fillets, “chicken” nuggets, or “hamburger” patties. We’ll talk about when you should use those in a minute, but they don’t have to be the center of your plate. Feel free to pick up a few and experiment with them, or try using real foods as substitutes to build flavor into your food.

Ingredients like meaty mushrooms, crunchy nuts, and texture-rich lentils are great ways to create your own analogs without spending extra money at the grocery store. Some of those store-bought substitutes have unpronounceable ingredients, too, so using real foods allows you to control everything you put into your body.

Check out our recipe for Vegan Ground Beef that uses quinoa and walnuts to create the perfect beefy texture. Or, give this Mushroom Lentil Loaf a try. We think it tastes better than the meaty original!

2. Don’t Fear Dairy Alternatives

In general, we’re a big fan of making your own foods whenever possible, but dairy alternatives can be technical and time consuming. Don’t be afraid to stock the fridge with plant-based yogurt or vegan cheese. Chef Rob loves the way these dairy alternatives add texture and depth to your cooking, helping you feel full and satiated after the meal.

We also have some fun dairy-free recipes on the site, including an incredible Dairy-Free Parmesan Cheese that combines cashews and nutritional yeast, and a Dairy-Free Sour Cream that has the same texture as the original! It’s amazing what soaked cashews can add to a plant-based meal.

3. Get Creative and Emulate the Original

Think about the things you love from the original dish and find creative ways to substitute plant-based ingredients. For example, if you’re craving ice cream, think about what makes ice cream taste so good. It’s cold, sweet, creamy, and has a satisfying aftertaste from the fat in the cream. If you used bananas for the sweetness and texture, and added walnuts to create that delicious mouthfeel, you’d have a crave-worthy substitute (and, you only need three ingredients to make our Banana Pudding Ice Cream).

So think about ingredients that work to emulate the textures of the original dish. Avocado is a popular plant-based ingredient for making Vegan Mayonnaise or Fudge Brownies because it’s full of fats (just like eggs or butter). Avocado just happens to be plant-based and healthier than the animal alternatives!

We’ve already talked about cashews, but you can soak them to mimic the texture of cheese or creamy dressings, like Plant-Based Ranch Dressing. Ingredients like tofu or mushrooms are also great at creating meaty texture, making Gardener’s Pie or a Broccoli and Mushroom Stir-Fry just as satisfying as the meaty versions.

4. Keep it Simple

You don’t have to go overboard and spend an hour chopping vegetables to enjoy a plant-based meal. Sometimes, it’s as simple as using a Portobello mushroom instead of a beef patty on your burger. Or, try making chili with beans instead of meat. Don’t overcomplicate it, because that might turn you off from plant-based cooking.

If picking up a few convenience items–like the vegan chicken nuggets or fish fillets we talked about earlier–makes it possible for you to cook plant-based foods, then go for it! You don’t always have to make everything from scratch, especially if this type of cooking is new for you.

5. Stock Your Pantry

We’ve already talked about pantry essentials for your plant based kitchen, so check out that article for a full list of essential ingredients. In addition to your essential herbs, spices, and flavorings, Chef Rob suggests keeping lots of vegetables on hand, but especially mushrooms. They’re easy to cook and they have a great texture that gives you a filling feeling after you eat them.

He also suggests keeping your fridge full of dairy alternatives (like dairy-free milk, plant-based yogurt, and vegan cheeses) and texture-rich items like hummus. If you have those items, a few vegetables, and plant-based grains (like lentil pasta, quinoa, or brown rice) on-hand, there’s nothing you can’t do!

Okay, we’ve just given you a lot of information, so don’t feel like you have to tackle all of these tips at once! If you’re new to plant-based and vegan cooking, it’s okay to take it slow. Start by working with some of the recipes we suggested in this post and expand from there. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to take your favorite recipe and turn your favorite meals into vegan recipes with these tips!

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Chef Lindsay

Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary School, Lindsay worked as the executive chef of a farm-to-table restaurant in Bend, Oregon. She is passionate about using local, organic ingredients and loves teaching home cooks how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to create beautiful meals for her family. She lives with her husband in Colorado, where she enjoys the trials and errors of gardening.

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