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10 Easy Vegan Meal Ideas

Today I wanted to interrupt the flow of my schooling posts to offer 10 easy vegan meal ideas made with few ingredients and minimal effort.  Since I’m living away from home for a month, and I have access to a kitchen (happily!), I don’t have any spices or seasonings or any of that good stuff like I do in my kitchen back home.  Obviously I’m not about to go buy a big stock of pantry staples, so my meals have been very simple, made from only a handful of ingredients, most of them garden-fresh.

Oh, and I have no measuring tools, so everything is done “wing-it” style.  Woo hoo!

First of all, let’s look at the few pantry items I did purchase, which should last me the month:

Must-have Mains:

-Bread (frozen because I go through it so slow)
-Almond butter
-Brown rice (from Vida Vegan Con)
-Noodles
-Nori (seaweed for sushi)
-Almonds
-Sunflower seeds

Condiments:

-Tamari/soy sauce
-Rice vinegar
-Asian chili sauce
-Hummus
-Miso
-Ketchup
-Sweetener
-Kimchi (Korean sauerkraut)
-Olive oil
-Celtic sea salt

It’s fairly clear that my ingredients have some semblance of a theme – I stuck to simple Asian seasonings (tamari, miso, rice vinegar, etc) because it would be impossible to obtain enough seasonings to make Mexican food one day, Indian the next, and so on.  So I picked Asian and rolled with it.

Ketchup doesn’t really fit the theme, but I love the stuff so I got it anyway.  And I have all of the ingredients to make up some veggie burgers, which ketchup shall go nicely with.  Also potatoes.  Ketchup and potatoes are BFF.

I also want to mention that while my kitchen is not stocked, it does have a few handy appliances – namely, a stove and a cheap blender.  So if you have those two things, then you’ll be good to go.

Now with all that in mind, along with some fresh goodies from the farmers market (and vegan sausages…I wanted a treat), here are some easy meals I threw together.

#1: Sausage and Avocado Sandwiches

What do you do when you have bread, vegan sausage and perfectly ripe avocados?  Make toasted sandwiches, of course.  Hummus and ketchup found their way into this, and it was quite heavenly.  It would have been nice with mustard, but there’s no way I could get through a whole jar of it in a month.  
#2: Vegetable Broth

Veggie broth is so, so easy to make from scratch, but I always forget that.  When you’re low on ingredients, it’s as easy as buying onions, carrots, celery and herbs from the farmers market, roughly chopping them and throwing them in a pot with water to cover.  After letting it simmer a good hour, strain the veggie goodness and chuck the pulp, or compost it if you’re cool.  Then salt it up to your taste!

Mmm, I could drink this stuff straight-up, but it was also good with some kimchi stirred in.  So much more nutritious than bouillon cubes, and so much more nourishing.

#3: Sausage Soup

When you have vegan sausage and vegetable broth in your kitchen, the natural thing to do is to pair the two.  I made a single-serving portion by frying up some sausage, softening some kale (more on that below), and heating up some of that awesome broth.

#4: Veggie Soup, Kale Salad and Bread with Hummus

A meal fit for kings and queens!  With all of that extra broth, I whipped up a batch of soup which used random veggies like sweet potato, broccoli and red bell pepper, along with some red lentils to add yumminess and thicken the broth.  Of course I had to toss some sausage in there, too!  And over on the right hand side of the plate is kimchi, hanging out and adding a nice tangy bite when I wanted it.

#5: Miso Soup, Kale Salad and More Hummus

I like having miso in the fridge, because I like drinking it as soup and also using it as a condiment for other things, since it has such a nice sweet-salty flavor.  And some more hummus bread, this time with fresh tomato slices – I could eat that by itself!

For the kale salad, it’s really as simple as shredding some kale and tossing it with some salt, lemon juice, a pinch of sweetener and some avocado.  What made it amazing for me was the addition of the Asian chili sauce that I purchased (and will never get through in a month, despite my efforts).  Get your hands in there and massage it so that the leaves soften and it gets all delicious.  I could eat kale salad every day, for real.

#6: Swiss Chard

Kale’s not the only green in my life, however.  How can I resist a gorgeous, organic, full-bodied bundle of swiss chard?  After eating some heavier food samples during the day in school, all I really wanted was a big bowl of something green and this hit the spot.  Sauteed with garlic, I completed the dish with some lemon juice and a pinch of salt and sweetener.

#7: Sushi

I couldn’t buy all that nori and then not make sushi.  In fact, sushi was what I was craving as soon as I arrived in Fort Bragg, and was the first thing I made.  I filled my first batch with brown rice and veggies, and this second batch was made with sprouts and shredded kale.  Dunked in a little tamari and with a side of ginger, it made a yummy meal the first time, second time, and third time.  I have about 1 more batch worth of nori left – maybe I’ll make it happen this weekend.

#8: Stir-Fry

I love me a stir-fry, and I made sure I had all the ingredients for a good Asian sauce – almond butter, tamari, lemon juice, sweetener, garlic and chili sauce – and lots of veggies to go on top.  And noodles, of course.  There’s even some tofu cubes in there, which were just marinated and then tossed with all of the veggies in the fry pan.  What makes it beautiful is the sunflower sprouts, which I found at the farmers market.  P.S. The farmers market here rocks.

#9: Pesto Pasta

Pesto!  Seriously, pesto!  Finding nice basil in Saskatchewan is a mission in itself, but here in California, it’s everywhere and it’s cheap.  So I had to make pesto.  And it’s really as simple as blending a bunch of basil with olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon juice.  With fresh heirloom tomatoes served with the pasta, it was a perfect supper.

#10 – Pesto Toast

I had a bunch of leftover pesto, so I decided to use it like a condiment and enjoyed it on toast.  This was breakfast one morning, and was totally satisfying.  The school feeds us hearty smoothies every morning, but that day I just felt like something extra.

All the meals I mentioned are so easy that you can make them with a bare fridge and no measuring spoons.  As long as you have a fairly good idea of what tastes good and what doesn’t (be careful when adding fresh garlic to pesto, for example), this is all pretty foolproof.

Toward the end of the month, I plan on doing another post like this, since there are many more simple meals in my future.

What simple meals can you whip up from your head, with minimal effort?

Health and Nutrition, Menus

Variation in Vegan Food

Recently I was asked if I found enough variation in my daily eats by being vegan. This question caught me off-guard, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t do a very good job answering it – I tend to only find an answer I’m happy with long after the question has been asked. However, now that I’ve had time to ponder the question, there’s quite a bit I want to say about this. I definitely understand where the question is coming from – when one is used to eating animals and their fluids on a daily basis, it’s hard to perceive anything aside from perpetual hunger. The part that gets me is that I eat a more varied diet than most omnivores I know.

For many people, you’ll find the same 10 meals appear over and over again, on a daily basis. It’s possible to make a top 10 list and cover 95% of what people eat on a regular basis. Back in my vegetarian days, I had my very own list of foods perpetually rotated:

1. Veggie burgers
2. Pasta with tomato sauce and veggies (sometimes with veggie sausage or ground round)
3. Instant noodles
4. Grilled cheese sandwiches
5. Veggie sandwich (with mayo and mustard, sometimes hummus, and sometimes veggie ‘meat’)

6. Veggie dogs

7. Canned soups (usually beany ones)
8. Cereal (the sugar-laden kind) with soy milk

9. Pizza – mostly take-out, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without

10. Perogies

By the end of that list, I was really exhausting my memory, stretching to come up with ideas. I really didn’t eat many foods. Back in Logan’s omnivore days, he would mainly eat PB & J sandwiches, broccoli, pizza (he worked at a pizza place), perogies, chicken fingers, apples, bananas, noodles, cereal and boiled sausages. My roommate subsists on a diet consisting of fried eggs, instant granola, deli meat sandwiches, subs, boiled sausages, fried hash browns, veggies and ranch dip, canned soup, fruit smoothies with yogurt, and gluten-free pasta with cream alfredo sauce. Do you think you could sum up 95% of your daily food intake with 10 foods?

I am NOT saying that eating the same foods over and over is bad, though when I look at my list, I can easily see ways in which I could have improved my choices. What I’m saying is that MOST people do not eat a varied diet. I think what this person was really wondering is simply, ‘what the heck do I eat?’

If you’re the kind of person who orders take-out and eats in restaurants a lot, you’ve likely noticed there are usually slim-to-none vegan options on a menu. Your average restaurant tends to focus on meat and cheese, with vegetables often an afterthought. From this perspective, of course a vegan diet seems limiting. As an omnivore, you can choose anything off the entire menu, having sometimes more than forty choices. As a vegan, you’re lucky if you can find one option without ordering ‘off’ the menu.

Being vegan can also seem limiting if you like to grab snacks at the convenience store or vending machine. I can safely assure you that none of those chocolate bars are vegan (there are rare exceptions), and lots of the candy contains things like gelatin (made from ground horse and cow hooves). You have the most selection with potato chips, though ‘cheddar and onion’ or ‘sour cream and onion’ are out. Incidentally, Logan was eating some chips with friends that were bacon-flavoured, yet they were vegan.

If you don’t do a lot of home cookin’, you’ll sometimes encounter trouble in the grocery isles. Many packaged dips and dressing contain cream or egg (and lots of other unpleasant stuff). Even the ‘soy cheese’ most mainstream stores sell contains casein. Many loaves of bread contain egg or honey, and a seemingly endless amount of products contain the ever-ambiguous ‘milk ingredients’, even in the things you would never suspect, like Aunt Jemima syrup (only one variation). The entire dessert isle is out, unless you want Oreos or Fudgeos, though there are definitely debates about even those.

Being vegan DOES seem limiting when you look at it in this way. Some may say it seems like a downright pain in the ass. However, there is a very, very MASSIVE plus side to this that many people do not realize.

That vending machine at my work? I don’t go near it anymore. Being vegan means being a label-reader, especially in the early days, so aside from the fact that most of the snacks contain animal products, I’ve also been well-acquainted with the mile-long ingredient lists and the oodles of fat, salt and sugar in these products. I used to mindlessly purchase chocolate bars, usually several a week. Now I no longer do, except when I splurge on a bar of dark chocolate, which is not as easily accessible as all the other junk food I’m surrounded by. I do not view that as a bad thing – I’m sure my health is better for it.

One of the real gifts that veganism granted me is a love of cooking, and a reason to explore a wide variety of foods. I wanted to help the animals and the planet, but I didn’t ever want to be deprived of delicious food. So I had to learn how to cook delicious food without using animal products. I started small, and still ate the foods in my top-10 list on a regular basis, but slowly I was able to phase out some things and alter others. Over time, I developed competency in the kitchen and good health as a result. When there are donuts in the staff room, I pass. I make all my own desserts, so I don’t make them too often. Since many restaurant menus are far too animal-centric, I cook 99% of my meals at home, where I get to control things like oil and salt. This is something I am really proud of, and makes me feel great! So while some might consider my choices to be limited, I view it as a blessing.
So no, I don’t feel my diet lacks variation. My diet is wonderfully varied! I couldn’t even dream of writing you a top-10 list anymore. I love soups, and have recently made ‘roasted broccotato soup with chickpea croutons‘ and ‘creamless cream of asparagus soup‘. When I’m not enjoying a smoothie for breakfast, there are many options like ‘banana soft-serve overnight oats‘, a ‘banana pancake sandwich‘, and scrambled tofu, alongside baked potatoes, of course. And don’t even get me started on the life-altering burritos that we eat about once a week. Then there’s pizza, veggie burgers and pasta, remakes of old favourites with endless variations. Rice bowls (or quinoa bowls, or any other grain) make a regular appearance in our house, with different sauces, like salsa or teriyaki. This is where tofu usually gets to star, marinated in soy sauce and baked in the oven until browned. Perfection! And, oh, sandwiches, usually with homemade brown bread – so many choices! And that doesn’t even include dessert. Oh, dessert, with all your pies and cupcakes and cakes and cookies

If you’re still not convinced that being vegan can have lots of variation and excitement, I urge you to check out these recipes, or these. Here you’ll find everything you already enjoy eating and then some, only veganified. All it takes is a little initiative to make your own food, which might seem like a big time investment, but is rewarding on so many levels.

Until next time 🙂