Top 10 tips for vegetarian cooking

Planning to try out a vegetarian recipe but aren’t feeling confident that it’ll turn out good?

Thinking of making the switch to a vegetarian diet but aren’t quite ready to change the way you cook?

Here are ten tips for better vegetarian cooking that’ll have you prepared for next Meatless Monday!

Don’t just remove meat – replace its goodness!

Whether you’re making a one-off meat-free meal or going vegetarian full-time, just removing the meat from your meal and leaving the rest as-is won’t do.

Without adding something extra to fill the culinary gap left by the missing meat, your dish may taste a bit bland, and also lack some of the essential nutrition required for a human body to operate at peak efficiency.

Shemiji Mushroom Toast with Perfect Poached Eggs by Sara Y

To make up for a lack of meat in the diet, replace meats with nutritious ingredients such as quinoa, tofu, mushrooms, nuts, eggs, dairy, soy and legumes.

When well-prepared and well-balanced, these ingredients can be just as tasty as meat, and provide a similar level of nutritional value.

Don’t try to exactly recreate the meat experience

While vegetarian cooking does try to replace meat in a nutritional sense, trying to do so in a literal sense can leave you disappointed.

Even the most carefully-crafted meat substitute (e.g. tofu dogs in place of hot dogs) doesn’t have the same taste or texture as the original meat.  This doesn’t make them bad – just don’t go into a vegetarian meal expecting an identical experience to a meat dish.

 

Rather than trying to exactly recreate meat dishes using non-meat ingredients, try to create meals that provide the same nutritional benefits of meat while sticking to vegetarian ingredients.

Be open-minded and prepared for some fresh new experiences!

Balance each meal

People who have made the switch to vegetarian or vegan diets know the importance of keeping a close eye on the nutritional content of your meals.

A human body needs a lot of different vitamins and minerals to survive and thrive, and different ingredients contain different levels of these nutrients, making it important to include a variety of different foods with each meal.

Try to learn about your food’s nutritional content from an expert, and make sure that each meal includes a balance of different ingredients so that it offers everything the body needs, and isn’t a chore to eat.

For example, if you were wanting to up your protein intake, rather than chowing down on brocolli and brocolli alone, balance it out with some mushrooms and quinoa – your tastebuds will thanks us!

Give yourself extra time to cook

This is pretty good advice for learning any new style of cooking.  Even if you’re a pretty smooth operator in the kitchen, adapting your current skills to suit a whole different culinary tradition can be a challenge.

If you’ve got hungry mouths to feed at home and you’re wanting to try out that brand new vegetarian dish you read about on Best Home Chef, give yourself some extra prep time to make sure that everything goes smoothly, with as few surprises as possible.

Consider texture

One common complaint about  vegetarian food is the perception that it’s all “rabbit food” – an endless array of bland salads.

Now, while there’s nothing wrong with a good salad, we will admit that it can be less than satisfying when your meal lacks a certain amount of substance and body.

Eggplant & Ricotta Rolls with Zucchini Flowers by Luca Ciano

That’s where chewy veggies like mushrooms and eggplant come into play.  By substituting these in place of meat, your vegetarian meals are made that little bit heavier, giving them more of an impact on the plate and in the stomach.

Consider umami

“Wait – WHAT exactly is ‘umami’?” I hear you ask.

Answering that question properly would probably be a whole blog post in itself, but essentially umami is a Japanese term describing a “pleasant savoury taste” that enhances the flavour of foods around it.

Foods described as having a Umami taste include tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, asparagus, spinach and soy sauce.

If one of your guests is worried that their vegetarian dinner won’t taste very interesting, consider including umami ingredients in your dish, whether as a core part of the meal or as an optional extra on the side, to give your meal that little bit of extra verve to win over doubtful hearts and minds.

Shop adventurously

Not all of the ingredients you may need or want can always be found at your nearest big-name supermarket, no matter how well-stocked it seems to be.

Venture to local markets and grocers and get to know your food providers to find what’s in season and source some of the more exotic ingredients that vegetarian recipes someties call for.  You may discover some brand new tastes you’d never otherwise have encountered!

Make your own staple ingredients

Certain staple ingredients tend to be found in vegetarian cuisine, such and hummus, pesto and cheese.  Keeping a ready supply of these ingredients handy in your fridge and panty can greatly expand your cooking options.

It’s a good idea to keep a steady supply of these ingredients handy for regular vegetarian cooking, and one way to ensure that these ingredients are always fresh and free from additives is to prepare your own: check out 30 Second Hummus or Basil Pesto, and keep an eye out for other easy staple recipes here at Best Home Chef.

Experiment with spices

If you’re worried about vegetarian meals being bland, you don’t have to be.  Just like meat dishes, veggie dishes can be enhanced by a bit of experimentation with spices, keeping things fresh even after you’re starting to get used to the veggie diet.

Keep a well-stocked spice rack handy in your kitchen and get to know the flavours offered by each brightly-coloured jar.  To add some extra zing to your cooking, simply give it a sprinkle!

Eat fresh

It’s not just the tagline of a certain sandwich chain – it’s a valuable piece of advice for all aspiring vegetarians.

Using fresh ingredients is an even greater priority for vegetarians, as few vegetables benefit from extended freezing or refrigeration.

You don’t necessarily need to grow your own (not everyone is a green thumb, after all), but it just makes sense to cook using what’s fresh in your local area.

It does mean you’ll have to get a bit more creative when certain ingredients are out of season, but that’s all part of the fun!

Got a tip for vegetarian cooking?  Why not share it with the Best Home Chef community!

Best Home Chef recommends consulting your doctor before making any major changes to your diet. 

Mark Bristow
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Mark Bristow

Mark is the proud owner of an impractically large paella pan, and enjoys putting strange new twists on classic recipes. Google+

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