Getting started with recipe-free vegan cooking

If I was asked to share my most valuable advice regarding cooking, here’s what I would say:

Start experimenting! 🙌

What’s the worst thing that could happen? Maybe the dish ends up tasting bland? Too salty or too acidic? Or maybe it tastes a little too much like this or that spice? No worries, my friend, it will still provide nutrition! And next time, you might be a little less generous with that ingredient. It’s a journey!

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

Experimenting is where the fun and meditative aspect of cooking really began, for me. Instead of overthinking and looking at all those numbers of giant ingredients lists, I decided to learn by doing!

Of course, I watched countless cooking videos and put my nose into cook books when ever I had a chance. But instead of copying everything, I was mainly focused on the how instead of what they use.

So, what follows are some simple strategies and insights that might help setting the “adventurous cook” within you on fire 💥

Start small – but get started!

To reduce possible stress factors in the kitchen, a suggestion could be to only cook for yourself. At first. Or maybe for your partner, family or community. Later on, you can always upscale that dish. But should you feel the call to go all in, then please, invite all those people over!

Photo by Daniela on Unsplash

Balancing flavours

When balancing out the saltiness, sweetness and sourness of a dish (stew, soup or sauce), our taste buds perceive this as pleasant and flavourful. This can also be split up into multiple side dishes that in combination are rounded out. For example: A sweet and sour sauce on a salty dish.

Besides salt, experiment with squeezing some fresh lemon juice and balance that with adding a bit of the healthiest sweetener you have at hand!

In my post about the 3 magic “S” I go into more detail on that.

Photo by Ghislaine Guerin on Unsplash

Oven Roasted Veggies

Most people know and love veggies roasted in an oven. But have you ever added them to a stew or stir-fry? Or blended them into a soup or sauce?

When roasting veggies or fruits at medium/high temperatures for a longer time, their sugars start to oxidize (turning brown). This is called caramelization and adds a whole other mouthwatering dimension of flavours.

Here’s some simple tips:

  • No need to add oil, try it – otherwise I suggest using olive oil
  • The thinner the cubes or stripes, the more thorough they will caramelize
  • Thin or less dense veggies (e.g. broccoli) take less time – roast them on separate tray or add them later
  • Sprinkle salt, herbs and spices on them an mix for extra flavours
  • Try roasting seasoned beans and legumes (e.g. chickpeas) or nuts and seeds – beautiful topping
roasted oven vegetables (oil-free)

Easy proteins

Dried legumes or beans are a must have in a plant-exclusive kitchen. Beside the fact that they are filling, tasty and fairly cheap, they are also a great source of protein, iron and fibre.

Here’s some simple tips:

  • Soaking any type of bean or legume (including lentils!) overnight will start the germination process (initial step of sprouting). That is supposed to make them easier to digest and absorb their nutrients.
  • Sprout ’em! Super simple and nutritious!
  • Cook bigger batches, refrigerate (for some days) or freeze
  • Eat with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to increase iron absorption (due to vitamin C)

Once your beans or legumes are cooked/sprouted, you can add them to any dish (salads, stir-fries, stews, soups, name it!) 🤙

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

Sauce foundations

These very basic inputs might be helpful when starting out on a culinary exploration. Play with it and don’t be afraid to end up with something that might not blow your mind at first!

Besides fresh veggies, you want to always have basic sauce ingredients at hand. This allows you to go any direction, any time. Each of them should be easy to get in a nearby shop:

  • Tomato Sauce
    Works great with Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano,…), but also with any curry powder/paste.
    Tip: Try to get one in a glass bottle.
  • Soy Sauce
    This stir-fry foundation is so rich in flavour that there’s no need to add anything else. Be gentle as they can be very salty!
    Tip: I prefer Tamari, which is a gluten-free soy sauce.
  • Coconut Cream
    This can result in a curry (using powder or a paste), but doesn’t have to! Some Asian dishes only use coconut milk and veggies.
  • Peanut butter
    Unless you’re allergic, this nut butter is incredible with e.g. noodles!
  • Vegetable Stock
    A very easy one that adds a rich flavour combination and some nutrients to your dish.
    Tip: Look out for a product that is MSG-free (flavour enhancer) and ideally is oil-free (especially palm oil), too.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Simplified general cooking guide

  1. Caramelize onions with very little olive oil (or without oil), until they are brown
  2. For an extra foundation add chopped garlic, grated ginger and/or some chilli
  3. Add salt and pepper (“dash by dash”)
  4. Add the herbs and spices that call your name today
  5. Add veggies that require longer cooking time (e.g. potatoes, aubergine).
    Tips: Keep in mind that the bigger the pieces, the longer they take to cook.
  6. Add in already cooked legumes or beans
  7. Add oven roasted veggies
  8. Add sauce of your liking
  9. Time to taste and balance the 3 “S” and friends
  10. In case it’s more sauce-y, put a lid on and let it simmer on lowest heat (or turn off heat) for as long as you like. This will allow all the flavours to infuse.
    Tip: Try not to overcook the veggies, unless that’s what is desired (little reminder: most of them can be eaten raw)
  11. Serve with any side dish (e.g. whole grain pasta, brown rice, millet, quinoa, name it)
Photo by Abe Baali on Unsplash

Viva la decoration! 🌱

Even when you only cook for yourself, celebrate your creation! This can be done by adding nutritious decorations such as roasted nuts/seeds or freshly chopped greens (parsley, coriander, basil, dill, …).

Our pre-Christmas dinner.. Be creative!

Zero waste – upcycle leftovers creatively

The topic of food waste is very important to me. It is estimated that a shocking third (!) of food waste is created in people’s households.

The most obvious option is to store leftovers in glass containers. But another playful way is to blend them up (using a food-processor, blender and hand blender) so they don’t look the same next time you eat it.

Here’s some ideas

  • Very liquid mixes can act as a sauce for pasta or a casserole
  • More solid mixes can act as spreads
  • Shape a rather dry dish into patties and bake in oven
  • Try not to add too many new ingredients that run into the danger of turning into leftovers again
Photo by Samee Anderson on Unsplash

This is it, friends!

Let’s get cooking! And let me know if you found some inspiration 🤙

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