Before I became vegan, I knew how to cook a few basic dishes, mostly ones I had picked up from watching my mother. Most of my meals, however, involved a take-out menu and a phone or reservations. When I went veg, my options for eating out all but disappeared. There weren’t any healthy places to eat, let alone vegetarian or vegan. I had no choice but to learn how to cook vegan dishes for myself. You don’t have to learn to be a chef but unless you live in a very vegan-friendly city and have the money to eat out all the time, there are some dishes every vegan should learn to cook for themselves. The list of dishes is probably different for each person as we all have different likes and dislikes but there are some go-to recipes that should be in your arsenal.
In order to be a good vegan cook, you need to know your substitutions so take a look at 10 Food Substitutions Every Plant-Based Eater Should Know and 10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat. My best recommendation is to learn how to make vegan versions of the foods you loved most so you will never feel deprived. There pretty much isn’t any dish I used to eat that I can’t make in a vegan version. Check out my article How to Veganize Your Favorite Familiar Dishes which includes recipes for my old favorites: “chicken-fried” tofu steak and creamy mashed potatoes with white gravy. Here are 10 easy plant-based recipes every vegan should know how to cook.
1. Succulent Tofu Scramble
Tofu scrambles are one of the first dishes I learned to cook because I really missed scrambled eggs. Now tofu scrambles are my easy, go-to, comfort food meals. One of the things I love about scrambles, besides how easy they are to make, is that they are a blank canvas for whatever flavors you like. Sometimes I make a plain scramble with a few herbs and spices but other times I go global. To date, I have made Italian, Mexican, Southwestern, Chinese, Greek and Jamaican scrambles. For tips and tricks, read my 7-Step Guide to Making the Best Tofu Scrambles and then try these delicious recipes: Mexican-Spiced Tofu Scramble, Southwestern Tofu Scramble with Greens, Summertime Tofu Scramble, Indian-Style Tofu Scramble, Curried Tofu Scramble, and Tofu Scramble with Broccoli Noodles.
2. Crispy, Tender Baked Tofu
One of the most useful and versatile recipes you can know is how to make crispy, tender baked tofu. Why? Because once you know how to make this, a million recipes are at your fingertips. I like to bake a few blocks of tofu at a time and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge for different meals all week. Baked cubes of tofu can be added to salads, stews or stir-fries. Cut into slices, you can use the same preparation of tofu and then top it with sauteed mushrooms, an apricot glaze or a tangy BBQ sauce. Once you have the foundation of flavorful baked tofu, you have an almost blank canvas to create other masterpieces with. Use any marinade you like with your favorite herbs and spices.
To make Baked Tofu: Press and drain your tofu. It’s very important to do this so the marinade can get into the tofu. If you want your tofu even firmer, freeze it and thaw it out and press it. Cut the tofu into cubes (or whatever shape you want). Prepare the marinade by combining ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup vegetable broth, 2 Tbs. olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp. each dried thyme, paprika and ground cumin, ½ tsp. turmeric, ½ tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper in a deep bowl and whisk. Add the tofu to the marinade and make sure all the pieces are covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight – the longer, the better. Remove the tofu from the marinade, pat dry and place the pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in a single layer. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, flipping occasionally, until the tofu is browned and as crispy as you like it. Serve however you choose. For more tofu tutorials, check out 6 Tips that Will Make You Love Tofu, 7 Tips to Make the Perfect Tofu Dish and Tofu: How to Avoid 5 Common Cooking Mistakes.
3. Perfectly Roasted Veggies
If you think you don’t like a vegetable, try roasting it. It brings out the sweet flavors as the natural sugars cook. Most vegetables can be cooked using the same technique. Some of my favorite vegetables to cook include broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, onions, carrots, beets, bell peppers, tomatoes….ok, I guess all of them! To make Perfectly Roasted Veggies: preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut your veggies into equally-sized pieces. Place the vegetables on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic and ½ tsp. dried oregano or your favorite herb. Toss the vegetables so that they are all covered with oil and the seasoning is distributed. Roast for 20 minutes, toss vegetables and continue cooking for about 20 more minutes or until they are tender. For specific veggie cooking times and recipe ideas, see The Ultimate Guide to Roasting Veggies and How to Make 7 Delicious Roasted Veggie Dishes for Fall.
4. Luxurious Grilled Cheese
The grilled cheese is probably most people’s favorite sandwich. It brings us back to childhood and is so comforting. A grilled cheese can also be very grown-up with specialty cheeses and other additions like tomato, spinach, and vegan bacon. If you think being vegan means no more grilled cheese, think again. With all the delicious, melty vegan cheeses out there, this favorite sandwich can be yours any time you crave it. Buy any of the great vegan brands or see 10 Homemade Vegan Cheeses to Add in Your Epic Grilled Cheese Sandwich if you want to make your own cheese.
To make a luxurious Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Spinach and Tomatoes: heat a skillet (non-stick or cast iron) over medium heat. Apply a light layer of vegan butter to one side of 2 slices of bread. Add some fresh baby spinach and 2 thin slices of tomato on the buttered side of one slice of bread. Lay 2 vegan cheese slices or ¼ cup shreds over the spinach and tomatoes and cover with the other slice of bread, buttered side down. Press the sandwiches together. Apply a layer of vegan butter to one outer bread slice of the sandwich. Gently lay the sandwich, buttered side down, in the hot pan. Keep pressing down with a spatula so that the ingredients melt together. When the bottom of the sandwich has browned, put butter on the top layer of bread and flip the sandwich over. Keep pressing down on the sandwich until the bottom side browns.
5. Warm, Comforting Soup
If you’re going to enjoy a vegan grilled cheese, you need to have a warm bowl of soup to go with it; it’s the classic combination. Even if you aren’t having a sandwich, knowing how to make a big pot of soup is essential. Soup can be broth-based or thick and creamy. It can be a light dish or filled with hearty and satisfying ingredients that make it a full meal in one bowl. Soup is also a great make-ahead meal since you can keep it in the fridge and warm it up all week or put it in the freezer to enjoy later. My favorite soups are broth-based and full of flavor. Try this Minestrone Soup, Pasta e Fagioli, Quick and Rich Tomato Soup, Roasted Garlic, Miso and Greens Soup, Easy Root Vegetable Soup, Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup, Vegetable Lentil Soup, and Thai Carrot Soup. For creamy soups, try this Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup, Apple Butternut Squash Soup, Sweet Potato Pumpkin Soup, Vegan French Onion Soup, and Creamy Potato and Cauliflower Soup. For more soup recipes, check out 10 Ways to Make Soup with Global Flavors.
6. Decadent Mac and Cheese
Another essential recipe to have is for mac and cheese. Everyone loves a big bowl of pasta with ooey-gooey cheese sauce. Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out on this favorite dish nor does it mean you have to eat it out of a box. Making your own mac and cheese is as easy as boiling noodles, making a vegan cheese sauce and mixing the two together. Which way you make your vegan cheese sauce is a matter of preference – it can be made by melting vegan cheese or squash into non-dairy milk or by processing cashews. Get all the tips and how-tos in How to Make the Most Decadent Mac and Cheese. Then try any of these decadent recipes: Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Very Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese, Extra Creamy Vegan Mac and Cheese, and Mac and Squash. Get creative and add in veggies or vegan sausage.
7. Perfect Pasta
Speaking of noodles, everyone should know how to make a few pasta dishes. When it comes to versatile ingredients, pasta is at the top of the list. There are lots of shapes to choose from, so many sauces to ladle on top and depending on the flavor profile you choose, you can make an Italian dish, Chinese lo mein or spicy Thai noodles. The first step is knowing how to correctly cook pasta. Check out Pasta: How to Avoid 8 Common Cooking Mistakes for all the tips and tricks. Then whip up a fast dish of Pasta with Vegan Bolognese Sauce, Pasta Puttanesca, Fried Artichokes over Lemon Butter Pasta, Cold Rice Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce and Indonesian Stir-Fried Noodles. For global cuisine, Try These 10 Pasta Dishes with International Flair.
8. Fast and Flavorful Stir-Fry
Stir-fries are a new cook’s best friend. One pot (or wok) and pretty much any ingredients you have on hand give you a flavorful, exotic yet easy to make meal. Get all the secrets in How to Make Delicious Stir-Fry Vegetables in 7 Easy Steps and Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese Style. Then make this Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Ginger and Curry Leaves, Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry with Garlic, Black Pepper and Chives, and Asparagus and Carrot Indian Stir-Fry.
9. Awesome Veggie Burgers
Everyone has heard the stories about bad veggie burgers – they don’t taste good, they fall apart, they shouldn’t even be called burgers, etc. Well, I have experienced some of those nightmare veggie burgers myself and that’s why it’s essential to learn how to make not just a good veggie burger but an awesome veggie burger. First of all, your options of what to make burgers with are unlimited but for a start, check out these 10 Vegetables You Can Make Burgers With. Second, you want your burgers to be delicious so read How to Make Flavorful Veggie Burgers. Third, no wants a burger that falls apart when you bite into it so get the secrets in How to Make the Perfect Veggie Burger Patty – No More Falling Apart! Once you have all the tips and tricks down, try these Roasted Beet Burgers, Kidney Bean-Walnut Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce, Zucchini and Corn Veggie Burgers, Eggplant Crunchburgers, Chickpea Burgers, Chipotle Maple Sweet Potato Burgers, The Ultimate Vegan Burger and even Vegan Burger King. Get creative and try these 10 New and Different Ways to Top Your Burger.
10. Hearty Chili and Stews
When I want a meal that’s hearty and satisfying yet easy to make, I think of chilis and stews. Take one pot, throw in whatever veggies you have on hand, some beans, vegan tofu, tempeh or sausage if you want, lots of spices, and some broth and you have dinner for a crowd in half an hour. Set up a toppings bar with vegan sour cream, vegan cheese shreds, chopped raw red onions, guacamole, tortilla chips and anything else you like and let each person personalize their meal. Get the details in How to Make Simple Veg Stews to Keep You Warm This Winter and 10 Epic Plant-Based Stews Using Global Flavors. You can make a Traditional “Beef” Stew, “Chicken” Green Chili with Hominy Posole, Hearty Purple Potato Stew, Roasted Root Vegetable Stew, or Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili.
Each of these dishes is fast and easy to make but are healthy, satisfying and delicious. If you learn to make even half of these recipes, I guarantee you will never feel deprived. It gets easier with practice so get in the kitchen and create your own amazing vegan dishes.
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Lead ImageSource: Photo by Rhea Parsons