What, tofu again? Not another stir-fry! Didn’t we just have pasta yesterday … and the day before? If it feels like you’re eating the same five or six meals over and over again and the idea of cooking causes more yawns than smiles, you may be in a food rut. It happens to all of us. We make the same dishes repeatedly because it’s easy, we’re pressed for time, or we just can’t come up with ideas. There are some dishes I love so much that as I’m eating them, I say, “I could eat this every day” but after a while, enough is enough.
If you feel like you’re stuck in a food rut, it’s actually easy to break out of it. You don’t have to go to culinary school or buy expensive, fancy gadgets either. All you have to do is make small changes that have a big impact on recipes. Try a new spice, a new ethnic flavor profile or a new cooking method. By putting a new spin on an old dish, you can create something completely new and exciting. Here are my tips for breaking out of a food rut.
1. Try New Herbs and Spices
One look at any of my recipes, and it’s clear that I love herbs and spices. When I open the cupboard and see all the bottles filled with pretty colors and get a whiff of all the different aromas, I’m in heaven. My creative juices start flowing, and I can’t wait to cook up something flavorful and delicious. Seasonings add complexity and depth and by just using a different spice or two, you can completely change an old dish into something new.
Try adding coriander to a savory cream as in this Pan-Fried Tofu Steaks With Coriander Cream and Asparagus Spears or try adding a savory herb to a sweet dessert like these Caramel Pecan Rosemary Doughnuts. If you’re not sure which herbs and spices to try, check out my Guide to Matching Herbs and Spices With the Right Veggies.
Learn about spices by browsing through The Ultimate Spice Guide for Vegan Cooking, How to Stock Your Spice Cabinet for Delicious Vegan Cooking, and my 10 Essential International Spices for Any Kitchen.
2. Go Global
Ethnic food may seem exotic and complicated, but it really isn’t. Each cuisine has a set of ingredients, herbs, and spices that they tend to use together to create their unique flavor profile. See How to Add Ethnic Flavors to Dishes and Tips for Making Ethnic Dishes That Taste the Best for details on different flavor profiles.
Once you become familiar with the flavor profiles for each cuisine, it becomes easy to make your own ethnic dishes. It also lets you add an ethnic twist to your usual recipes. For instance, tofu scrambles can get boring but you can change it up and make a Mexican Tofu Scramble, an Indian-Style Tofu Scramble or a Chinese Tofu Scramble. Each dish is totally different! Make tacos by way of India like these Indian Chickpea Tacos with Cucumber Raita. Spice up your burgers with Korean flavors like these Simple Korean Kimchi BBQ Burgers. Even breakfast can get a makeover when you make this Chinese Oatmeal and Vegan Cajun Breakfast Burrito.
3. Switch Grains
Rice is good, and quinoa is great but if those are the only two grains you ever eat, it’s no wonder you get bored. There are more types of grains than most of us can name, and one of the food trends that’s hot right now is eating more ancient grains. These whole grains have been around for centuries and unlike many modern grains, ancient grains are free of hybridization and genetic manipulation. Besides being natural and healthy, these ancient grains have unique tastes and textures, and many of them are gluten-free. Learn more in Now That You Can Pronounce Quinoa, Try These Other Ancient Grains and Eat More Ancient Grains With These 15 Recipes.
Try using amaranth in these Popped Amaranth Peanut Butter Cups, farro in Masala Spinach Farro, teff in these Mocha Teff Muffins, and millet in these Roasted Butternut Squash, Millet, and Lentil Burritos. If rice is still your favorite grain, try a different type like red rice or black forbidden rice. Use them in recipes like these Black Bean, Corn and Red Rice Enchiladas and Forbidden Rice and Mango Salad.
If you aren’t sure about all the different cooking times, check out Your Guide to Cooking Perfect Whole Grains.
4. Try a New Food
If you’ve already eaten broccoli or kale four times this week, it’s time to try some new veggies. A good way to get exposed to new foods is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and have a box of vegetables delivered to your door every week. You will probably get veggies you would never have chosen yourself. Visit your local farmers market and the produce department of your favorite supermarket and take your time looking at the variety of vegetables available to you. Check out all the shapes and colors and don’t be afraid to ask questions from the people who know produce best. They will be happy to offer advice and cooking suggestions for each veggie. Make it a goal to buy one or two new vegetables each week, read up on the best ways to cook them and try them in a recipe that sounds delicious.
Try any of these 10 Underappreciated Vegetables You Should Be Eating like rutabaga, kohlrabi, and okra. You can’t tell me that these Rutabaga Fries with Basil Mayo, Kohlrabi Spaghetti alla Foriana, and Crispy Spiced Cauliflower and Okra don’t look incredible.
5. Swap Breakfast and Dinner
Who says breakfast has to mean eating in the morning? Well, ok, that’s really what the word “breakfast” means – we break our overnight fast – but vocabulary lesson aside, breakfast makes for wonderful comfort food dinners. One of my favorite breakfasts is a tofu scramble with vegan sausage and home fries. That’s a lot of food for early in the morning, but it makes a perfect dinner. Delicious breakfast recipes that are perfect for dinner include these Strawberry Cheese Blintzes with Strawberry Basil Compote, Vegan Falafel Waffle, Pumpkin Peanut Butter Pancakes, and this Shiitake and Tofu Breakfast Sandwich With Crispy Sweet Potatoes and Roasted Garlic Aioli.
On the other hand, why not have dinner at breakfast time? Lots of people enjoy rice and other grains, soups, and other savory dishes in the morning. This Warm Potato Salad with Spinach and Chickpeas will give you all the fuel you need to start your day. In many other countries, people start their day with a hot bowl of soup. It’s light, nourishing, easily digested, and healthy. The most common soup eaten for breakfast is probably miso soup like this Miso Soup with Garlicky Lentils, Kale, and Mushrooms. Plus, it adds extra excitement when you break all the rules and just eat what you want when you want.
6. Raw Versus Cooked
If you normally eat your food cooked, try it raw for a change. The texture and flavor of the foods will be completely different. Instead of cooking your veggies, try pickling them like these Mexican Pickled Veggies. Swap your hot bowl of soup for this Raw Pad Thai Bowl with Tofu or this Beet Gazpacho with Avocado Quenelle. Even desserts can be raw like this Raw Lemon Lime Cheesecake, Homemade Peppermint Patties, and this Creamy Raw Chocolate Espresso Cake.
On the other hand, you could also try cooking foods you usually eat raw. Cook your lettuce as in this Warm Lentil and Brussels Sprout Salad With Roasted Radicchio Wedges, make Braised Celery, and try Radish Leaf Pesto Pasta Sauce.
7. Step Out of the Box
Ever watch those cooking shows where contestants get strange ingredients and manage to make delicious dishes with them? Sometimes it’s good to step out of the box and challenge yourself creatively. Sure, everyone is making Buffalo wings with cauliflower so do something different like these Buffalo Avocado Wings. Speaking of avocados, skip the potatoes and make Smoky Avocado Fries instead. As long as we’re making fries, Add a Twist to Your Favorite Fried Side With These 20 Veggie Fries including fries made of rutabaga, eggplant, chickpeas or turnips!
When you think out of the box, food can be transformed into something totally different and unexpected. Carrots go from a salad ingredient to these Carrot Dogs and this Not Smoked Salmon Scramble. Fruit gets turned into soup like this Cantaloupe Rose Soup with Blueberry Cream.
We all get into food ruts sometimes. That just means it’s time to step back and change things up a bit. That’s the fun and beauty of food – there are endless possible ways to prepare it, and the best part is getting to eat it all!
Lead image source: Indian Chickpea Tacos with Cucumber Raita