My friend Karen asked for some help going vegan. This post is #2 in a series.
First off, if you're making drastic changes (or even not so drastic) to your diet, take it slow. Learn one new recipe a week and then slot it into your rotation. My favorite cookbooks are The Joy of Cooking (yes, really) and Laurel's Kitchen. Neither is a vegan cookbook, but both are very well written and go into depth about foods and cooking techniques. Laurel's Kitchen also includes a very handy food guide with information about nutrient contents of individual ingredients as well as their recipes; I wish the editors would update the book.
But I almost never cook from recipes; I read cookbooks for ideas and then add things into my own repertoire. I try to shop local, so I cook with what's on hand rather than shopping to prepare a particular recipe, and I have a few dishes in my head that take wide variation. Here are a few of my basics:
Creamy cauliflower soup
Wash and cut up a whole cauliflower. If if came with leaves, include them, but chop them into little pieces. Cook in a couple of inches of water until it's soft. Add soy milk, a tablespoon or so of tahini, and some salt (or a vegan boullion cube, if you're so inclined). Puree, but leave some texture. A stick blender makes this easy but it can also be pureed in a regular blender or a food processor. For safety, let it cool a bit first -- enough so it's not hot enough to burn -- and then reheat.
This also works well with broccoli, asparagus, or leeks and potatoes. For the latter, I saute onions and the chopped leeks for 15 minutes, then add cubed potatoes, cover with water, and boil until soft.
Chop an onion, some garlic, and some celery (with leaves) and saute in a couple of tablespoons of oil of your choice. I like olive oil, which means you have to keep the heat relatively low and be patient. Once they're golden and maybe a little brown, add dried basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and some curry, with a little water so it doesn't stick, and stir in with the vegetables for a couple of minutes.
Add red split lentils (rinsed first) and some chopped greens (spinach, kale, collards...), cover with water, bring to a boil and then simmer until the lentils have fallen apart: 15 or 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them, and keep adding water as they absorb what's already in with them. Once they've disintegrated, add a package of crushed tomatoes and bring back to a boil (just) stirring constantly. Salt/pepper to taste.
You can substitute green lentils, navy beans, cannellini, black beans, or split peas, though they all take a lot longer to cook. Speed cooking time by rinsing them and putting them in a pot and bringing them to a boil and then letting them sit overnight; cook separately from the other ingredients. With split peas, leave out the tomatoes. For variety, add one or more root vegetables, or include more than one kind of bean. Black beans and chick peas or navy beans and kidneys are nice combinations.
These stews also work with canned beans. And you can boost the spices and serve over rice or quinoa or steamed potatoes.
Today, I used black beans, grated carrots, and a few tomatoes that needed eating, and then pureed the results with a stick blender.
This one also starts with onions, celery, and garlic, though I leave the pieces a lot bigger than for stew. It might have potatoes and eggplant or broccoli and snap peas and green beans or cauliflower and bell peppers and tomatoes, or any variety of other vegetables in combination. It might be flavored with green curry and some coconut milk, or indian curry and a little soy sauce, or soy sauce and chili peppers and green onions sliced in right before serving. I made a very inauthentic red coconut curry stirfry with beets and cannellini once. I might eat it over rice, noodles, or potatoes.
A salad spinner is super helpful for vegetarian cooking, not only for salad, but also for washing all those greens. Rip up some salad, wash and spin. Slice, shred or grate whatever other vegetables you have on hand -- cucumbers, carrots, beets, baby spinach. If you're so inclined, you can also add some cut up fruit. If you want to make it a meal, add cannellini, chick peas, hummus, or cubed tofu. Dressing can be plain olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepp er. Add vegan mayonnaise to make it creamy, or use honey and mustard.
The Bottom Line:
The agriculture industry has persuaded us that cooking is hard, maybe with some help from The New York Times Cookbook and Iron Chef. It's not. Learn to cook from scratch, with recipes in your head that you can modify based on what's around. Keep your kitchen stocked with basics -- a few cans of different kinds of beans, a couple kinds of dry beans, rice and pasta, and whatever dried herbs and spices you like. In the fridge, root vegetables and onions and celery last quite a while. If you can only shop once a week, cook the greens right away -- they keep well in the fridge for a few days, or you can freeze them to add to soups.