If you’re wondering where the new recipe(s) of the week are, I posted Week 43’s recipes on Wednesday this week to kick-off the countdown to 2014. Definitely give it a look and MAKE THAT BBQ SAUCE! For this week’s extra I thought I’d focus on some of the substitutions and changes I’ve learned during my plant-based journey that have made a big difference in my ability to maintain my weight and energy without really tracking diet and exercise at all.
- Oil is over-used and fairly easy to give up
I started this journey to motivate myself to cook more and eat less processed foods. Initially it was not meant to be a life-style change but a kick-start to healthier habits. Whole-food plant based diets are similar to vegan diets in that they eliminate animal products but go further to eliminate refined sugars and oil. Happy Herbivore has an excellent post, There is no such thing as Healthy Oil, up on her blog if you want to read more on the topic. I’m not 100% oil free or even 100% processed food free. This week’s craving was Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, a treat that I indulge in quite literally a couple of times a year. However, I’ve made some significant changes in how I prepare food that were much easier than I expected. Sauté vegetables by adding a few tablespoons of water (or vegetable broth) periodically so they do not stick to the pan. The same works well with potato hash recipes. Another tip is to bake on parchment paper. There are also plenty of oil-free salad dressings that are easy to prepare at home. I rarely miss oil; the exception is the occasional addition of sesame oil for flavor (it’s so flavorful you can use very little).
- Spice it up and skip the salt!
You can really cut down on the salt in your cooking by using more spices and herbs. Adding acid (lemon/lime juice) and using soy sauce or chili sauce for a touch of salt also make for an interesting dish with layers of flavor. Not only will your food be healthier, it will taste better. Once you stock up your pantry, you can prepare dishes from scratch quickly and cheaply. I’ve found that the International aisle of my local market has many spices in large bags that are much cheaper than the bottled spices in the baking aisle.
- Processed foods really don’t save that much time or money
This is a bit of a follow-up to #2. I used to buy packaged rice mixes or food kits, mainly for side dishes. I’ve come to realize these do not save time or money and cooking your own sides from scratch results in a dish with distinct flavors and textures you miss when using the processed kits that are more salty than anything. Yellow Rice is one of my favorites.
- Try new things and new preparations
Go beyond brown rice or pasta. I’ve discovered millet is one of my favorite grains. To try new grains without too much commitment look to see if your grocery has bulk bins. You can buy a small amount to try fairly cheaply. You can also often buy lentils, nuts and various other items in bulk to save money. I store in mason jars for maintain freshness. If you don’t like something in one dish, try a different preparation. I never liked cauliflower very much but have found that roasted in the oven it is one of my favorite lunches.
- Texture is everything
Meat has a distinct texture and for me building textures into my dishes has been very important. Nuts, seeds, baked tortilla strips all add a nice crunch. Also, choosing a variety of vegetables with different textures makes a dish more interesting.
There you have it, my top five lessons and learnings. Bonus tip, stock up! Keep staples on hand so you can always throw something together. I try to keep a variety of grains and beans on hand so I can just run in and out of the grocery for a few fresh herbs and vegetables to complete my meals when I’m short on time.