A few years ago I began transitioning to a meat-free diet. The less meat I ate, the more whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains I was eating. I’d relied so heavily on meat for years, I didn’t know what I’d been missing. The meat-free options are vast; you can host an entirely plant-based Thanksgiving for example.
There were several reasons I decided to pursue a plant-based diet; not least of which was my health. Plant-based, whole food diets have been shown to improve blood pressure and reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. A whole-foods, plant-based diet is the perfect one-two combo of high amounts of fiber and low amounts processed food.
Really, though, it’s the simplicity that solidified it for me — one cutting board, one knife, no cross-contamination to worry about. Clean-up is a cinch. I quickly learned that simple recipes, done well, produce incredible meals. Learning to master basics requires some patience (at least for me), but I’ve greatly expanded my confidence in the kitchen.
So, here are a few plant-based meals ideas to get started on.
Simple plant-based meals that save time
Locate yourself some dried beans, any variety. Soak those bad boys in water overnight with a bay leaf. Couldn’t be easier. Then, cook them with a bay leaf. It’s so simple, I can do it.
Need an actual meal? Roasting vegetables is simplicity defined. Cut up a few carrots, potatoes, and onions. You know what, keep going; add some butternut squash and a few garlic cloves. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), thyme, salt, and pepper. Wait, put some balsamic vinegar on there. Set your oven to 425 degrees, and 12-15 minutes later you got yourself a meal there, buddy!
Green bean excellence is just an ice bath away. Boil water, salt the water, and add green beans. Remove beans after about three minutes and immediately immerse in an ice bath for one to two minutes. Throw them in a pan with a little EVOO and sea salt. Bingo-bongo, you got yourself perfect green beans.
Get protein from beans and legumes
When people heard I’d removed meat from my diet, inevitably the first question was “How will you get your protein?” Every time I hear this question I picture elephants, mountain gorillas and blue whales – some of the largest animals on our planet are vegetarian. But what is protein, really?
Protein is made of amino acids; humans use about 20 amino acids to build protein. We can synthesize some of them ourselves, but there are some we can’t. There are nine essential amino acids that we can’t make ourselves, so they need to be obtained through diet. Soy and pea protein are “complete proteins,” meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Combining multiple types of plant-based protein in a meal or snack (the protein in wheat bread plus the protein in peanut butter, for example) is a way for folks on a whole food diet to get all their essential amino acids in one quick sitting.
I like to use beans and legumes as a simple way to add plenty of protein to my diet. I’ll add chickpeas or black beans or sunflower seeds as a topping to salads – sometimes all three at once, because no one can tell me how to salad. Trail mix, with its nuts and seeds, includes multiple sources of protein and takes minutes to make. I take that shit everywhere.
An easy plant-based dessert recipe to try
To finish the evening, throw some frozen bananas into your blender. Add cashews and almond milk, a splash of vanilla extract, and two or three ice cubes. Blend to the consistency you like and whammo! Nice cream. Feel like getting wild? Add some healthy-ish toppings.
Your plant-based digestif
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love plant-based meals. Uncomplicated, meat-free, whole foods recipes are like minimalist design for the palate. There’s a plethora of great whole-food cookbooks, chefs, and recipe blogs out there: some of my favorites are The Blue Zones Kitchen and Bryant Terry.
Don’t sleep on plant-based recipes like I did for too long. But don’t be surprised if the simplicity pulls you in.