One of the things I hear most often from people is: “but vegan food is so bland. How can you survive on it?” Or my next favorite, “So, you eat rabbit food now?”
Well, people, I know it may surprise some, but vegan food is more than lettuce and it’s way more than rabbit food. I’ve actually learned a great deal about cooking on his journey. I pay more attention to layered flavors and the taste of each individual ingredient I put in the pot.
Before I was vegan I would add cheese to everything. (I’m from Wisconsin. We put cheese on apple pie.) but all you taste is cheese. (Again, not dissing cheese, it’s amazing can’t argue against that.)
When I finally accepted that I was lactose intolerant and that cheese (no matter how many pills I took to help with digestion) messed me up, I started to realize there was a whole other layer of flavor under that cheese. That pizza without cheese was actually amazing and that my life didn’t have to revolve around cheese.
Wow, mind blown right!
I’m not saying I don’t miss cheesy things. I still miss nachos (But I found a replacement that has seriously rocked my world. I’ll talk about it on Wednesday.) But, I find that I don’t need it. I can experiment with different things to up the flavor of my food and I’m learning every time I do.
So, what do I add to my food to make vegetables not taste like sandpaper? Here are three lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen that I hope will help you too.
1.) I understand the different types of taste buds and how they affect each other.
What does that mean? It means that when you add salt to sweet things, you enhance the sweetness of the dish. (counter intuitive but that’s way salted caramel’s taste like heaven.)
It means that when you add things like mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes to your dish, you up the umami flavor making savory dishes taste wonderful.
It means when you add a touch of lemon zest or juice to your savory pasta dish it kicks it up a whole new level of awesome.
Understanding flavor profiles and how they work makes your job in the kitchen so much easier. It helps to create depth of flavor in your dishes that will wow your friends and family. When I talk about layering flavors in dishes this is what I’m talking about. Sometimes that rich buttery cream sauce you’re working on is too heavy. When you add a bit of lemon juice to it, you elevate it. You change a dish from one that simply tastes good to one you completely devour.
2.) Learn how to cook each vegetable.
This may sound like it’s self-explanatory. I mean of course you need to learn to cook the vegetables, right? Such a simple thing and yet it’s one we often get wrong.
The trick is to know when to boil, when to roast, and when to steam. Each cooking method brings out different flavors in the food. As I talked about last week, brussels sprouts taste completely different when they are roasted as opposed to boiled.
Boiling vegetables is my least favorite way to cook them. The water leaches a good amount of flavor from them and you’re often left with mushy, flavorless lumps of plant matter. But sometimes you have to boil them. (like par boiling potatoes before you roast them.)
A good general rule is the denser the vegetable the longer it can cook and the better it will withstand boiling. For example, vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips and beets work great in soups because they don’t disintegrate during a long cook time and you don’t lose all the flavor into the water.
Steaming is a popular way to cook vegetables and they work great for vegetables like broccoli and asparagus. Vegetables that are delicate and lose most of their flavor if boiled. This cooking method works great when you want the meal to taste fresh and crisp. The food will have an ice satisfying mouth feel and the flavor of the vegetable will really shine through.
Roasting is my favorite way to cook vegetables. It works with almost anything (not so good on leafy greens unless you’re trying to make them into chips.). Roasting Broccoli gives a nice char and a lovely crispy crunch as you eat. I don’t need to tell you how much better brussels sprouts are when you roast them (I dedicated an entire week to this concept after all.) Even vegetables that I boil often end up thrown in the oven for a bit of crisping up before I serve them (hello potatoes!)
Cooking each vegetable in a manner best suited to it, is the easiest way to add flavor to your food. There are multiple online sources that can help you find what’s best or you can experiment on your own. But for those of you who are busy and just want a quick guide, (I mean with more detail than the one I provided.) check out eatingwell.com and their list of how to cook 20 vegetables. You can find the link here. They don’t talk about boiling in there but they have great directions for roasting and steaming, even braising your veg.
3.)Learn your spices
This is a bit tougher to learn and takes practice. Once you get a feel for how each spice affects the flavor of your dish, it gets easier to experiment and learn. Until then, get a great cookbook to help you on your way. I love the Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook. She isn’t preachy but she does teach you some kick ass ways to go meatless.
I really want to encourage all of you to experiment and play around with flavors. If garlic is your go to flavor, try changing it and adding a shallot. (Not a big difference so it’s a good place to start.) If your go to flavor is basil, try switching to tarragon. (Not always going to work, but that’s the point, play around and find out what you like.)
I’m a dump cook. I sort of go with what I’m feeling about each dish (which explains why I’m only a mediocre baker). I learned a lot from my grandmothers and truly find joy in playing around with spices. I have a go to spice (chipotle chili powder) but I stretch my horizons at least once a week. It’s why I have an intuitive sense for what spice needs to be added. It comes from practice and it’s something you can learn too. Go with what tastes good to you and you can’t go wrong.
I hope this was helpful. I find happiness in the kitchen. It’s my time to myself, when I can truly let go. I may not always end up with something that will knock the socks of my family but I always find the time I spend in the kitchen worth while. What are your favorite spices and how do you use them?
I am not a nutritionist, dietitian, or medical professional of any kind. I am just a regular person sharing my personal journey on a way to a healthier, more satisfying life. Consult with a medical professional before starting any new exercise or diet plan. Please see full disclaimer here.