Want to know how to make your plant-based meals taste better?
Once you apply these 10 changes to your cooking, your plant-based meals will go from tasteless mush to delicious food bursting with flavor.
Plant-based food is healthy, without a doubt. But to be honest, unless you’re a really good cook, your homemade plant-based meals can taste, well, bland. Suddenly all your good intentions to eat healthily are met with doubt.
Before you give up on plant-based food, try to implement these tiny changes to your cooking and see the massive difference they will have on your plant-based meals.
10 Rules of Delicious Plant-Based Meals
1 Cook veggies al dente
If all you’ve ever had were overcooked veggies, then it’s no wonder you find them untasty.
Overcooked veggies are disgusting. Because they lose all their structure and flavor and all you’re left with is a tasteless mush.
Every vegetable has its perfect cooking time, whether you’re baking, steaming, cooking, or frying. When you prepare a vegetable, so it’s just done, it has the maximum flavor, perfect texture, and keeps its vibrant color.
If you’re cooking a stew or a soup, add veggies in stages so that they all cook exactly as much as they need and not longer. This way you’ll get a dish that is full of flavor and rich in all the different textures. It will be the perfect plant-based meal.
2 Use acid
Acid is used in cooking to intensify the flavor of the whole meal, neutralize the spicy food, and counter the bitterness. The smart use of acid in cooking is what makes the difference between a lousy cook and a professional chef.
Acids you can use in plan-based cooking are:
- Citruses: lemon, lime, orange (both juice and peel)
- Vinegars: apple cider, balsamic, rice, red/white wine, flavor-infused
- Tomatoes: fresh, paste, canned, juice
- Wine: red, white
- Other: mustard, fermented and pickled vegetables
The stew made with red wine is ten times better than the stew made without it.
Bitter veggies, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli, will taste divine if you sprinkle lemon rind on them and splash with a little bit of lemon juice.
For the best bowl of chili, squeeze in some lime juice just before serving.
When your making risotto, use white wine and stock for cooking. The same you can use for veggie soups.
When making soup, stews, and sauces with tomatoes, add some red wine for a deeper more complete flavor of the dish.
If you’re used to eating cream soups with yogurt and now you find yourself missing that freshness, try adding some balsamic vinegar to the bowl right before serving.
3 “Legumize” the sauce
Sauces can be really tricky on a plant-based diet. Since you can’t use dairy and most recipes that use pricy ingredients like cashews are not suitable for everyday meals.
Legumes make the perfect base for sauces. Because they are mild in taste they are good carriers of all the flavors. When processed they become smooth and creamy. Sauces made with legumes are nutritious, full of proteins and fibers. And if you buy the dry thing in bulk, you can have affordable, nutritious, and delicious sauces every day.
The best legumes to use for plant-based sauces are:
- Red lentils
- White beans
4 Use salt wisely
Salt is the most underappreciated and overlooked seasoning. Salt unlocks flavors and aromas in the food. It balances flavors and rounds out the dish.
If you want to cook delicious food that has a rich flavor, stop using table salt. Apart from being overly processed and terribly unhealthy, table salt is too salty with a metallic, artificial flavor which ruins the overall flavor of your food.
On the other hand salts like sea salt, Himalayan, and kosher salt have much subtler saltiness and are more coarse. Which makes it much easier to control the amount of salt and the end flavor.
Another important thing about using salt is timing. It’s not a good idea to add all of the salt at one point during cooking. This screams “I don’t know how to cook!”. But rather add salt gradually throughout the cooking. A little bit at the beginning, then halfway during the cooking, and then last time when the dish is cooked. Before adding salt at the end, taste it. Sometimes the last addition is not even needed.
5 Choose seasonal veggies
Ripe veggies that are in season are always juicy, aromatic, and fresh.
The current season’s vegetables are richest in their natural flavors. So when you cook with them your dish will always be full of flavor, and aromas without much effort.
When you’re making a tomato-based dish, instead of taking a caned version, try some of the many varieties found on the farmer’s market, they will immediately make your dish taste so much better.
Dark green vegetables stock up sugar in their leaves during colder weather to prevent them from freezing. That makes them so sweet in colder months. Although available all year, from October to April dark green veggies have the sweetest flavor.
6 Use whole spices
Spices give richer flavor to your food. They complement the aromas of veggies, help round out the flavors and bring the whole dish together. Whole spices are little packets full of flavor. Once ground, spices quickly lose their flavor. But when you ground whole spices just before using them they give a stronger more aromatic flavor. For this, you can use pestle and mortar or keep your whole spices in such grinder-shakers for more convenience.
Whole spices to have on hand for delicious plant-based food:
- Dried chili peppers
- Black peppercorns
- Fennel seeds
- Cumin seeds
- Caraway seeds
- Coriander seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Fenugreek seeds
7 Use fresh herbs
Fresh herbs always carry more flavor than their dry versions. So much so that sauteing with fresh parsley will make your neighbors drool and wonder what delicious food you’re having for dinner.
Even better if you can grow your own herbs by the kitchen window. One herb pot from a supermarket will give you 2-3 good harvests.
You can divide herbs into delicate and sturdy ones.
Delicate herbs can be used fresh and cooked. You can chop them in a salad, or any cooked dish. When you’re cooking with herbs, always reserve some for mixing at the end of cooking for a more fresh aroma.
Sturdy herbs are used for cooking, they have a strong aroma with tough leaves and are not suitable for raw eating. But they are perfect for making little cooking bouquets – called bouquet garni. These little bouquets are perfect for cooking stews, soups, and stocks.
- Bay leaf
8 Roast the garlic
Garlic has a strong garlicky taste that not everyone loves. It can be bothersome to clean it and finely dice. And not to mention the smell it leaves on fingers.
But garlic really gives that something to the food, especially to plant-based food. So before you give up on garlic for good, roast it. It’s easy, clean, and absolutely worth it. Roasted garlic has a very mild garlic aroma with a sweet, caramelized flavor. It will give a roasted flavor to your food. You can use it in any recipe that calls for garlic.
Here is a detailed post on how to roast, store and use roasted garlic so check it out for more info.
9 Add mushrooms
Mushrooms have meaty, savory, umami flavor which makes them an excellent flavor-maker in plant-based dishes.
You can use fresh and dried mushrooms in your cooking.
Dried mushrooms have a stronger flavor than fresh ones, so use them when you want to have flavor but not really the actual mushrooms. On the other hand, when you’re making stews, risotto, sauces, or soups you can grate fresh button or portobello mushrooms for a more textured and flavorful dish.
10 Spike the S&P
When you’re whipping up a quick dish and don’t have time to think about the spices then spiked pepper or spiked salt will do that for you.
These two mixes are particularly good and will pair well with most dishes:
5 tbsp coarse salt
1 tbsp dried lemon thyme
1 tbsp mustard seeds
4 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp dried chili flakes
You can keep your mixes in those grinder-shakers for convenience.
These are the 10 little tricks I learned in my first year of plant-based cooking. They helped to bring my dishes from mediocre sadness to delicious meals I’m excited to eat every day.
Do you have some special cooking tricks you use to make delicious plant-based meals?