There is a myth that if you go plant-based, healthy vegan, or lean into a plant-slant diet, you will lose your enjoyment of eating, be hungry all the time and end up hangry. For many folks, what comes to mind are baby carrots and celery, a boring salad, or PTSD (plants taste sad and dreary) from the over-cooked vegetables of their youth.
Hopefully, that myth is fading now that plant-based and vegan restaurants are garnering a lot of mainstream attention around the globe. Brussels sprouts and kale are trendy, and barbecue and buffalo cauliflower wings are ubiquitous!
Did you ever really think about why most foods you love taste delicious? Simply put, it’s flavor. Where does that flavor come from? It’s all about seasonings, sauces, condiments, dried herbs, fresh herbs, and spices. All those flavorings, including (but not limited to) garlic, onion, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, marinara sauce, ketchup, mustard, etc., are used just the same in plant cuisine.
I love perusing menus before I go to a restaurant! Once my friends, family or colleagues decide on a place I go to the website and study the menu to see where I can start and how I can modify it (if necessary) to meet my needs. I have never had any objection from a chef. In fact there have been times where the chef enjoyed the challenge and sent out a meal for me that everyone else at the table coveted!
Do you enjoy burritos? Soft tortilla, rice, beans, corn, peppers, onions, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa, pickled jalapenos, and a dash of hot sauce – yum!
Tacos? Corn tortilla with sautéed or roasted portobello, oyster or maitake mushrooms, spicy cauliflower, beans, avocado, pico de Gallo, salsa, cabbage slaw, and pickled peppers and hot sauce.
Chinese Food? Tofu, broccoli, and peppers in a black bean and garlic sauce over rice. Or Moo shu veggies and tofu with scallions and hoisin sauce.
Japanese Food? Veggie sushi choose-your-fillings: avocado, cucumber, shiso leaf, umeboshi plum, pickled radish, pickled gobo, marinated shiitake mushrooms, tofu, natto, wasabi, ginger, etc. and soba noodles in a dipping sauce, or a Bento Box with teriyaki tofu, rice, salad, vegetables, and pickles.
Do you love pasta? Spaghetti with marinara (aim for oil-free), mushrooms, zucchini, olives, peppers, and a sprinkle of parmesan made from nuts/seeds/ nutritional yeast. Or fettuccine primavera with tons of veggies, garlic, and fresh basil.
Pizza? Red sauce, peppers, onions, garlic, eggplant, spinach, olives, capers, and artichoke hearts. Some even offer vegan cheese. Calzones stuffed with the same items hold the cheese.
Sloppy Joes? Lentils or jackfruit cooked with onions, garlic, bell pepper, and barbecue sauce on a bun with some homemade slaw (or vinegar-based slaw) and pickles.
Burgers? Bean burgers, lentil beet burgers, quinoa burgers, or tofu burgers and even meatless burgers that greatly mimic beef: with ketchup, mustard, pickles, onion, tomato, and lettuce on a soft wheat burger bun? When you layer on all the condiments, it’ll satisfy that burger craving!
The list goes on for Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Ethiopian, and they all include and often feature plant-based dishes!
By the way, salads do not have to be boring. How about a salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes, pecans, and red onion, with warm farro on top? A green salad with romaine, garbanzo beans, cucumber, onions, olives, tomato, oregano, and a tart herb vinaigrette? Or a noodle salad with peanut dressing – lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, soba noodles, fresh herbs, shredded cabbage, peanut sauce, and some crushed peanuts? And a taco salad with lettuce, roasted corn, cherry tomatoes, peppers, black beans, avocado, cilantro, an agave lime vinaigrette, and some crispy baked corn chips on top?
You can easily make any of these dishes at home with little time and on a low budget. But if you love to dine out, here are some tips that ensure you will not feel deprived:
Whenever possible ADD! Bulk up your pasta marinara, pizza, burrito, taco, or stir fry with extra veggies – any you spot in other dishes on the menu are fair game.
Choose raw or steamed vegetables over fried and stir-fried whenever possible. Have seasonings included for flavoring.
If they offer them, have your potatoes and yams baked over fried.
Ask for your sauce or dressing on the side and then use less (or instead, use vinegar, lemon, and lime which all restaurants have in their kitchens!).
Hold the cheese, mayo, and butter! Sub avocado (think sandwiches, toast, tacos, burritos).
Request no oil or easy on the oil (especially at Asian cafes).
Look at the plant-based ingredients in other dishes and sides (if they serve beans, ask to add them to your dish or salad. Baby spinach? Toss in your soup, pasta, etc.).
Breakfast at a diner-style cafe or hotel buffet: fruit bowl, oatmeal (if not cooked in milk) with a sprinkle of raisins or berries and some seeds or nuts, whole wheat or whole grain toast with a side of avocado, a veggie omelet hold the eggs and cheese, and water saute (no kidding – this is how you get a plate of breakfast vegetables! And include some breakfast potatoes. Serve it up with an avocado toast and some fruit and voila!)
Cafe or Bagel shop: wheat or whole grain bagel with hummus and/or avocado (and sliced tomato, lettuce, onion if desired)
Sandwich shop: sourdough, whole wheat, whole grain or rye bread with avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and balsamic (or any) vinegar (add hummus if they have, baby spinach, sprouts, olives – get creative!)
Salad bar: any/all fresh veggies, pickled items, olives, beans, sprouts, nuts, and seeds for garnish (sometimes they will have hummus or guacamole, quinoa or rice), a whole wheat or sourdough roll.
Do your best and remember progress, not perfection. Stay the course; it will become second nature, and your taste buds will be happy and content.