One of the lingering misconceptions about vegetarian food is that it is boring.
This wide-spread belief stems from the unappetizing stodge that some hippies cooked in the 70s. The veggie food bad rap is fortunately disappearing and we are living an exciting vegetarian revolution with delicious recipes published on the web every day.
Now that I mostly cook vegetarian, I realize how it is far more creative than the bog standard meat-two-vegs-one-carb dish. It does require more effort but it’s more satisfying in many ways.
Here are a few tricks that I use to keep my vegetarian food interesting and tasty:
1. A few drops of green gold.
Sprinkle a dash of “the good olive oil” before serving; it brings the flavours together. This is a trick I learned from the Spanish. You can have normal quality olive oil for everyday cooking but have a bottle of the good one for “special occasions.” Alternatively, you can add a small chunk of butter; this, I learned from being French!
2. A sexy spice rack.
Have a good selection of spices in your cupboard. Learn how to combine spices to ingredients; carrots and cumin are a Moroccan match made in heaven, Spanish smoked paprika can jazz up an otherwise bland veggie rice. Caraway seeds are great in homemade coleslaw. Nutmeg goes well in vegetable lasagne.
3. Lemon or lime on the side.
Citruses are a natural taste enhancer and a good way to add a zest of vitamin C in your diet. For example, you can garnish your veggie rices or quinoa pilaffs with a lemon slice; and your Thai or Vietnamese soups and chilli sin carne with lime.
4. Roasted seeds and nuts.
They give nuttiness and texture. They are packed with omega 3 and 6, and also iron in the case of poppy seeds. Roasting seeds brings out their flavor.
5. Cool beans.
There is more to pulses than lentils and chick peas. There are some other nice legumes to play with: butter beans, split beans, mung beans, turtle beans. Beans of all shapes and colors are wonderful in salads, and they also make a good base to prepare homemade veggie burgers.
6. Local, seasonal and organic vegetables.
They just taste better. The key to any good cooking is the ingredients. Eating South American tomato in December makes very little sense. They are hard and watery. It’s really worth waiting for summer to see what your farmer’s market has to offer.
7. Bring on the grass.
Chopped fresh herbs or spring onion dress up a dish and bring a pungent, spicy and tangy taste to it. They provide surprising amounts of vitamins and iron, especially in the case of the French cuisine favorite parsley. Chopped parsley, steamed potatoes and a chunk of butter is one of my favourite side dishes.
8. The power of tomato concentrate.
Dishes that are cooked in a lot of water can be insipid. A few teaspoons of tomato concentrate really revive pulses stews and soups. It’s a wonderful substitute for tomato during winter.
9. Make it hot.
Have a few chili options in your cupboard. Chili flakes and powder are very handy, but you can add Portuguese piri piri or cayenne pepper to your spicy repertoire.
10. Get cheesy.
A bit of grated parmesan cheese goes a long way. Why not also try to cut of few slices of brie in your tomato spaghetti, or melt some goat cheese on a nice piece of toast to accompany your summer salad.
11. Grate the garlic.
The finer chopped the garlic is, the better its taste infuses in your dish. I grate mine with a Japanese ginger grater, it saves me some chopping too!
12. Use a pressure cooker.
Dishes are cooked in liquid so all the minerals and vitamins—and the flavors—are preserved in the process.
13. Hearty veggies.
Choose vegetables with meaty textures—squashes, cabbages, potatoes, mushrooms, aubergines, beetroots—and combine them with lighter greens such as spinach and leek, as well as tasty reds: peppers and tomatoes.
14. The perfect dressing.
Sometimes a tasty salad is only as good its dressing. The right sauce can give the final touch that will make it all happen. I’m quite partial to homemade vinaigrette, but you can style your salad by personalizing your dressing. You can make a simple quinoa and lentil salad taste Mediterranean by creating a honey and cumin dressing. Or, you can bring an Asian flavour to a cold noodles salad by serving it with a satay type dressing—garlic, soy sauce, peanut butter, sesame oil.
15. Mucho mezze.
One of the wonders of vegetarian cooking is that there are a lot of cultures and traditions to find inspiration from. Mediterranean cuisine is especially attractive when it comes to preparing simple but delicious veggie dishes and dips to share. The Spanish constantly create mouth-watering tapas; from patatas bravas to tortilla or pimientos de padron (grilled baby green peppers). The Italians have a great tradition of antipasti. Then further south, the Greek, Lebanese and Turkish cooking have bundles of delights to offer: baba ganoush, hummus, tzatziki and tabouleh. They’re all easier to prepare than you might think, and are a great accompaniment to summer barbecues and picnics.