Trying to cook healthy meals with fewer animal products isn’t hard – it just requires a few adjustments. You don’t need meat or dairy at the center of your plate to feel full and satisfied, but you need to go beyond daily salads to feel satiated and healthy in the long term. Enter your basic vegan bowl.
If you learn to make a great bowl, you will never be bored, hungry, or broke. Making bowls is a cheap, satisfying, and healthy way to eat – I eat at least one a day. That said, I’m extremely privileged: my partner is the cook, and I just eat his tasty, whole-food, plant-based meals. More and more friends who have eaten at our house ask for his recipes, but he insists he doesn’t have any. Instead, he uses the following simple formula.
Choose Your Ingredients
Every satisfying bowl has a few components: 1–2 grains, 2–6 different veggies and 1–2 legumes.
Grains: Take your pick of brown rice, white rice, amaranth, quinoa, wheat berries, farro or some kind of noodle.
Keep these stocked in your pantry. If you’re often in a rush or have a fear of cooking grains, you can also buy microwavable brown rice or quinoa at Trader Joe’s.
Vegetables: Really, there are no wrong answers here. In general, the best way to get different nutrients is to have various colors represented. There should be at least one green vegetable (kale, broccoli, greens, peas, fennel, celery, zucchini, etc.). You’ll also want red, orange, purple or yellow vegetables (bell peppers, carrots, sweet potato, purple cabbage, corn kernels, etc.). The more colors the better, but you can also keep it simple.
We always keep a bunch of frozen veggies in the fridge so that we are never without. Broccoli, asparagus, corn, peas, and spinach are staples that are always around, while we tend to buy carrots, fennel, kale, and cabbage fresh. You’ll also always want to keep onions, garlic, and ginger in the house.
Legumes: Buy a bunch of cans, and keep your pantry stocked. We prefer unsalted beans, including black, cannellini, garbanzo, pinto, kidney, and black-eyed peas. Legumes could also be tofu, tempeh (we love the three-grain tempeh from Trader Joe’s) or lentils.
Condiments and Toppings: You’ll always want some good toppings for your bowl on hand. Here’s what we use most: nutritional yeast, sesame seeds, hot sauce, tomatillo salsa, Sriracha, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and tahini.
Cook Your Bowl
Choose your grain, and put it in a pot with the appropriate amount of water (Google this if you’re not sure). Leave the top off the pot, put the pot on the stove, and set heat to high. Once water is boiling, turn down to simmer and cover. Depending on the grain, this will take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes total.
As grains are being brought to a boil, chop up your onions (about half an onion per person), and put a small amount of oil in a pan (or a layer of water, if preferred). Cook the onions while you’re chopping up the other vegetables. If you like garlic and ginger, dice them up (a clove or two of garlic per person; a little less for the ginger), and once onions are sautéed to translucent, throw them in. Onions can be further sautéed if you prefer them caramelized.
If you’re using tempeh, chickpeas, or tofu as your legume, throw them in at the beginning so they can brown with the onions. Once onions are turning translucent and legumes are starting to brown, throw in your vegetables.
The easiest and tastiest way to season tempeh, tofu or noodles is with Sriracha, a couple capfuls of toasted sesame oil and a touch of soy sauce or Bragg’s. Put these on when you start cooking tempeh or tofu, and mix thoroughly so all tempeh or tofu is coated with sauce beforehand. If you want this sauce on your noodles, add cooked noodles and sauce to the pan with all your veggies during their last minute of cooking, turn flame down to a simmer, and stir that bad boy up.
In which order should vegetables go in the pan? A basic rule to follow as you’re learning is that denser vegetables go in earlier (fennel, carrots, celery, etc.), while leafy veggies go in last (kale, spinach, etc.). Cook denser vegetables for 3–4 minutes (unless they’re a tuber-like sweet potato, in which case you’ll need to roast or sauté them ahead of time), and then throw in lighter veggies, cooking for another couple of minutes.
If you want salt and pepper, add them toward the end of cooking. Lastly, Top with nutritional yeast or whatever other condiments or sauces you like.
Sample Bowl Combinations
Like I said, you can’t go wrong, but these combinations should get you started.
Simple Mexican bowl: onions, garlic, black or pinto beans, rice, carrots, green vegetable(s) of choice; top with salsa
Tempeh Asian noodle bowl: onions, garlic, ginger, tempeh, carrots, green vegetable(s) of choice, noodle of choice; top with sesame seeds
Macro bowl: legume of choice, grain of choice, vegetable(s) of choice; top with sauce, and if on hand, sauerkraut and avocado