A Plant-Based Spin on Classic Dishes
by April Thompson
When contemplating a shift toward a plant-based diet, some may prematurely mourn the loss of their favorite meaty classics. Luckily, enterprising vegan chefs have experimented with flavors and textures that will lure almost any palate into loving a plant-based version of their favorite dishes without resorting to processed foods.
“Plant-based versions of classic dishes offer all the nutritional benefits of plants without the cholesterol and saturated fats from animal products,” says chef and author Marly McMillen-Beelman. “You don’t have to abandon all your favorite foods to become vegan—just veganize them.”
The Kansas City chef makes carrot “dogs”, for example, by roasting carrots in a savory mix of tamari, agave, miso, paprika and garlic for a cookout-worthy treat. McMillen-Beelman’s cookbook The Everything Vegan Meal Prep Cookbook also offers many bean- and legume-based versions of classic sandwiches, like a vegan “Big Mac” with quinoa and pinto beans; a burger made from oats, black beans and pecans; meatballs from tofu and lentils; and a chicken salad based on tempeh, a fermented, soy-based, high-protein product with a nutty flavor.
“A lot of people like using tempeh, tofu or jackfruit for a meaty texture. It needs to be well seasoned, but so does meat,” suggests Ocean Robbins, author of The 31-Day Food Revolution: Heal Your Body, Feel Great, & Transform Your World. “To mimic cheese, some combination of nuts and nutritional yeast, cultured nut cheeses or plant-based milks works nicely.”
McMillen-Beelman likes using jackfruit for a “pulled pork” sandwich or taco, the tropical fruit being packed with vitamin C, protein, calcium, potassium and iron. Her slow-cooked version leans on whole-food ingredients, including pear and cranberries, to add natural sweetness and phytonutrients. “I use canned jackfruit because it’s much easier to find and cook with than the expensive jumbo whole fruit,” she says.
Ben Pook, the London co-author with Roxy Pope of So Vegan in 5, says mushrooms lend substance and umami flavor to vegan dishes such as a mushroom, sage and onion Wellington as a substitute for the classic beef Wellington. “We use portobello mushrooms for their meaty texture, which we surround with a sage and onion stuffing—all wrapped in vegan puff pastry to create a centerpiece worthy of any dinner party,” says Pook, whose cookbook features dozens of plant-based recipes that contain only five ingredients each, such as a broccoli alfredo with cashews, broccolini, tagliatelle pasta, nutritional yeast and garlic.
Nuts can also work wonders in a vegetarian dish, such as Pook and Pope’s walnut meat tacos, which blend toasted walnuts together with spices like cumin, paprika, garlic and chili powder to create a mince-like texture built into a taco with toppings galore.
Many classic dishes can also be adapted by simply leaving out the meat and letting the spices, herbs and vegetables shine through; for example, in a vegan shepherd’s pie, go with penne pasta with red sauce or a garlicky pesto with extra nuts, greens and olive oil in lieu of cheese.
Sweet tooth cravings can be satisfied with healthy, plant-based versions of classic desserts, substituting aquafaba (the starchy liquid left over from canned beans) instead of frothy egg whites, or olive oil or avocado for butter.
Nut butters can also add a touch of richness to a dish, whether sweet or savory. “I love making a peanut coconut milk curry soup with onions, mushrooms and bok choy, with peanut butter, lime juice and soy sauce blended into the coconut milk for a luxurious flavor and texture. It’s great over potatoes, quinoa or rice,” says Robbins.
“Vegan food doesn’t need to be expensive, boring or complicated,” Pook says. “There really are endless possibilities when it comes to cooking with plants, so don’t be afraid to experiment and create your own twist.”
Connect with Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.