My love for vegetables was hard-won. I didn’t grow up on organic produce and vegetarian dinners. I had to teach myself to like salad. I had to learn that there were vegetables other than broccoli and peas. I had to realize that vegetables weren’t always a “side” and were sometimes the main dish — or a big part of the main dish. And more than anything, I had to figure out how to make them taste good.
It’s the second anniversary of SheKnows Experts Among Us, and to celebrate, we’re asking Experts for their best advice. This time we asked: How do you make vegetarian food super tasty and also super filling? Here’s what they told us!
Tip: Look to other cultures
“Think globally! So many cultures around the world have amazing vegetarian dishes. They are seasoned with an amazing array of herbs and spices. Certain starches are used to act as the filler (beans, lentils, rice, potatoes). From vegetable curry to eggplant moussaka, to spanakopita — the world is your vegetable!” – Expert Amy Juicebox
“You can make simple vegetable dishes with or without spices. For example: South Indian breakfast dish crepe dosa, made with fermented rice and urad dal (spilt black gram) with a slight amount of salt and oil for cooking. Also, you can make lentil salad with cooked lentils and beans and grated coconut and red chili and salt. This is a really filling dish; we call them sundal. Normally curry is not a filling dish either; it is combined with rice or roti/chapathi (Indian flat bread).” – Expert Swathi Iyer
“Umami is the secret ingredient to plant-based cooking. Umami is the ‘fifth taste’ in Japanese cuisine. The word means meatiness, but that doesn’t mean meat. Aroma, flavors and cooking methods bring a sense of umami to cooking. Umami-rich foods are both flavorful and offer satiety. Foods include ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, fermented foods, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, wine, liquid smoke, miso paste and more. Cooking methods include roasting, braising, caramelizing and grilling. The next time you’re making a vegan dish for a non-veg person, think umami. They will love it!” – Expert JL Fields
Tip: Play with seasoning
“Add tons of seasoning and treat veggies like meats!” – Expert Ginger Harper
“Treat vegetables like they are animal proteins. Season them like you would a steak or a piece of fish. This gives veggies a depth of flavor that doesn’t happen with only salt/pepper.” – Expert Beth Nydick
“Sea salt, lemon/lime juice, raw apple cider vinegar all can be sprinkled on veggies to make them tasty. Agree with olive oil, but pumpkin seed oil may be tastier. Also a creamy sauce made with cashew or coconut milk does wonders. Cilantro is great in cooked brown rice. Adding raw nuts, grains and seeds can bulk up salads and soups.” – Expert JRosemarie Francis
“Garlic and butter. (It’s that simple!)” – Expert Shari Lynne
“I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 10 years old. It’s so much easier now to eat vegetarian, and to eat healthy! For years ‘pasta primavera’ was your only option. Now I make chili glazed tofu or homemade tofu tempura, chickpea stew or a veggie quiche and veggie lasagna that I can refrigerate and eat all week. And I live on Soy Vay — I put it on everything!” – Expert Cooper Lawrence
Tip: Use quality ingredients
“Good quality olive oil (and good quality ingredients)! Take a tip from my Spanish friends; there is no vegetable that can’t be turned into a ‘dish’ with a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Boring old tomatoes become ‘Mediterranean tomato salad,’ cold leftover vegetables become antipasto. It’s so easy and such a great secret. My non-Spanish friends think I’m a great cook. I just don’t put them straight!” – Expert Orlena Kerek
“Using good cooking ingredients is a must, especially cooking oil or butter. I am Indian and basically our cooking is mostly with vegetables. Mixing sweet and sour tastes also helps!” – Expert Sunita Chabra
“Being an Indian, I love paneer, the Indian cottage cheese which can make any meatless dish absolutely delicious. Either sautéed or fried, it gives a nice texture to the finished dish. Mushrooms when added in a dish impart a nice flavor to the whole dish. Being a vegetarian, I always go for mushrooms whenever I am substituting meat in a dish. Soya chunks, when soaked and shredded, acts just like minced meat and can be used for kebabs and cutlets. To add the flavor to minced soya, add spices like cinnamon, fennel and cloves, and the results will be fabulous.” – Expert Gayathri Kumar
Tip: You can easily make them filling
“Use nuts, beans and vegetables like squash and yams, as well as avocados and olives (fruits technically, I think).” – Expert Caroline Poser
“In my experience, adding potato helps. A good source of carbs, potatoes add taste to any vegetable. Add them to beans, eggplants, peas — any vegetable that you can think of. The dish comes out more filling, and kids (and adults) eat their veggies easily.” – Expert Nidhi Bhargava
To see our Experts’ awesome posts, go to sheknows.com/experts.