Vegan 101: How To Use Seasoning For Delicious Vegan Meals

by JL Fields on September 20, 2012

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a new vegan was food preparation.  It’s one of the reasons I enrolled in public culinary courses – I needed help! 

Today I am thrilled to offer a new post in the Vegan 101 series, featuring my friend Heather Nauta of Healthy Eating Starts Here.  Heather’s You Tube channel will blow you away – she brings cooking classes directly to you! Today she is sharing a Vegan 101 post with ideas on how to use seasonings to enhance whole foods so that we can make delicious vegan meals!

Heather Nauta is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, showing you how to have fun while making simple, fast, incredibly delicious and healthy meals that leave you and your family satisfied and full of energy at www.HealthyVeganRecipes.net, with a free video of a vegan recipe every single week and more detailed online vegan cooking classes. She specializes in helping people get to an optimal level of health by getting them on a nutritionally-complete healthy meal plan, and supporting them to guarantee they achieve their health goals at www.HealthyEatingStartsHere.com.

How To Use Seasoning For Delicious Vegan Meals

One of the top complaints I hear when people  start eating plant foods is that they feel like their meals are bland. Which is probably true, but it’s not at all because of being plants – it’s just that people don’t always know how much of a difference seasonings can make!

I never understand why people think that meals without meat have no flavor. Most of what people taste in any dish (from sausages to veggie burgers) is the seasoning – which is all from plants! Herbs, spices, vegetables and fruits are the major flavors in most recipes.

I think where people get most led to blandness in vegan cooking is when they cook with grains and beans. I almost never make a dish that’s a grain or a bean by itself, and I certainly never have a meal without something more flavorful on my plate.

On their own, grains and beans don’t have much flavor. Try eating a plain chickpea out of a can, and it tastes like bland mushy carbohydrate. But then think of hummus, and how spectacularly flavorful it is. The secret is in the spices and flavors you add.

Once you add lemon juice, garlic, cumin and maybe some paprika to your chickpeas, plus salt to bring all the flavors together, you have yourself something delicious – and the really great part is that it’s healthy, too!

Seasonings like fresh herbs, garlic, ginger and dried spices and herbs actually add lots of nutrients to your meal, so don’t shy away from using them in anything and everything.

Keep in mind that cooked grains and beans absorb flavors slowly, so if you leave them to marinate in a sauce or dressing for an hour or longer they will be so much tastier.

There are a few ways to make beans and grains more interesting. You can:

  • Pair them with your favorite vegetables or fruit.
  • Add spices, herbs or tea to the water while they cook.
  • Use some vegetable broth or juice as the cooking water.
  • Dress or marinate them with a flavorful sauce.
  • Puree them with seasoning into a dip or sauce.
  • Grains, beans and bean dips make a great salad topper to turn a light salad into a meal.
  • Add them to a vegetable soup.
  • Top cooked whole grains with your favorite pasta sauce.
  • Marinate beans or lentils with spices to make a burrito or taco filling.

Using Salt
Don’t be afraid to cook with salt. It softens the bitterness of vegetables, so that they taste better and you’ll want to eat more of the healthy food you’re making. It also helps bring all the flavors of your dish together, so that your hummus doesn’t taste like each individual flavor – it tastes like hummus.

Using Spices
Spices add vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein to your dishes, so use them! Try to get a wide variety of spices for more interesting flavor combinations, and nutrition benefits. Branch out from the usual few and try new ones, like cardamom, cloves or paprika. Start small when you’re not sure – you can always add more, but you can’t take it out.

Spices have a bitterness to them, especially if you use too much, that you can feel as a numbness on your tongue. Offset that by:

  • Infusing them into a dish with fat (try to use whole food fats like nuts, seeds, avocados most often)
  • Using them in a thick puree of beans or starchy vegetables like squash
  • Using whole spices (cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, etc) to infuse into the cooking water for soup, grains or beans
  • Dry-toasting spices before using them (whether whole or ground)

Using Herbs
Herbs are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so use them! Use fresh herbs whenever you can – they have more nutrients and flavor than dried herbs. Fresh herbs are a great addition to salads, smoothies, bean dips and other dishes. Fresh herbs wilt and lose their flavor very quickly under heat, so add them at the end of making a hot dish, or sprinkle them on top as a garnish.

Dried herbs are great through the winter when fresh are harder to find, and still add a surprising amount of nutrition. They need to have their flavor released, though, otherwise they don’t taste like much. Rub them between your fingers as you add them to a dish, or infuse them in a fat-based sauce to carry their flavor. Dried herbs are perfect cooked into sauces, soups and infused in the water while you cook whole grains.

Seasoning Combinations
Here are some tried and true flavor combinations you can start with:

  • Salty asian flavors like tamari (soy sauce), toasted sesame oil and ginger are great with broccoli, mushrooms and dark green leafy vegetables like kale or bok choy.
  • Basil, oregano and marjoram are classic herbs to perfectly season tomato sauce.
  • Dill, onion powder and nutritional yeast mixed into a creamy dressing with some fresh garlic are so tasty to toss with brown rice and steamed veggies.
  • Thyme, parsley and bay leaves will add rich flavor to a mushroom gravy or squash risotto.
  • Cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric and cayenne make a simple curry powder that’s great with
  • chickpeas, sweet potato, apple and lime juice.
  • Cayenne, cumin, and allspice are the base of a great chilli with tomatoes, kidney beans,
  • mushrooms and zucchini.
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and molasses perfectly flavor gingerbread or a porridge.

Then when you get confident in your seasoning senses, you can always add a little bit of an individual spice to make it taste different – like a pinch of cardamom or cinnamon with curry powder.

So don’t be afraid of seasoning! It’s the secret to any good dish, and can make all the difference when you want to make a truly amazing vegan meal. With the right seasonings, you can wow anyone’s tastebuds.

***

I don’t know about you but I really needed this primer! I tend to get in a rut and use the same spices over and over.  I cannot wait to play with some herbs and spices in my bulk cooking this weekend.

Readers:  What are you favorite spice combinations?  Do you have questions for Heather?

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  • Laura Merchant

    Great post! It can be difficult to know which herbs and spices to use. One of my favorite books for figuring out how to season foods is The Flavor Bible. It lists the primary and secondary flavor pairings for different ingredients. So, if you’re wondering which herbs and spices pair well with eggplant, it will list those, as well as other ingredients that combine well. True, it includes non-vegan ingredient suggestions, but I just ignore those. I really like using it for fruit crisps. I start with the PPK apple crisp recipe and always use the topping from that recipe but then I vary the herbs/spices to match whatever fruit I’m using. So, if I’m doing a peach crisp, instead of the cinnamon, I’ll use ginger and orange zest.

  • shawn

    I want to mak mac and cheese I also want to put dried mustered in for a little zing I’m enough for 20 people

    • http://www.healthyeatingstartshere.com/ Heather Nauta

      hm, I’m not sure about mustard in mac & cheese, but then again I’ve never actually eaten mac & cheese, so I may not be the best person to ask… I would just say be VERY cautious with the mustard powder, it’s extremely potent and a little goes a long way. Start small, you can always add more – but you can’t take it out, and making a batch big enough for 20 people would be a shame to waste! If it were me, I’d probably add some paprika (smoked paprika is even better) and maybe a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to give some tang to a cheesy sauce. I hope it works out for you :)

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