Green vegetable varieties at farmers market

Photo courtesy of @criene/Twenty20

Between Tom Brady and Beyoncé, veganism has evolved, rather stunningly, from maligned eating restriction to fashionable detox and and healthier lifestyle. A meat and dairy-free diet is said to help assist in weight loss, spike energy levels, improve gut health, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. With the New Year and its resolutions well upon us, there’s no better time to dip toes into veganism — even if it’s just once a week.

Convincing a diehard meat eater of the health benefits of a plant-based diets is one thing, but persuading them to switch-up their habits is a whole other matter. We spoke with NYC chef Caroline Schiff, a restaurant vet and owner of Paradigm Schiff, a food and beverage consulting agency, on how to nudge a carnivore out of their comfort zone to incorporate more vegan-friendly eats, whether cooking at home or ordering in a restaurant. Here are five things to look out for:

Healthy Vegetables for Vegan Cooking

Photo courtesy of @natasa.goras/Twenty20

1. Umami

When I’m cooking for people who love meat, I want those umami flavors. Anything smoked is gonna be really meaty, like a smoked paprika or a little liquid smoke. Put a few drops into your marinade: soy sauce, a dark miso paste, a tiny bit of liquid smoke. Let your vegetables sit in that. Throw them on the grill. That’s gonna evoke all of their own flavors.”

2. Marinades

Don’t be afraid to over season or over-marinade vegetables. Mushrooms are likes sponges. Marinading them and throwing it on the grill is the best way to really harness maximum flavor. Tofu doesn’t taste like anything and the texture can be weird. Marinade it overnight, and dry it out in the oven to give it a chewy, toothsome quality which can mimic chicken. Jackfruit is unbelievable — it’s exactly the same texture as pulled pork. You can get canned jack fruit, and cook it down in vegetable or mushroom stock with a little bit of liquid smoke, paprika, brown sugar, molasses, cayenne, mustard powder for that Southern profile.”

3. Sauces

Finish dishes with sauces like a a really garlicky pesto, salsa verde, chimichurri. Gochujang — that Korean red paste — is awesome. It’s really such flavor bomb. It also has some sugar in it, so when you cook it, it’ll caramelize. I use it to marinade tofu or a really big piece of eggplant, with sesame oil, rice vinegar, a little bit of soy, crushed ginger, fresh raw grated garlic. Let it soak, and pan-sear it for a really beautiful crust.”

4. Crunch

Vegetables like brussels sprouts are awesome. Cooking them in high heat gives them a crispiness. The other thing is toasted pine nuts. I remember as a kid I thought they tasted like bacon. Toast them and lightly crush them, toss them with your brussels sprouts with a little olive oil honey or maple, since bacon is often cooked with maple. Toasted pine nuts have an incredible savory meaty flavor.”

5. Grains

A lot of grains have a wonderful chewy quality. Farro, wheat berries, I’ve also been really into freekeh. They’re more satisfying than white rice. Throw in a ton of herbs and season it, add lemon juice, olive oil, and a green salad. I even made freekeh into a risotto. I made a stock with dried mushrooms — porcinis, shiitakes — reconstituting them with simmering water, then straining out the mushrooms. I also whisked miso into that, which made it thick and complex in flavor.”

The only hard-pass on Schiff’s list is faux meat. For a meat eater, it’s like, Why would I eat a fake meat product when I eat real meat all the time?’ Don’t try to fool people,” she says. I would also avoid food that is less seasoned. Don’t waste your time on the vegan mac and cheese, or the vegan fettuccini Alfredo. They’re going to be a letdown. Always look for something interesting.”

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.