I often find that spring calls for change. Whether you’re getting back to your long-forgotten new year’s resolutions or adding a new goal to your list, it’s about time to shake things up. In the spring of my junior year of high school, I decided change it up and go vegetarian. I LOVED it. It opened my eyes to a whole different world of food, and I learned about ingredients that I didn’t know existed. For example, I had never heard of nutritional yeast and soy chorizo until I switched up my diet. While I am not fully vegetarian right now, I have a solid two years under my belt and I know that changing something as fundamental as your diet can be daunting. Here are my top 5 vegetarian basics to help you get started!
Pasta definitely tops the list when it comes to vegetarian basics. It’s filling, it’s delicious, and you can make an infinite amount of vegetarian sauces to go with it. I was the only vegetarian in my family, which means I often found myself cooking a completely different meal some nights. However, when they had pasta I could easily make a vegetarian version of the sauce. Sometimes I found myself eating too much pasta because I got lazy, so I would recommend incorporating chick pea or lentil pasta if you find yourself reaching for it as often as I did. These pasta alternatives are way more protein packed than regular wheat pasta and also less carbo loaded. As a vegetarian, everyone automatically assumes you are protein deficient, and replacing normal pasta with these alternatives every so often can help boost your protein intake.
Eggs are another fundamental vegetarian ingredient, especially if your mom thinks that being vegetarian means giving up protein and shriveling away. Two eggs are going to get you twelve grams of protein, so starting the day with them ensures you stay full and energized through the morning. Sometimes eggs can get boring, but I find that varying the way I prepare them helps. Poach them, scramble them, fry them. Put them on toast, make and egg and cheese bagel, eat ’em plain. You do you.
While tofu is widely considered one of many vegetarian basics, I think it would be possible to be vegetarian without it. I know many people find it creepy (because really, how do soybeans turn into that), but it’s honestly a lifesaver when you want a meal that’s a little more hearty. My favorite way to prepare tofu is in Asian dishes like ramen and Korean barbecue style. Tossing tofu in cornstarch and frying them up is the best way to get them crispy and delicious. Fortunately, tofu tastes completely flavorless on its own so whatever sauce you put on it is what it will taste like. It’s basically a blank canvas for flavor.
Lentils are probably the #1 ingredient when it comes to making a meatless alternative of a meat based sauce for pasta. Most vegetarian sauce replacements contain a combination of lentils, mushrooms, and nuts to mimic the flavor and texture of meat. Lentils are also great to add to soups to make them more filling, and like tofu, they are practically flavorless! If you haven’t caught on, seasoning is ever more important when you are vegetarian than it was before.
As I mentioned earlier, the most common misconception about vegetarians is that they are protein deficient. In reality, however, you are much more likely to become iron deficient. Spinach is a great way to boost your iron intake naturally because you can add it to practically anything. I like to sauté some spinach with garlic and then add it to tomato sauce for pasta. For another quick and easy lunch, I throw a handful into my smoothies. It might make your smoothie a gross color, but you can’t taste it at all.
These are just five vegetarian basics to help you get started on the veg train! If meat is something you find really hard to live without, so many meat replacement products are out there that mimic it almost perfectly. The Beyond Burger is a great example, and similar products exist for ground beef, sausage, and bacon.
Sometimes quitting meat all at once can be difficult, so I would recommend starting gradually. If all three of your meals in the day typically include meat, try to have one meatless meal a day. Then go for two meals a day and so on. Sometimes, increasing your intake of vegetables and legumes like lentils and beans can make your stomach hurt if done all at once. You can avoid this issue by training your digestive system and starting gradually. There are so many resources out there to help you start, and eventually, cooking vegetarian becomes your new normal. I find that being veg really helps my energy and just makes me feel good. Good luck!
To help you get started, I’ve made a Pinterest board with some simple recipes.