5 Quick Ways to Enhance Any Vegan Dish
I know I’m not the only one who found themselves suddenly home for every single meal.
Yes, I order takeout and even get a couple of meals a week via food kit service, but the truth remains: I’m cooking way more than I ever expected to (sorry, takeout!), and it's honestly more than I’d prefer.
I think we can all admit, vegan or not, that it is super easy to fall into a cooking rut. We make the same foods, cooked the same way. Maybe you have your two go-to dishes, maybe you have three. Maybe you’re a culinary genius and have four or five go-to's, but the fact remains, routine = boring after a while.
Out of that boredom, I did enough cookbook, food blog, and recipe app-perusing, private group-querying, and new ingredient-ordering that I discovered five ways to enhance any vegan dish quickly. We're talking salads, roasted veggies, pasta, tofu, you name it—start with whatever vegan recipes entice you, and these tricks will improve it. Here are 5 quick ways to enhance any vegan meals (even if you're still a meat-eater).
1. Chili Crisps on everything
I feel like I was the last to learn about chili crisps.
They are what their name implies: little pieces of hot chilis that have been crisped somehow and come in jars of infused chili-oils, and yet retain their crispness. My go-to brand is Don Chilio, and my go-to flavor is supposed to be the mildest, the jalapeno. Even so, these add an addictive crunch and manageable heat to any dish—whether the star ingredient is a sweet potato, a butternut squash, black beans, tacos, or tempeh. I even throw chili crisps on my sourdough discard pancakes with maple syrup because I’m a sucker for that sweet-and-spicy combo.
2. Roast vegetables with cinnamon
Cinnamon. It’s not just for toast anymore.
I have a combo I use almost every time I roast anything that includes salt, garlic powder, and cumin. But when I want to shake things up I add cinnamon to the mix … replacing or even in tandem with the cumin. I know it’s not really caramelizing the veggies as though it was sugar-based, but it evokes that kind of flavor and is slightly unexpected. This is one easy vegan tip for the veg-curious.
3. Make it creamy
There’s a family story we tell every year at Thanksgiving about my first Thanksgiving as a vegan.
My sister-in-law took me in the kitchen and showed me the great lengths she went to prepare vegan versions of everything for my meal. So, when her famous strawberry soup first course was put in front of me, I dug in without a second thought. “This is so good! How did you get it so creamy?” I asked. “Oh, with a bit of crème fraiche,” she blithely replied, realizing a micro-second later what had just happened. We laughed and laughed. If it happened now, I probably wouldn’t even ask. I’d assume she had pulverized some soaked cashews, or used aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas) or mashed some cauliflower, or even bought one of several brands of vegan creamer products on the shelves now. Point being: You can make foods creamy without cream and it steps up the comfort food quotient more than you could imagine. (Tahini, I'm looking at you.)
4. Preserve some lemons
Preserved lemons are without a doubt the easiest fancy condiment to make yourself.
All you need is a mason jar, some lemons, plus kosher salt and time. This is the recipe I used from the OMG Yummy blog. But it truly is so simple—no animal products needed! Basically, you stuff the lemons with salt, put it in your pantry or other dark cool place, leave it for four weeks (covering it with lemon juice at some point if you want to) and, voila! You can stick the jar in your fridge and they are, well, preserved. Pretty much for eternity. Then you have a foundational ingredient to make your dishes taste more Mediterranean/Middle Eastern. To add some umami to your clean green meals. To impress your friends with your Little House on the Prairie ways.
5. Use recipes as inspiration, not prescription
If I could boil it down to one recommendation, I make it this one: Peruse recipes to get new ideas for flavoring or ingredient combos.
You don’t have to follow them exactly. You don’t have to eat exactly the way your cookbooks or NYT Cooking or Martha Stewart tell you to. But those sources can remind you to try the spices you have in your cupboard but never know what to do with. They can remind you of the glories of mixing flavors, from sweet + savory to acid + fat. They can be a jumping off point to variety, and I hereby give you permission to treat them as guidelines, not rules.
Not baking though. Baking is a science. Baking is just full of rules.
Elisa Camahort Page is a speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur, best-known for co-founding BlogHer. She’s the host of The Op-Ed Page podcast and co-author of Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All. Learn more at elisacp.com.