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Making bland health foods taste good on the cheap??

I recently started cooking for myself and am simply overwhelmed with all the amazing things you people do with food!

It's like you guys are haute couturiers of the food world and I'm simply struggling to find a way to get quality separates in my life.

I'm learning quickly with meat-based foods, like chicken rice and veggies, steak potatoes carrots and peas... Simply make the meat spicey, lube the veggies and you're good to go.

Mexican - cumin, ancho/chipotle, lime juice, cilantro, oregano
Indian - garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom.
Chinese - sesame oil, soy sauce, fish/oyster/plum sauce, garlic, ginger
East asian - mirin, soy sauce, dashi, 7 spices, etc
Thai - coconut milk, lemongrass, chili paste, soy/fish/oyster sauces
Greek - lemon, oregano, garlic
Scandinavian - caraway, dill and fennel
Italian - basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley

I also have been learning how to make good basic marinades and such, which will definitely come in handy this summer.

The thing I really want to know how to whip up are bulky vegan salads and soups. These are the type of complex carbs that really give me the best energy throughout the day.

I love to make my own traditional, leafy green salad dressings but need to learn the basics to make a really good bean/legume/grain/pseudograin/veggie recipes!

And soup! It can be frozen! It's super healthy if you make the stock! I can always add more carbs/ protein if I want!

I know many recipes are tailored to the specific ingredients, how they meld together, the texture, etc... but I just need some basic mixtures to tailor to my booooriiiing diet. Any insight, resources, etc is greatly appreciated!

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  1. Since you are specifically asking about vegan dishes, you should post on the Vegan & Vegetarian board.

    1 Reply
    1. re: greygarious

      Holy moly! I didn't know there was such a diverse set of boards. Thanks a lot.

    2. you don't always need a ton of seasonings, especially if you start with decent ingredients. a simple grilled/roasted protein can be wonderful with some salt and pepper.

      what you might want to learn are some fundamental stocks and dressings, but that all depends on your palate.

      1. This post seems perfectly fine for this board. I'm a meat eater, and I eat plenty of so-called vegan salads that don't contain meat or dairy.

        Chocoremedy, you've made a great start with the spices for your meat dishes. They'll work well for beans-and-grain salads as well.

        In addition, please consider your new best friends: fresh-squeezed lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. And Dijon mustard - a small amount makes a wonderful impact in salad dressing. Oh, and good quality olive oil. It's worth the extra money.

        You can vary salad ingredients based on your mood and available food, but here are some starter ideas:
        - Chickpeas with spinach and farro (or bulgur) in a lemon-olive oil dressing
        - White beans with baby kale and sun-dried tomatoes
        - Black beans with quinoa, lime, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and cumin (my current favorite - I make a big batch every weekend)
        - Lentils with walnuts and caramelized onions in an olive oil - red wine vinegar dressing with lots of black pepper
        - Brown rice salad with shredded carrots, zucchini, spinach, and red peppers (here's where a Dijon/olive oil dressing really shines)

        Check out Eating Well's bean & grain salad recipes, such as this example:
        http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes_men...

        My only tip for non-meat soups: onions. Lots and lots of onions. You can buy veggie stock, but add onions. Especially onions skins, which we all usually throw away. Then add the same ingredients as you would for a bean-and-grain salad. Yum, soup!

        2 Replies
        1. re: AnneInMpls

          Oughfgjshfgk so helpfullll thank you!!!! I'm just opening up my eyes to the variety that you can achieve with all these foods, and not needing to always find a recipe with complex ingredients. Thank you again so much!!!

          1. re: AnneInMpls

            I'd like to add freshly ground pepper and coarse salt to these lists.

          2. My favorite "almost instant" dressing for a green or grain salad:

            2 tsp Dijon mustard
            1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
            1 - 3 Tbsp olive oil
            Salt and pepper to taste

            Whisk together the mustard and balsamic vinegar until well combined. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil (drip by drip) until the dressing is thick. Continue to whisk until no oil is visible. This dressing stores well in the fridge for about a week - give it a final whisk before using.

            P.S. To whisk the dressing, you can use either a fork (which works well, with a little extra muscle) or you can splurge on a small whisk like this one:
            http://www.crateandbarrel.com/mini-wh...
            Me, I splurged because I make this dressing all the time.

            1. The beauty of soups and salads is you really don't need to follow recipes. It seems like you've figured out some nice flavor profiles, so just toss in whatever seems like it will taste good!

              My favorite veggie soups I've made were just ingredients I had on hand. I always start with a base of onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, sautéed in a bit of olive oil until soft (add garlic later to prevent it from burning). Cooking the mirepoix prior to adding the stock adds lots of good flavor to the soup.

              I'll then add anything from cubed potatoes to grains to green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, spinach/greens, tomatoes/tomato paste, fresh herbs... Whatever you have in your fridge--chances are it'll work.

              My mom always made chicken soup with homemade stock, then shredded the chicken and added sliced onions, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, white rice, and TONS of fresh cilantro. That was comfort food growing up--not by any means traditional or fitting a specific "type" of cuisine's flavor profile, but it was so so good. We stirred in hot sauce. Totally random.

              For salads, I agree with using a base of a nice neutral oil or olive oil you enjoy + lemon or vinegar + garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Add some mustard, honey, maple syrup, even mayo or pasteurized eggs if you want to emulsify or have a creamier dressing.

              Fresh herbs, chopped fine, are a wonderful addition to a salad.

              As for the salad itself--choose a cooked grain (quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, white rice, pasta, etc.), some greens (red leaf/romaine/butter lettuce, bitter greens like arugula or radicchio, spinach, kale, etc.), fresh veggies AND/OR cooked veggies, chopped herbs, maybe some cheese or leftover meat, or beans/nuts/seeds.

              Roasted or grilled veggies are great in cold grain salads. Perfect for leftovers from dinner. I love roasted veg mixed with rice and some sort of sauce/dressing/vinaigrette. Depending on what the veg are, I'll drizzle with BBQ sauce, lemon/garlic vinaigrette, etc.

              I used to make a cold rice salad people loved--cooked and cooled rice, black beans, sweet corn, chopped tomatoes, roasted peppers, grilled onions, all chopped the same size then tossed with cilantro and a vinaigrette made of oil, lime juice, cumin, garlic, and some sort of pepper (chipotle, cayenne, or regular black pepper).