Flavor and Texture Basics in Plant-Based Cooking- Part 1 with 5 NEW Recipes!
Deciding to live a plant-based lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for your health and vitality. It can feel overwhelming in the beginning, but once you start to learn the foundations for cooking and eating this way, it becomes much easier! I decided to put together a crash course for making this transition a little easier when it comes to seasoning and texturizing your food with what nature gave us!
Seasoning is key in making plant-based dishes flavorful, and there are several health benefits to herbs and spices. In fact, they are some of the most potent antioxidants in the world! I picked a few that I use regularly, and how to optimize flavors with them and health benefits.
- Black pepper is composed of a compound called piperine, which accounts for peppers pungent flavor and aroma. Piperine inhibits your liver from making foreign substances water soluble therefore boosting blood levels of medicinal properties found in other plants and herbs. It is good to pair with curcumin or turmeric as turmeric is one of the most potent and beneficial plants in the world. Curry is an incredible spice blend that has extremely high medicinal benefits. These vitamins are fat soluble, so pairing your curry with a coconut milk or other high fat nut milk or nut paste will increase the absorption of the vitamins and minerals in the plants by 6-7x.
- Turmeric is one of the most potent and powerful chemicals in the world. It falls within all 3 categories of chemopreventative agents. 1. Carcinogen blockers- which prevent the initial triggering DNA mutation. 2. Antioxidants- which also prevent the initial triggering DNA mutation. 3. Antiproliferatives-which helps keeps tumors from growing and spreading. This means it may potentially help prevent/arrest cancer cell growth. The only other chemical found to do this are harsh chemotherapy agents. Chemotherapy agents not only kill cancer cells, but they also kill the healthy surrounding cells as well, causing significant and sometimes permanent damage. Curcumin or turmeric only destroys cancer cells through several mechanisms, and leaves healthy cells, healthy!
- Cooked turmeric offers better DNA cell protection while raw turmeric provides more anti-inflammatory benefits.
Tip: If you’re not a fan of the taste of turmeric, try grating raw turmeric on your food or throwing it in a smoothie. Raw turmeric has a much more subtle flavor than dried. I enjoy turmeric in curry, rice, and I also use it to add the yellowish color to my cheese dishes and tofu scramble.
- Oregano is great in marinades, sauces and particularly I throw it in right at the end of stewing my marinara. A small amount is all that is needed, as it does have a bitter flavor if you add too much. It is also one of the most potent antioxidants. ¼ tsp/day has more antioxidant power than eating 1 cup each of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
- White pepper is made from the berries of the pepper plant like black pepper. It has a smoother spice and bite to it than black pepper which has more depth. This is why white pepper is great in cheese sauces. It also can add a bit of a subtle smoky flavor. Make sure to add this toward the end of your cooking as heating can make white pepper take on a bitter taste. I use this at the end of my mac and cheeze recipe, tofu scramble and nacho cheese.
Kala Namack Salt or Black Salt:
- This is a great addition to tofu scrambles, chickpea omelets and anything you want to have an eggy flavor. That is because this salt is an Indian volcanic rock salt and smells and tatses like eggs from the sulfur compound in it. It has less sodium than table salt, and is used in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s also not always black. It comes in a pinkish color as well and that’s how I’ve found it most times.
- Fenugreek is a spice traditionally used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. It has a sweet, nutty flavor. I found a good description online that said it tastes like a cross between celery and maple. It’s a great savory seasoning I used in curry, and stir fry’s. It also has health benefits such as improving muscle strength and weight lifting power output, compared to those on a placebo in a recent research study. It also has potent “anticancer properties”.
- Cayenne is from the chili pepper family and has an active ingredient called capisicum which is the family of peppers it comes from. This ingredient gives the pepper its fiery-ness and also makes it a very potent natural medicine. It treats aches and pains by decreasing the amount of a certain substance that carries pain signals to the brain. It also acts as an analgesic. Cayenne also raises body temperature and increases metabolism and decreases appetite slightly. I use a small pinch of cayenne is my scrambles, stir fry, and spicy cream sauce cashew dishes.
Other important herbs and spices to keep on hand for good flavor profiles in plant based cooking:
- Vanilla bean extract
- Smoked Paprika for smoky flavors as opposed to liquid smoke
Condiments to enhance flavor and texture:
- Miso is a concentrated form of fermented soybeans, but they also make it using grains such as wheat, so if you need gluten-free be sure to always read labels. The texture of miso is thick and paste-like. I keep both dark and white miso in my refrigerator – typically, the darker the miso, the stronger the flavor. I use darker miso for heavier dishes, and lighter miso for soups, salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. Miso is pretty salty, but when you look into the research, Miso doesn’t cause high blood pressure and stomach cancer like other high sodium foods might. This is because the anticarcinogenic effects of soy actually negate the carcinogenic effects of sodium. The same is true for high blood pressure. The protein in soy lowers your blood pressure and it much more potent than the sodium.
- I love mustards and use different types in different ways. Mustards add a tanginess to dressings and sauces. When I am trying to achieve a cheddar taste or cheese with “bite”, ill add a little ground mustard or yellow mustard. I use it in my blue cheese dressing and mac N’ cheese. Stay stocked with varieties of plain yellow, stone ground and Dijon mustards, in addition to mustard seed and powder.
- Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast with a strong cheesy flavor, and makes a delicious garnish and ingredient for pastas, sauces, and other foods. Nutritional yeast is one of the few vegan food sources of vitamin B-12, an essential nutrient for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Be sure to supplement your diet with B-12 drops and also use nutritional yeast often in cooking. Please note that nutritional yeast is not the same as brewer’s yeast or active yeast. Brewer’s yeast has a bitter flavor rather than a cheesy flavor, and you use active yeast to leaven bread.
- Tahini is sesame seed paste. It has a nutty, bitter flavor, but paired with an acidic ingredient, can enhance the flavor of it and what you’re mixing it with. I generally use tahini to add a more pungent bite to cheeses, hummus, and particularly, my blue cheese dressing. I also use it as an emulsifier in salad dressings. Tahini is a great source of calcium, iron and magnesium as well as vitamin B1.
Tamari, Coconut Aminos, Liquid Aminos and Soy:
- Liquid Aminos are a liquid protein made from soybeans. They are often used as a gluten-free substitute for soy sauce. They tend to be very high in sodium, like soy sauce.
- Most soy sauce is brewed from equal amounts of soy and wheat, and therefore is not gluten free and is also very high in sodium and also contains preservatives.
- Tamari is generally darker and richer than soy sauce, and they brew it without wheat, so it is gluten free. It is fermented and still pretty high in sodium, but it is a great addition to Asian dishes as opposed to soy sauce, because it does lack the harmful preservatives from soy sauce.
- Coconut Aminos are where it’s at! They are made from raw coconut tree sap and sundried sea salt, that’s naturally aged. But it is a bit more expensive than Tamari can be about double the price, but it is soy free, gluten free, preservative free, non-gmo, organic and significantly lower in sodium. This is a great, healthier replacement to Tamari if youre cooking with it often.
Sugar in fruits and other plants can be fermented into alcohol, then bacteria can convert the alcohol into vinegar. A weak acetic acid remains after this process, leaving some flavors of the originally fermented product. It is this acid that gives vinegar a tangy or tart taste and an almost indefinite shelf life.
- Apple cider vinegar: Made from apples, this is the most popular vinegar. It has a light, fruity tart flavor, and is great for salad dressings, condiments, and marinades. ACV also has a variety of powerful health benefits. One of the most important benefits is production of an enzyme that causes vasodilation in the smooth muscle lining our arteries. A shot of ACV after a high fat meal, can blunt the damage done to your blood vessels from this meal. A tip for when you have a meal high in fat!
- Red wine vinegar: Made from red wine, I especially love this variety as an ingredient in tomato sauce, salsa, and fruity salad dressings. Red wine is actually high in antioxidants and can be good for you in moderation. This is because red grapes, and red grapes only, have a potent antioxidant in their skin.
- Balsamic vinegar: The quality and price of balsamic vinegars vary widely based on what it is made from and how long it has been aged, if at all. F. Olivers and Wegmans has a great variety of flavored vinegars. These are great in so many different ways from salad dressings, to a salad dressing by itself! Its great on some Italian dishes as well, or cooked on low heat with maple syrup as a sweet reduction.
- Rice wine vinegar: With a clear or light-yellow color, rice wine vinegar sold in the US generally has a clean, mild flavor that I enjoy with stir fry, Asian marinades, and salad dressings.
All sugars are processed with all fiber and most nutrients removed, and should be only be used as needed for occasional treats and to make dishes palatable. Most white sugar is bleached, so try to avoid if possible. Here are the lists of sweeteners we use, from lowest glycemic index to highest, and what types of recipes we use them in.
- Maple syrup: Maple syrup is sap from a maple tree that has been boiled down to concentrate the sugars, and is an excellent replacement for brown sugar. Be certain to only purchase 100% pure maple syrup. The Very Dark Color is formerly Grade B, which I prefer because it has the strongest flavor and most concentrated nutrients. This is an all-around good sweetener in most sauces, baked goods, frostings etc. I use as a brown sugar or white sugar replacement.
- Agave syrup: I use light agave nectar when I want to replace honey in a recipe. It is double the sweetness of white sugar.
- Molasses: Molasses is a by-product of sugar production and includes several essential nutrients. I use it sparingly for its distinct, heavy flavor. Be sure to look for unsulphured molasses. Best for marinades, my favorite, BBQ Sauce.
- Medjool dates: An ancient fruit harvested from date palm trees, these make an excellent sweetener, and lowest glycemic index of all sugars. You can either boil them and make a syrup from them or even buy date sugar. We often put them I dressings or with other parts of the “wet ingredients” of a recipe to be pureed in a blender. Be sure to pit them first then mix with your recipe in a high-speed blender.
- Coconut sugar: This is a dried sugar refined from the flesh of coconuts. I use coconut sugar when I need a dry sugar for spice rubs, or in baked goods.
Making Plant-Based Recipes Taste Rich, Comforting and Creamy:
- If you are making Mac N Cheeze, Nacho Cheese, or any kind of cheezey dish, I recommend the following ingredients.
- Roasted Red, Orange or Yellow Bell Peppers---I use these in my Mac N Cheezeand Nacho Cheeze
- Roasted Butternut Squash---I use this in my Mac N Cheeze
- Pimentos--- I use this in my smoked almond cheddar and also in Nacho Cheeze instead of bell peppers
- Soaked and pureed raw cashews I use as a base for most cream sauces like Mac N Cheese, Alfredo, Cream Cheeze, Frosting, Cashew Mayo and aiolis
- White beans or cannellini beans are great because they have a very mild flavor and are very creamy. They’re high in fiber and great for dips, sides, creamy soups, etc. I use them in my Spinach artichoke dip, Creamy Italian Dressing, and I prefer them as bean burgers and in pesto.
- Coconut Milk or Coconut Cream is great but has strong coconut flavor so I tend to only use them in curries.
- Other soaked and pureed nuts are great for creams or cheeses, like almonds. I make a smoky almond cheddar with pimentos and some other spices.
- Arrowroot is cornstarch and when mixed with cold water is a great thickening agent for sauces and soups
I hope this helps some of you!!! Stay tuned for Part 2, with more tips and recipes!