10 Essential Ingredients for Healthy & Easy Vegan Meals

Hiya Smarties!

Check out this incredibly helpful guest article by Jennifer Reilly RD, from my blog archives. Tips for tasty, fast and easy vegan cooking never go out of style. Hope this inspires you! Take it away, Jen…

Healthy food fast is easy if you have the right ingredients in your arsenal and don’t let stress or time gum up your nutrition as a top priority. Here are 10 essential ingredients that will maximize your chances of success in today’s busy world. Having the right quick ingredients on hand will help you continue cloud surfing your way through health euphoria even on extra rushed and wild days. Always have on hand:

1. Organic Salad Greens. Salad doesn’t have to take hours of prep or your life savings to enjoy. Get a bunch of tasty, dark, salad greens, and enjoy them daily with nothing but dressing, or a tad of brown rice vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt. The greens can be pre-washed, but know that they often spoil faster.

2. Salad Dressing, or Olive Oil + Brown Rice Vinegar in a 2:1 ratio. Even the cutest of tushes need salad dressing on their greens. One of my favorite bottled dressings is Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette. But when it’s out of stock in my fridge, the olive oil/brown rice vinegar/sea salt combo or the following tahini dressing are perfect for dolling up the lettuce mountain.

Tahini Dressing for Veggies
Makes 1 cup (16 Tablespoons)
Prep time 3 minutes

– 1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed butter)
– 1/3 cup water
– ¼ cup lemon juice
– 2 cloves garlic
– 3/4 tsp salt

1. Blend ingredients together until smooth. Add additional water, 1 Tbsp at a time, for a thinner dressing.

2. Store dressing in the fridge for up to 5 days. Stir or re-blend if dressing separates.

Note: Alternatively, use unsalted almond butter in place of tahini for an equally delicious dressing.

3. Dried Beans or Lentils: On a slow Sunday, cook up a heap of dried beans (pinto and black are favorites) or lentils (which only take about 20 minutes) and then freeze them in 1-cup portions for quick access anytime. Just drain and toss them on a salad, into a stir-fry, burrito, or stirred into soup. Or blend cooked beans or lentils with 1 cup salsa for a fast bean dip or sandwich spread. To do a “quick soak” for beans, cover them with water in a large cooking pot and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for an hour. Drain water. Add new water. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 1 more hour.

4. Quinoa: (“keen-wah”). When you’re rushed for dinner, brown rice–or even white rice for that matter–takes way too long to cook. Quinoa is not only a great rice substitute rich in fiber and protein (and a gluten-free food), but it only takes 15 minutes to cook. Get pre-rinsed quinoa if you can, or rinse the seeds vigorously in water before cooking to remove the saponins. Quinoa is a seed that’s eaten like a whole grain, and can even be mixed with fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and non-dairy milk for a fast breakfast the next morning.

5. Organic Berries: Fresh or frozen. Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are so full of life-extending compounds while also being rich in fiber and low in calories, that you’re better off opting FOR these sweet little miracle makers at meal or snack time. Toss them into breakfast cereals or smoothies, atop salads, or eat them by the handful. Sure feels better than the sugar crash of a vending machine candy bar!

6. Non-Dairy Milk: Fortified almond, coconut, hemp, oat, or soy milk have all the calcium and vitamin D of dairy milk, less sugar, better taste, fewer calories, and don’t cause mucous production, inflammation, and weight gain the way dairy milk does. Enjoy unsweetened almond milk with 45 calories & 0 grams of sugar per cup or original coconut milk beverage–include it in smoothies, pour it onto a bowl of high-fiber breakfast cereal, or add it to tea. Mmm!

7. Organic Broccoli: The florets are so full of antioxidants, cancer-fighters, and hormone regulators, and they’re not a particular threat to pests. So, conventionally grown broccoli isn’t riddled with pesticides, which means it’s OK if you can’t buy organic. Steam, roast, stir-fry, or curry it (cook with curry powder and light coconut milk, see below), or dip the florets in bean dip for a satisfying snack.

8. Canned Coconut Milk (BPA-free): Canned light or full-fat coconut milk (1/2 cup or more) and curry powder (2 tsp) can turn any veggie or veggie combo into a gourmet curry dish. Add beans for protein and serve over quinoa.

9. Organic Kale: Rich in blood pressure busting chlorophyll, immune-boosting antioxidants, and calcium that is absorbed twice as well as dairy calcium, kale is a true powerhouse. Juice it, toss it into smoothies, stir-fries, or bake it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes with a touch of olive oil and salt (stir after 15 minutes and return to the oven) for a crunchy veggie side dish even kids will crave.

10: Dark Chocolate: A few squares will powerfully satisfy your sweet tooth and are loaded with antioxidants. Work from a large bar—a small piece at a time—so you aren’t tempted by other sweet foods in the office or at home.

For more quick and easy plant-powered recipes including a whole host of 8-minute meals, check out Cooking with Trader Joe’s Cookbook: Skinny Dish! by Jennifer K. Reilly, R.D.

Kris Carr