A couple years ago, I challenged myself to eat entirely plant-based meals for a month. That meant no yogurt, eggs, cheese, gelatin-laced foods—the works. Surely it wouldn't be that big of an adjustment, I told myself. After all, I'm already a vegetarian, and pasta is generally plant-based, right? (Right!) I would be fine.
And fine I was, of course, but also a lot more thoughtful (and creative!) about my food choices. Where I'd usually throw in a soft-boiled egg or garnish with a few nubs of cheese, I pressed tofu, marinated tempeh, and roasted jackfruit—ahead of time. I carefully read labels, asked questions at restaurants, and went through a lot of nutritional yeast. And I actually didn't eat that much pasta!
Thanks to a handful of powerful plant-based recipes—including many of the 18 below—I learned ways to make vegan meals flavorful and filling. I've gone back to eating cheese and eggs, but a fair few of these remain in my regular rotation because they're pretty dang delicious.
1. Zucchini Verde Vegan Enchiladas
This is the recipe I could eat all summer (and I plan on it). Warm corn tortillas are filled with sweet, crunchy zucchini and smothered in a zingy salsa verde—not to mention a bunch of sliced avocado and ultra-rich cashew lime cream. (Psst: It's gluten-free, too!)
2. Sushi Salad
Take hearty, nutty brown rice, top it with a bunch of veg and protein-packed edamame, pour on a highly addictive dressing, and get happy. Feel free to throw on some grilled or roasted tofu, tempeh, or seitan for even more heft.
3. Gingery Noodle Salad
Okay, this is technically pasta, but it's also fresh and gorgeously green and full of staying power that we're going to count this as salad. Tofu, tempeh, or even a big handful of crushed peanuts wouldn't feel out of place here.
4. Twice-Baked Potatoes with Creamy Chive Pesto
Cozy, comforting, and craveable—this dish is the plant-based trifecta. Cashews, once again, save the day here (and add protein, to boot), as they're blitzed up with chives to make a luxurious pesto.
5. Stuffed Zucchini with Freekeh Pilaf and Currants
I can't tell you how much I adore this dish—with rugged freekeh, toasty pine nuts, and chewy and sweet currants, it's got basically every flavor and texture imaginable. The best part? It's all big-batchable and can be made a few days ahead (or par-cooked and frozen!), making it a meal-prepper's dream.
6. Boiled Potato on Rye Bread (Kartoffelmad)
When I'm at my laziest, this is the dish I turn to: nutty, dense Danish bread covered in an herby vegan remoulade, slices of perfectly boiled potatoes, and lots of alliums and herbs thrown on top. It's outstanding, fills me up for hours, and couldn't be simpler to throw together.
7. Spiced Peanut Sweet Potato Salad
Recipe writer and cookbook author Ella Mills (Woodward) writes that this is her favorite recipe in her recently released cookbook: "I'm completely addicted to it. The sweet potatoes are roasted with ginger, cinnamon, and cumin until they're perfectly tender, then they're tossed with sesame seeds, dates, parsley, and a smooth peanut butter dressing while still warm. They're heaven!" Though they're billed as a side, these sweet potatoes are hearty and satisfying enough to hold their own, especially with a heap of radicchio or leafy greens.
8. Spicy Miso Eggplant & Broccoli Salad
Another gem from Ella, this time with hardy, crunchy broccoli and miso-roasted eggplant. You could eat this with noodles or rice, or you could have a double helping as a main (I certainly would).
9. Indian Peanutty Noodles
Thick, chewy udon make an excellent bed for a creamy peanut chutney and a lot of crunchy veg. A hint of chile and cumin in the sauce gives this dish just the touch of pep it needs.
10. Baked Sweet Potatoes with Spiced Lentil Salad & Lemon Tahini Dressing
Followers of a plant-based lifestyle keep sweet potatoes near and dear—and this sweet potato recipe keeps them exciting. A warm green lentil salad, spiced with harissa and rounded out with tomatoes, gets heaped on some halved roasted sweets and is doused with an incredibly rich and creamy tahini–lemon dressing. This one keeps me full for most of the day.
11. Turmeric-Roasted Cauliflower with Pistachio Gremolata
This cauliflower dish seems uber-fancy for a weeknight, but really only takes about 20 minutes to whip up. Punctuated with sticky-sweet dates, crunchy pomegranate arils, and a nutty, herby pistachio gremolata, all this one-pan wonder needs is a big hunk of warm pita to pick it all up.
12. Crispy Roasted Shallot and Lentil Sheet Pan Mujadara
Another quick and simple sheet-pan supper, this time with spiced rice and lentils! A drizzle of tahini, good olive oil, and a tangle of herbs would be right at home.
13. Marcella Hazan's White Bean Soup with Garlic & Parsley
This soup is a classic for a reason—it proves that simple is almost always the most satisfying. In this dish, creamy white beans are the real star of the show, as they swirl around with parsley and garlic in broth. Thick grilled bread is listed as "optional" here, but who are we kidding.
14. Vegan Cauliflower Alfredo Bake
Yes, “vegan Alfredo” is totally a thing. Here’s how: blend cauliflower, nondairy milk, garlic, and nutritional yeast into a creamy, tangy sauce that tastes miraculously similar to classic Alfredo sauce. Toss with pasta and breadcrumbs, then bake it until crispy. You will not miss heavy cream.
15. Rutabaga Laksa
This steaming bowl of rich laksa is in fact 100 percent meat- and dairy-free. With tender roasted rutabaga and crispy roasted shallot petals, not to mention the spicy, coconut milk-based broth and a big scoop of rice noodles, there’s simply no need for anything non-vegan here.
16. Instant Pot Black Bean Soup
It’s a well-established fact that you don’t need meat or dairy to make an excellent soup. But it’s important to point out that beans are a plant-based-eating hero. Make sure to use vegetable broth here, and this Instant Pot bean soup will be an instant classic in any vegan household.
17. Andrea Nguyen's Vegan "Chicken" Phở
This pho tastes like it was made with chicken; but nope, not even close! The broth features sweet apple, cabbage, and a special trick with salty-cheesy-funky nutritional yeast (you’ll see). The “chicken” pieces floating in the pho are tofu, seasoned with soy sauce and fried until crispy.
18. Bhartha (Spicy Indian Eggplant)
A simple dish of well-seasoned (ginger! curry powder! cumin! turmeric! chili powder!) eggplant tossed with tomatoes and peas over a pile of your favorite grains makes for an excellent plant-based dinner. To—pardon the pun, vegans—beef it up with more protein, toss together a side with with chickpeas or tofu (or fold them directly into this dish).
The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).Order now