A baked potato with fresh cracked pepper, steamed kale with a squeeze of lemon juice, black beans topped with salsa. Red rice, black-eyed peas and collard greens cooked with jalapenosand veggie broth. Whole wheat spaghetti tossed with diced tomatoes, spinach and fresh basil. No recipes required. Just wholesome, fresh food with a bit of seasoning. Requires very little prep time and packs flavor and nutrition into every bite.
I think that being whole foods plant-based with no added fats lends itself to enjoying ingredients for the qualities they have inherently. Since ditching the salt, oils and dairy, vegetables can be an entirely new experience. Whether it was ranch dressing or some sort of cheese, deep-fried or glazed – I didn’t really taste the vegetable as much as I disguised it. I am sure there are people out there who have always preferred their broccoli steamed with nothing on it, but I was not one of them. I now enjoy the nuances of different varieties of tomatoes, fresh off the vine in my garden. So many flavors to try! Leafy greens all have a different flavor, from sweet to spicy and everything in between. I used to only purchase iceberg lettuce. I had no idea what I was missing! My favorite dressing is simply a squeeze of lime juice.
The same holds true for beans and lentils. There are so many varieties of legumes out there, all with their own flavor profiles. While eating the standard American diet, I had only tried a handful of them. Most were either drowned in sugary sauces, or wrapped in a burrito surrounded by cheese and sour cream. I don’t think I had ever tried a plain spoonful of beans that weren’t doused in something. On a store tour of the bulk section of Whole Foods in Austin, TX, I was amazed to see so many heirloom beans and legumes that were exotic to me. Even just a year ago, I never would have imagined sitting down with a bowl of cranberry beans with just a clove of crushed garlic and oregano. One of my favorite things about this lifestyle is how much more I really enjoy my food.
Some of my favorite meals require no recipe. I prefer making meals that encourage improvising. Like big bowls of rice with vegetables or baked potatoes stuffed with beans and salsa. My husband is a fan of my big pots of soup. I rarely make the same exact soup twice. Using finds from the farmers market or leftover veggies from dinner the night before, soup is a great way to use up what you have already in the house. Plus it freezes well for another day.
I tend to keep containers of the following items in the fridge at all times: quinoa, rice, diced fruit, chopped veggies, cooked beans. The type/color/variety may change, but I usually have what is currently in season on hand. I cook rice, quinoa and beans in large quantities to use in a variety of recipes of the course of a few days. These can be used for breakfast as well as lunch or dinner. Tossed together in a tofu scramble or a bowl of brown rice with cinnamon and blueberries. I also like to freeze a few last-minute meals for days when we are super busy. Better to be prepared than to be hungry.
Experiment with what you have. You’ll find that you will rarely put together a bad combination of vegetables in any dish. If you haven’t started Engine 2 yet, or if you are just beginning, hang in there. If you are feeling overwhelmed by unfamiliar ingredients or recipes that seem long and involved, keep it simple. You can create countless meals without using a single recipe. Revel in the vast selection of the produce department. Enjoy the adventure of eating your ingredients.