When you’re planning a big, hearty meal, you might go straight for the protein-fueled, stick-to-your-ribs kind of foods. Steak, seafood, and chicken might sound like the components of a perfect dinner to keep you satisfied, but your diet may be lacking in the fruit and veggie department. Not only can you improve your health with meals that are totally meatless, but also you can make them taste just as amazing as your favorite meaty breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. So head to your spice rack and grab your favorite sauces — we’ll show you how to make your meatless meals delicious.
1. Replace meats with hearty veggies
Just because you aren’t having steak tonight doesn’t mean you have to leave the dinner table feeling dissatisfied with your vegetarian fare. Your meatless meal can be just as hearty — or even heartier — than your favorite meat-heavy dishes, you just have to use the right vegetables. One Green Planet says mushrooms are perfect for meat lovers because the texture is very similar to meat, and you can easily swap them in for beef or pork. Portobello mushrooms, which are large in size and big on flavor, make an excellent substitute for a burger, and they even take well to toppings, too.
Eggplant, cauliflower, and potatoes can also be treated just like meats because of their substantial textures. And of course, tofu and tempeh are excellent additions to any meal because of their protein content — just marinade them in your favorite sauce and pan-fry them to perfection.
2. Cook with heart-healthy oils
You may have trouble tackling that plate of veggies as quickly as you could take down an Italian sub, but using oils in your cooking can amp up the flavor and texture of your veggies immensely. Prevention suggests using oils with plenty of flavor and heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil, when preparing vegetables. The oil will help roasted or sautéed veggies get that beautiful golden color and crunch you’re looking for. And don’t worry too much about the extra calories — if drizzling oil or adding a dab of butter in with your broccoli means you’re eating more broccoli, then your body will thank you either way.
3. Use seasonings and sauces
If your spice cabinet is lacking in some basics and all you have are steak sauce and taco seasoning, then don’t be scared to sprinkle those flavorings on your veggies, too. Life by Daily Burn suggests going for seasoning blends that have no salt added so you can control your sodium intake. As for your flavor combinations, the sky is the limit. Or, if you’d like to make your own seasoning blends, try combining sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary celery seed, allspice, and black pepper to make a traditional poultry seasoning that would taste great on roasted veggies. This goes for sauces as well. Add soy sauce or sweet and sour sauce to your cauliflower for an Asian twist, then serve over rice. Or, if you love steak, add your favorite steak sauce to a grilled seitan steak with potatoes as your side dish to replicate a meaty favorite. Just be sure to check out the ingredient label to guarantee no animal products if you’re going for strictly vegetarian or vegan fare.
4. Roast vegetables
For a healthier alternative to frying and searing, you can bring out excellent flavors in your meatless meals by roasting your vegetables. WebMD explains roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the veggies and also makes their flavor more pronounced. Carrots, all colors of bell peppers, onions, eggplant, and asparagus are wonderful when roasted, and garlic’s normally pungent flavor is much softer and sweeter when baked in a low-and-slow oven. If you’ve been steaming your veggies and adding in salt and butter to substitute that missing flavor, try roasting instead — it will add caramelization and a crisper texture.
5. Add fresh herbs
While seasoning blends and dried herbs can pack a ton of flavor into your dishes, fresh herbs can instantly perk up any meal. Urban Cultivator suggests adding herbs into your meatless meal at the beginning of the cooking process if you’re looking for more subtle flavors throughout the dish. But to pack a punch at the end, add your herbs when you’re nearly finished cooking. Sturdy types like rosemary and thyme that have a bigger, more pronounced flavor should be left in the dish the entire time while gentler herbs like basil or cilantro can be kept until the end.
You can also create an herb bundle by tying your favorites in some kitchen twine. This works great for stews and soups. Just pick out the bundle when you’re done cooking.
6. Look to lemon
If you’re looking for a heart-healthy way to bump up the flavors of your meatless meals, then adding lemon juice is a great way to do it without requiring much additional help from salt shaker. Lemon is particularly great if you’re planning on steaming your vegetables. The juice isn’t the only part of the lemon you can use, either — you can add lemon zest to your meatless dishes for a fresh zing.
The Produce for Better Health Foundation suggests adding ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon lemon zest, and 2½ teaspoons lemon juice to a dish instead of an entire teaspoon of salt. This will add the flavor you want while reducing the sodium by 75%.
7. Go for stuffed veggies
You can always cut up your veggies, but leaving them whole can also be a good move. Tomatoes,peppers, potatoes, portobello mushrooms, and squash all make excellent vessels for a hearty stuffing. Health suggests filling your veggies with grains like orzo or barley, or you can stuff your veggie with feta cheese and broccoli for a Greek twist. If you’re looking for a way to sneak a tiny bit of meat into your otherwise meatless meal, then adding tuna, shrimp, or bits of sausage into your stuffing mixture is a great way to add some flavorl. To go completely meatless, you can add soy crumbles or fry up small pieces of tempeh.