Eating lower on the food chain is a great way to minimize your personal environmental impact. Fortunately, incorporating more earth-friendly fare into your menu does not require slimy tofu or weird vegetables. Long gone are the days of rice cakes and baby carrots. Eating a vegan meal now and then is a great way to live a little greener, even if you can't quite commit to a meat-free lifestyle. Is your girlfriend a vegetarian and you find yourself sneaking off to scarf a beef burrito? This post is for you. Here are 20 vegan meals that don't suck – even if you're an omnivore.
1. Sloppy Janes
Even Adam Sandler would like this one. The great thing about this recipe is that it's really easy to make. Actually there are two great things: it uses tempeh, which is an extra-chewy type of tofu that is perfect if you're a meat eater. Tempeh holds sauces really well – in fact it's similar to chicken nuggets in terms of consistency. If you are new to tempeh, you'll find that the taste is really nutty and satisfying. One thing that a lot of vegan meals miss is that all-important rich mouthfeel – the Japanese call this fatty, meaty taste umami, or the fifth taste. For an equally drool-worthy Sloppy Jane made out of texturized vegetable protein (TVP), visit hellyeahitsvegan (pictured).
2. "Chicken" and Sundried Tomato Sandwiches with Fresh Pesto Basil
This sandwich just kicks ass. Choose the fajita strip style prepared "chicken" by Yves in the vegetarian case at the supermarket. It's nicely flavorful and succulent and doesn't have that mock meat consistency you often get with things like tofurkey slices. If you don't say anything, your carnivore friends may not even notice.
3. Tofu Scramble
I was skeptical the first time my vegan roommate made a tofu scramble for breakfast. Honestly it tastes nothing like eggs, but that isn't a bad thing. It's good and very easy to whip up in just a few minutes. This is great for those times when you're all out of eggs. All you need are some basic spices and a handful of frozen veggies. This particular recipe calls for turmeric to give a little curry flair, but try chipotle and jalapenos for a great Latin twist. You can pretty much put anything in this and it will taste great. Good hangover dish.
4. Guac and salsa
Who doesn't like guacamole and chips and salsa? Add in some healthy blue corn chips (organic) and you're set. Avocados, the main ingredient in guacamole, are really good for your heart and skin and salsa contains antioxidants and vitamins. See, all these Super Bowl Sundays, you've been eating vegan and didn't know it! Bonus on this recipe: if you're really lazy you can just buy both at the market. Select organic if it is available.
5. Vegetarian Chili
Everybody likes chili. It's easy to make, it's ridiculously cheap (beans and tomatoes), and it's so hearty no one will even miss it without the ground beef, though you can add seitan for texture. Wash it down with a cold beer. This recipe includes red quinoa for extra protein that will keep you full.
6. Grilled Salad
The first time I had grilled romaine salad was at Restaurant 301 in Eureka, CA. Because they flame-broiled the lettuce spears for just a moment, the salad was mysteriously smoky and meaty. Yet vegan. This version is delicious – you'll actually want to lick the plate.
Image: Stu Spivack
7. Chocolate Covered Strawberries
That's right – one of the best aphrodisiacs around (not to mention tastiest desserts) is vegan. All you'll need is strawberries and chocolate. That's it. Delicious. To make: simply wash fresh strawberries, pat dry and dip in to chocolate (vegan!) melted over a double boiler. Let dry on wax paper and serve within 24 hours.
8. Chana Masala
An Indian staple dish, chickpea curry is substantial, nicely textured (all those garbanzo beans to bite into), and rich in flavor. It's fairly simple to make, too. No clay oven or pressure cooker necessary. Serve with hot naan or brown rice. Everyone loves this dish.
9. Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce
If your dinner pal is OK with vegetables, add some fresh broccoli florets to this to make the peanut sauce sing. Soba noodles are incredibly nutty, dense and filling, so even carnivores will love this meal. Soba noodles are really versatile, so you can cook them in a rich broth, use them like you would pasta, or top them with all kinds of veggies.
10. Fettuccine Alfredo
This one is a bit riskier because it involves numerous faux dairy ingredients. But it's worth inclusion, because if done right the result is rich, creamy, and decadent fettuccine alfredo. First, dress this recipe up: add a tiny bit of either white wine or vodka to make the sauce extra-savory. Next, up the "cheese" and leave out the soy milk altogether so you're guaranteed a really thick sauce. What ruins this dish and makes it obviously vegan is the watery factor. Skip the soy milk to avoid this issue. And, as shown, you can use any pasta shape that you like. Curly and shell shapes will hold extra sauce.
Image: D'Arcy Norman
11. Amazing Pancakes
The. best. pancakes. ever. They're fluffy, moist, sweet, and a touch salty. Pancakes are vegan – but who cares, they're that good. Whip these cakes up anytime, even for dinner or a late-night post-drinking snack with your friends. To make them even more delicious, add blueberries or (recommended) dark chocolate chips to the batter.
12. Seitan Fajitas
Seitan is a realistically-textured "wheat meat" that most closely resembles leftover (read: a bit dried-out) roast beef. Seitan was originally developed by a Japanese macrobiotic teacher in 1962, and is made by "washing" wheat flour dough until the starch is completely removed. Not only is Seitan Vegan-friendly, its surprisingly high in protein, too. These seitan fajitas are spicy, easy to shred for pulled-not-pork tacos the next day, and fast to prepare.
13. Vegetable Paella
While traditional paellas famously include fresh seafood and shellfish, this is a pretty amazing vegan version. The secret weapon to "meat it up": drizzle in a generous amount of truffle oil.
14. Fried Tofu
Warning: it's not as easy as slathering yourself a PB&J and it's not healthy, either. But what's life without a little fried goodness from time to time? Forget the fish and chips next time you're in the mood for breaded trans fat, and go for salty, hot, crunchy fried tofu instead. The extreme heat of the oil keeps the tofu moist but magically firm. It's like a chicken nugget, only good for the planet. Just not for you. Roll it around in some really coarse sea salt and dip in something tasty like sweet 'n sour or soy sauce.
15. Nut Loaf
Oh, the nut loaf. Though nut loaf is not exactly a gourmet delight, neither is meat loaf. If you're willing to eat a loaf of anything, it may as well be nuts. This is incredibly rich and filling, so eat slowly or you won't want to eat for days.
16. BBQ Tempeh
It's BBQ, but vegan. And it actually holds up well. Because it's baked, the texture is substantial and satisfying. If you like chicken satay you will enjoy this vegan dish. Serve with huge, icy, salt-on-the-rim margaritas.
17. Mushroom, Pea, and Asparagus Risotto
Risotto is a great trick to have up your vegan sleeve. Its consistency is naturally extra-creamy, unlike most rice. If you've never had risotto you're in for a delicious, creamy treat. Risotto takes a while but is very simple to make. This one has lemon zest and wine, which gives it a great layer of fresh flavor. The mushrooms and peas add a little meatiness, too.
18. Spring Rolls
Fresh spring rolls are a staple in traditional Vietnamese and Thai cuisine- but often they feature shrimp, pork and other meat products. These Thai-style spring rolls are accompanied by traditional flavors of lime, mint, the basil and the peanuts. Dip in the accompanied spicy Thai peanut sauce for a refreshing summer meal. You can't go wrong with these phenomenal vegan spring rolls. It's just one more vegan meal that doesn't suck.
19. Vegan Honey-Soy Glazed Stirfry with Brown Rice
Honey Soy Glazed Tofu with Brown Rice -Not only is this stirfry recipe vegan-friendly, it's also gluten-free if you use wheat-less soy sauce. Firm tofu is a tasty alternative to meat, and it's coated in a sweet homemade honey teriyaki glaze. Fresh broccoli gives the dish brightness and a fun pop of color. Serve on brown rice for a well-rounded meatless meal.
Image: paul goyette
20. Leek and Corn Stuffed Peppers
We are including this recipe because it's healthy, really easy and simple to make, and bursting with great flavors. It's also a little bit more fancy, so it makes a good dinner for guests or a first date. Leeks add mellow bite, the corn is sweet and has great texture, and the pepper is substantial and a tiny bit smoky. Cornbread on the side would be dynamite.
There you have it – not just vegetarian, but vegan meals. Try one or try them all and come back soon for more.