5 Super Easy Vegan Meals

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Today’s Lesson: Priorities are different for each of us. If cooking is not your thing, but health is, create ways to have both! 

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I think I am one of the laziest vegans in the world. I am always busy with work or other projects (like this blog and a new, upcoming one!) and I need meals that are easier than ordering from Chipotle or eating canned food–like, literally, right out of the can.

I imagine you might have the same struggles or you are just beginning (or are curious about) your vegan journey and need easy meals to start. Here are a few super-easy vegan recipes I use for every day meals, and I mean SUPER-easy. These work for me and maybe they will help you, too. They all take less than half an hour to make from start to finish, including chopping time. You might notice I do not really measure anything, so take the measurements as suggestions. I just use however much I need, depending how hungry I am.

 

1. ORZO WITH GREENS. 

Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta available at almost any grocery store (sometimes hidden in the “international” food aisle). An environmental advocacy expert who owned an all-vegan grocery store shared this with me and it has been a staple ever since.

Ingredients:

1 cup Orzo

2 handfuls of pecans, walnuts, or Almonds (sliced or chopped almonds)–raw nuts are best, but salted is fine, if you prefer.

2 big handfuls of greens (Arugula, Kale, or Spinach); 2 handfuls is about 2 ounces or half a normal sized blister pack from the grocery store

1 cup sliced or chopped tomatoes (I like to halve about a big handful of cherry tomatoes)

1 Tablespoon Olive oil

Salt, Pepper, Nutritional Yeast, to taste.

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–Boil one cup of orzo for 10 minutes (add a few drops of olive oil to the water to keep the pasta from sticking to itself). The water will foam if it is too high, so keep an eye on it and reduce heat if necessary but keep a rapid boil going.

–While the orzo is heating up, I take the pecans or walnuts and crush them in my palm over a medium-heat skillet (if sliced or chopped almonds, no need for further crushing–just toss them in the pan). Add a little olive oil and heat them for about 5 minutes.

–When there is 5 minutes left for the orzo, put the greens in with the nuts and stir. Put in a third of the greens at a time, mix with the nuts until the greens wilt, then add another third of greens.

–When the Orzo is done, turn the heat off both pans. Drain the orzo. Pour the orzo over the greens. Place the tomatoes on top and mix it all together.

–Add salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until it is perfectly delicious!

 

The great thing about this recipe is it is completely versatile. If Orzo and Arugula are crazy sounding ingredients to you, just trade them for any pasta and Spinach, and follow the same recipe. Or instead of Arugula, try baby kale one night. You can add mushrooms, or tofu, or onions and garlic, or broccoli. Change up the spices. Add soy sauce and you have a stir-fry. It is always quick, easy, and delicious!

 

2. SPAGHETTI ARRABBIATA.

“Arrabbiata” is a spicy red sauce. You can use Marinara instead if you don’t like the kick. You can make excellent sauce from scratch with a can of tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped basil, crushed garlic, sliced onion, and red chiles, but screw that. We are going for quick and easy here. Just buy your favorite sauce and pay a little more for the one that has a bunch of veggies and no dairy ingredients (watch for “whey”, which is milk, and cheeses like Romano or Parmesan being mixed in). Try to find one without sugar, too, because grandma never made it that way.

Ingredients:

Jar of your favorite vegan spaghetti sauce (if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, they have excellent options).

Frozen, canned, or fresh mushrooms (however much you want)

Black or green olives (however much you want)

4 cloves fresh crushed garlic or garlic powder to taste

Chopped small onion or onion powder to taste

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Cook the spaghetti according to instructions on the box. Put the veggies in the sauce and heat it. Pour the sauce over the spaghetti. Spice to taste.

For easy garlic bread, drizzle olive oil over a few slices of bread. Sprinkle Paprika powder, garlic powder, basil, and oregano on top. Place in the oven on aluminum foil with the spices facing up and cook at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Change the recipe to make it seem new again by adding different sliced veggies to the sauce such as zucchini, broccoli, green peppers, or carrots.

 

3.  STIR FRY

Maybe the easiest and most versatile of all dishes!

Ingredients:

Ginger powder (or fresh, shaved ginger root) to taste

Soy sauce to taste

Brown Rice

Assorted vegetables. Choose any 5, but I like: Bok Choy (bagged and chopped), Broccoli (frozen or fresh), Red Pepper (sliced long), mushrooms (any kind you like), fresh basil leaves (whole, plucked off the stem)

1 heaping Tablespoon of Peanut Butter (creamy or crunchy, your preference)

Optional: Corn Starch (if eating with chopsticks, to thicken the sauce)

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If you have a wok, great. If not, just use the biggest saucepan you have.

–Heat the brown rice according to bag or box instructions. Keep it warm.

–On medium high-heat, add the veggies and soy sauce. If you are using fresh veggies, start with the heaviest, densest first (broccoli), then when they are about 3/4 done, add the next heaviest (mushrooms), and so on.

–When you are close to the end (the veggies are soft but firm and the colors are bright), add the peanut butter. It is the perfect peanut sauce! Crunchy is great if you like to have peanuts in the sauce. If you plan to eat with chopsticks, add a little corn starch to thicken the sauce and help the veggies stick to the rice.

–Add ginger to taste.

–Either stir the rice in with the veggies or serve them separately and spoon the veggies over the rice.

 

To change it up, trade the soy sauce for half a can of canned coconut milk (in the “international food” aisle of almost any grocery store, be sure to shake the can really good) and trade the peanut butter for curry powder. Now, it’s a tasty Thai dish! 

 

4. SOUP

One of my favorites because it requires the least amount of supervision!

Ingredients:

Pick any 5 vegetables. If you want a hearty red soup, make sure stewed or chopped tomatoes (canned) are in there. For example, I might use a can of stewed tomatoes (not drained), potatoes (chopped), mushrooms (fresh or canned), spinach (frozen or fresh), and celery (sliced).

Pick one or two legumes. Any bean you like (black, navy, pinto, garbanzo, etc.). I usually just toss a whole can of chick peas in, not even drained. Can’t get easier than that.

Veggie stock (liquid, cubed, or powdered). Or, make your own stock by steaming some veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, and asparagus (as a side dish for another meal) and use the water as stock, supplemented with spices of your choice.

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–Slice all the veggies, if needed. Put them into a big pan. (If you used frozen veggies, ignore the instructions on the bag. Just put them in the pan, ice and all.)

–Throw in a couple veggie bullion cubes or your own veggie stock with spices (or both).

–Toss in the beans.

–Fill the pan with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer. Cook on low heat for at least an hour but the longer the better.

 

To change it up, try different spices with different vegetables. Add a half can of coconut milk, curry powder, and paprika powder for an Indian-inspired soup. Add basil, oregano, and thyme to make it Italian. Use red chili paste, lime, and a little soy sauce and now it’s an Asian-inspired soup. Make it yours.  

 

5. MIX-INS.

Best tip ever, from No Meat Athlete! Take leftover soup and pour it over rice the next day. Add canned chickpeas (if not already in the soup) and it’s a completely new dish! Use your soup as the base for the rice dish.

Instead of red sauce with your pasta, try tossing pasta with olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, pepper, and a couple fresh veggies (like chopped red pepper and mushrooms). Light and delicious!

For a super-powered breakfast, pour some raw oats in a bowl (not the 1-minute oatmeal, use raw oats). Chop a banana. Add some dried cranberries and pecans. Stir in a big tablespoon of peanut butter. Pour some Coconut milk over it (not canned, the refrigerated kind) and enjoy. It will fuel you all the way to lunch!

 

I am a super-easy type of vegan. I like to keep it simple. I love food but I love spending time on other stuff, too. Hopefully, this helped you super-busy vegans or vegan beginners with some quick lunch or dinner ideas to get you started or keep you going!

 

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5 Super-Easy Ways to Be Vegan

Eat the Rainbow, by Markus Spiske / raumrot.com / CC-BY

Today’s Lesson: Changing your life is scary, but your life is truly a matter of life or death. Making your life better does not have to be all or nothing and it does not have to happen all at once. Just take one step. Then another. Stumble. Try again. Remember, that worked for learning how to walk…

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Friends and family often come to me for advice on how to be more vegan or adopt a more vegan-friendly diet. The question has come up lately–“How do you do it?”, which means, “How can I do it?”

Usually someone is asking for advice on eating a plant-based diet to enjoy some of the many health benefits I have experienced being vegan (needing less sleep, thinking faster, losing weight, having more energy, lowering risk of diseases, etc.).

I think better health is a fine reason to go vegan. I hope that also leads to more people thinking about a better system of care-taking for the world’s other inhabitants. It would be pretty cool, I think, to have as many cow friends as people friends, or deer friends that have become dear friends. I remember the thrill of learning our cows and pigs had names when I was a kid, and then the horror of learning we were going to eat them. That was long before I would become vegan but it stuck with me.

The mistake most people make when considering being vegan (or vegan-ish)  is thinking it is an “all or nothing” game, that it is going to be a drastic and miserable life change. It can be, but it does not have to be. I see all change in life (positive or negative) as simply a system of habits. Eating one bad meal won’t kill you. Eating one good meal won’t heal you. It is the habitual practice of one or the other that will lead you to your results (good or bad).

I have five tips to offer that will help you on your way to taking the first step (which you will practice, and stumble, and practice again–remember, it worked for walking–it works for eating). I want to note, however, these are not necessarily healthy tips. These are to help you take the first step. I am not going with full-on tofu love and crazy-sounding ingredients (except one) to make you vegan like a pro just yet. This is for those of you who do not live in vegan meccas or even really have an idea where to start. These tips are training wheels to get you moving the right direction. That being said (and apologies for the long intro), here are 5 Super-Easy Ways to be Vegan (or more vegan-ish):

1. A vegan meal is just a regular meal with one or two things traded out. It’s not all tofu, tempeh, and seitan with Nori salad. Check this out.

Non-vegan plate: steak, mashed potatoes, and a side of corn.

Vegan plate: baked potato with broccoli and McCormick Bac’n Bits (the original–they have always been vegan!), corn, and a side of asparagus (or just an extra helping of corn).

Non-vegan plate: burger with beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke sucks).

Vegan plate:  burger with Portobello mushroom cap patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke still sucks). To note, the buns probably are not vegan, but just worry about the basics for now.

2. Replace meat with potatoes. Potatoes are hearty and filling like meat. If you feel like Spaghetti Marinara is not real spaghetti because you need meat sauce and meat balls, then chop up some potatoes, pan-fry or roast them, and then toss them into the sauce. Add a few other veggies too, like, zucchini, mushrooms, and green pepper. Or make gnocchi instead of spaghetti. (If you have never had gnocchi, they are like ravioli but made with potatoes and super-easy to make from scratch–just search online). With all the other flavors and hearty starches, you will never notice the meat missing.

3. Replace butter with olive oil. Many top chefs already do this and the idea has been advocated on America’s Test Kitchen. Olive Oil is heart-healthy and delicious. In fact, it is not actually oil like other refined oils (including vegetable and corn oil). To make olive oil, you crush olives. That’s it. Olive “oil” is really just olive “juice”. It can replace butter on anything. Try a little olive oil instead of butter on toast (it’s awesome!). Use it on popcorn, mashed potatoes, literally anywhere you would use butter.

If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of butter, just use 3 tablespoons of olive oil. There are many kinds and flavors of olive oil. Find the one you like best. Most grocery stores charge outrageously high prices for olive oil and I have no idea why. You can find absurdly cheap prices if you have a Mediterranean grocery store or deli nearby (Italian deli or Arabic grocery store, for example).  If nothing else, even Amazon.com has better prices than most grocery stores, including shipping.

4. Replace cheese with Nutritional Yeast. This is the one weird-sounding ingredient that is an absolute must in our house. Nutritional Yeast is a flaky, yellow powder that adds a tart, cheesy flavor to anything. You can sprinkle it on macaroni and stir it in with olive oil for a light, zesty mac and cheese flavor. Use it on soups, salads, pretty much anything. If you can not find nutritional yeast at your local grocery store, order it online for a pretty good bulk price. In my experience, no specific brand is better than any other so just go with the cheapest (although you might prefer flakes over powder, but they taste the same).

5. Replace dairy milk with any other milk. In most local grocery stores, you can now have an abundance of non-dairy milks, either in the health food aisle or in the refrigerator section. This was tough for me, at first, because I used to drink cow’s milk with every meal. Now, this is one of my favorite parts of being vegan. There is a type of milk for every meal!

The choices are amazing. The biggest part of this tip is to try them all until you find a few that you love. You have lots of milk choices here and they are all healthier than normal cow’s milk (which was made for baby cows, not baby humans): Soy, Oat, Almond, Coconut, Almond-Coconut Blend, Hemp, Flax, Rice, etc. They are all great. My personal preference is unsweetened Almond-Coconut for cereal, Soy for coffee/lattes, Oat for drinking with dinner or just as a treat. Think of them as flavorings for whatever you are eating.

Also, you might find you like a particular brand of milk over another. They are not all created the same, so take your time trying different types of each milk. There is definitely something for everyone.

If you live where there are no store-bought options or if the alternative milks are still outrageously priced, consider buying a milk powder from Amazon or other online retailer (there is soy, almond, rice, etc…). The powders can be mixed with water and you get a lot more for your money, but in my opinion, they are not as tasty (you have to get the water to powder ratio just right!). Nonetheless, they are often a better value than what you will find in the store.

Bonus Tip: The more colors, the more nutrients. Since this applies across the board, I am not considering it one of the 5 tips. Both non-vegans and vegans have heard this advice: “Eat the rainbow,” which basically means the more colors your meal has, the healthier it is likely to be. The reason is the colors of fruits and vegetables is determined by the amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients within them (their only ingredients).

A dark, leafy lettuce, for example, will likely have more vitamins than a lightly colored leafy lettuce (it will also have a stronger taste). Have fun with colorful meals. Try to have at least 5 colors in each meal: white potatoes, red tomatoes, green broccoli, yellow corn, and orange pepper, for example, could make an interesting veggie soup! Purple shredded cabbage, brown mushrooms, tan chickpeas, dark green spinach, and blueberries might make a great salad!

 

There you have it. Some super easy starter-tricks to start adopting a healthier, closer-to-vegan lifestyle. You can worry about getting good and reading ingredient labels later. You don’t have to fall in love with tofu to start (or ever). Just focus on the big three for now: meat, dairy, and cheese (I know “cheese” is dairy but a lot of people do not–it really is practically its own food group).

In the future, I will share a few super-easy vegan recipes I use for every day meals, and I mean SUPER-easy. I am the laziest cook in the world because I am busy and I need meals that are even easier than ordering from Chipotle! I’ll share a few that work for me and maybe they will help you, too.

Feel free to toss questions my way via your social media of choice (I’m “Michael Salamey” everywhere) and share with your friends–having a supporter can help you go a long way. Plus, questions help me create new blog posts without having to come up with ideas myself!

Good luck on your journey to better living.

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Is Money Really The Root of All Evil?

"The Root of All Evil" by artist Dan Tague.
“The Root of All Evil” by artist Dan Tague.

Today’s Lesson: People, not money, are the root of all evil. We are the root of all good as well. Each decision you make each day contributes to your being part of one or the other. So before you decide to pay for something (metaphorically or literally), decide which side you are on.

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“Money is the root of all evil.”

If a man tells you this, run away for he understands neither evil nor money, or chooses to be willfully ignorant of both. Whichever it is, his intention is not to contribute to your Life.

Money is not the root of any evil. Money does not corrupt. Money has no inherent morality, desire, ethical premise, or secret agenda. At its core, money is paper (or digital code) with a mutually agreed upon value. It only exists as an agreement between the values of two people. If the value is not mutually agreed on, then money has no value to either side of a transaction.

Those who disavow the use of money are likely the same people clamoring for promotions in their careers and overspending their financial and moral credit. They scrabble for every dollar while cautioning you of the evil money poses in their world.

The truth is money does not care about evil. Money does not care about you or the people who claim money is the root of evil. What money does is allow the freedom for a man to show, in concrete terms, his own benevolence or malice.

Money brings out whatever was there already. Money provides Man with the means to take action on his own moral standing and trade his brute strength with a bludgeon for mental prowess and calculated risk. Money transforms bloody battles over property with clubs, stones, teeth, and claws to respectful, peaceful exchanges between two factions. It is an exchange of respect instead of fists.

I think money is one of the top ten greatest inventions in human history–an agreement among people that frees us from a crude system of barter. Without money, what would you trade for your smartphone or video game console–wool socks you knitted yourself? If you were lucky enough to have raised sheep? And if the guy with the smartphone did not already have sheep, or socks?

Only with the power and agreed upon value of money, created by and dependent on the will and honor of men, have we been able to rise from a feudal past to a glimmering future where nearly every person who wants to can own a car, a place to call home, and a way to communicate with the world.

If someone tries to sell you the idea that earning value by trading your time and effort to seek your own enjoyment in life is evil, then you can only respond properly by giving that person directions to where he can find the supporters of his notion:

“Go to hell.”

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((If you want to read the best speech ever given about money and what inspired me to write this post, read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Or, for the short version, click here to read the speech given by my favorite fictional character of all time, Francisco D’Anconia.))

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