I'm not vegan, but I can't stop making these exceptional plant-based recipes

They're packed with flavor and super-satisfying, too

Published January 7, 2022 11:59AM (EST)

 (Ty Mecham / Food52)
(Ty Mecham / Food52)

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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.

Best plant-based diet recipes

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

OK, 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 and 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 and 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 and 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% 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 chickpeas or tofu (or fold them directly into this dish).

19. Vegan Cauliflower Alfredo

No heavy cream or cheddar cheese here. The plant-based cheese sauce for this vegan alfredo pasta calls for a combination of cauliflower, oat milk, plant-based Parmesan, and nutritional yeast. Oh, and did I mention that it comes together in 10 minutes? Dairy-based mac and cheese could never.

20. Maple-Mustard Tempeh with Black Rice

Tempeh skeptics will easily be won over with this mustard-maple-tamari preparation. The soy-based product easily takes on the sweet-sharp flavors of the sauce.

21. Can't Believe They're Vegan Meatballs

Instead of the usual blend of pork, beef, and veal, green lentils serve the role of "meat" in these plant-based meatballs. But don't worry — you'll still find the necessary ingredients like dried oregano, fennel seeds, garlic, panko, and nutritional yeast for that cheesy flavor.

22. Plant-Based Italian Sub

Remember those vegan meatballs? You could turn them into a grinder, or you could layer tempeh (again!) with plant-based cheese, sliced pepperoncini, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and onions for an Italian sub...or grinder or hero or hoagie, depending on what you call it.

23. Vegan Mashed Potatoes

Just because these potatoes are vegan doesn't make them bad or bland. In fact, these are better than usual because they call for both a combination of russet and Yukon gold potatoes, plus a duo of vegan butter and rich, fruity olive oil.

24. Pasta with Silkiest Eggplant Sauce

"Let your eggplant go free. To avoid the texture struggles altogether, Lam harnesses eggplant's affinity for oil and its talent for turning to mush, and makes pasta sauce out of it. You get all of the lovely eggplant flavor and silken texture, with none of the stress," say our editors.

25. Tomato Soup with a Whole Head of Garlic

Yes, you can make a creamy, silky soup and no, you don't need to use heavy cream. The secret? A pairing of coconut milk and vegetable stock.

26. Vegan Tofu Wontons in Chile Oil

Wonton wrappers are stuffed with tofu, cabbage, mushrooms, and carrots for veggie-packed morsels of goodness.

27. Cashew Milk–Braised Cabbage with Crunchy Chile Oil

"Here cabbage is deeply charred before braising with cashew milk, ginger, scallions, chiles, and garlic. The final garnish of cashew-flecked chile oil cuts through all the richness and adds crunch," writes recipe developer Sohla El-Waylly.

28. Vegan Stuffed Peppers with Harissa-Tahini Dressing

This is the best-ever method for cooking stuffed peppers and it just so happens to be plant-based, thanks to a hearty filling of lentils and quinoa.

29. Just-So-Good Grilled Portobellos

I know what you're thinking. Haven't we moved past using portobello mushrooms as a burger sub? Nope, we haven't but for good reason! Marinate the 'shrooms in a combination of mustard, nutritional yeast, olive oil, and salty brine and you'll see why we're not quite over them.

30. Vegan Slow-Cooker Tomatillo Stew

Come summer, tomatillos finally have their moment to shine, but too often, they get overlooked in other seasons. Sure, they're great for salsa but where they really wow is in this plant-based stew along with diced green chiles and jalapeños.

31. Vegan Pot Pie with Herby Biscuits

If you follow a plant-based diet and miss a slice of uber-comforting chicken pot pie, our veggie-packed version topped with dairy-free herb biscuits will fill the void.

32. Sheet-Pan Miso Tofu with Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Arugula

An entire container of firm tofu, thinly sliced sprouts, apples, almonds, and arugula team up for the ultimate plant-based weeknight meal.

33. Autumn Chili Bowl with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Quinoa

"This Autumn Chili Bowl with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Quinoa is bound to bring you all the warming spices, grounding heartiness, and fall coziness you know and love — but with a few fun twists. With a base of savory, juicy, and meaty plant-based ground beef, the dish is kicked up a notch with hints of chili powder and a kick of peppery ginger," say our editors.

By Brinda Ayer

MORE FROM Brinda Ayer

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