I so often see the ‘how to eat vegan on a budget’ or ‘how to cook vegan healthy and quickly’ or ‘quick easy vegan dinners, help!’ threads and questions on all the vegan sites and forums I read that I’ve decided to write out my answer here to save time and save it for posterity if required.
The answer to vegan cooking is pretty simple – vegetables and flavourings. Lots of vegetables. Veggies can taste great you just need to learn to cook them as the main event.
The flavourings is always the thing that seems to trip people up. In meaty cooking the meat is often used as the main flavour and overpowers the other tastes. In vegan cooking you need to learn what vegetables taste like on their own and what other flavours and tastes you like with them. Once you start to know these things and have them in your pantry, fridge or freezer then you will never have to take more than 10 minutes to cook a healthy and enjoyable meal. It is also usually very cheap!
The basic concept is fresh or frozen vegetables, sautéed or steamed, with some kind of flavourings, sauce or spices. There are, of course, hundreds of thousands of variations on that principle and the trick is to find an handful that you like and enjoy.
Meat is also full of protein (although so is all food – but that is a discussion for another day) and fats. This makes it filling. Cheese and eggs fill a similar space in a lot of vegetarian food. So, you need to balance for that too. Grains and starches can fill this void.
You can add rice or another grain or starch if you want something quick and filling. If you have a rice cooker this is easier but you can also learn to use the stove top or microwave absorption method or do things like quinoa and couscous that can just be soaked in hot water while you cook the veg.
You don’t have to add beans and legumes but they can help.Tinned cooked kidney beans, borlotti beans, chickpeas, or lentils can be added to your veggies as they cook to round out a meal. Or you can buy dried and soak and cook them yourself for some really cheap protein and fibre boost. Again learn what they taste like and how you like them flavoured.
Tinned baked beans can be cheap easy lunch (but check the ingredient lists to avoid cheese, fish based flavourings and insect based food colourings) – I add lost of pepper, a splash of nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of tahini to mine.