VEGAN. VEGETARIAN. PLANT-BASED. MEAT-FREE. THESE DAYS EVERYONE’S EATING HABITS HAVE A TITLE. I always hesitate to answer someone when they ask me, “Are you completely vegan?” “Do you eat fish?” “Are you gluten-free?” Because the truth is, I don’t fit into one category. I listen to my body and eat intuitively. Yes, most days I crave foods that are derived from plants. But other days I crave a rotisserie chicken that I will have roasting in the oven all day, pleasantly perfuming my home (and the hallway). I have been known to go to my favorite restaurant Sant Ambroeus and order my regular gluten-free penne arrabbiata (after a heaping arugula salad and side of spinach and roasted potatoes) along with double orders of the bread basket. The moral of the story? Don’t conform to any title if it doesn’t suit you. My husband calls me the sneaky vegetarian, and I can live with that. Having said that–insert Curb Your Enthusiasm joke here–I do feel I thrive the best when I’m keeping mostly plant-based. Why? Because plants, particularly raw ones, are super alkaline and hydrating, which means that they are going to hydrate my cells and keep me energetic, light and, well, pretty. (The more energy it takes to digest that steak, the less your body is inclined to work on those under-eye circles.) I’ve outlined ten easy ways to go mostly plant-based, even if it means holding onto your beloved burger from time to time.
1. Eat A Salad
Duh. No but really. Other than juicing, this is truly the easiest way to get more veggies in. Also, the bigger you make your salad, the more you ensure you’ll have fresh, raw enzymes in your system than heavier cooked foods that take loads of time to digest. Get creative. As pleasure-seeking humans, we’re always looking for something crunchy, juicy, salty and savory. So throw in bell peppers, cucumbers, olives, juicy tomatoes, even some chopped canned hearts of palm, pepperoncini, sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pumpkin seeds and sweet corn can all liven up a boring ol’ salad. Also, vary your greens: baby spinach, arugula, kale, red chard, romaine, watercress, mizuna greens. Decide on your base and build from there.
2. Make Your Daily Smoothie Green
If you commit to having fresh vegetable juice or a plant-based smoothie every morning, you immediately ensure you’ll up your produce quota for the day. Yes, that means bidding adieu to that egg white omelet or bacon egg cheese. But have you ever noticed the immediate energy dip after having said breakfast items? We thrive most when our systems are light during the morning so grab your Vitamix, Blendtec or Nutribullet and toss in some leafy greens, celery, banana, your favorite fruit and drink up. If you’re craving something a bit more hearty, try a slice or two of sprouted grain toast with a smear of avocado or raw almond butter. Satiety sans slump.
3. Do Meatless Monday
Anything for a hashtag right? If you’re adamant that protein works for you then how about one day of the plant-based life? Committing to one day a week without animal products will not only give your digestion system a rest but will also force you to get creative. Like what to do with that crisper full of week-old zucchini and green beans? Try a stir-fry. Pretty much any veggie medley works. Toss your veg in a pan with a little oil, garlic, ginger and soy sauce with a side of brown or white rice and you’ve got yourself a meal.
4. Limit Animal Protein To Meal A Day
Ok one day is just too much to ask. Fine. How about one meal? Think about swapping one meal a day where you would usually have protein for a veggie-centric dish. For example, do you always have hard-boiled eggs in the AM? How about a protein smoothie of banana, almond butter, almond milk and spinach? Yum. Or if you always have grilled chicken on your chopped salad for lunch. How about swapping that out for avocado and chickpeas instead? Food for thought.
5. Crowd Out Your Plate
In our culture, we have been trained to think of meat as the main event. Vegetables are inherently considered “sides”. How about flipping the switch and making your meat the side? So let’s say dinner is grilled salmon. Load up on your salad with tons of grilled broccolini, sautéed kale and roasted mushrooms or cauliflower and then have the salmon. Chances are you’ll be so full, you won’t want to finish the whole thing. Baby steps, y’know?
6. Eat Immigrant Food
There are definitely more reasons than just nutrition to support various world cultures–in any way we can–but one of the easiest and most delicious ways to go plant-based is to go global. Whether it’s Japanese, Korean, Indian, Mexican, Lebanese, Iranian or even Ethiopian, eating mostly vegetarian is essentially the norm other than the good ol’ U.S. of A. Start simple. This quinoa veggie sushi roll recipe may just become your best friend to make while this babaganoush recipe makes mid-meal snacking a no-brainer, You could always order too. You’ll be surprised how many dishes are vegetarian on the menu.
7. Order The Sides
When people ask me, “Is it hard to eat out?“ I laugh. It’s SO easy. My move? Order the sides. I would much rather go to a delicious Italian restaurant, French bistro or even a steakhouse. Yes steakhouse! Than eat at the local macrobiotic in-patient center. You can have a wonderful, indulgent meal of roasted potatoes, sautéed spinach, sautéed mushrooms with a salad to start. Believe me, I always get looks of envy from my girlfriends nibbling on a piece of fish. There is no need to be stingy while dining out.
8. Get To Know Your Veg
Most people’s idea of going vegetarian is eating a pile of broccoli and brown rice for every meal. (Actually, yum though.) But that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is an array of produce that you may not have been using that you are truly missing! For example, have you had roasted fennel with olive oil? How about sautéed endive? Or grilled radicchio? Sure there’s broccoli. But what about broccoli rabe or broccolini? Everyone’s had a baked Idaho potato. But what about the nuttier purple potato or the umami-esque Japanese sweet potato? The easiest way to meet new veggie friends? At the farmer’s market. Don’t be afraid to ask the vendor how to prepare said vegetables. They’re pros. When in doubt? Turn to the master Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.
9. Spice Up Your Life
You may also be surprised to know what what you’re craving is not the meat at all but the flavor. Lusting after wings? It may be that peppery-garlicky fire that you’re craving. Want Greek? Just add oregano and dill. Indian? Cumin and turmeric do wonders. Mexican? Cumin and chili powder. French? Bonjour Herbs de Provence. Once you nail down the spice palate of the cuisine you’re salivating after, most of the work is done.
10. Lovely Legumes
Yes beans and lentils are the ultimate vegetarian cliches but they’re one of the best ways to incorporate plant-based protein. The trick to making legumes more digestible is soaking them over night, with a dash of apple cider vinegar and if you can score some, kombu seaweed. That will infuse the beans with iron and the vinegar will help breaks down the tough skin. A trick in cooking beans that I learned from my Korean mama? Toss in some kombu seaweed while stewing for a super umami flavor and an extra iron boost.
A Word on Soy…
Here at Bonberi, we’re not big soy consumers. Other than the fact that most tofu in this country is highly processed and made with GMO soybeans, soy is incredibly difficult to digest, which means it will stick in the system and ferment, which in turn leads to gas, bloating and numerous health issues. Also, soy contains a high level of estrogen, which can wreak havoc on hormone levels.