Everyone seems to have an opinion about vegan food—it tastes disgusting, it doesn’t have any flavor, it’s overly processed, etc. I’ll admit, these beliefs could have some truth to them, depending on which food you eat and how you cook it. Let’s address one of these concerns below: vegan food doesn’t have enough flavor.
After you take away the meaty stock, greasy fat, and rich dairy, it’s no wonder that vegan food seems lacking. The rich and juicy flavor disappears along with the animal products, leaving us with a bland and mushy poor excuse for food. Or at least, this is what many people think.
Western society doesn’t cook with many seasons other than salt. Salt, salt, salt. Everything is so salty. Salty fries, salty burgers, salty peanuts, salty soup, salty everything. Don’t get me wrong—salt is a core component to highlighting the unique flavors in each food. However, it’s not the only option for dressing up food.
Even the blandest vegetables can come to life with a thoughtful array of seasonings. I’ve made several dishes of seasoned vegetables for friends and family over the past couple of years. People frequently ask what seasoning I used, because they are pleasantly surprised to bite into so much flavor.
The answer, while not in a single spice jar, is still fairly simple. I just sprinkle a few of my favorite spices and mixtures. These spices are extremely versatile and go well with almost any dish, including vegetables, potatoes, and veggie burgers. There’s nothing overly inventive about these spices, but something doesn’t need to be novel to be good.
Start with the basics
The two most important ingredients for good flavor are oil and salt. If you have nothing else, then just use oil and salt. It seems basic, but it goes a long way. Think about potato chips—a potato by itself is probably the blandest vegetable on Earth. Yet, put a little oil and salt on it, and it suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite snack.
Pick good oil and salt
Now that I’ve said to start with oil and salt, it’s important to mention that not all oil and salt are created equally. The secret to delicious dishes often involves fresh and high-quality ingredients. If you’re only going to use a few ingredients or spices, make sure that they’re good ones.
Oil has flavor, too
It’s easy to view oil as the thing that simply greases your pan, but it’s so much more than that. Each type of oil has its own flavor, and the taste of the oil absolutely influences the overall flavor of your dish.
If you get a chance, taste some different types of oils on your fingertip. You’ll notice that oils like olive, avocado, canola, all have a subtly different tastes. Which one do you like best?
I usually use either olive oil or avocado oil. If I need a buttery taste, avocado oil is usually the way to go. Otherwise, I often mix both oils in a reusable glass spray bottle to get the best of both worlds.
Choose cold-pressed oil
A simple, natural oil is all you need. For the best flavor and health, choose oils that are either “cold-pressed” or “expeller-pressed.” Oils that do not specifically state these attributes are usually extracted via a chemical process, where hexane is poured into the food to separate the oil.
Salt has flavor, too
Oh, the glorious world of salt. Each type of salt brings a different strength and taste. These differences may be subtle on their own, but within an entire dish, they start adding up to influence the overall flavor. There are numerous types of salts and variations—if you can dream of it, it probably exists.
I have 3 types of basic salt in my cupboards: sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, and Hawaiian red salt. Natural salts like this contain slightly more trace minerals the regular table salt, and it’s these extra minerals that create their unique colors and subtle taste differences.
Use fresh spices
I use my favorite herbs and spices so frequently that I never need to worry about the expiration date. However, there’s nothing more disappointing than trying to cook a meal at someone else’s house, only to discover that their spice cabinet is grossly out of date and the flavors have long since faded away.
TIP: make sure to use all your spices within 1 year. While the shelf-life might be longer, the strength of the flavor starts to decline rapidly after a few months.
My Favorite Spices
Let’s get to it! Here’s a list below of my favorites.
- Natural salt (sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian red salt)
- Black pepper (unground)
- Fresh garlic
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend @ Trader Joe’s (Kosher salt, onions, mustard seed, porcini mushrooms, white button mushrooms, red pepper, black pepper, thyme)
- Adobo Seasoning Salt-Free @ The Spice House (onion, garlic, pepper, oregano, cumin, cayenne)
- Chili Powder (chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, garlic, allspice, cloves)
- Salt-Free Savory Seasoning (garlic, onion, black pepper, carrot, orange peel, basil, parsley, marjoram, rosemary, fennel seed, thyme, oregano cayenne)
- Vegan Chicken-Less Seasoning Salt @ Trader Joe’s (sea salt, onion powder, spices, turmeric, garlic)
For maximum flavor (and health), avoid spices than contain fillers or preservatives. Silicone dioxide is often used to prevent caking, but it’s basically just sand. Sand isn’t adding anything to the flavor, and it’s one more thing that our bodies need to purge. Always check the ingredients! I think a little caking is a worthwhile trade-off for the flavor and my health.
Time to get cooking!
I’m always bummed when my favorite spices run out, and re-stocking them is sure to inspire a cooking frenzy. It’s hard to go wrong with the basic spices listed above, so feel free to experiment with them on different dishes. There’s a world of flavor waiting to be discovered…use your options and get ready to surprise your dinner guests (or yourself)!