We're the first to admit that change is hard. Whether it's moving to a new country, deciding on a career change at 40, or realizing your health needs an overhaul (and therefore your diet), moving out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable and scary. For many of us, the idea of going vegan makes perfect sense. It limits our processed food intake, is naturally low in calories, fuels our body with more vegetables and leafy greens (which we know reduces our stress levels too), and is kinder on the planet. But making that leap is the hard part.
There is so much nostalgia and emotion attached to food. Just the idea of leaving our favorite childhood foods or go-to weeknight meals behind is unthinkable. But the good news is moderation rules, and you can enjoy the health and taste benefits of vegan food without becoming one—even meat lovers will devour these vegan and vegetarian BBQ recipes.
To find out more, we tapped author and founder of award-winning food blog wholygoodness.com, Jessica Prescott. She kindly answered all our vegan-related questions, from which ingredients we should stock in our pantry to the healthy food swaps we can try. Be sure to scroll down to the end for an exclusive pizza recipe from her new book Vegan Goodness.
MYDOMAINE: Why did you become vegan?
JESSICA PRESCOTT: I had been a vegetarian for a while, and I always thought veganism was an extreme and restrictive lifestyle. Then I learned a little bit about the cruelty that is an intrinsic part of the egg and dairy industries, and the more research I did, the more a vegan diet made sense.
When you are eating an abundance of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains, you are giving your body pure, clean energy that it knows exactly how to process, rather than filtering those nutrients through another being's body first. Eating a vegan diet based on whole foods truly makes me feel like every cell in my body is jumping with joy.
MD: For people who are new to veganism, what are some things they can do to introduce it slowly into their diet?
JP: Swap chicken for chickpeas in Thai curries and lentils for mince meat in bolognese. I have recipes for both in my book. You really can continue to cook all of your favorite dishes, just swap the meat for a legume and swap the cheese for cashew cream or a nondairy alternative.
I started by only cooking vegan food at home and making vegan choices when eating out, but making exceptions when traveling or eating at a friends house. This may seem like a big jump for some, especially the less confident cooks, so it’s important to take it at your own pace, especially if you are trying to convince an entire family of eaters to keep an open mind to this new way of eating. If you can’t commit full time, then Meatless Mondays is a nice way to ease yourself into it.
MD: What should we add to our weekly shopping list to start incorporating vegan meals into our diet?
JP: It’s not so much about adding as it is about swapping. As mentioned before, swap mince meat for lentils and chicken for chickpeas. Take home a can of both and cook what you would usually cook, using these in place of the meat. Swap your dairy milk for a plant milk and likewise, swap your cheese for a plant-based alternative.
MD: What are your vegan pantry essentials?
JP: Spices are important for adding flavor. I love all of them for different reasons, but if I had to pick just three it would be cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric. Salt is another important flavor enhancer, and in my kitchen it goes in everything, even baking, as just a pinch can really make the flavor pop.
Tahini is essential, as are sundried tomatoes, olives, and capers, though I always buy ones in vinegar, not oil. Nutritional yeast is another essential, as it can really turn a humble bowl of pasta into something magical. Be sure to buy one that contains B12 as this is the only vitamin we cannot get from a vegan diet.
I always have a can of chickpeas on hand so that I can make hummus in a pinch, and I am utterly obsessed with black beans. I pretty much always have a bag of dried black beans on hand, as well as a bag of dried French green lentils for soups or a quick burger pattie.
I also always have a few different nuts and seeds on hand, as well as a bag of quinoa and a bag of dried pasta. And oats. I eat oats daily. Either with oat milk or almond milk, so we always have one of those on hand, as well as rice milk for our morning coffee.
And last but not least, I always have a bunch of bananas, a couple of avocados, some mushrooms, pumpkin, zucchini, a leafy green of some kind, some fresh herbs, and pomegranate. I put it on everything.
MD: You mentioned in the book that you don't eat fake meats, tofu, or fake cheese. Why?
JP: I love tofu, but I prefer to eat it as a treat or something to be enjoyed when I’m eating out. It’s always fun to try fake cheese and meat when dining out too. Seitan (when done well) can be incredible. At home, however, I prefer to cook with whole foods, things where processing is at a minimum, as these are the foods that make me feel the best.
MD: What if we're hopeless at following recipes?
JP: I’m hopeless at following recipes too, even my own recipes, haha! I definitely think there are two types of cooks. The ones who follow recipes to a tee and ones who glance over a recipe (or three) and then do their own thing. Most people I know fall into the latter category.
I actually say in my book that all recipes aside, my favorite thing to do is throw some mushrooms in a pan with a handful of cooked beans or lentils, (sometimes some zucchini or eggplant too), let it all cook until it’s mushy, and then serve it with some salady things in a bowl or in a wrap. I also love to roast a whole lotta veggies and smother them in tahini and pomegranate seeds, storing leftovers in the fridge for salads and sandwiches in the days that follow.
If in doubt, cook your favorite grain, top it with your favorite veggies (cooked or raw or both), and then add some fresh herbs and nuts or nut butter and eat.
MD: What is your advice to those who want to try veganism but don't know where to start?
JP: If you live in a city where veganism is common, go to a vegan restaurant. See how other people do it and get inspired. Utilize the internet. What are your favorite meals? Write them down, and then Google vegan recipes of those dishes. You’ll be amazed at the delicious and creative alternatives there are to your favorite meals.
MD: How do you make meals like pizza taste good without cheese?
JP: I know it sounds sacrilegious, but I truly don’t miss the cheese on pizza. At home, we use either tomato paste, pesto, or cashew cream (as per the recipes in my book). Salty tangy things help too, such as olives, sundried tomatoes, and capers. And when eating out, I simply ask for the pizza without cheese. That will often inspire an odd look from the waiter, but if their sauce is good, the pizza will be delicious, even without cheese.
Also, I think it's hard to miss this if you are researching veganism, but I cannot stress enough the importance of vitamin B12. It is the only vitamin that’s not available in the vegan diet.
"Proof that pizza is awesome without cheese."
Makes: 6 small or 3 large thin-crust pizzas
3 cups plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for rolling
2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. or 1 packet dried yeast
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for the bowl
1 cup lukewarm water
"This is where you can really let loose, either using up what’s in the fridge or creating toppings, especially for your pizzas. I like to keep it quite minimal, hence I prefer to make lots of small pizzas rather than one big one. Some favorite combos are (as pictured):
1. Potato, rosemary and sea salt. This really is the best pizza in the whole damn land. Brush the dough with some olive oil, cover with thin slices of boiled potato, sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt and go to heaven.
2. Green pesto, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, and pine nuts.
3. Caramelized onions, fig and walnut with rocket (arugula) and balsamic vinegar.
4. Tomato, pumpkin (squash) and olives with cashew cream and micro greens.
5. Sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes.
1. Place the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl and use a fork to combine. Add the olive oil and water, a little at a time, to the bowl and stir everything together until it forms a loose ball.
2. Sprinkle some flour on a large, clean surface. Dump the dough mixture onto the flour and knead for a couple of minutes, until you have one nice big smooth ball. If it’s not behaving, let it rest a minute or two while you wash and dry the bowl and then come back to it.
3. Place a little bit of olive oil in the bottom of the bowl, plop the ball in there, cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel) and leave it somewhere warmish until it has doubled in size. This usually takes an hour but it can take up to 2, depending on where you live. Use this time to prep any ingredients and toppings and don’t clean up the flour mess unless you really need to, as you will need it again later.
4. Once the dough has doubled, punch it to get the air out and then dump it back out onto the floured counter. Divide into the number of pizzas you wish to make and then form each of these pieces into an approximate ball shape. Cover with the tea towel and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
6. On the same floury surface, roll your dough out, base by base. I like to press the ball flat, sprinkle a little flour on top, roll over it a couple of times with a rolling pin, flip it over, roll some more in the opposite direction, then swiftly but gently transfer to a tray.
7. Add the toppings of your choice (being sure to save any greens for when the pizza is out of the oven) and bake the pizza for 10–12 minutes or until the crust is crisp and golden but not burnt (unless burnt is your jam, in which case go ahead and leave it for a little longer until it gets all burnt and blistery). Remove the pizza from the oven, add any salady greens and additional sauces, then eat!
Makes: 800 ml or 27 fluid oz.
"This sauce is a key ingredient in my lasagne, as a base for pizzas, spag bol with courgette zoodles, and Rollatini. You can also use it on its own over cooked pasta noodles for a quick after-work meal."
2 shallots, peeled
3–5 garlic cloves, peeled
About 2 lbs., 3 oz. tomatoes (I use a combination of normal and cherry)
10–20 black olives
1 tablespoon tomato paste (concentrated puree)
A handful of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Pour a little olive oil into a medium-sized saucepan and place on a medium heat.
2. Finely chop the shallots and garlic and add to the pan. Dice the tomatoes into small cubes and add these to the pan, including the seeds and juices.
3. Slice the olive flesh away from the olive stones and then chop a little more so you have lots of little pieces of olive. Add to the pan. You can use olives without their stones if you like, but their flavor is not as authentic.
4. Stir the tomato paste into the sauce and allow it to simmer away on a medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Finely chop the parsley and add to the sauce, then season to taste.
"You can add mushrooms, aubergine (eggplant) or courgette (zucchini) if you want a slightly more hearty sauce. Basil leaves also make a great addition. You can use tinned tomatoes if it’s not tomato season or you can’t be bothered with all the chopping."
For more delicious vegan recipes like this, shop Prescott's book below: