From the editor: The secret to making a vegan meal isn't recreating a meaty meal with some dubious "meat substitute", it's about bringing out the best in the ingredients you're working with. It's about cooking real food that tastes wonderful, and just happens to be vegan.
Here are five ingredients (and three recipes!) to help take your plant-based meals from good to great.
1. Smoked paprika
I have two favorite methods for creating smoky flavor in vegan recipes. One is to use a bit of smoked paprika. Both sweet and hot paprika can be found in smoked forms; any online spice merchant should sell them, and smoked paprika can often be found at grocery stores with a good spice selection.
The other is to use chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, a rich blend of paprika, oregano, garlic, salt, and vinegar.
Both are used in the Smoky Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili recipe (below) to create an especially smoky flavor.
Sure, beans add substance and protein to a meal easily, but nutrient-packed legumes aren't just a filler — they can be an exciting and flavorful element of a dish in their own right. For spice-infused black beans, see the chili recipe below.
3. Sweet potato or winter squash
Sweet potato and winter squash (like butternut or kabocha) are a perfect place to start when creating a plant-based meal.
The creamy and colorful kabocha squash in the kale salad (below) gives substance to the dish, so you can serve it as a filling appetizer or a lighter meal. This is an ideal salad for holiday entertaining, or just for brightening your table on a chilly night.
4. Toasted nuts
Elevate nuts and seeds by quickly toasting them to bring out their natural flavors and give a satisfying crunch. Different textures in a dish make it more interesting and enjoyable — without meat or cheese.
5. Fresh herbs
The perfect topping to complete dishes from multiple cuisines, leafy cilantro brightens the charred Cauliflower + Oyster Mushroom Tacos (recipe below) to really make them shine.
All fresh green herbs can have a similar effect on even the simplest dishes.