One big problem holds a lot of people back from eating lots of vegetables: They just don’t taste good. I know this is debatable and depends on how much the other foods in your diet disrupt your taste-buds, but let’s be honest: most vegetables are naturally bitter (although the bitterness is part of what makes them so good for us), and sometimes the texture is off-putting as well. If this is holding you back, this is the blog post for you! I’m going to talk about how to make veggies taste good.
I don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution for how to make all food taste good all of the time. I do, however, have an abiding interest in taste, because I love to improvise recipes. And when you’re making things up on the fly, it helps to know the options.
You probably remember from grade school the different kinds of taste sensors in your mouth. But they’ve added new ones! There’s sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami. Add to that the taste of fattiness, astringent tastes, the “fire” taste of seared/roasted/grilled foods, and spice/hotness. And there’s even a couple more that are still in research stages.
A quick note on “salty” and “sweet” and “fatty”: For WFPB eaters, salty is probably something you’re trying to avoid, and perhaps you don’t use it at all – that’s ok! There are so many other flavors to play around with! For sweet and fatty flavors, consider where these occur naturally in nature, such as naturally sweet vegetables and fruits (beets, for example), and whole-food fats like avocado and nuts. Sweet and fatty doesn’t have to mean refined sugar and oil!
A dish that is just one of these flavors won’t be all that fun for your taste buds and can overpower a dish, covering up the more subtle and complex flavors. When these flavors are balanced, your food will taste good.
Guacamole is a great example. Avocado tastes mostly fatty and a little bitter by itself (well, it’s still tasty, but definitely bland), but when you mix it with spicy red onions and sour-sweet lime juice and spicy/astringent cilantro, suddenly you have an incredible flavor explosion!
So do that with all of your veggies. Don’t make them hold their own! Let them work as a team toward total tastiness.
- Taste as you go! If you’re cooking vegan, there’s no raw egg or meat to worry about anyway!
- Sample the taste of unseasoned vegetables to understand what flavors they already have, and what would balance well with them.
- For pete’s sake, don’t boil them! All of their natural flavor will go right out into the water – a great way to make soup stock, but not a good way to cook veggies you’re eventually going to eat. (Unless you’re making soup, obviously.)
- Instead of boiling: blanche, bake, steam, stir-fry, or just microwave for about 3 minutes in a bowl with a little water in the bottom and a plate on top.
- Massage your kale.
- Avoid canned vegetables – buy frozen or fresh as available. Frozen produce is usually picked at peak ripeness, giving time to develop a full nutritional profile.
- Season everything. Make sauces and dressings when you food prep, or buy pre-made. Buy a few spice mixes, like this.
- Seriously, mustard is fantastic. If you don’t like mustard… I’m so sorry.
- Everybody forgets about sourness – including me. Adding something sour in dishes that are a little bland can be just the kick they need!
- Most people don’t associate a smoky “fire” flavor with vegetables, but it can transform a vegetable dish. Grilling and searing is not just for meat-eaters!
- Don’t shy away from umami. Sources of umami flavor include liquid aminos, nutritional yeast, any fermented soy product, tomato sauce, and walnuts. If you’re new to vegan/wfpb, this flavor will save you from your meat craving!
A few ideas for sauces or dressings: mustard, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice, mashed avocado or guacamole, marinara, pesto, liquid aminos or tamari… It doesn’t have to be fancy!
For people transitioning to vegan/wfpb, consider using things like ketchup, vegan mayo, barbecue sauce, or teriyaki sauce to help you transition. They’re easy pre-made sauces that probably taste familiar and will help you enjoy the new veggies you’re trying! They do have a lot of added sugar and salt, so not a good thing to rely on all the time.
That’s my advice on how to make your vegetables taste good! Eating a wfpb diet doesn’t have to be all raw, bland vegetables. Play with taste and balance out the natural flavors in your veggies. Vegan food is not a deprivation or a struggle – it’s joyous and vibrant! So enjoy!