People sometimes assume that making vegan meals is labor intensive or hard. But really, it’s easy to make some simple substitutions to dishes that are already in your repertoire!
In this post I offer ten easy vegan meals for beginners, plus a printable version for your refrigerator!
I was recently thinking about my friend, Julia, who moved to the United States many years ago from her homeland, Germany.
Julia is multi-lingual. After living and working in California for all this time, she even thinks and dreams in English.
That is fascinating to me. Because even after taking two years of Spanish in high school, two years of Spanish in college, and touring with a children’s theatre show that utilized the Spanish language, my Spanish is still very… basic.
Let’s just say if you needed to find a bathroom or the library in Mexico, I would be capable of asking a local. Once they gave the answer, you’re on your own.
In a way, going vegan is like learning a new language.
At first, it’s a struggle.
You’re looking over a vegan restaurant menu. Some of the things may seem foreign or new – tempeh, seitan, Daiya, perhaps even quinoa.
Or you’re at a diner and flummoxed over how to get vegan meals at a non-vegan restaurant.
Maybe you’re at home and thinking about your regular dinner rotations and in your mind crossing X’s through all of your favorites with a big red marker in your mind.
Then after being vegan for a while you become fluent. It’s seamless.
You look over a vegan restaurant menu. And you’ve had all those things dozens of times before.
Outside of vegan restaurants, you know which things can trip a person up. You ask your server ahead of time about chicken broth in the rice, lard in the beans, fish sauce and oyster sauce in the stir-fry, ghee on the na’an…
You know how to make easy substitutions, like more vegetables in place of meat on your pasta or to request salsa on your baked potato instead of animal-based butter.
It becomes second nature.
That’s why when someone I know is considering going vegan, this is my recommended first step – use the idea of learning a foreign language to your benefit.
If I wanted to ask, “Where is the library?” in Mexico, I might need to break down each word.
(Okay, my Spanish isn’t that bad, but just go with me here…)
First I need the word Where. Dónde. Is. Está. The. La. Library. Biblioteca. I just sub in Spanish for English, and I have, “¿Dónde está la biblioteca?”
Similarly, it can feel stressful at first when you’re hungry and just want to eat to stare in the refrigerator, think of all of your old habits, and then wonder, what now?
Dios mio, tengo hambre.
Instead of eating every meal out at a vegan restaurant or feeling like even a quick lunch requires cracking open a cookbook, think about the 10 meals you regularly eat at home. Then swap out the animal protein with a vegetable protein.
After making a list of ten things, it would look something like this, along with the easy swaps I could make…
Most dried pasta is vegan. Just check the ingredient label.
Then instead of meat in the sauce, choose lentils, seitan, vegan sausages, or loads of vegetables in jarred spaghetti sauce over whole wheat pasta.
Top with ground walnuts and/or nutritional yeast flakes instead of parmesan cheese. Or grate your own vegan parmesan on top. I am particularly fond of the kind from Violife.
Tacos, burritos, or fajitas
Fill corn or flour tortillas with pinto or black beans instead of ground beef. Stuff with tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, and onions.
Top with avocado or guacamole instead of cheese and sour cream. Or grate some Daiya cheddar block vegan cheese on top.
For veggie fajitas, cook sliced bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms in a grill pan, outdoor grill, or sheet pan. Season them with lime juice, oil, paprika, cumin, and chili powder. Then serve on warmed corn tortillas with vegan refried beans on the side – homemade or store-bought.
Making pizza with meat or without is virtually the same recipe. You just leave off the meat! Then you can go cheeseless (my preference), or use vegan cheese like Miyoko’s or Violife mozzarella.
Simply spread jarred tomato sauce and your favorite vegetables onto a pizza crust.
Prefer something meaty? Beyond Meat sausages are really good on a pizza. Keep them in your refrigerator or freezer. Then pull one out to thaw (if necessary), slice, and brown before adding it on top of your pie.
Vegan taco pizza is also a big favorite in our household. Top a crust with sauce, and your choice of spicy black beans, vegan chorizo, or vegan sausage that’s been browned in a skillet. Then finish with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a handful of crushed tortilla chips.
As for the pizza crusts, I’m particularly fond of the pre-made Italian crusts from the frozen section of Trader Joe’s. They come two to a pack. (They’re one of my favorite Trader Joe’s vegan products.) I also like Vicolo cornmeal crusts, available in a lot of natural grocery stores.
Or feel free to buy refrigerated dough or make your own!
Soups are the ultimate clean-out-the-refrigerator meal. Sauté onions and garlic. Then add vegetable broth, and the vegetables of your choice.
Or consider these easy vegan soup ideas:
- African peanut stew (above)
- Split pea soup
- Curry lentil soup
- Creamy vegan tomato soup
- Potsticker soup with store-bought dumplings
- Udon noodle soup with miso tahini broth
- Vegan baked potato soup
- Vegan miso soup
Sandwiches are so easy to make on the go. Just add mustard, onions, and pickles to bread along with vegan deli slices.
There are all kinds of vegan deli slices on the market. I’m particularly fond of Herbivorous Butcher pastrami and Field Roast deli slices.
Or make a BLTA with seitan bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. (Herbivorous Butcher makes my favorite vegan bacon. Upton’s Naturals is a good second choice!)
If you were a tuna salad fan, use chickpeas instead! Break down chickpeas in the food processor and mix them with an eggless mayonnaise, diced pickles, and chopped celery for vegan tuna salad.
A vegan egg salad sandwich is ready in just minutes with tofu, eggless mayo, mustard, and spices.
Or do a bagel sandwich with hummus, red bell peppers, onions, and spinach.
Chili is simple to veganize. Start with onions, garlic, and spices just like you usually do. Then throw in brown lentils, seitan, and/or as many varieties of beans as you like instead of ground beef. Add canned diced fire roasted tomatoes. And finish with a topping of crushed corn chips or salsa.
Or here are some easy vegan chili recipes:
- Lentil chili with pinto & black beans (above)
- Vegan three bean chili (the most popular chili on my site)
- Meatless chili with Soy Curls & beans
Buy or make baked tofu instead of chicken or shrimp and stir-fry with a ton of veggies. Splash on tamari, rice vinegar, and sriracha to taste. Top with a handful of cashews and cilantro, and serve with a side of brown rice, cauliflower rice, or rice noodles.
And maybe some pre-made vegan potstickers as well? (Trader Joe’s Thai vegetable gyoza are a well-loved favorite in my house.)
Instead of meat on a kebab, bake falafel, add tahini, hummus, diced tomatoes, and chopped leafy greens. Stuff all of that into lavash, a tortilla, or collard leaf. Serve with prepared dolmas and tabouli.
Or make double hummus wraps with regular chickpea hummus, black bean hummus, rice, lettuce, and turnip pickles.
I know salads are a little obvious when it comes to vegan options. But hey, salads are delicious and nourishing.
Or make an easy curried tofu salad with eggless mayo, cubed tofu, curry powder, celery, carrots, and raisins. It’s ready in 10 minutes!
More quick vegan meals that anyone can make:
- Air fryer baked potato
- Refried bean quesadilla
- Brown rice bowl with cauliflower & hummus
- Tortilla pinwheels with buffalo hummus
- Eggy tofu (vegan eggs)
- Cold peanut noodle salad
With time, vegan meals are no longer complicated.
You become fluent in Vegan, and you no longer have to peg new ingredients into your old habits. It’s just your usual dinner of vegan refried bean burritos or your typical breakfast of blueberry-topped oatmeal.
That is deliciously simple in any language.
Content and photos updated November 2019. Originally posted September 2012.