I needed to push more flavor into everything.
For meat eaters, the natural umami in meat and fish is satiating; even if the roasted potatoes alongside are plain and the salad dressing is basic, the savoriness brings satisfaction. Without that to lean on, everything on the plate wants to be thoroughly and thoughtfully seasoned, including basics like grains and beans.
“Just using enough salt will get you halfway there,” said Raquel Pelzel, the author of “Umami Bomb” (Workman, 2019), a new book of vegetarian recipes built around umami-rich ingredients: cooked tomatoes, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. Then, she said, build elements like sweetness, heat, acid and smoke. (Smoked paprika is vegan sorcery, used in everything that I once flavored with bacon. I picked up a new trick for the spice from “Sababa,” a new cookbook of Israel-inspired food: the author, Adeena Sussman, recommends stirring it in the end of cooking, to preserve its bright taste.)
Marinate everything that can be marinated, garnish everything that can be garnished (preferably with crunchy things like nuts and croutons) and season your cooking liquids (when you’re pressed for time, throw in a vegetable bouillon cube).
I was avoiding meat and dairy substitutes for no good reason.
Growing up among hippies made me perpetually suspicious of anything offered as a healthier substitute for something good. The fact is that there are many products on the market that are delicious on their own terms, and more and more foods that are doing a good job of pretending to be meat and dairy. Go out and try them. Thanks to the recipes in “I Can Cook Vegan,” a new book from the chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz, coconut oil is my new best friend.
I was being snobbish about frozen vegetables.
Pulling off a weeknight vegetarian dinner with variety, like a sheet-pan dinner, a vegetable stew or a stir-fry, means having some parcooked vegetables on hand. New vegetarians are often advised to do a big vegetable shop once a week and prep everything at once. I did it, but was discouraged by the fact that at the end of all that labor, I still had to cook everything as the week went on.
Bhavna Patel, a home cook in Lake City, Fla., with a popular YouTube channel, grew up in Gujarat, India, where a majority of people are vegetarian or vegan. She has streamlined her family’s recipes, she said, and often relies on homemade frozen vegetables. If you are peeling and cutting them anyway, it’s just as easy to boil them in salted water and freeze them in resealable bags. Or, find a brand you like and buy them. The route to dinner is much faster. Pav bhaji, her go-to meal for her sons, is a vegetable curry served on toasted buttered buns.