TDIV Q&A: Can you provide a week's worth of dinner ideas?

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Q: Can you provide me with a week's worth of dinner ideas?

A: I'm really glad that I got to answer this question. I love to cook! However, I've been intimidated with vegan cooking since I'm a vegetarian, just working my way into veganism. And so, I began with doing my own research on vegan recipe sites. I found my way to an awesome blog - Fat Free Vegan Kitchen - All of the recipes/dishes I'm going to suggest will be from this blog. I've tried all 21 recipes, and absolutely love them. I'll give you seven starters, seven mains and seven desserts.

Apps - all found in the appetizer section of the blog.

Day 1 - Hummus in the Blender - I made the plain version and added mix-ins like caramelized onions. It was quick, fresh and tasty. The next day, I also used mashed sweet potato in place of half the chickpeas - it won over my very non-vegetarian brother as well. Serve with pita and veggies, or use as a spread.

Day 2 - White Bean Salad with Za’atar - I had mine, not with pita, but on a bed of spinach (I'm trying to incorporate more veggies into my diet). I also used my own spices in this, basically, salt, pepper, a pinch of cumin and chili flakes. And I also used the vegetables I had on hand, like tomatoes, carrots and celery. I also threw in some boiled potatoes.

Day 3 - Saintly Black and Gold Salsa - This was so good with corn chips. I did tone down the spices and also added some fresh lemon juice.

Day 4 - Roasted Eggplant-Almond Dip - So, I actually got lazy with this one. I had some peanut butter at home (the natural stuff), and used that instead. I didn't mind the taste, but it was a little bit pungent.

Day 5 - Bruschetta - This is also on the blog, but I made my own, using a spread of olive oil, minced garlic, and some herbs, and topped it with fresh tomatoes and onions and broiled it in the over really quickly, using some dairy-free cheese. Really yummy - if I didn't have a main prepped, I probably would've eaten more than two pieces.

Day 6 - Baked Spinach Kofta with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce - Good for a weekend when you have some time on your hands. Stuffed in a pita, it can become a meal. I skipped the soy-yogurt in the sauce and just made it into a salsa - I didn't actually have any, and didn't want to de-veganize this either.

Day 7 - Mini Crustless Tofu Quiches - Again, I have to say that this is good for company, and a weekend - it is more work than I'd like on a weekday. Again, instead of the cashew butter, I used peanut.

Mains - All found in the mains section of the blog

Day 1 - Thai Black Pepper and Garlic Tofu - I don't know about you, but I am a BIG fan of tofu. Some people find it tasteless, but the trick to overcoming that is to drain the tofu really well and then to soak it in your sauce/let it marinate for a while.

Day 2 - No-fu Love Loaf - While I love tofu, and am a fan of many of the soy things found in grocery stores, TVP (especially the ground variety), does NOT appeal to me... Perhaps this is because I've eaten meat in the past, and though I don't miss it, now, something about TVP just tastes incredibly plastic to me. So, I was very excited when I found this recipe. This was an incredibly filling meal. I had it with mashed potatoes, and used the leftovers in a sandwich for lunch. This is a good time to mention the amazing soy-mayo that is on this blog as well.

Day 3 - Nava’s Hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie - All I have to say is this was so yummy, I ate it two days in a row. Mushrooms have a great flavor, and meld really well with mashed potatoes.

Day 4 - Vegan Zucchini Frittata - One of the biggest challenges for me with a vegan transition is to cut eggs out of my diet, but this makes me VERY optimistic. It tasted really rich. I'd up the spice next time.  The veggies taste excellent in this, but if you use too many, and not enough tofu, it'll still taste amazing, but won't set as well. Remember to salt properly; whether egg or otherwise, a salt-less frittata is tasteless. Another note: You want the veggies to be extremely dry, otherwise the bake won't set. To do this quickly, heat your pan, and add salt to the veggies as soon as you add them to the pan; this will help extract the liquid and prevent sticking.

Day 5 - Potato and Broccoli Rabe Casserole - I had some tofu leftover from the previous day. I'm getting really excited about the tofu option in place of eggs. I also used kale. Same note on the veggie to tofu ratio as Day 4.

Day 6 - Eggplant and Chickpea Curry - This is delicious and economical. Chickpeas are always on sale where I live, and 2 eggplants go a long way. I ate this with bread as opposed to rice. My advice in that case is to cut back on the spice a little bit - with rice, I'm sure that the proportions should be fine in terms of spices (or if you're used to eating very spicy food), but I found it a bit too much heat with bread.

Day 7 - Gold Rush Chili - I used this recipe as mostly a base. Again, I dislike TVP, so I couldn't use any in this, but your tastes may be different from mine. In any case, I just used the vegetables that I had at home, and I also didn't have any kidney beans, but had chickpeas and white beans, so I made a lot of substitutions.

Dessert - Are you ready for this? This was the most challenging for me.

Day 1 - Chocolate-Cherry Ice Dream - I was VERY skeptical about this recipe; you'll see what I mean when you read the ingredients. But, I have to say, it turned out quite nice. It is a frozen dessert - notice that it isn't called ice-cream? If this is the substitute for ice-cream, suffice it to say that I wouldn't mind; it's quite refreshing. I also had fresh strawberries which I froze before using, instead of cherries. I'm looking forward to making this with other fruits. I also used flax instead of chia seeds since that's what I had. This is also a good alternative to the store-bought vegan ice-creams which can run up quite the bill (secretly addicted to Tofutti, here).

Day 2 - Chocolate-Blueberry Cake - Okay, so I substituted strawberries in this recipes instead as well. It isn't that blueberries are more expensive/not in season/I didn't have them. I... ahem, well, I kind of ended up eating all of mine that I had to sub. It tasted fabulous with strawberries; strawberries and chocolate are a great pairing.

Day 3 - Pumpkin Pie Bites - This came out of a need to use the can of pumpkin that I've had lying around since December. Tasted really yummy - no other things to say about it.

Day 4 - Cinnamon Swirl Muffins - Even though I haven't really ever eaten/liked cinnamon muffins, I made this as a challenge to show my family that there can be vegan cinnamon rolls. Pretty good if you're a fan of cinnamon, I'm sure.

Day 5 - Pineapple Coffee Cake - I used brown sugar instead of vegan sugar, so I don't know if that doesn't make it vegan, but from my research, apparently, there's a split discussion on the answer to that question. Again, this was so that I could use up my canned pineapple from January. The trick, I find to staying on a budget is to buy when things are in season, use what you have, and with cooking, get creative and substitute.

Day 6 - Fat free and Fabulous Fudgy Brownies - I normally stay away from desserts, but I just had to have this one. Also, I skipped the walnuts because I have a walnut allergy. I'm looking forward to making these again and adding almonds or peanuts - natural friends of chocolate.

Day 7 - Tropical Sweet Potato Delight - This was like a dessert, baked potato. I really enjoyed it, but had to make only one for myself, since everyone else didn't want to try any. I really recommend it. I'm sure you could do this with pears, or apples too for added sweetness.

Whew! Those are a lot of recipes, right? I wouldn't feel this article was complete if I didn't write at least one small paragraph about what I learned from this experience. I'm still not a complete vegan (like vegetarianism, I think taking things one step at a time is better for me to not be discouraged). However, a blog like Susan's really does encourage my decision. I don't think it'll be that difficult to go vegan from vegetarianism with all the options out there. I also realized that it is possible to cook vegan on a budget.

I have to also say that I was absolutely impressed with the dessert portion of the site. While I love to bake (maybe even more than how much I adore cooking), I was very intimidated with vegan baking, or desserts in general. Susan has helped me overcome this fear a little bit, and I'm really excited to continue trying out the different recipes on her site. Who knows? In a couple of months, I might even be confident enough to start my own vegan blog. I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I did.

Article by Zan Vania

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/kareneliot

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