15 Vegan Cooking Hacks that will Help you Get Dinner on the Table in 20 Minutes
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One of the greatest obstacles I see in people who are thinking about going vegan, or people who are trying to eat healthier and cook more at home, is time. Life has gotten so complicated. We're constantly stretched thin, multitasking and moving from one to do list to the next. Time has become one of the most precious commodities in people's lives. It also happens to be the number one excuse in people's lives.
Yes, it's an excuse. Albeit a valid one, it feels so present, so true to us and it makes us so nervous to have to add additional tasks into our day. This is especially the case when people are new to cooking. We might have seen our moms making these long elaborate meals as kids and we immediately think that's what cooking is.
Yes, I've been known to spend several hours in the kitchen just to make the perfect seitan roast, but that's what I call special cooking. Holiday cooking. It's not what we're going to talk about today. Today we're diving deep into daily cooking, which yes, with a few tricks, can become delicious, effortless and quick!
Today I'm giving you 15 cooking hacks that will get you cooking more at home and will help you get dinner on the table in no time. With practice, you'll become a total pro at many of these and they will become second nature.
1) Plan what you're going to cook ahead of time
If you're a member of our online program, you know how much emphasis we give to meal planning. Meal planning takes a little bit of time the night before or at the beginning of the week, but it's so worth it. Although it has countless benefits, the one that really relates to today's topic is shopping. Half of our cooking time is wasted trying to figure out what to make, and then realizing that you have to go back out to the store because you're missing ingredients for almost every idea you have. By taking a little time the night before or the day you go shopping to figure out what you'll be cooking, you're making sure you have all you need, and come meal time you can simply start cooking.
2) Read the recipe in advance if using one
If you're using a recipe, even a simple one, try to get into the habit of reading the recipe before you start making the dish. This will help you get mentally organized and understand the different stages of the process. It really helps streamline things and maximize the time you have.
3) Take out all the pots, pans and utensils you'll need
There's nothing worse than having something about to burn in a skillet and frantically trying to find a wooden spoon, only to realize it's dirty and oh well... you just burned your garlic. Being frantic in the kitchen not only takes away from the pleasure of cooking but it really makes the time add up. Before you start cooking, take out all the utensils, pans and pots you'll need and if you'd like to, even set out the plates you'll be serving the food in. I never used to do this and I learned it from cooking for our videos. It saves so much time and keeps everything relaxing and easy.
4) Empty out the dishwasher
Raise your hand if your dishwasher is both your best friend and your nemesis! This was certainly the case for me. Having a dishwasher saves time in washing dishes yes, but here's the hidden blessing of a dishwasher that very few people realize. It's a way to keep your counters and sink clear while you're cooking. Aka it's a place to put all the mess you're creating while you sauté, roast and bake. There's nothing that saves more time in the kitchen than having your kitchen feel clear and with space as you cook. In order for all this magic to happen though, your dishwasher needs to be empty!
This means you need to start putting a dishwasher method into place to make sure it's ready to receive dirty dishes while you're cooking your next meal. The best way I've found for this is to turn on your dishwasher before going to bed, and then emptying it out first thing in the morning. That way your breakfast dishes can go straight in, same goes for lunch and dinner, and you'll have those beautiful clear counters while you cook.
5) Make sure your sink is empty of dirty dishes
If you don't have a dishwasher, or you're like me and you don't put everything inside the dishwasher, you need to follow the same principle that we mentioned above with your kitchen sink.
We use our sinks so much while we cook. We drain pasta, wash veggies, measure water, and if there are dirty dishes or pots and pans waiting to be washed in there, cooking becomes a pain.
Let me tell you this, many people who don't like to cook will eventually confess that it's the cleaning part that is so grueling. That's why take-out drawers are opened much more than they should be. Before you start cooking, make sure you've washed or put in your recently emptied dishwasher all those plates and pots that are taking up space.
6) Mentally break down the preparation of your meal into steps
Whether you're following a recipe or making up your own dishes, take a second before you start to break down the steps in your head, just like an olympic athlete maps out the race, the jump or the throw mentally before actually doing it. It will focus you, make it seem easier and make the whole process so much faster.
7) Choose your meal prep method: mise en place vs. prep as you go
Ah, the eternal question. What meal prep method should I use? Should I chop while my sauce is simmering (prep as you go method), or should I chop and measure all my ingredients before starting like they do in all the cooking shows (mise en place)?
I think there are positive things about both methods, and I use one or the other depending on what I'm making. By prepping as you go, things can feel a little crazier in the kitchen since you're doing several things at once, but it saves time when something has to be simmering or cooking for a while and you can use that opportunity to get the rest of your ingredients ready. It definitely has a place in my kitchen.
Mise en place is a thing of beauty. It takes a little more time (and a few more dishes and bowls) at the start of the process, but then cooking becomes this unbelievably fun and relaxing activity. You can follow a recipe and just add your perfectly measured out ingredients to the pan with no fuss. It's a fabulous way of really understanding aromas, cooking stages and temperatures, since you're much more present at the time of cooking. In some moments however you're just left staring at a pot which can make some people go crazy. Both methods have their pros and cons, you just need to give them a whirl and decide which one you like best, or do what I do which is to alternate depending on what I'm cooking.
8) Cook by instinct (aka without a recipe)
This is one of our missions! To help you understand plant based cooking so well that you can start creating your own dishes. When you don't have to measure ingredients there is so much time saved in the kitchen. This is a skill that takes practice, and it's what we try to teach you through our quick fix videos in our Youtube channel and our online program. This one's a magical time saver.
9) Put your oven to work
So many people I talk to only use their oven for baking cupcakes. I can tell you that I use my oven almost every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. Why? Because roasting vegetables is done in a flash, it's the most powerful flavor enhancer and it means your hands are free and your stove is empty, perfect for rounding out your meal while the rest of your components are in the oven.
It will vary between vegetables, but as a general rule, roast at 400ºF (205ºC) on a shallow baking sheet and without overcrowding your veggies or whatever you're cooking. Food tastes like it's been cooking for hours, when in fact it was done without much fuss at all.
10) Batch cook longer cooking ingredients like grains and beans once a week
Vegan cooking is so much about putting different delicious components together, so I always recommend batch cooking those which take the longest times to cook, ahead of time. Perfect examples of this are whole grains and beans. The good news is these take very little work once they're on the stove, which means you can set up a batch on Sundays, set a timer and get cozy in the couch and watch a movie while they cook. This will cut your weekly cooking time in half, when all you need to do to round out the meal is make salads or veggies and toppings to finish it off.
11) When you chop, chop extra
This is a great tip I love to use. Whenever I'm chopping vegetables for the meal I'm making, I chop extra and store them in containers in the fridge. These chopped veggies serve as my base for many different dishes in my next few meals, or I sometimes just use them to top salads or in stir-fries, but the work is already done.
12) Keep it simple and make it pop with a topping
We have this idea that cooking needs to result in this elaborate three course meal every single time, when the downright beauty of vegan cooking is its simplicity. I can't tell you how ridiculously happy I am with a simple bowl of brown rice and some black beans. Why? Because I always add a topping that makes the whole meal so much fun. Meaning, I top my simple bowl with some salsa, some guacamole or some mango chutney, and I'm happy. If you batch cooked your beans and grains on Sunday as mentioned before, this meal takes exactly 5 minutes to make. What could be better?!
For more topping ideas, you can download our FREE toppings printable with the button at the end of the post with a ton of delicious ideas.
13) Add a finishing oil, herbs or texture to elevate your dish without any extra work
Besides your delicious toppings, sometimes the addition of a finishing oil like sesame, a flavored olive oil like truffle oil or chili oil, adding herbs or texture in the form of nuts or seeds can really elevate a very simple dish to new heights. You'll feel you're having a very special meal, every day of the week!
14) Crank up the heat
This is one of my favorite tools when I'm pressed for time. As long as you're keeping a watchful eye on your food so it doesn't burn, cranking up the heat reduces cooking time. Yes a delicious marinara sauce is amazing when you let it cook for three hours, but you can actually have a delicious fresh pomodoro sauce in just 10 minutes by cranking up the heat. Perfect for quick weekly meals.
Another trick I use, is cranking up the temperature of the oven, or moving the oven rack higher up when roasting, which means the food will cook a lot faster as it's in closer contact to the heat source. Turning the broiler on is also a great tip, just be careful with any of these time saving heat tips that your food isn't burning.
15) If budget allows, redefine convenience
I always remind people that convenience foods aren't necessarily TV dinners and pre-packaged processed foods which you know I don't advocate for. Instead, I want you to re-think convenience. Pre-cut veggies, washed and chopped salad greens, marinated and baked tofu, canned beans, canned crushed tomatoes, these are the new convenience foods people! I always keep some of these in the house to help reduce prepping time, and they are huge time savers. Yes, they're more expensive, but if you can afford it, go for it!
Bonus hack: Enlist a buddy or a family member and share the love!
I know delegating feels like much more work, but there's a reason why restaurants require so many line cooks to function properly. More hands simply equal less time in the kitchen, especially if you learn how to give someone a task, forget it and let them shine at it in their own way even if it's not your way.
I hope you loved these tips I shared with you today and don't forget to download that delicious toppings printable which will make even the quickest meals seem like the best one ever.