For quick and easy vegetarian cooking, the best way is to be organized and to do some planning ahead. An organized kitchen is both budget friendly, and allows you to prepare food in less time.
Here are some tips and advice on how to save time in the kitchen, and make your meal preparation easier.
For easy vegetarian cooking it is essential to be organized.
Organize your kitchen around the work triangle; the fridge/freezer, the sink and work area around it, and the stove plus work space next to it.
Ultimately there should be nothing blocking you quickly moving in this triangle, and with only a few steps in between.
For each work space organize your cupboards with items that are related. For example next to the fridge a space for unloading groceries, Tupperware and plastic bags, next to the sink a place to clean and peel vegetables, peeler, a small knife, sieves, compost/garbage bins.
Next to the stove arrange a place to chop/mix and prepare food, with knives, cutting board, bowls, mixer/blender and spices/herbs easily accessible. Store gadgets and utensils accordingly to where they are used.
Leave out only what is used daily. Store utensils within reach of what is used weekly, and store away (or get rid of!) what is used rarely or never.
I find that if a tool or kitchen utensil is stored away- I will not use it. For example my bread maker- when I store it away, I never use it. Having it on the counter top takes up valuable space in my small kitchen- but it is either that or not to use at all!
Planning weekly menus helps you do some really easy vegetarian cooking. It also helps saving time -in the long run- and money. Sure, it is a bit of work to plan the menu, but once you have a few weeks of family approved meals, you can do as I do and write them on index cards and then rotate them.
Get rid of meals that are not enjoyed by all, and exchange occasionally for new ones. Make a permanent shopping list for each menu (write it on the other side of the card), and shop only for ingredients not already in your pantry every repeated week. Shop only once per week and organize your shopping list after the layout of the store.
I only cook one meal a day. I work more than full time- so preparing more meals would be very hard. We eat a “Mediterranean style” late lunch as a family, and in the evening anyone can get leftovers or simply grab yogurt, cereals and some fruit.
For easy vegetarian cooking plan simple, quick meals during the week. Leave fancy, fun and gourmet recipes for the weekend and only if you feel like it.
Whenever preparing grains, legumes or vegetables- check the menu if you also need the same for later in the week and chop, boil, steam or grill some extra.
I used to do a marathon cooking-session during the weekend, believing I would save time during the week. But I found I wore myself out and had no fun at all. This was not easy vegetarian cooking at all, since I spent too many hours trying to do too much. And then I had to prepare the food anyway during the week!
I found it works better to sneak in some shortcuts here and there and to prepare some more while I am spending time to cook anyway.
Many recipes can be doubled and frozen for another day. When freezing, make sure to use smaller containers for 1-2 servings since thawed food should normally not be heated up more than once. And for some reason, whatever is “left of the leftovers” quickly get in the unwanted category.
If you cook in larger batches, you also save time cleaning and preparing the vegetables. You may use the mixer/blender once, so you save water for dish washing as well as trips to the compost or garbage bin!
In some countries there are a lot of ready made vegetarian foods available. This can be a help when life is too hectic- but not a good idea in the long run since a lot of these foods are processed in one way or the other, and you have no control over what exactly has been added or how it was made and cooked.
I believe in using as pure, basic and simple ingredients as possible. Preferably organic, but even there I prefer locally grown super fresh produce instead of overpriced, imported, half-dead “organic” vegetables. Shopping for vegetables and fruits that are in season also increases their nutritional value.
The healthiest and easiest fast food of all is fruit. I leave lots of fruit out, washed and clean for a quick snack. If stored in the fridge- it tends to get forgotten and spoiled, so having a permanent fruit bowl out makes sure that it is eaten.
It has to be easy- I admit we are a bit lazy! A bowl with mixed (healthy) nuts and dried fruit or raisins is great to nibble from for a quick protein snack.
Canned foods are maybe not ideal, but unless you have unlimited time to spend in the kitchen- a necessity for easy vegetarian cooking. Stock your pantry with premium quality since it is healthier in the long run.
The increasing rate of food intolerance should be taken as a sign that we need to be more aware of what we put in our bodies.
Having had “close encounter” with food intolerance in my family I have seen first hand what a huge impact pure and simple food have as compared to the slightest bit of food coloring, flavoring or other additives.
One of the best investments you can make as a vegetarian is a good sized freezer.
To cook beans and grains can be very time consuming, but legumes freeze well so you can cook a lot while you’re at it, freeze and have handy for another time. You can also freeze leftover brown rice. A good idea since it takes at least 45 min to cook.
Do remember to label! What it is and the date it was made. A bunch of unidentified frosty items are heading for the garbage more often than not.
Shopping for frozen vegetables is not as budget friendly as chopping, steaming and freezing yourself, but I consider it a worthy and healthy substitute for fresh veggies when you are short of time and when the vegetable is out of season.
I have even bought chopped onion in stressful times- I thought it silly at first, but it was really a help. Buy the best quality of frozen vegetables you can afford.
Grated cheese also stores well both in the freezer and the fridge. Make sure to label it!
I use the microwave every day. I use it to heat up water, leftovers and to thaw a handful of frozen vegetables to throw in a soup, stew or salad. I have an enthusiastic and inspiring cookbook from the early days of the microwave, on how to cook with it.
There are some useful things you can do, like “roasting” nuts and seeds, boiling water with spices and lemon/orange peel for a kitchen “perfume” and even to sanitize your dishrag (wet it, microwave for 30sec.: done) !
But to cook food? Naah. Apart from the research that tells us it is OK to microwave, and equally other that says microwaving kills important enzymes and is bad for your health- it just doesn’t smell right, does it?
Baking bread and cooking should fill your kitchen with pleasurable aromas, which is part of the joy of cooking. But, sure the microwave can be used for easy vegetarian cooking short cuts.
For example; Baked potatoes are done in less than 10 min in the micro, compared to 1-2 hours in the oven. But they don’t smell right! Short cut for easy vegetarian cooking? Microwave the potatoes (one at a time) for 5 min while the oven heats up. This will get them started in the middle and then you bake in the oven for less time.
Generally, it is not a good idea to chop or slice vegetables too far in advance since they loose a lot of vitamins this way plus they spoil faster.
However, grating and slicing one weeks’ worth of cabbage and carrots with the food processor really makes it easy to throw together a salad. Cabbage and carrots also keep well even chopped in the fridge.
Grab a handful or two; add other vegetables and herbs and some dressing- instant salad, and you save the time cleaning up the mixer only once.
Having too many kitchen appliances and gadgets may be more time consuming than useful. I find it more effective with few but high quality tools that I can find quickly and are easy to clean.
But there are some essential time saving appliances for easy vegetarian cooking , like a food processor/mixer. A blender is great too, but I can do most things only with my mixer. A hot air oven was also a good investment for us. It decreases time for a lot of dishes, for example pizza.
A pressure cooker is really good for cooking beans, it speeds up time considerably. But you can manage well also without it. (And while the beans soak or boil, you can do other things!)
Buy the best quality knives you can afford. Look out for special knives for vegetables. Keep them sharp, and hand wash them. Good sharp knives save time.
A slow cooker, or crock-pot is becoming popular again. It is useful also for vegetarians, even though vegetables cook faster than meat. Slow cooking food releases more of the flavors, and you don’t have to check the food but can set a timer to have it ready when you want.
Quality pots and pans is also a good investment for easy vegetarian cooking. You need only a few, so get good ones. They get hot faster, cook more evenly and are usually easier to clean.
If I could have only one pot it would be my wok. In it I cook everything. I saute, cook, boil, fry- you name it. Perfect for vegetarians!