Starting a plant-based diet and worried you'll get bored with the food? Here's the thing: whether your meal's plant-based or not, making any dish taste great comes down to three things: a little bit of thought, some herbs and spices, and a usually a generous dollop of sauce. Here are my top tips for creating delicious (and easy!) plant-based meals so you'll never get bored in your vegan kitchen.
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Overwhelmed about plant-based cooking? Think of it this way: you wouldn’t eat a plain chicken breast…and even if you wanted to, the ones from the grocery store are injected with salt! That's right: seasoning is key! And the same goes for plat-based meals. While salt and pepper are the standard go-to's, I think we can get a little more creative than that...
If you’re used to seasoning meat, then you’re halfway there!
- Season your mushrooms and zucchini like you would beef.
- Season a baked potato like you would a chicken breast.
- Season tempeh like you would BBQ meat.
- Season tofu like you would fish, or… well, all of the above!
Meat Lovers' Guide to Seasoning Plant-Based Meals
When seasoning plant-based meals in the same vein as traditional meat dishes, it's best to focus on "meaty" plant-based foods like walnuts, tofu, tempeh, zucchini, mushrooms, lentils, and jackfruit.
For a Traditional Beef-Like Flavor
Cook your desired vegetable in veggie broth with a little red wine vinegar until soft then add:
1 tablespoon of Tamari or soy sauce
a teaspoon of garlic powder
a teaspoon of paprika
½ a teaspoon of cumin
Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried dill
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground coriander
For a Poultry-Inspired Dish
Cook your desired vegetable in veggie broth, and add a few dashes of poultry seasoning or:
1 ½ teaspoons ground dried sage
1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground dried marjoram
½ a teaspoon ground dried rosemary
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
For a Fish-like Flavor
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
½ a teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of dill
½ a teaspoon of celery seed
(optional) kelp flakes or crumbled nori to taste
3 Ways to Season Veggies (Beyond Salt and Pepper)
If you’re a little more experimental in the kitchen, choose from some of the following herbs and spices and go spice wild!
1. For low sodium plant-based meals, get familiar with dry herbs and spices, like:
- Earthy and sweet spices like cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg. These can are great for roasted veggies, especially seasoning root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, and potatoes.
- Want a smokey, woodsy flavor? Add in a dash of smoked paprika. It also gives dishes a nice sprinkling of color.
- Hoping to give your dish a savory spin? Season with dried oregano, marjoram, coriander, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, cumin. Pro tips: Add a Bay Leaf to your next pot of beans to bring your rice and beans from boring to delicious.
- Add heat to any dish with spicy cayenne, red pepper flakes, chili powder, or dry mustards
- Mrs. Dash - when you’re first cooking without salt, Mrs. Dash is a great way to find flavor without too much experimentation in the kitchen. The fine folks at Mrs. Dash have already done all the work, creating a variety of salt-free all purpose seasoning blends to make any dish — from Mexican to Italian — taste just right, without salt!
- Lemon pepper - Up the roasted veggie ante with lemon pepper and you’ll get delicious vegetables with a slight kick. Zesty lemon pepper is also great on creamy vegan pasta dishes, like our dairy-free Mac Attack.
- Salt Free Cajun Seasoning
- Pumpkin Pie Spice (Here's an easy DIY pumpkin pie spice recipe!)
When it comes to making delicious plant-based meals, it's all about the sauce!
Now, louder for the people in the back:
IT’S! ALL! ABOUT! THE! SAUCE!
I’m serious. With a good sauce, you could make anything delicious, even the most rudimentary dish. Choose your oil-free sauce and douse whatever you’re cooking HEAVILY in it. Just make sure it's oil and refined sugar free and you're good to go! You will be disappointed.
CHEF TIP: If you plan to marinade your tempeh/tofu/mushrooms/zucchini, do so in a vinegar based sauce like Italian dressing, before cooking. Then add an additional sauce if desired once it's cooked through!
7 Oil-Free Sauces and Dressings to Jazz Up Any Plant-Based Meal
1. Walnut French Onion Vegan Gravy
Finally, a thick, creamy vegan gravy that rivals the original. Our Walnut French Onion Vegan Gravy is like your favorite dip and Thanksgiving fixin’ joined forces, without the cholesterol or food coma.
Pour over mashed or baked potatoes, drizzle over your quinoa bowl, use to dress your sandwich. Whatever floats your gravy boat.
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Prep Time: 8 minutes
2 onions, sliced into half moons
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons of low sodium Tamari
4 cups of low sodium veggie broth
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1/4 teaspoon of ground thyme
¼ cup of chopped walnuts (soaked until soft and strained)
¼ cup chopped walnuts (not soaked)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Saute over medium heat until soft: Onions, Garlic, and a Splash of veggie broth.
- Once onions start sticking to pan, add 2 cups of the veggie broth (and scrape the bottom to deglaze), Tamari, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, black pepper, and un-soaked walnuts
- Let cook for 10 minutes and meanwhile, blend until creamy: Soaked walnuts and Enough veggie broth to cover
- Add ½ the onion mixture to blender.
- Finally pour blended walnut mixture back into onion mixture and stir — and enjoy over your favorite dairy-free mashed potatoes.
2. Lemon Garlic Dressing
Want glowing skin? Whip up this antioxidant-packed dressing! This oil-free dressing is loaded with Vitamin C, which is important for immunity, inflammatory reduction, skin protection, and collagen production. (Learn how about how antioxidants help us stay healthy and keep our skin beautiful here.) Not only is this lemon garlic oil-free dressing super healthy, it's absolutely delicious.
Prep Time: 5
2 lemons, juiced
1 teaspoon of lemon rind
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1/4 a cup of soaked cashews
a dash of black pepper
2 teaspoons of mustard
1 teaspoon of parsley
water for blending
1 Tablespoon of chia seeds
- Blend all ingredients except for chia seeds until creamy.
- Stir in the chia seeds and set aside for 10 minutes
- Pour over your salad and enjoy!
3. Green Goddess Dressing
This whole food version of the classic dressing has just enough nip and spice to make any salad, sandwich, or grain bowl unforgettable!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Yield: ¾ a cup
- 1/4 cup of water
- 3 TBSP of tahini
- 2 TBSP of apple cider vinegar
- 2 dates
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 small pinch of sea salt
- 1/2 a lemon, juiced
- 1/2 cup of fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup of arugula
Blend together until smooth
4. Sesame Lemon Dressing
An instant flavor boost, this sesame lemon dressing goes well on anything! Spread it on your sandwich or veggie burger, use as a dip for fresh veggies, drizzle it over a quinoa bowl, or toss it into a fresh salad! It’s creamy, flavorful, sweet, and satisfying. Not to mention it an excellent source of vitamin C to keep you strong and healthy.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1/2 cup of dressing
- 2 TBS white balsamic vinegar
- 2 TBS of water
- ½ a lemon
- 2 TBS of tahini
- 1 TBS Dijon
- 1 TBS of honey
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- A few TBS of fresh parsley
- A dash of sea salt and black pepper
- Blend ingredients until smooth.
- Enjoy as a dressing, spread, or dip.
5. Creamy Garlic Dressing
I hate to feed into the stereotype that vegans only eat salad, but there’s nothing better sometimes than fresh, loaded greens. And while making your own dressing MAY sound intimidating, I promise you it's not! Meet my favorite quick and easy salad companion: creamy garlic oil-free dressing!
My favorite way to enjoy this rich, nutty dressing is over a salad made with equal parts arugula, spinach, and basil, topped with fresh veggies. (Pick your favorite veggies, but here's a tip: what grows together, goes together. In season always tastes best!) It's also great on top of veggie burgers!Serves: Enough dressing for 4 salads
Prep time: 5 minutes
- 1 teaspoon tahini
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 lemon (juice)
- ½ avocado
- ½ teaspoon of maple syrup or agave
- ½ cup water
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Blend ingredients in blender until smooth
- Enjoy over a salad, in a quinoa bowl, or on a sandwich
6. Cilantro Lime Aioli
½ cup of soaked and drained cashews
the juice from 1 lime
1 tsp of maple or date syrup
1 tsp of chopped shallots
1/3 clove of garlic
a dash of sea salt
1/4 cup of fresh cilantro
Less than a cup of water
Blend together until creamy
7. Chipotle Aioli
1 cup of raw, soaked cashews*
½ cup water
1 chipotle pepper (large for more heat, small for less heat)
½ lime (juice)
½ lemon (juice)
1 tablespoon of maple syrup or agave
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Sea salt, and ground black pepper to taste
Blend ingredients until smooth
Like to wing it in the kitchen? Me, too! But when it comes to making delicious plant-based meals every time — without a recipe — there's still a method to the madness: F.A.S.S.
Live it, learn it, love it! F.A.S.S. will be your lifeline when you're not sure what to make for dinner.
What is F.A.S.S?
Fat. (avocado, nuts, seeds)
Acid. (vinegar, lemon, lime)
Sweet. (dates, fruit)
Salt. (celery, salt, tamari)
Memorize it! It's simple: F-A-S-S. Got it? Great! Now you can make delicious plant-based meals then!
These four elements help to balance your pallet. If something in your dish doesn’t quite taste right, you probably forgot one of these four elements. It may seem weird to drop a little apple cider vinegar (acid) in your stew, or a little date sugar (sweet) in your pasta sauce, but start small, and you’ll notice the difference, trust me!
So there you have it! Spiced, sauced and....F.A.S.S-ed (I tried) and ready for serving.
Still need some guidance? Skip winging it for now and try following a recipe scoop by scoop from our free plant-based recipes archive here Or, use your old pal Google and type in "flavorful easy plant based recipes" and go from there! You've got this!
- Spice your veggies - and use your favorite flavor combinations to make new meals feel familiar.
- Don't skimp on the sauce! (Oil and refined–sugar free, of course!)
- Make sure each recipe has F.A.S.S (fat, acid, sweet, and salt)
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.