In a time of social distancing and self-quarantining – trying out a new recipe or even challenging yourself to go vegan for a day can keep your mind active and your taste buds happy.

Being a vegan in a small town was a hard adjustment. Most stores and restaurants don’t have many options for me and so I had to get creative and learn to cook for myself. It was actually a lot of fun to learn what spices complemented one another and new cultural recipes.

Let me first lay out the basics of what it means to be a vegan. It’s quite simple: no animal products, at all. That means no meat, no eggs, no fish, no milk, no cheese, no butter, no honey, no Jell-o. Look, I’m not crazy and no, I don’t have an allergy. Don’t get me wrong, ice cream still calls my name and my mouth waters when I smell cheesy garlic bread. Why I chose to be vegan is a conversation for another time. For now, let’s talk food.

When I go grocery shopping I typically spend half of my time in the fresh produce area and the other half standing in the ice cream section contemplating my dietary choices. No really, but in all reality, the foods that I purchase from the store are fruits like apples and mangoes, vegetables like sweet potatoes and red bell peppers, quinoa, legumes like black and garbanzo beans, pretzels, hummus, smoothie ingredients like kale and bananas, avocados and wine.

Excluding wine, my grocery list may be unusual to the average person and so I thought now is as good as a time as ever to spread vegan-motivated propaganda and share an insight into foods and meals that are nutritious, filling and delicious.

My favorite vegan foods are Indian recipes like curry dishes and Mediterranean ones with falafel and tabouleh. But for now, let’s start with an easy recipe. One of my favorite easy vegan meals is a burrito fajita bowl. I love this dish because you can customize it to your liking as much as you want and there are so many great flavor-filled toppings.

Personally, when it comes to my burrito bowl there are two essentials, fajita vegetables and fresh guacamole. Here is what I like to have in my burrito bowl: fajita vegetables such as onions and bell peppers, black beans (you can use any sort of bean), cilantro-lime rice, pico de gallo and fresh guacamole.

An important note when cooking the fajita vegetables is to consider the spices you are adding. I like to brown diced onions and minced garlic with olive oil before I toss the vegetables in. After I stir the vegetables in the oil and allow 2-3 minutes to cook, I toss in the spices: chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and pepper. After the vegetables have cooked, I like to squeeze a slice of lemon or two over the fajitas to give it a fresh flavor and sweet aroma.

Cooking the beans is fairly simple: empty can in a pot, add chill and garlic powder, salt and pepper and allow to simmer. The rice is simple as well, cook rice, squeeze lemon and lime over cooked rice, mix chopped cilantro and add salt.

As I said, guacamole is essential to me and I have truly turned it into a craft. What you’ll need: avocados (look for one that is dark with spots of green and lightly squeeze the fruit to make sure it is ripe, you will want it to be slightly tender but not mushy), cilantro, onion and sea salt. I call making guacamole an art because you can make it to however your tastebuds prefer. I enjoy a lot of cilantro and lime. I also don’t like when the guacamole is chunky so I dice my onions up finely and stir well.

Just continue to add ingredients as you taste in between stirring until you find what tastes the best for you. The pico de gallo is ultimately the same, just substitute tomatoes for guacamole and you have your salsa. If you like your food with a little head (like I do), dice a small amount of jalapeños into the fajita veggies or add red pepper flakes to the beans, I do both.

Voilà! You have all the ingredients you need for a burrito, bowl or small taco. I understand, no meat, no cheese, no sour cream. Yikes. But the meal we just made is healthy and most definitely full of flavor. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of making your guacamole or salsa, there is typically pre-made guacamole and salsa in the fresh produce aisle. Additionally, if you don’t have all of those seasonings and don’t want to purchase them, there are seasoning packets for a substitute.

If you want to try a full day of vegan food, I have a few recommendations. Avocado toast for breakfast with green chile salsa and fried onions is one of my all-time favorites. However, and easy breakfast meal would be oatmeal with maple syrup, cinnamon, and raisins along with a fruit smoothie with strawberries, bananas and orange juice. For lunch, I would recommend a salad. One of my favorites includes spring mix greens, thinly sliced apples, dried cherries, walnuts, diced and salted avocado with a dijon mustard apple vinaigrette.

For all those snackers and sweet-toothers out there, I have the answer. One of my favorite snacks is pretzels with hummus and sea salt almond dark chocolate. Popcorn, mixed nuts, crackers with jelly, kettle chips, french fries, Oreos, licorice, peanut butter and apples, Luigi’s Italian Ice are all some great foods for when you have a craving for something on the sweet and salty side.

Being a vegan can be challenging, mint chocolate chip ice cream still calls my name, but it’s been fun to learn new recipes and feel the advantage of healthy eating. Whether it’s vegan, vegetarian or a recipe you have always wanted to make, spend the day learning and perfecting your cooking skills. Bon appetite!

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