The Hierarchy of Healthy Vegan Home Cooking

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

A framework to understand healthy vegan home cooking

I wanted to represent the kind of knowledge and skills one can acquire in a simple visual way, and this is what I have come up with so far:

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

At the base: whole plant ingredients

Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and spices are combined to form your day-to-day meals. Becoming familiar with the broad range of possible ingredients will create your foundation for the next level. It helps to touch, smell, and taste those foods separately, at different levels of doneness (from raw to fully cooked). Getting a good feel for the characteristics of the parts will help you make decisions when creating a whole dish from them.

Cooked and prepared staples

I am talking here about very basic preparations, like cooked grains and pseudo-grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats…), steamed or roasted vegetables, the most basic of soups and sauces, spreads like hummus and basic nut cheeses, etc. Basic breads and pizza dough also belong here.

Everyday standard dishes

We are now in the middle of the pyramid and this is where we start combining ingredients to form everyday standard dishes. Those are, roughly, the only five recipes you need: soups and stews, stir-fries, simmered grain dishes (like risotto, paella, and porridge), loaves (which can be shaped as burgers or neatballs), and roasted things (like sheet-pan dinners). Bowls and salads, which are basically combinations of cooked and prepared staples (from the level below), also belong here.

Seasonal and other variations

You might have needed some recipe guidance when learning the everyday standard dishes, but now you “get” it and you can make those dishes without relying on precise instructions, measuring cups, or calling your mother. At this fourth level of the hierarchy of healthy vegan home cooking, you are now creating your own variations on the standards, changing the vegetables and fruit you use based on what’s seasonable, available, and/or affordable, or what you have in the pantry or produce drawer.

Fun and fancy dishes for special occasions

Now is when you will probably want to use a recipe from a cookbook or blog, or tap extensively into traditional knowledge passed down from older generations — and research how to make those traditional dishes vegan if they aren’t already. This is a time to challenge yourself a little, step outside your comfort, learn new skills, and enjoy the discovery process.

Where are you at?

When I started vegan cooking myself, I spent a lot of time at the top of the hierarchy, but my foundations were shaky. Taking the time to learn more about the basics allowed me to experience cooking with more ease and less stress. So what I suggest to my clients is that they start from the bottom of the pyramid: keep things simple and grow into your knowledge and skills, so that you don’t have to follow recipes step-by-step anymore. You’ll learn to trust your own experience and instinct instead.

What do you think?

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Brigitte Gemme

Brigitte Gemme

Vegan mom and cooking coach, runner, writer, reader, PhD in sociology, morning person. Chief Meal Planner at Vegan Family Kitchen.