How to Make Meatless Monday Your Favorite Day of the Week

by Rachel Mack

So far my thirties have been the tightest years of my life, budget-wise. I didn’t stop buying meat and dairy for that reason, but it’s a fortunate coincidence, because going vegan has helped me avoid food-related credit card debt. I bought meat to serve guests recently and I was stunned by the price (granted, I was at Whole Foods). For the cost of four chicken breasts, I could feed myself healthy vegan lunches and dinners for a week.

When friends invite me to dinner, they say, “So … you’re still eating vegan?” I usually tell them to cook whatever they’re comfortable with. I am not a perfect vegan, and it would be massively hypocritical of me to demand vegan meals cooked by my friends. However, I have great news: vegan cooking is easy, it’s delicious, and, most importantly, it’s cheap!

Here is the template for an endlessly variable homemade vegan meal. I usually make it on Sunday and take it to work for lunch throughout the week. Coworkers are always envious. The beauty of this “recipe” is that you can have all the components ready to go in your freezer/pantry on short notice, in the event your vegan friend drops by uninvited. The other beauty is that you’ll want to eat it even when your vegan friend is not around.

1. Start with a grain, probably rice. Other options: bulgur, quinoa, couscous, wheat berries. Follow the package instructions on how to cook the grain and set it aside.

2. Put a pan on the stove at medium-high heat. Add some olive oil. When it’s hot, add salt and pepper and garlic. Ginger is also good here. If you have a favorite spice, use it. Turn the heat to medium-low.

3. Chop an onion while the spices cook. Add it to the pan and cook until soft. Stir occasionally.

4. Add whatever vegetables you have/like. Really, whatever! Chop it up and throw it in. You can even use frozen veggies for this and it is still delish. Carrots are the best. Frozen spinach is even better.

5. Add some beans. Again, whatever kind you like. They can be from a can (drain them first!), dried beans that you soaked and boiled, or frozen.

6. Add a can of crushed or diced tomatoes. Stir it all up. At this point everything might be hot but not really cooked together. Lower the heat and leave it alone for ten minutes.

7. The super-secret weapon: citrus. Cut a lemon, lime, or orange in half. Squeeze half of the juice into the pan and stir. If you don’t keep lemons in the house, just use a couple squeezes from one of the little plastic lemons they sell in the produce section. Leave it alone a couple more minutes. Stir occasionally.

8. When the liquid from the tomatoes has cooked off, turn off the heat.

9. Serve over rice.

That’s all there is to it. Vary your grain, your spices, your vegetables, your beans. It’s easy and routine, but healthy and different every time. Your belly and your wallet will thank you.

Rachel Mack lives in Louisville, KY. You can find more of her writing at rachel-mack.tumblr.com.

Photo: Rooey202