As many of you already know, I hosted a plant-based cooking challenge for the month of January so today I wanted to share some of the "behind-the-scenes" of that experience. I've been taking notes for this post the entire month and have been really excited to talk more about the details!
Let's start at the beginning. I'm always up for a challenge in the kitchen and when one of my friends mentioned that she was going to eat completely plant-based for the month of January, I was super intrigued. Not because I wanted to do a diet overhaul or "get back on the wagon" after the holidays or anything like that. What I was really interested in is the challenge of learning to cook with some new ingredients outside of my comfort zone. I had just been gifted a cookbook full of vegetarian recipes that I was pumped to start using so the timing was perfect.
The Facebook Group
I started a private Facebook group at the beginning of the month (which ended up having 20 members!) where participants could exchange recipes, products and just thoughts in general. The cool part was that everyone was able to set their own goal for the month, so there wasn't any pressure to go "all-in" if they just wanted to experiment. One participant shared a few thoughts on her experience so I wanted to share those too:
I had never roasted a whole garlic head, and this month I tried it along with my roasted veggies. And this was a game changer, adds so much flavor to anything else I am eating. Something I used to use but found in many recent recipes that is so delicious is fresh ginger, coconut milk and red curry paste. I would like the group to continue to share plant based recipes even after January. I really enjoyed finding recipes others have tried and enjoyed. -Jaclyn B.
Now, in my typical fashion, I knew I didn't want to institute rules/restrictions, but I also wanted to challenge myself so I decided on a happy medium - that I was going to try to make all of the meals I cooked at home in January plant-based. January is naturally a lower-key month so I knew I would have more time and flexibility in the kitchen. We didn't totally meet this goal but came pretty close!
What I Learned
I feel like I expanded my cooking skills quite a bit so I wanted to share a little bit about why:
- I used more made-from-scratch sauces to add flavor and variety to dishes. These ranged from tahini sauce to miso/hemp seed dressing. I loved trying some of the new flavor profiles!
- I cooked with a variety of new proteins like lentils and tofu. I've used these things before but not routinely or in a way that I found appealing enough to buy them often. And while I do quite a bit of vegetarian cooking normally, in the past I relied mostly on eggs, cheese and beans so it was fun to try some of these.
- I branched out with whole grains, nuts and seeds. Specifically cashews, which seem to be a staple in plant-based cooking because of the versatility. I made a batch of this vegan parmesan and used it on everything, but you can also use them for creamy sauces, to make homemade cashew milk, in baked goods or as a garnish.
- I stocked my kitchen with some new-to-me ingredients like tamarind paste, seaweed, and nutritional yeast which all have really unique uses.
I didn't feel any different physically and while I saved some money on proteins (plant-based proteins are so inexpensive), I probably compensated for that with specialty ingredients. I may have spent a bit less. Either way, I will definitely continue to incorporate many of these meals into my usual rotation and I will still be working my way through the Mark Bittman cookbook because it's really well-written and informational. Thanks to everyone who participated and I hope you found this as fun and useful as I did!
The Facebook group was so much fun that I had a request to keep it going even after January. Would any of you be interested in this if I did? It was really positive and interactive. I also feel inspired to do similar cooking challenges in the future, maybe picking a certain cuisine to focus on so I might consider changing it to a recipe exchange or "cooking prep school" group with occasional exclusive challenges too (only available to those in the group). Let me know in the comments if you have any feedback on this!