Real Vegan Real Quick: 10 Fast Foods for Harried Herbivores

Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu

Gearing up for a cross-country move, I’ve got my meal prep dials set to the ‘fast food’ position — but to me that doesn’t mean McDonald’s or Burger King. Far from it! Instead I’m crazy about real-food strategies for eating well but cooking quickly. Whether you’re camping, road tripping, or (sigh) trying to pack up your kitchen into a U-Haul, use these ideas for good food when (no matter how much you love cooking) you DO NOT HAVE TIME TO FOOL WITH KITCHEN BIDNESS!

Top 10 Fast Foods I Can’t Live Without

1. Sweet potatoes — wrap loosely in a cloth or paper napkin, and microwave 5-7 minutes (or to desired done-ness). Remove peel if desired, top with brown sugar and cinnamon, and smush it all together with a fork. Nom!

2. Nutty greens — toss a couple handfuls of salad mix (I like baby spinach and arugula) into a bowl, and top with walnuts, pecans, cashews, pepitas, or sunflower seeds. For fast dressing, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar, plus salt and pepper. For an Asian themed dressing use a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, organic soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, and Sriracha sauce — peanuts also go well with this type of salad creation. For portability, stuff it in a pita or wrap it in a tortilla.

3. Emergency tofudrain and press a block of extra-firm tofu, and slice it crossways into eight slices. Mix together about 1/3 cup organic soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, a dollop of real maple syrup, and a dash of liquid smoke flavoring (for Asian-style tofu, sub toasted sesame oil for liquid smoke). Add Tabasco sauce or similar, if you like spicy. Pour marinade over tofu slices in a wide shallow container, turn to coat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Cook on George Foreman-style grill for about 8-10 minutes, jostling slices once or twice with a spatula to make sure they’re not sticking; use in sandwiches or wraps.

 See also Tofu Jerky — prepare tofu slices as above, but use 2 tofu blocks and double the marinade; marinate overnight if possible. Drain slices and place in a single layer on dehydrator racks, with slices not touching, and set heat around 150 degrees F. Go away and tend your business for at least 6 hours — after 6 hours they’ll be great for sandwiches or salads, but if you keep going to 8-10 hours it makes chewy jerky. The texture is different than the cow kind, but I love this kind of jerky for fast snacks while traveling!

4. Avocado toast — make toast using sturdy bread (such as ciabatta), half a bagel, or a single-thickness pita round; slice 1/4 to 1/2 avocado very thin, and place slices across toast. Smush lightly with a fork, and sprinkle with salt and nooch. Optional: top with chopped fresh tomato and herbs (I like basil, chives, or cilantro). The plain version makes a quick eat-in-transit breakfast; the pimped-up version, a filling snack (for when you just can’t stop running long enough to deal with dinner yet)!

5. Bulgur — the fine, parboiled bulgur wheat just requires soaking in hot broth or water. I also like the whole grain (coarse) bulgur — it requires cooking for about 10-15 minutes, and offers a great chewy-nutty texture.

Soak fine bulgur according to package directions, then toss with chopped spinach, parsley or cilantro, lemon juice, salt, and crushed red pepper (if you like) for a tasty quick tabouli. Throw in fresh, canned or jarred tomatoes if you’ve got ’em, and add rinsed-and-drained canned chickpeas if you’re hungry for a heartier dish.

For the coarse bulgur, try cooking 1 cup bulgur with water or broth as recommended on package directions, plus 1/4 cup each organic tamari and cooking sherry; add 1/3 to 1/2 cup slivered almonds during the last few minutes of cooking time, and top with sliced grilled portabellas.

6. Grilled portabellas — if you have time, marinate first, but if not it’s ok (you can just sprinkle with salt and pepper). I like the whole portabella caps, in an overnight marinade of tamari or Bragg’s, balsamic vinegar, vegan Worcestershire sauce, and olive oil. Grill caps in Foreman-style grill for about 5 minutes; then eat on buns with burger fixings, or slice for wrap-and-pita stuffers.

7. Couscous — insanely easy to make, and good hot or cold or stuffed in pitas or portabella caps. Just simmer some veggie broth or water, add couscous (and pine nuts or chopped walnuts, if available), and let sit 5 minutes off the heat. Top with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, season with whatever spices strike your fancy, serve alongside a nutty green salad or inside a grilled portabella cap, and TA-DA! Dinner in 10 minutes or less!

8. Bean burgers — rinse and drain about 1-1/2 cups canned or pre-cooked black beans, pinto beans, or chickpeas; rinse and drain about 1-1/2 cups canned diced potatoes. Use a potato masher to smoosh them together until well mashed and well combined. Season to taste, shape into patties, and grill (yep! Foreman grill again!) or cook in an oiled skillet, over medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side. For black or pinto beans, I like to season with cumin, salt, garlic powder, and chili powder; for chickpea burgers I usually use poultry seasoning, parsley, salt, pepper, and thyme. These patties are good on sandwiches or alongside grain dishes, topped with your favorite sauce (barbecue, seasoned vegan mayo, herbed-mustard, whatever).

9. Noodles — udon, Ramen, or cellophane (glass) noodles tend to cook very quickly. Drain and toss cooked noodles with grilled tofu or portabellas, peanuts or cashews, raw chopped celery, chopped or shredded cabbage, and/ or pantry staples like sliced water chestnuts, bean sprouts, or baby corn. For easiest sauce, just toss noodles (and whatever else) with organic soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and rice vinegar (plus a few red pepper shakes, if you like). If you have a minute, whisk together about 1/3 cup each soy sauce and natural peanut butter, 2 tablespoons orange or pineapple juice, and Sriracha sauce to taste — this kind of sauce begs for a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Many noodle dishes work either hot or cold, so enjoy leftovers as a quick eat-as-is salad tomorrow!

10. MASSAGED EVERLOVIN’ KALE — as soon as I get home from grocery shopping, I wash and chop my kale. Then I go ahead and give it a little backrub — just coat your hands with olive oil, sprinkle kale with salt and fresh lemon juice, and rub the leaves between your hands for 1-2 minutes — it renders kale irresistible! So then for the rest of the week I’ve got a big ol’ tub of ready-to-eat deliciousness, just waiting to grace my sandwiches and wraps and stir-fries with its lovely presence. Pre-massaged kale + walnuts + olives in a bowl; extra-virgin olive oil and lemon squeeze; salt and nooch sprinkled on top… happiness!

Also, remember to stock those uber-simple ‘fast foods’ if you know you’re going to be pressed for time: apples, ‘cuties’ or tangerines, pears, grapes, berries, sunflower seeds, pistachios, dried cranberries and similar staples offer straight-from-the-lunchbox goodness, when you don’t have time to cook. For more on vegan cooking within time constraints, check out Becky Striepe’s article about Eating Healthy on a TIME Budget.

What are your favorite quickie-vegan meals? If I’ve left out something that deserves space on this list, please share below…

AAAAAHH, the joys of (healthy) fast food!

Image credit: Creative Commons photo by crd!.

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