Opinion—Thrive with these five plant-based meals

Olivia Apa, Staff Writer

I imagine a life where I have my own plot of land somewhere warm, somewhere tropical. There will be garden beds around the property supplied with the darkest, richest of soil. And from them will grow fruits and vegetables so nourished, so saturated with their natural color that they will taste far different from anything found in a supermarket. I’ll be able to step outside my door and pluck any of the ripening foods begging to be picked so new life can grow in its place.

But alas, that time is not now, nor will it be soon.

However, up here in the UP, where the latitude is high and the growing seasons unforgiving, I’ve found some easy, inexpensive plant-based meals that are healthy and delicious to get me through until it is my time to own a plot of land somewhere warm, somewhere tropical.

It’s so important to be eating enough food, and enough of the foods that are going to make your body feel good, especially with social lives and schoolwork, cabin fever and jobs. The beautiful thing about cooking is that it can be entirely experimental and fun. It’s good to know that you put love and thought into the foods you consume.

One thing I’d like to preface before getting into the meals is that I hardly follow recipes, none of them ever turn out the same (but they always turn out delicious), I taste as I go and the ingredients are easily adjusted. I have some basic spices that I frequently use: salt, black pepper, paprika, nutritional yeast, onion/garlic powder, cumin, cayenne. And I always have olive or avocado oil and hot sauce on hand. 



I feel like oatmeal has this reputation of being flavorless and mushy, the meal your grandmother made when she ran out of bacon and eggs. But I assure you, oatmeal can be anything but bland; oats are a beautiful vessel for nourishment and flavors.

Usually I’ll cook oats in a pan on the stove because they are inherently better made this way than in the microwave.

While they simmer, I add cinnamon and chia seeds because I heard somewhere that they are more easily digested after being cooked down for a bit. Sometimes I’ll add half of a mashed banana which helps make the oatmeal sweeter and creamier.

When the oats are done, I top them with fixings that include but are not limited to: hemp seeds, pecans, nut butter, strawberry jam, maple syrup and chopped apple. Sometimes I splash a little bit of oatmilk to top it all off. Sometimes I refrain from eating the oatmeal for breakfast so I can eat it later in the day. If you do this you will not be disappointed.


Loaded potatoes 

I came up with this recipe with the help of my friend Donald—we had just finished an evening yoga class. We were both ravenous, but we could not figure out what we wanted to eat. That’s when we decided that one can never go wrong with potatoes. 

We got a couple of russet potatoes and cut them into fries, covered them in oil and air fried them at 400°F for twenty minutes until brown and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They can also be baked in the oven. 

In the meantime, in a pan with oil we sautéed a yellow onion until soft and brown. Then we added a can of refried beans, a can of black beans, spices and salsa. We cooked it until the beans were creamy and the mixture was hot. 

When everything was done, we stacked the potatoes on a plate and loaded them with the bean mixture. I topped it with hummus and cilantro. We ate every last bit of it. 


Tofu scramble 

When I was in high school, I made the majority of my meals because I ate differently than my family. One of my most frequent dishes was (and still is) tofu scramble because it’s an easy way to get protein and it only requires one pan to make. The water doesn’t even need to be pressed from the tofu. 

In a pan with oil on a medium heat, sauté an onion (yellow or red) and garlic. I love using fresh garlic, taking a clove or two off of the garlic head and smashing it slightly with the flat part of a knife to help peel off the skin, then finely chopping it (or not, larger pieces are good too). I recently ran out of an immense amount of garlic gifted to me by my grandma from her garden and I adored using it in just about everything. 

After the onion and garlic have cooked for a couple of minutes, add any vegetables you like. Some of my usuals are red bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini and kale. I season the dish with spices (turmeric and nutritional yeast help to give the tofu a yellow look, emulating eggs) and cook until slightly tender. Take your block of tofu and crumble it into the pan, cooking until the water evaporates and it browns a bit. Voila! Tofu scramble. I always top mine off with hot sauce and cilantro if I have it. Sometimes I’ll eat it on a piece of avocado toast, but it’s wonderful on its own too. 


Chickpea sandwich

Chickpeas are probably one of my favorite foods because they can go in just about everything to add protein and texture and taste (they are also the backbone of hummus, and hummus is incredible). 

The steps to this chickpea sandwich are too easy. Take a can of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), rinse them off with water, transfer to a bowl and mash them with a fork, leaving some chunks. Pop two pieces of bread in the toaster. 

To the mash add various spices and (this part is optional) finely chopped onion. Now, here’s where the recipe can get a little creative—the mashed chickpeas need something creamy to bind them together and you can use mashed avocado, veganaise or tahini (or a combination) depending on your preference and what is available.

Smear the mash on one piece of toast, and top with lettuce, pickle or tomato, covering it all with the other slice of toast. Voila, you’ve created a beautiful, crunchy, creamy little sandwich. 


Anna’s famous no-bake cookies  

My friend Anna makes the best no-bake cookies ever. Yes, I said it. The best no-bakes ever (sorry, grandma.) And I have had quite a few no-bakes in my life. This would hardly be a compilation of my favorite plant-based foods if I didn’t include a dessert, and I could probably eat the entire batch of these fudgy, chocolatey, oat cookies. 

Anna’s recipe calls for:

⅔ cup maple syrup

½ cup cacao powder 

½ cup unsweetened plant-based milk (Anna recommends macadamia nut or oat) 

½ cup coconut oil 

¾ cup peanut butter (other nut butters can be substituted but peanut is truly the best)

½ teaspoon sea salt 

4 cups rolled oats 

In a pan on medium-low heat, add maple syrup and cacao powder, whisking until mixture forms sauce (be careful not to boil). Add coconut oil and plant milk, whisking until coconut oil melts. Then stir in peanut butter, sea salt and vanilla. Mix in the oats until everything is combined. 

Drop large spoonfuls of the batter on a baking sheet and allow to harden until set. Anna always serves them straight out of the freezer. They might be better than any girl scout cookie you could eat. They are the perfect, sweet end to any meal.

And thus concludes my list of easy, inexpensive plant-based dishes that fill my belly and my soul.