Vegan Recipes for Carnivores: What to Cook


Of the many different diets out there, many people consider a vegan way of eating to be the strictest. The blandest. The most joyless. It’s not true, of course. But why do they have that idea?

Because most carnivores can’t imagine enjoying a meal without meat.

But meat — and other nonvegan foods like poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and honey — isn’t what makes a dish taste great. It’s texture, fat, acid, and umami. (Umami is the savory, meaty taste you get from foods like mushrooms, tomatoes, and soy sauce.)

“I try to always use those elements,” says Ryan Toll, co-owner and head chef of The Wild Cow, a vegan restaurant in Nashville. “What makes good vegan food is what makes good food in general.”

You don’t need meat, but you do need protein. Among the many things it does for you, protein is satisfying and keeps you from rooting around in the fridge an hour after your last meal.

Without animal protein, vegans have to be intentional about getting the recommended amounts — about 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight a day — in other ways.

“There are all kinds of high-protein vegan products,” says Kathleen Zelman, RDN, MPH, host of the True Health Revealed podcast and former nutrition director at WebMD. “Quinoa has protein. Legumes, seeds, and nuts are a good source. Vegetables have protein. Even fruit has a very small amount.”

There are also many high-protein meat replacement products, and they have their place, but they also tend to be highly processed.

The other advantage of focusing on protein sources like beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables is that they’re high in fiber.

“Fiber fills you up and leaves less room for the extras,” says Zelman, who created the recipes below. A high-fiber diet is also good for the “good bacteria” in your gut.

Think of a tomato, red and ripe, fresh from the farmers market in July. Now think of a tomato, small and pale, on the produce shelf in December. Which one do you think has the most mineral and nutrient content? Which one do you think tastes better?

No matter what you eat, the quality of ingredients is what takes food to the next level.

“One myth about vegan food is that it’s boring, but that may be the case if you’re using low-quality conventional ingredients that don’t have a lot to offer,” Toll says.

He grew up eating and cooking meat and transferred those techniques to the vegan food he cooks at home and his restaurant. “We use produce from a biodynamic farm. When you eat one of their tomatoes, it’s the best you’ve ever had because it wasn’t artificially ripened or transported hundreds or thousands of miles.”

Keep it simple and make it substantial. No one wants a sad side salad or bland bowl of pasta while others are enjoying a more interesting meal.

Steering clear of mayo, honey, chicken or beef broth, focus on beans, chickpeas, or a hearty vegetable like mushrooms.

“People are pretty familiar with how to grill a chicken or cook a steak, but maybe not how to prepare mushrooms. If they’re cooked in the right way, they can have all the same elements that meat would,” Toll says. “Most seasonings and marinades you’d use for meat are already vegan. Use them on vegetables instead to get the same flavor.”

This applies to many different ethnic cooking styles:

  • Season mushroom and poblano tacos with cumin and chili powder.
  • Finely dice mushrooms and season them with oregano, basil, and rosemary for a vegan spaghetti Bolognese.
  • Salt and pepper big portobellos, stuff them with spinach and herbed breadcrumbs and grill.

Or try one of these recipes that hit all the notes of texture, fat, acid, and umami. They’re familiar, relatable, and sure to please a crowd of carnivores. 

This create-your-own bruschetta recipe ups the game — and the plant protein content — with the addition of cannellini beans. Capers supply that salty pop of flavor and the portobellos give it  heartiness and umami.


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 (15 oz) can low -sodium cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large portobello mushroom, cleaned, small chopped
  • 1-pint yellow and red cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 12 Whole grain toasted ciabatta bread slices


Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, and pepper in a medium-size bowl. Toss beans, mushroom, tomatoes, and capers in the dressing. Serve in a bowl along with whole grain toasted bread to make your own bruschetta.

Servings: 6  (2 slices toast and 1/3 cup bean mixture)

Nutritional analysis per serving:

  • 256 calories
  • 55 calories from fat (22%)
  • 6 g fat
  • 1 g saturated fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 388 mg sodium
  • 40 g carbohydrates
  • 4 g sugars
  • 5 g fiber
  • 10 g protein

Hemp seeds are the easiest way to add plant protein to a vegan dish, and a little color and texture as well. You don’t have to prep or cook them, just shake them on at the end. Use this as a filling breakfast, lunch, snack, or vegan appetizer for a crowd.


  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided, and zest of a lime
  • 1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 (15.5 oz.) can, low-sodium chickpeas, drained, rinsed
  • 4 slices of whole grain toast
  • 1 large avocado, peeled, seeded, sliced
  • 1 large beefsteak tomato, sliced
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste


Whisk together the lime juice, zest, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper. Toss with arugula and set aside.

In a small bowl, smash the chickpeas into a chunky mash and spread evenly on all four toast. Top toast with slices of avocado and arugula salad. Garnish with hemp seeds and crushed red pepper.

Yield: 4 servings (1 slice toast, ½ cup mashed chickpeas, ¼ avocado and ½ cup arugula)

Nutritional analysis per serving

  • 330 calories
  • 144 calories from fat (43%)
  • 16 g fat
  • 1.75 g saturated fat
  • 1.1 mg cholesterol
  • 229 mg sodium
  • 38 g carbohydrates
  • 7 g sugars
  • 11 g fiber
  • 10 g protein

To feel full and satisfied, different elements are important, especially in a salad.

“I love farro. It’s got a good chew to it,” Zelman says. “It’s a whole grain, though it’s not gluten-free. I make a big batch and pair it with almost anything, hot or cold.”


  • 1 cup farro
  • 3 golden beets, trimmed
  • 1 cup corn
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • ¼ cup toasted chopped almonds
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 2 cups baby spinach, rough chopped


  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup


Heat the oven to 400 F. Place beets wrapped in foil on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Peel and chop beets when cooled.

In a small pot, bring 2 ½ cups water to a boil over high heat; add farro; reduce heat, simmer uncovered until tender, about 15 minutes; drain well and cool.

When cooled, combine farro, corn, beets, cherries, almonds, basil, and spinach in a large bowl. 

Whisk together all ingredients for vinaigrette. Toss salad with vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings (about 2.5 cups)

Nutritional analysis per serving:

  • 508 calories
  • 180 calories from fat (35%)
  • 20 g fat
  • 2 g saturated fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 650 mg sodium
  • 77 g carbohydrates
  • 26 g sugars
  • 12.5 g fiber
  • 13.5 g protein

What’s the difference between a great vegan chili and a bowl of beans and spices? A variety of textures and flavors. Sweet potato adds subtle sweetness and body, plus beta-carotene and vitamin A.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely minced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans low sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (28-ounce) can low sodium petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup plain soy yogurt
  • 2 ounces plant-based cheese (1/2 cup)


In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, jalapeno, onion, and red pepper and sauté 4-5 minutes until vegetables are soft; add chili powder, cumin, and pepper, stirring occasionally until combined. 

Add sweet potato, tomatoes, beans, and vegetable stock; reduce heat and simmer until the sweet potato is tender, 30-40 minutes. Add additional stock or water for desired consistency.

Garnish with cilantro, avocado, soy yogurt, and plant-based cheese.

Yield: 4 servings (about 2+ cups)

Nutritional analysis per serving:

  • 407 calories
  • 117 calories from fat (29%)
  • 13 g fat
  • 4 g saturated fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 625 mg sodium
  • 61 g carbohydrates
  • 10 g sugars
  • 19 g fiber
  • 14 g protein

As desserts go, this one is pretty healthy with nuts, fiber, protein, fruit, and yumminess,” Zelman says of this warm dish topped with nutty granola. “If it’s not delicious, you’re not going to eat it, no matter how good it is for you.”

This crisp stands alone with or without ice cream or whipped cream, but feel free to add a vegan version of either on the side.


  • 3 pounds apples (about 8 cups) cored, sliced apples (Granny smith, Crispin, Pippin, or Braeburn)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder, divided (can substitute cinnamon)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 ½ cup whole grain oats
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted plant-based butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds
  • ¼ cup wheat germ

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13-inch pan. In a large bowl, combine apples, vanilla, ¼ cup brown sugar, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon spice powder, and cornstarch. Mix to coat apples. Pour into pan.

For topping, combine oats, flour, and remaining brown sugar in a large bowl. Cut in plant-based butter with a pastry cutter or two forks until evenly distributed. Add nuts, wheat germ, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon spice powder; spoon over fruit to cover. 

Bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes or until edges are bubbling and topping is golden brown.

Yield:  8 servings (about 2/3 cup)

Nutritional composition per serving:

  • 293 calories
  • 84 calories from fat (29%)
  • 10 g fat
  • 2.5 g saturated fat
  • 8 mg cholesterol
  • 308 mg sodium
  • 50 g carbohydrate
  • 27 g sugars
  • 6 g fiber
  • 5 g proteinModule: slideshow


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