A plant-based diet is focused on consuming whole plant foods while reducing the consumption of animal products and by-products and highly refined foods. This allows you to have a flexible diet and maximize the healthy ingredients that your body needs in order to be in top shape.
You could say that your parents knew what they were doing when they nagged you to eat all your vegetables. Now your kids will have a lot to thank you for if you continue to do the same. However, this time you’ll have the best recipes at hand to create a balanced plant-based diet for the whole family.
Now you might be asking yourself two things: Don’t most Middle Eastern recipes contain meat? and Am I ready to be a vegan? So let’s take these questions one by one.
First, our cuisine does include many dishes that contain meat but there are also many other recipes that, with the help of spices, herbs, and a lot of love, turn vegetables and legumes into the star of the plate. Remember the delightful hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanouj, and the list goes on.
Second, plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean vegan. Some people indeed use this term to refer to vegan and vegetarian diets but they also use it to speak about diets that focus on consuming foods derived from plants.
For those of you who might still be wondering if a plant-based diet is the right diet, keep reading. Those who are already supporters of this diet can skip to the one-week menu I’ve created, which contains simple and tasty plant-based Middle Eastern recipes you can try at home.
Is a plant-based diet healthy?
The answer is yes if you do it the right way. A plant-based diet can easily become unhealthy if you overdo it when it comes to eating refined grains, french fries, and sweets.
That’s why the plant-based diet you follow should focus mainly on unrefined, unprocessed whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains to get the nutrients your body needs.
Moreover, a well-balanced plant-based diet has numerous health benefits including lower cholesterol levels, increased energy, reduced inflammation in the body, lower blood sugar levels, improved heart health, and lower risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Is a plant-based diet expensive?
A plant-based diet is really budget-friendly. You actually end up saving money when you reduce the consumption of meat and other animal products.
Not to mention that most ingredients you need to prepare your meals are kitchen staples that most of us already have at home.
Here’s a small shopping list I’ve put together with the main ingredients of a whole-food, plant-based diet:
- Fruits: strawberries, oranges, apples, pears, peaches, pineapple, bananas, avocado, etc.
- Vegetables: eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, potatoes, squash, etc.
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, white beans, kidney beans, string beans, etc.
- Whole grains: brown rice, rolled oats, whole grain pasta, quinoa, bulgur wheat, wheat, corn, popcorn, etc.
- Seeds and nuts: almonds, cashews, pine nuts, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, tahini, etc.
- Plant-based milk (unsweetened): coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, etc.
- Spices and herbs: all-spice, seven-spice, oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, etc.
- Drinks: coffee, tea, fresh fruit smoothies, lemonade, etc.
When it comes to meat and poultry, processed meat, eggs, dairy, sweets, and sweetened beverages you will want to limit these or avoid them entirely – it all depends on how strict you want to be with this diet.
Is a plant-based diet bland?
This is actually a myth. I think it all depends on the recipes you use and how you make the most out of the flavours you work with.
As I was telling you at the beginning of this journal, Middle Eastern food has the magical powers – or more like spices and great ingredient combinations – to transform vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts into savoury and nutritious dishes that your whole family is going to love.
Also, what better way to prove that Middle Eastern cuisine can cater for plant-based needs than sharing with you what you can eat in a week.
A 7-day menu using plant-based Middle Eastern recipes
Breakfast: Sahlab pudding bowl – Whip up this extremely easy breakfast bowl in less than 10 minutes. You can use the plant-based milk you prefer.
Lunch: Green beans and lentil salad – A filling recipe that will help you start the week on a healthy and delicious note. You can also omit the feta and make it a vegan-friendly meal.
Dinner: Baked eggplant with tangy tahini sauce – Garnished with parsley and pomegranate, this is a light and very aesthetically pleasing dinner.
Breakfast: Chunky avocado dip – Whether you enjoy it with cucumber or lettuce, once you try this delicious dip, you might want to have it with all your other meals.
Lunch: Lentil and spinach soup – Enjoy a comfort soup packed with protein and healthy ingredients.
Dinner: Eggplant and chickpea stew – A nutritious stew you must share with your vegan friends.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and potatoes – The best breakfasts are all about simple recipes just like this one.
Lunch: Tabouli salad – Mix it up by adding avocado and cucumber and removing the cracked wheat.
Dinner: White bean stew – Skip the chicken if you want and serve with brown rice or mashed potatoes for a hearty meal.
Breakfast: Hummus bruschettas – Get creative with hummus and try different combinations using your favourite toppings.
Lunch: Healthy chicken salad – Replace the chicken with tofu for a quick and fresh lunch.
Dinner: Whole grain cracked wheat in tomato sauce – A traditional Middle Eastern meat-free dish you can make using a common pantry staple.
Breakfast: Pan-fried potatoes with sweet onion – There’s no better combination than golden fried potatoes and onions for a light and tasty breakfast.
Lunch: Pasta salad – There’s nothing that levels up a salad like a special homemade dressing. Don’t forget to use whole grain pasta for this one and you can remove the feta cheese if you like.
Dinner: Caramelised lentil pilaf – A go-to simple pilaf that it’s packed with proteins and fibres and delicious caramelised onions. I like to top this with chopped ripened tomatoes drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Also, I always double the recipe because the next day this is a definite must in my family.
Breakfast: Banana and honey on toast – Remember when you were a kid and you loved this, I bet you still do. There are many variations to this breakfast. This is what I usually prepare for my boys before their soccer matches as it gives them an extra boost of energy.
Lunch: Quinoa tabouli salad – Boost your traditional tabouli salad with some healthy protein.
Dinner: Whole baked cauliflower with tahini sauce – Omit the yogurt from the sauce and enjoy a flavourful and super easy to make dinner.
Breakfast: Avocado hummus – Topped with pine nuts, this lazy Sunday breakfast is both nutritious and tasty.
Lunch: Lentil and herb baked cauliflower – With cooked lentils on hand and cauliflower roasting in the oven, the sauces won’t take you more than 5-7 minutes to whip up. My husband and I created this meal from scratch and he did my head in chopping, changing, and adding, but I think the flavours are just perfect. I will usually omit the yogurt from the sauce for my vegan friends.
Dinner: Chickpea and eggplant rice – The usual vegan dinner has never tasted better – it’s all in the spices and those roasted pine nuts.
The key to a plant-based diet: keeping it simple
That’s a whole week of wholesome plant-based meals done. I believe that following a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be complicated—you just have to take it recipe by recipe.
Not to mention that there’s always room for adapting a recipe and omitting or substituting an ingredient to fit your taste and diet. And the best part is that you might end up with new recipes to enjoy over and over again.
In our home, my husband and I often experiment with various recipes and the staples we have at hand. We prefer simple home-cooked meals prepared with much love just like the ones mentioned above. Considering that even my carnivore boys like these, I can say they’re quite a hit.
What plant-based recipes are your all-time favourites? Go to my Instagram page and share your delicious top picks with the rest of the foodie community.