I've followed a plant-based diet for more than five years, which means that I can't even begin to calculate how many times I've assured people—family, friends, and complete strangers alike—that I eat well. Very well. Aside from the occasional hankering for dairy-filled ice cream, I rarely want for anything. I eat delicious food and satisfy cravings on a daily basis, all without ingesting a single animal product.
Much of this has to do with the fact that veganism has completely transformed the way I approach food and my health. Not to sound too much like an after-school special, but when you've committed yourself to a plant-based way of life, you begin to see the beauty and satisfaction in consuming earth's bounty. It feels indulgent to try perfectly cooked vegetables and exotic fruits because it's pretty miraculous that something that grew from the ground can taste that good—and be so nourishing to boot. I feel satisfied after nearly every meal because I'm naturally filling myself with the nutrients that are so readily available to us all.
But if I step off my soapbox for a moment, I'll also be the first to cop to the fact that it's never been easier to go vegan—and to be a little less than virtuous while doing so. And that's something that has changed drastically since I started just five years ago, when I usually had to venture to a specialty health food store to purchase my essentials; these days, I only need to wander into my local chain grocery store to pick up a pint of nondairy Ben & Jerry's and 12 different kinds of tofu. In Los Angeles in particular, every restaurant has plant-based options. What's more: If I'm craving something particularly taboo—like, say, tacos carnitas—I only need to type a few words on Google to find a vegan version I can whip up at home. (Jackfruit is a dead ringer for shredded pork, just FYI.)
But while I've certainly accumulated many favorite recipes over the years, there are a few tried-and-true favorites that I return to again and again. The same goes for my lovely co-vegan co-worker, associate features editor Amanda, who has been practicing the plant-based way of life for a little more than a year. And since more and more omnivorous people are beginning to dabble with vegan meals on a semi-regular basis (I'm looking at you, Beyoncé… and you too, Dad), we thought it might be helpful to share the recipes we stand by the most.
From burgers to beautifying smoothies, find our favorite vegan recipes below—and get the details on their health benefits too.
Sweet Potato Black Bean Burger
These chipotle-spiced burgers from Minimalist Baker (who has ALL the best vegan recipes, by the way) are just so good. Smoky-sweet, totally filling, and very nutritious at the same time. Especially in the summer, I make batches twice a month and just store the extras in the freezer for quick dinners when I'm running late or don't feel like cooking.
The base is made of brown rice and black beans, which means these burgers are packed with protein, and it's definitely worth noting that sweet potatoes are really great for our skin. I used to credit sunshine for my summer glow, but maybe it's just my excessive burger consumption during the warmer months!
Chocolate Protein Smoothie Bowl
"I have a giant sweet tooth, and this chocolate smoothie bowl satisfies that while delivering the protein benefits of spirulina, hemp seeds, and plant-based protein powder. The recipe recommends adding Vega's Vanilla Protein Smoothie ($15). Moon Juice's Vanilla Mushroom Protein ($50) is also a fantastic vegan choice."
Hemp Seed Kale Pesto
Hemp seeds are ridiculously underrated. Aside from being one of the best sources of plant protein (more than five grams per tablespoon!), they have such a unique, nutty taste that lends itself well to savory and sweet dishes. (They're even more phenomenal when toasted.)
I make this pesto on a regular basis, and enjoy it in salads, on zucchini noodles, and more. I usually doctor it up with a little avocado to make it even creamier, but all in all, it's incredibly versatile, healthy, and delicious.
Pumpkin Spice Smoothie
"Health guru Crosby Tailor of the baked goods brand Eat Dessert Burn Fat created this original recipe for us last fall, and I'm still thinking about it. It tastes like a sugary pumpkin drink from Starbucks but actually contains no sugar—the secret sweetener is Lakanto ($6), a low-glycemic monk fruit extract. It also contains a blend of Chinese herbs that benefits your mind, body, and skin."
This recipe and I go way back—shortly after going vegan, I often stopped at Whole Foods between college classes and would usually get the store's Cauliflower Detox Salad for lunch, and I finally had to find a comparable version to make at home. Oh She Glows pulled through with this copycat recipe; it's completely raw and full of complexion- and gut-boosting ingredients like cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens. I always feel like I'm visibly glowing after eating this.
Baked Sweet Potato With Pumpkin Seeds and Pesto Pasta
"You can't get a prettier or more nutrient-rich dinner recipe than this baked sweet potato with pesto pasta. Sweet potatoes are truly a vegan's best friend: They're filling, scrumptious, and a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and dietary fiber."
Raw Cacao Brownies
Emily at This Rawsome Vegan Life is a badass with a buzz cut who happens to be a pro at crafting impossibly delicious (and impossibly healthy!) raw vegan recipes—especially desserts. These frosted brownies always please vegans and non-vegans alike, and they only contain five all-natural ingredients, so I don't feel so bad when I dip into them for breakfast. I like to keep a large, unfrosted batch of the dough in my freezer for easy snacking too.
Coconut Matcha Smoothie
"Hot for Food is one of my favorite vegan blogs because it focuses on vegan comfort food: recipes that are legitimately mouthwatering but still plant-based and healthy (sometimes). This creamy smoothie tastes like a milkshake but has a mountain of beauty benefits: The antioxidants in matcha keep you safe from harmful free radicals, boost circulation, and encourage mental focus (among other very positive things)."
Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup
I have a thing for all things smoky, so this paprika-laced stew always hits the spot. The lentils, olives, and greens really add to that savory flavor, and it's actually surprisingly filling for a soup. It's the perfect meal to come home to on a colder evening.
Rainbow Quinoa Taco Salad
"Another Hot for Food recipe! (I'm addicted.) This taco salad is not only flavorful and aesthetically pleasing, but it's also a nutrient powerhouse thanks to the quinoa base. Nutritionists agree that quinoa is one of the 'highest-quality' sources of carbohydrates and protein available. As a certified nutrition coach and founder of The Weightloss Therapist Candice Seti, Psy.D., describes, 'It's a gluten-free, nutrient-rich option!'"
Green Sushi Salad
I make most of my meals with work lunches in mind, and this one is easy to put together in bulk and bring to the office throughout the week. With lots of veggies, avocado, and tofu, it hits every nutrient requirement and is filling but the light at the same time. Basically, an ideal midday meal. Also, I can't stress enough how great sea vegetables are—they're full of vitamins and antioxidants (like the ever-elusive B12 and iron) that omnivores can usually get through animal sources. I always have a variety of different algae and seaweed stocked in my pantry. You might say that's weird now, but I'm willing to bet you'll feel different in a couple of years.