When the Culinary Institute of America puts meat on second string, you know that plant-centric plates are the foods of the future and must be downright tasty, too. But without the usual meaty team captain anchoring recipes, it’s time to get familiar with the starting lineup of this nourishing culinary movement.

Whole Grains

Whole grains set the foundation for plant-based meals, as they provide all of the comforting heartiness that we have come to expect from starches – but with a more complete nutrient profile, and an often nutty taste and chewy texture. Unlike refined grains (like white rice) that simply act as a flavorless blank slate, whole grains (such as smoky freekeh, nutty farro and peppery amaranth) add an entirely new dimension of flavor to dishes, as well as visual interest. Try quinoa, farro, freekeh or bulgur in grain salads and mixed dishes; play with brown rice, barley, millet and sorghum with curries and stir-fries; or experiment with amaranth, teff and steel cut oats in creamy, risotto-inspired meals.

Steel Cut Oat Risotto


Whole grains and pulses, the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, are a time-honored combination. These two plant foods have long been paired in food traditions around the globe – from beans and rice in Latin America, to lentils and millet in Southeast Asia, and everywhere in between. These lovable legumes supply most of the protein in plant-based cooking and come in a variety of flavors, textures and colors. No grain bowl or salad is complete without chickpeas or beans, and lentils make a fabulous sub for ground beef in meat sauce, tacos or chili. It’s little surprise that the United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of the Pulse.

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Fruits & Vegetables

While whole grains and pulses work together to make dishes satiating and hearty, colorful produce is the heart and soul of the meal – and often the first thing that catches our eyes. From sweet summer tomatoes to vibrant winter squash, there is no shortage of inspiration to be found at the local farmers market. Foods eaten in season are often less expensive, and are also at their peak of flavor – a true win-win!

Oldways Vegetarian Network

Nuts, Seeds & Toppings

Nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and dressings (like olive oil) are the finishing touches that take your dish from a humble home-cooked meal to a magazine-worthy masterpiece. The crunchy textures, fragrant aromas and creamy mouthfeel that these toppings add to recipes will impress your guests (or your family) and keep them coming back for more. Next time you make a soup or salad, try sprinkling on ribbons of fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil and crushed seeds, or a mixture of chopped nuts and dried fruit.

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Shifting meat’s role to become more of a garnish, if used at all, is a move that makes sense environmentally, financially and nutritionally. Plus, it creates more space for a variety of delicious and nutritious whole grains, pulses and seasonal produce. To achieve the perfect balance on your plant-based plate, all you have to do is follow this equation: Whole Grain + Pulse + Veggie + Topping. From there, you’re well on your way to crafting a mouthwatering meal.

Here are some examples to inspire you:
Lentils and Butternut Squash Soup
  • Quinoa + Black Beans + Chopped Lettuce + Sautéed Peppers and Onions + Avocado + Salsa
  • Freekeh + Cannellini Beans + Roasted Eggplants and Tomatoes + Lemon Tahini Dressing
  • Millet + Curried Red Lentils + Seasonal Squash + Kale + Cilantro
  • Brown Rice + Edamame + Stir Fried Swiss Chard + Teriyaki Sauce + Peanuts
  • Farro + Chickpeas + Roasted Cauliflower + Dried Cranberries + Pine Nuts
For more, try these popular plant-based recipes:
Quinoa Black Bean Salad
  • Bulgur salad with chickpeas and herbs: recipe here
  • Quinoa, black bean, corn and tomato salad: recipe here
  • Find more of our plant-based recipes here.

This October, Oldways has teamed up with Meatless Monday and The Humane Society of the United States to celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month with an interactive social media campaign called Vegtoberfest. Vegtoberfest challenges people to eat more plants all month, and to share their personal motivations and stories behind going “veg” for Vegtoberfest. To participate in Vegtoberfest this October, you do not have to already be a vegetarian or vegan; in fact, you don’t even have to go completely vegetarian for the entire month if you don’t want to. You just have to put more plants on your plate!

Kelly Toups, RD, Oldways Whole Grains Council program director

This blog was originally published on US News & World Report’s Eat + Run blog. See the original post here.



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