I’m not typing this up as a recipe because sometimes we just don’t want to follow recipes.

This is more along the lines of food-spiration.

I am a pretty right-brained, science-nerd, analytical type of person. I often don’t find myself possessing the creativity that others have when it comes to writing, art, and music.  That may also be because I never learned to play an instrument (the recorder in 4th grade doesn’t count, right?) nor practiced many creative endeavors. My top grades were always in science + math and my college degrees are based on the hard sciences of biology and chemistry. So, I can draw you a rendering of the human cell and its organelles, but that’s basically the extent of my so-called “creativity”.

But being creative isn’t limited to producing a Monet-like painting, composing a beautiful ballad, or even developing a fresh new advertising campaign. Creativity extends deeply into our day-to-day routines as well.

What about culinary creativity?

If you feel like you lack creativity in the kitchen, you’re not alone. Some of us possess the creativity to open our cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer and see a meal come together before our eyes. But guess what, we weren’t born this way. Most of us have gained our culinary creativity actively through cooking and trying new recipes, and passively just by eating a wide variety of foods. I’ve never taken a cooking class in my life and dreaded food science courses in college as I was always trying to dodge the animal products. Even if you didn’t grow up helping your mom in the kitchen, I promise that you can whip up a fantastic meal.

Good news–we all eat, so we’re all learning creative ways to create meals, even if we don’t realize it. It just takes a little attention. Next time you have a delicious meal, really experience it. Taste your food with more than just your tongue. Admire the colors, shapes, smells, flavors, and textures of the food with your eyes, nose, fingers, and mouth. Note key ingredients and flavor combinations that you love. Look up some recipes containing these ingredients or just throw them together yourself–don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen!

By being aware of the types of foods and flavor combos you like and then experimenting with them, you can build up your culinary creativity and increase your efficiency in meal planning and grocery shopping. 

Onto the slaw. I didn’t just come up with this idea out of nowhere. I have made Asian-inspired slaw and salads in the past, and I have eaten my fair share of the veggies + tofu + cilantro + peanut sauce combo. If you read The Delicious World of Vegan Ethnic Food, you may remember that I have a keen fondness of peanut sauce + cilantro. This is one of my favorite flavor combos. When I am in the mood to make a great Asian-inspired slaw + peanut sauce from scratch, I look to recipes like this one (which is still pretty simple–just requires chopping and whipping up the sauce). The point is, I love food like this, so without even trying, my mind put these ingredients together for me as I stood in front of the produce cooler at Trader Joe’s…

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Shredded green cabbage, broccoli slaw, sprouted tofu, cilantro, and spicy peanut vinaigrette from Trader Joe’s. 

The significance of Trader Joe’s in this is: they have loads of pre-washed and chopped veggies so it’s even easier to throw meals together in a pinch. Some of us like creating elaborate meals from scratch. Some of us don’t. Some of us do but don’t have the time. And I don’t know anyone who looks forward to chopping loads of raw veggies (OK, I confess, it is a stress-reliever for me, unless it’s butternut squash. Pre-peeled and cubed butternut squash is a lifesaver).

Convenience items like pre-prepped produce can go a long way in helping to ensure our families have a nutritious dinner on the table every night.

I prefer making dressings + sauces from scratch. However, there is a time and a place for convenience items like bottled salad dressing–like the spicy peanut vinaigrette pictured above. Having a healthful relationship with food is all about balance. And sticking to appropriate portion sizes!

So here’s what happened…

The only prep involved is cooking the tofu, if you want. This sprouted tofu is firm enough to dice up and eat in a salad without cooking, but I prefer mine cooked. I didn’t even press it–just drained it from the package, chopped it into cubes, and sauteed it for a few minutes in a hot pan with a few drops of toasted sesame oil (mmm the aroma).

In a bowl, toss together shredded green cabbage, broccoli slaw, tofu cubes, and cilantro leaves. Dress with a little peanut dressing, mix together, and voila! Tasty, crunchy, protein-packed salad!

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This would be delicious with chopped nuts + chickpeas added to it too (there goes my food-spiration running wild again…)!

What are some of your favorite flavor combos and go-to meals? Share in the comments and let’s draw food-spiration from one another!

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