Contrary to what some may believe, there is more to eat than just salad on a plant-based diet. In fact, many people, myself included, step into a world of vast variety when they go vegan. How does this make sense? Aren’t vegans eliminating foods from their diet? Turns out a lot of ethnic cuisine is based on plant foods, and even for those that are not, you can manage to find some pretty delicious vegan options. So do yourself a favor and tickle your taste buds by trying a new ethnic restaurant or recipe.
Some of my favorite ethnic foods:
Not only is Thai widely available, but it’s an easy way to get your whole grains + lean protein + veggies for an affordable price with delicious taste. Every Thai restaurant will have a simple veggie entree you can add tofu to, which I was loyal to for years until I realized my love for Pad Kee Mao. Ask that your dish be made sans fish sauce and eggs. Vegan Pad Thai pictured above.
Thai is simple to make at home, too. This is an easy red curry I made and topped with Gardein protein strips. You can buy canned coconut milk (light versions available) and curry paste at the store to create your curry, then load with veggies + protein of your choice! I’m big on flavor so I add extra fresh garlic + ginger to my curry.
Vietnamese is arguably my favorite ethnic food. It lends itself well to my love of cilantro and the plethora of fresh veggies seals the deal, not to mention the deliciousness of peanut sauce. There are usually several vegan options on a Vietnamese restaurant’s menu: pho chay (Vietnamese noodle soup with tofu; double-check that broth is vegan; pictured below), tofu noodle salad (my favorite; rice noodles + loads of fresh, colorful veggies + tofu + peanut sauce), tofu bahn mi (sandwich), and last but certainly not least, spring rolls (pictured above and one of the true loves of my life). I typically enjoy Vietnamese food with copious amount of peanut sauce and sriracha.
Because Vietnamese food is based on simple, fresh, ingredients, it’s easy-peasy to make at home sans recipe. My favorite is the noodle salad–I start with a bed of crisp romaine and top with cooked rice noodles, tofu, slivers of carrot + cucumber, bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, mint, basil and of course peanut sauce, Sriracha, and a bit of soy sauce. You can purchase peanut sauce at the store or make your own. This is my favorite peanut sauce recipe.
OK, I lied. Ethiopian is my favorite ethnic food. Do I have to pick? If someone told me my life depended on picking my favorite food, I surely wouldn’t make it. Ethiopian food has some of the best flavor I have ever tasted. Ethiopian restaurant menus typically have an expansive vegetarian section, including my favorites: misir wat (spicy red lentils made with with Berbere, a traditional Ethiopian spice blend), tikil gomen (delicious cabbage + carrot dish), kik alica (split peas made with turmeric), gomen (cooked collards) and fossolia (amazing green beans). I also love how the food is served in the restaurants–family-style, on a giant piece of injera. Injera is a kind of bread made out of teff flour (a naturally gluten-free grain) that you use your hands to eat with!
You can buy whole grain teff at the store and try your hand at making your own injera too! I made two of my favorites to go with my whole grain injera: kik alicha (yellow) and mesir wat (red). It didn’t taste quite as amazing as it does at the restaurants but it was surprisingly easy to prepare and super yummy!
Mediterranean cuisine plays into the stereotype of vegetarians eating large amounts of hummus (which we do, don’t we?). Pictured above is a falafel salad pocket…holy yum! Falafel is made of mashed chickpeas + herbs and spices rolled into balls and fried to crispy perfection. They go excellent with veggies + hummus in a bowl, wrap or salad. Stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, and lentil soup are just a few more of many vegan Mediterranean options.
AJ, my incredibly handsome significant other who whips up this delectable hummus on demand, found the perfect hummus recipe. I could never get my homemade hummus to taste exactly how I wanted it to or be the perfect consistency, but he mastered it with this recipe!
Mexican is another type of cuisine that is traditionally based on whole foods like beans, rice, and tortillas, so it is typically easy to “veganize”. My favorite go-to is vegetarian fajitas…is there anything that smells better than a piping hot plate of sizzling grilled peppers + onions? Ask for corn tortillas (vs. refined white flour) and load them up with your fajita veggies, refried beans, salsa, and guac! Double-check that the beans are made without lard. The rice is sometimes made with chicken broth, so steer clear or ask your server. Some restaurants even carry more expansive vegan options, like the chorizo flautas above with a side salad and quinoa! Sometimes the tortilla soup (below) even happens to be vegan, it never hurts to ask.
Are you a fan of “Taco Tuesday”? I am. Not only do tacos make for a quick week-night dinner, but they can be made incredibly cheaply & nutritiously. As long as you keep a package of tortillas (which hold up well in the freezer for long-term storage), a can of beans, and veggies on hand, you’re always ready for taco night. Have fun playing with different combinations of beans (I love black beans, refried pinto beans, and refried black beans) + veggies and don’t forget the cilantro!
Another cuisine with great plant-based foundations of grains + legumes, Indian food tantalizes my taste buds in a way I know my own cooking never could. I am so fascinated by the intricacies of Indian cooking and I love trying new Indian restaurants! There are loads of veggie and legume dishes on Indian restaurant menus like tandoori vegetables (pictured above) chana masala (chickpeas & tomatoes), aloo gobi (cauliflower & potatoes), vegetable korma, and many kinds of dal (lentils ), just to name a few. Indian food varies greatly throughout the regions of India, which you will definitely see from restaurant to restaurant, which I love! Indian food is often eaten with the bread naan, which is usually made with milk and butter. Some restaurants have vegan naan, and many have roti, a bread that is typically vegan. You can always skip the bread and enjoy your dishes with fragrant rice, too!
Remember how I mentioned how complex Indian cooking is? Truth. I am no Indian chef. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t draw inspiration from Indian dishes and throw together quick meals like the one above: curried chikpeas + tomatoes with brown rice and broccoli. It’s kind of a like a “cheater chana masala”–I cook up canned diced tomatoes with onions and chickpeas, curry powder, and more fragrant spices like coriander.
Italian food is so commonplace in American culture that it almost feels weird calling it “ethnic food”. Is there really anyone out there who doesn’t enjoy a nice comforting bowl of pasta? I am really fascinated by how many times over the past 6 years of my vegan journey multiple people (including dietitians!) have asked me if I can eat pasta! I think many people assume pasta is made with eggs and/or dairy…which is true of traditional, fresh pasta. However, for the typical varieties you find on the grocery store shelf, the ingredients are just…wheat. That’s it (except for egg noodles, obviously). Next time you’re at the store check out the food labels of various kinds of pasta. I eat whole wheat pasta because it’s packed with protein and fiber and I prefer the heartier texture. Pasta is another inexpensive + healthful plant-based meal. You can simply top cooked noodles with jarred pasta sauce or whip up your own sauce or mix-ins, the possibilities are literally endless. The picture above is whole wheat cavatappi with ripe plum tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt + pepper. Simply delicious.
Italian food is often synonymous with rich, cheesy dishes, which you can certainly veganize! Take the baked penne dish above: whole wheat penne layered with tofu “ricotta”, tomato sauce, and Mozzarella Daiya vegan cheese baked to perfection.
More delicious vegan ethnic food from restaurants + my kitchen: