The following tips can save you hours in the kitchen.

Preparation & shopping

Convenience foods
Keep on hand some instant food items such as veggie burgers, hot dogs, cans of baked beans, chili and vegetarian soups. These can be used as a basis for a larger meal. Just add extra vegetables or grains.

Buy in bulk
It’s usually cheaper and you buy only what you need and can store. Bulk stores even carry some products that are usually packaged such vanilla, soy sauce, nut butters, and even Fantastic Foods Vegetarian Chili Mix.

Seasoning mixes
Using concentrated seasoning mixes can spice up your meals and save several steps when preparing a recipe. Try the following: vegetable bouillon stock cubes, natural soy sauce, Indian curry paste, Thai green curry paste, hot sauce (harissa, tabasco or chili sauce), miso (as soup base), salsas, chutneys, mustards, etc.

Can help
Canned beans, chick-peas, tomatoes, and other vegetables will save you cooking these items from scratch.

Glass containers
Put grains, beans, flour, etc. in clear containers, so you can see at a glance what you have on hand.

Don’t forget the leftovers
Check your refrigerator and cupboards for left over fresh vegetables to make into a weekly soup or quick stew.

Be prepared
Bring out all the necessary ingredients for your recipe before you start. This saves time and steps. Also try to plan ahead when shopping.

Cooking

Make extra!
Leftovers can be stored in the fridge or frozen in individual servings for quick future meals. Cook a large pot of brown rice at the beginning of the week and reheat portions as needed by steaming, microwaving, or stir-frying.

Be simple
There is no need to always use a dozen different ingredients. Some of the best meals are combinations of one or two veggies, a grain or rice, and a little seasoning.

Don’t over chop
There is a tendency for enthusiastic beginner cooks to chop everything into tiny pieces. For most recipes it is preferable to have large bite-sized pieces.

Use a garlic press
Inexpensive hand held garlic presses will instantly convert a clove of garlic to a pulp.

Steaming
Any vegetable that you would normally boil, including potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, can be steamed. It is much faster because you don’t have to wait long for a pot of water to come to a boil. Steaming also saves energy.

Microwaving
Zapping vegetables keeps them nutritious and crisp and you avoid heating up the kitchen on hot days.

Cooling food quickly
Place pot, pan or bowl containing hot food in a larger container or sink full of cold water. The heat quickly conducts out of the food and into the water. Don’t try this with very hot food in a glass container. Cooling hot foods in the refrigerator or freezer wastes energy and actually takes much longer than water cooling.

Fast grains and pasta
Use grains and pasta that cook fast such as couscous (three minutes) and thin noodles (8 minutes), and bulgur and kasha which take about 10–15 minutes. White rice and quinoa take 20 minutes.

Quick rice
Automatic rice cookers with a timer will have hot cooked rice waiting for you after a long day at work.

Instant ramen noodle soup packages
Whole wheat varieties are sold at health food stores or you can buy the really cheap ‘three for a dollar’ ramen packages imported from Asia – the kind that say simulated beef or shrimp flavour. There is no real meat in most of them but discard the MSG–laced flavouring pack anyway. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add quick cooking vegetables such as diced green onions, carrot slivers and watercress. Add instant noodles. Voila it’s ready in three minutes. Stir in miso at end.

Pizza pita 
Instead of using pizza dough, try pita bread for your pizza crust. Put your toppings on the pita bread and heat in oven as usual.

Putting your freezer to good use:

  • Cook extra beans and rice or other grains and freeze in portions. Always label containers to be frozen with name of contents and date.
  • Don’t freeze cooked red potatoes. Only the white or russet varieties keep their shape once thawed.
  • Frozen cooked rice can be microwaved hot in 2-3 minutes.
  • Uncooked pastry freezes well, so when making fruit or savoury pies make extra and freeze. Bake in a hot oven directly from the freezer.
  • When you cook lasagna, stews, casseroles and lentil or veggie bakes, make extra portions and freeze them. Defrost gradually in the fridge during the day, or quickly in the microwave for a no-hassle dinner after a hard day’s work.
  • Keep supermarket packs of broccoli and carrots in the freezer and microwave ready in eight minutes.
  • Freeze fresh or cooked pasta and drop it into boiling water for a quick meal.
  • Make sure there’s always an uncooked vegan entrée in the freezer (such as tofu lasagna) for those unexpected guests.

This article is from TVA’s Vegetarian Tastes of Toronto Cookbook