Earth Day is approaching, and finding easy ways to celebrate it can sometimes be tough. Why not cook an Earth-friendly meal to commemorate the day? Trying out some vegan recipes (like some delicious crunchy lettuce wraps or tofu salad) can be a fun activity for your friend group or family to do together, all while honoring our planet. We spoke with vegan food blogger, Nisha, from Rainbow Plant Life about her personal vegan journey, and what makes vegan food so good for us – and the Earth. Check out her mouthwateringly savory casserole recipe in this post while you're at it – it makes for an excellent Earth Day dinner.
B+C: How did you get into the vegan diet, and cooking vegan?
Nisha: I went vegan back in 2016 after binge watching nearly a dozen documentaries on factory farming and big agriculture. I was horrified to see what we do to animals on such a massive scale, and had no idea how much our food choices impacted the planet's health.
Back then, the mainstream picture of a vegan diet was smoothies and oatmeal and quinoa bowls (which I grew tired of pretty quickly), so I dived into learning how to level up my cooking skills from a plant-based perspective. I had learned how to cook in high school and loved cooking, so it was just a matter of going back to the fundamentals of good cooking but with a little more creativity.
B+C: What are your favorite vegan recipes to make, and why?
Nisha: I love whipping up any kind of recipe that is big on spices and fermented foods, because they add such a big punch of flavor. For instance, a warmly spiced Indian dal or curry, or a Chinese noodle stir fry or braised tofu with black vinegar and soy sauce.
B+C: Why is being vegan good for you and the environment?
Nisha: It would be easy to point to the ethical or environmental reasons to try vegan food. But something that gets lost in that argument is that vegan food can be really, really good, regardless of any other concerns.
There are so many terrific recipes that are already vegan or can easily be made vegan – from comfort food classics like bean chili and mushroom stroganoff to spectacular international dishes like gobi manchurian (a deep fried cauliflower dish from India) or tofu stir fry. I’ve gotten so many comments over the years from people who couldn’t believe “vegan food can be this good.” Keep an open mind and give it a try – you might just like it.
B+C: What's the best memory you have surrounding food?
Nisha: Everyone has their own set of experiences and set of values, but personally, going vegan has allowed me to live aligned with my values of compassion and empathy like never before.
From a health perspective, I have so much more energy and feel so much more joy.
The environmental effects are pretty clear. Countless studies have shown raising animals for meat and dairy is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that shifting to a plant-based diet on a mass scale could substantially reduce our emissions. For instance, the top five meat and dairy producers together emit more greenhouse gases than Exxon-Mobil, yet those companies don't get the same level of scrutiny that big oil companies (rightfully) do.
B+C: Any other helpful tips to share that others may have not heard before?
Nisha: If you're interested in eating plant-based food more often, but don't know where to start, make it a fun challenge! Recruit your spouse, roommate, friend, or sibling, and commit to cooking a new vegan recipe at least once a week. Create a shared Pinterest board or find recipe inspiration on Instagram, and pick a theme each time you cook together. For instance, host a Thai night and then make a papaya salad to start, a vegan Thai green curry for the entree, and mango sticky rice for dessert. There are so many great recipes out there that cooking a vegan meal once in a while shouldn’t feel like a chore.
Recipe for Vegan Tomato and White Bean Casserole
For the casserole:
- 10 ounces of soft but sturdy rustic bread
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 pounds cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
- 5 medium shallots, peeled and sliced into rings
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- Freshly cracked black pepper
For the cashew parm:
- ½ cup raw cashews
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
For the caper gremolata:
- ¾ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 large garlic cloves, left whole and peeled
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- Flaky or coarse sea salt
How to Make Rainbow Plant Life's Vegan Tomato and White Bean Casserole
- Preheat the oven to 350F°. Chop the bread into ¾-inch cubes and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle 1 ½ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and lightly sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, until lightly golden but not too hard.
- Meanwhile, in a very large bowl (the largest bowl you have), combine the tomatoes, and shallots. Separate the shallots into individual rings as much as possible. Add the garlic, thyme leaves, and beans. Drizzle the mixture with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and season with 1 ½ teaspoons of kosher salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Toss well to combine.
- Add the baked bread cubes to the mix and gently toss to ensure the bread cubes are coated and well combined. Transfer the tomato mixture to a 3-quart/3-liter baking dish (I used a 13×9" pan).
- Bake the casserole in the preheated oven at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top bread pieces are golden and crunchy.
- Meanwhile, make the Cashew Parm. Add the cashews, nutritional yeast, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil to a food processor. Pulse repeatedly in 1 second bursts until the mixture has a fine, crumbly texture, somewhat similar to grated parmesan (do not continuously blend, or you’ll end up with cashew butter).
- Meanwhile, make the Caper Gremolata. Finely chop the parsley and basil together. Using a microplane, grate the garlic directly over the parsley and basil (or mince the garlic with a knife). Add the capers on top, and chop everything together until well combined. Sprinkle with a bit of flaky or coarse sea salt.
- Remove the casserole pan from the oven. Using oven mitts, arrange an oven rack for the broiler (but don't position it too close to the flame) and set your broiler to a low heat.
- Sprinkle a generous layer of Cashew Parmesan on top of the baked dish and put it under the broiler for a couple minutes until the topping is nicely browned, but keep an eye on it to prevent burning.
- Allow the casserole to cool for 10 minutes, then evenly sprinkle the top with the Caper Gremolata. Finish the casserole with a few drizzles of extra virgin olive oil and a light sprinkle of flaky or coarse sea salt.
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Recipe and photography by Rainbow Plant Life.