Going green and eating vegan + vegetarian is in and bigger than ever before. Health benefits, sustainability, and fair animal treatment are pushing foodies to give up meat and dairy. You might think that veganism and vegetarianism limit your palate, but creativity in this plant-forward community is at an all-time high. Finding non-meat and dairy-free recipes can help you explore dynamic ingredients that are both healthy + sustainable.
We’ve gathered some of Charleston’s favorite health food authorities to dish on all things vegan + vegetarian. Robin Hollis of Basic Kitchen and Greer Gilchrist of The Harbinger Bakery and Café gave us some fresh takes and pointers for shamelessly enjoying this summer.
Hollis and Gilchrist believe that plant-based diets can have a positive impact on your health, community, and the environment. Gilchrist says that going green can mesh sustainability with simplicity and even promotes mindful consumption, noting, “When you start to focus more on fresh ingredients you begin to rely less on packaged or heavily processed foods. You begin to understand how fresh food tastes and how delicious simplicity is. I think you become a better cook and develop a better understanding of what you're consuming.”
While beginning your plant-based journey can seem daunting, it all boils down to the ingredients you are cooking with. For Hollis, it’s all about cashews and chickpeas right now. “Cashews are a great option for adding creaminess to dishes and we use them in our house-made cashew caesar dressing, cashew ranch, and butternut-cashew nacho ‘cheese’.” Chickpeas are another mainstay on the restaurant's rotating menu. “We crisp them up and toss them in our Vegan Caesar, sprinkle them on our Basic Bowl, and mash them up into our house falafel,” Hollis says.
Gilchrist likes to keep things fresh and fun with local fruits and veggies. “Right now we've got peaches we are all loving, nothing beats fresh fruit in the summertime. For veggies, I'm forever a potato lover and I can't seem to stop ordering them from our farmers, which conveniently pairs well with fresh basil - another delicious favorite” she says.
Plant-forward cuisine doesn’t have to be time-consuming either. For both chefs, salads are the perfect way to experiment with new ingredients and easy enough to prepare so you can spend more time out in the summer sun. “One of the easiest ways to take advantage of the summertime produce is a big salad!” Hollis says. “The summertime is our favorite season to enjoy local produce like fresh peaches, heirloom tomatoes, berries, and sweet corn.” To keep the green wave rolling, Basic Kitchen is also launching their first-ever Salad Project where six local tastemakers will develop their own leafy creations to benefit The Green Heart Project.
Gilchrist is also a summer salad supporter, with the Harbinger serving up some of the best Charleston has to offer. Her favorite right now is their Tomato Peanut Salad. “It's got a blend of Yellow + Heirloom Tomatoes, Garlic Peanuts, and a Spiced Tamari Dressing. It's so simple but I love it. Get some good bread to sop up all the juice and maybe some baked beans too and that'd be a favorite meal for sure.”
Your snack drawer can also get a green makeover without sacrificing flavor. For summertime snacks, Gilchrist likes watermelon, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries to balance out the greasy goodness of potato chips. Hollis prefers to sink her teeth into Basic Kitchen’s roasted carrot hummus and sweet pea hummus with veggies and locally-sourced tortilla chips.
Completely changing your diet can be stressful, confusing, and seemingly impossible, but Gilchrist and Hollis assure it’s within reach. Both chef’s emphasized making the steps gradually. Hollis suggests “trying one day a week (Meatless Mondays!) or one meal a day. Breakfast is an easy way to start by swapping eggs for breakfast with overnight oats with fresh berries and almond butter or a green smoothie. Once you get comfortable with one meal switch to two, then three! Any switch, no matter how small, is a great choice for your health and the environment!”
Fresh, local ingredients are key for Gilchrist to easing into plant-forward food. “Attending farmer's markets, shopping locally and understanding what is seasonally available will naturally give you great products to work with, while still understanding that this will, of course, supplement what can't be provided by your local environment. Eat what you enjoy...and what is accessible to you.”
Plenty of things in your refrigerator have comparable vegan + vegetarian alternatives that can elevate your plant-based eating game without giving up the taste. Hollis suggests “[replacing] your milk with non-dairy milk like almond or oat. Once you feel comfortable with that switch, progress to non-dairy butter, yogurt, ice cream, etc. until you have incorporated more vegan products into your diet!”
For Gilchrist, the most important thing to remember is starting simple. “Grab some veggies, maybe some grains or beans, whip up a pesto and just enjoy the simplicity of what you're eating.”
That’s a (veggie) wrap! You now have some plant-fueled tricks up your sleeve from Charleston’s finest.
-Bobby Carey, Marketing + Communications Intern