Creating Flavor with or without the Meat

As a vegetarian, and Holistic Chef, I have spent years, both personally and professionally cooking, and experimenting with different flavors, tasting, and then modifying.  As a Health Coach, I realize not everybody is a vegetarian, nor should they be. Different bodies with different blood types have different needs. For non vegetarians, I recommend organic lean proteins, such as poultry and fish from sustainable sources. I also encourage reducing red meat intake to twice a week, and honestly, many of my clients are so thrilled with the flavours and cuisines available to them, it feels more like they are adding, rather than losing something. The American Cancer Institute (AICR) recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week. 

This equals:  up to 3 ounces (cooked), about the size of a deck of cards, 6 times per week; or up to 6 ounces (cooked) 3 times per week”. Reducing red meat consumption is not only good for the body, but, also the planet. Cattle are one of the leading causes of global warming; if you’ve never heard of Howard Lyman, he is worth checking out to find out what some companies do, to keep this truth in the dark.  If you follow Oprah, you may have seen him being interviewed when she was helping him fight the Texas Cattle Ranchers lawsuit, which they ended up winning.


For those of you who may be new to a plant based diet, or for those of you just needing some inspiration, I’ve compiled a list of handy ingredients and tips to give your dishes a pop. When you remove meat from the menu, not only do you lose the flavour of the fat, but also that rich, umami component. Umami is a Japanese word that doesn’t really have an American translation, but rather a description. It’s a sense of richness and fullness in the mouth that feels satisfying. Typically, you find this in animal based foods, but mushrooms can give you this, and so can tamari, (soy sauce), parmesan cheese, and miso,. Most plant based foods don’t contain umami, so having the right ingredients on hand, along with the right information can help you create flavours and textures that are exciting to you. No deprivation going on here!

Ok, here we go

  • Aromatics: Onions/garlic/ginger

  • Dijon mustard

  • Dried mushrooms, such as porcini- Grind up in spice blender and store as a powder for easy flavouring

  • Dried spices: cumin, coriander, curry, chilli powder, sumac

  • Chutneys

  • Ethnic spice blends: ras el hanout, charmoula, tandoori, za'atar. Some markets sell these blends

  • Fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, tarragon, dill

  • Fruit: fresh or dried

  • Horseradish

  • Miso: red, white, brown, or chick pea

  • Mushrooms: Portobello, shiitake, oyster

  • Nutritional yeast

  • Peppers: sweet roasted and Chilis

  • Pesto: make your own with your favourite leafy greens and herbs

  • Root vegetables; celery root, fennel, parsnips

  • Salsas

  • Tamarind paste

  • Tapenade (that yummy mixture of olives, capers and usually anchovies)

  • Toasted Nuts/seeds

  • Tomato paste

  • Vegan Worcestershire sauce (if you don’t mind fish, you can use a non vegan variety)

  • Vinegars: balsamic, sherry, red wine, champagne, umeboshi plum

  • Wine/liquor such as marsala, red wine, pernod, sherry

Now that you’ve got your arsenal of flavors, it’s time to add some technique:

Tips to Create Great Flavor in Your Dishes

  • use organic ingredients whenever possible: it will provide a fuller and richer flavor than conventional

  • toast your spices on low heat

  • use healthy fats: they act as a vehicle to transmit the flavor of the spices, but stick with the mono saturated ones like, avocado, coconut milk, olive oil, and nut/seed butters

  • caramelize or roast vegetables until they get that dark brown crust

  • build layers of flavor with cooking techniques and ingredients; if you look at how I make the split pea soup, you see I start with sauteing the onions, then add a layer by adding the spices and allowing them to toast in the pot with the onions before adding the stock. Most recipes would call for the spices to be added with the stock, losing vital flavor. This technique is an example of building. Stay tuned, I’ll do another post, explaining more in depth how to achieve this.

  • balance the five tastes: sour, salty, sweet, bitter, pungent + add some umami

  • Use salt (either sea salt from an uncontaminated source, or himilayan) Katie, the Wellness Mama explains the difference very simply here. The purpose of salt in a dish is to enhance or elevate the existing flavors. You don’t need to overdo it to accomplish this, especially if your five flavors are in balance.

I have always loved split pea soup, but it is traditionally made with a ham hock, making that flavor a worthy competitor. This wonderful plant based version uses the flavor layering technique, along with some dried porcini powder to create a depth and richness that stands up to the competition.

Split Pea Soup

Yield: 2 ½ qts

1 ½ cup green or yellow split peas*

1 cup onions, ½ inch cubes

½ cup celery, ½ inch cubes

½ cup carrots, ½ inch cubes

1 ½ teaspoon garlic about 3 cloves

2 tsp olive oil

2 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

2 teaspoon tomato paste

1 ½ teaspoon dried mushroom, hydrated and diced small (about ¼ cup before hydrating)– or ½ teaspoon dried porcini powder

6 cups vegetable stock or 6 cups water + 2 organic vegetarian bouillon cubes

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, optional (taste before adding)


The Best Split Pea Soup even without the Ham.jpeg


  1. Heat a 4 qt pot on high heat for about 40 seconds. Add olive oil, onions, celery and carrots and cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until fragrant and translucent

  2. Add garlic, dried mushroom, and tomato paste and cook on low heat, allowing the mixture to toast for a minute or so. Stir occasionally, so it doesn’t burn.

  3. Add remaining ingredients and cook on low heat with lid on, for 50-55 minutes or until split peas are tender. Taste the soup, and if it needs the salt, add it in now

  4. Your bowl of deliciousness is ready to eat.

  5. Cool the remaining portions down and store in an airtight container for up to one week, or freeze for up to two months.


*Yellow or green split peas taste equally as good in this recipe; if you want a mellower pea taste, use the yellow ones.