Cooking healthy vegan recipes from scratch is easier than you might think. One way to make it easy?
Consider starting with recipes that require only 4-ingredients. Ingredients that are each a whole food, not another recipe. Such a short list of ingredients is sure to be easy on your time and wallet—and can be delicious.
I believe this so much I have written a 4-ingredient cookbook. The cookbook, Crazy Healthy with 4 Ingredients, is full of sweet and savory recipes that are vegan, easy and use single whole food ingredients.
Here, in this article, I share my secrets so you can craft your own 4-ingredient recipes.
The Advantages to 4-Ingredient Recipes
Why create 4-ingredient recipes when there is a world of free recipes to snag? Because many recipes call for many more than 4 ingredients. Cooking from scratch already takes more time than grabbing a ready-made meal. Add in longer ingredient lists and more complex instructions, and your time and wallet take a dent.
“If your pantry is stocked with healthy basics, the ingredients might be in your cabinet right now to make a delicious and nutritious hummus, or brownie, or meatballs, or soup.”
Sometimes, of course, you want to delve into those longer recipes. But it’s useful to have a method to throw together a healthy 4-ingredient recipe at will, with ingredients you love, and that works.
Minimal ingredient recipes are always intriguing, but 4-ingredient recipes even more so because you might not have to do any extra shopping. If your pantry is stocked with healthy basics, the ingredients might be in your cabinet right now to make a delicious and nutritious hummus, or brownie, or meatballs, or soup.
Sure, some recipes with only 4-ingredients might have less flavor than recipes with, say, 8 ingredients or more. But not always.
Most of the 4-ingredient recipes in my book burst with flavor including Miso Ginger Ice Cream, Quinoa Chocolate Brittle, Tahini Cookie Dough Bricks, and Potato Cauliflower Tots. And you can always taste-test the recipe midway and add a little something more.
So what are the secrets to creating a recipe with so few ingredients? I have a two-pronged approach.
The First Secret to Creating 4-Ingredient Recipes
The first secret is to look for ingredient swaps where a single healthier ingredient can be used to replace a less healthy processed ingredient. Some dessert ingredients that are often processed and full of refined sugar include caramel syrup, white chocolate, frosting, ice cream, and more.
A healthier caramel can be made by blending up fresh Medjool or Deglet Noor with water. Creamy and golden, this iron-rich treat is a perfect filling for chocolate cups, a glaze on fruit, a drizzle on brownies, or as layers in desserts such as tiramisu. A quarter of a cup of this date-made caramel, often called date paste, provides zero refined sugar, 14g of protein, 8g of fiber, and significant iron, calcium and vitamin A. Compare this healthier version to traditionally processed caramel, where a quarter of a cup carries 42g of refined sugar and is devoid of nutrition.
“…look for ingredient swaps where a single healthier ingredient can be used to replace a less healthy processed ingredient.”
Another healthy replacement ingredient is coconut butter which is easily made by blending shredded coconut into a white creamy spread. A quarter of a cup of coconut butter has 4 g of protein, 10 g of fiber, and a slew of essential minerals including potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Coconut butter is the perfect replacement for the sugary white glaze made from refined sugar found on cookies, cakes, donuts, truffles, and sandwich cookies. And coconut butter is the perfect substitute for white chocolate, the commercial version of which is a mess of refined sugars and unhealthy processing chemicals.
Coconut butter also works well as a healthier swap especially because it is naturally sweet, so your recipe will need less sweetening if any, another nutritional bonus.
Nut and seed butter are useful in both solid and melted forms as healthier frostings, creamy dessert layers, sandwich cookie cream, even smoothie thickeners. The nutrition they bring varies with the nut or seed, but most provide heavy levels of protein, as well as iron and magnesium. A far healthier profile than traditionally processed frosting.
You have probably heard that blending up frozen bananas makes a nutritional ice cream very similar in texture and flavor to the less healthy commercial varieties. When frozen, bananas impart less of a banana flavor and easily take on any fruit or chocolate flavors you add.
But did you know you can make a healthy sherbet by blending frozen mango with any other fruit? Mangos are high in fiber, potassium, and folate and hold no refined sugar. A very different profile from sherbet bought at the grocery store which often carries up to 90 % refined sugar.
Other single ingredient replacements include sliced veggies to replace toast slices or pizza crusts; zoodled veggies to replace spaghetti; creamed cashews or coconuts to replace whipped cream, boiled fruit to serve as sugar-laden jam. Vegetable purees such as sweet potato and pumpkin to replace heavy cream in many sweet and savory recipes, providing the sweetness, texture and far more nutrition than the processed heavy cream on grocery store shelves today.
The Second Secret to Creating 4-Ingredient Recipes
A second way to create a 4-ingredient recipe is to change its final form using pressure, such as molds, and by using temperature.
No-bake recipes that come together when frozen are good examples of this type of recipe. Fruit compotes are another example when fruit and water are heated and muddled to form a whole food jam.
“…change its final form using pressure, such as molds, and by using temperature.”
Sometimes a recipe formed using these pressures can become two entirely different recipes, depending on the external pressure. I have several recipes in my cookbook that can be two different recipes depending on whether they are frozen, heated or just blended.
One such example, Pumpkin Candy Stars, is made from pumpkin puree, coconut butter, and dates, all blended and frozen into a shape using a silicon mold. Those same ingredients can make a delicious smoothie if blended into a liquid instead of frozen solid.
Another example is my Chocolate Hummus Shake recipe. Chickpeas, tahini, dark chocolate, and milk are blended to make the shake. Reduce the liquid, and you have a chocolate hummus dip.
So there you have it, a two-pronged approach to building 4-ingredient recipes. To embark on this project, be sure you have stocked your pantry with some basic healthier essentials. I provide a healthy capsule pantry list at the back of the cookbook, but here are a few basics to start thinking up 4-ingredient desserts on your own: Medjool dates, cashews, almond flour, cashew butter, shredded coconut, and maple syrup.
Dee Dine is the recipe creator and photographer behind Green Smoothie Gourmet, a plant-based vegan blog where she shares recipes that are nutritious, easy to prepare, and require a short list of ingredients. Learn more about her book, Crazy Healthy with 4 Ingredients, here↓