In our Herbivore Diaries series, we chat with your favorite herbivores with one important mission in mind: Proving just how easy it is to be a plant-eater. Whether it’s discovering new grocery cart staples or finding out pro-level preparation methods, you’ll (finally) learn to love your veggies—and then some.
Scrolling through Nisha Vora’s Instagram feed, you’d never know the creative chef and author behind Rainbow Plant Life was once a lawyer. After graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, she worked for four years in law before realizing that wasn’t where her heart was. It was clear the only way to her heart, as the old saying goes, was through her stomach, and what was once a hobby became her dream job.
Today, Vora has more than 300,000 loyal followers she shares healthy and delicious recipes with on the daily. And on her YouTube channel—which is nearly 50,000 subs strong—you’ll find plenty of tips, tricks, and meal ideas that can help you better your health. Somehow, even with an overflowing plate, she also found time to launch her debut cookbook, The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook, which is filled with more than 90 recipes you can make in everyone’s favorite multi-use appliance.
Whether you want to know what’s always on Vora’s grocery list, her secrets behind shooting stunning food photography, or her go-to quickie vegan dinner, read on to get to know this seriously inspiring foodie on another level.
Nisha Vora: I stopped eating meat in 2016 after I noticed it made me feel weighed down and heavy. I immediately felt lighter and, to my surprise, happier. I started food blogging around this same time, and that got me interested in shopping locally and seasonally and understanding where my food came from. Then after a few months, I ended up watching Food Inc., followed by nine other documentaries about factory farming and animal agriculture in a short period of three days. Seeing how billions of animals were being abused and slaughtered broke my heart, and I became vegan overnight. (Well, over the course of three nights.)
Being vegan is one of the best decisions I’ve made. I feel like I’m living a life that’s consistent with my values of doing no harm and a life that’s having a minimal impact on the planet. It’s also given me this wonderful platform where I get to show people how easy and delicious vegan food can be and inspire people to live better, healthier lives.
NV: Roasting vegetables is the number one way I get avowed vegetable haters to enjoy vegetables. The dry heat of an oven—combined with a little good-quality olive oil and salt and pepper—transforms even the most cruciferous vegetables into soft, caramelized bits of sweet heaven. My favorite all-purpose condiment for vegetables is vegan furikake. It adds so much potent flavor and a nice crunchy texture.
NV: My essentials are:
1. Garlic: I can’t live without it! Almost all my savory dishes include garlic because it makes food taste like it should.
2. Nut/seed butter: I go through a jar of almond butter a week, so I’m always stocking up.
3. Kale: It’s the vegetable I eat the most. I eat a massaged kale salad several times a week and love throwing kale into curries, stews, or soups at the end of cooking. It’s an easy way to get in your greens while still eating something comforting.
4. Miso paste: Okay, I don’t buy miso paste every time I’m at the grocery store because it has an incredible shelf life, but it’s one of my vegan superstar ingredients. It adds so much depth of flavor and a rich umami flavor that helps plant-based ingredients shine.
5. Dark chocolate: I mean, obviously. Have you met a vegan who doesn’t like dark chocolate?
NV: A stuffed sweet potato, a quesadilla, or a sandwich with a kale salad. I always have cooked plant proteins like lentils or chickpeas in my fridge—as well as condiments like cashew cream, hummus, or pesto—so I load up a giant sweet potato with those. Or if I have tortillas, I’ll use cashew cream or store-bought vegan cheese to make a really simple quesadilla. Or if I’m real lazy, a hummus sandwich with any veggies/greens and beans I have in the fridge, topped with EVOO and hemp seeds.
NV: That’s a toughie, but I’d say tahini. It’s my absolute favorite ingredient and it can be used in both savory and sweet recipes. I mix it with lemon juice, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to make a creamy salad dressing. I also drizzle it plain on cooked proteins or veggies and use it in baking as a fat source to swap out some or all of the oil. And my favorite dessert is mixing tahini (or almond butter) with cocoa powder, maple syrup, and sea salt then spreading it over frozen bananas. It’s like a frozen chocolate-dipped banana but only takes two minutes. Plus, it’s really good for you!
NV: 80 to 90 percent of the meals I eat are not Instagram-worthy, though I do post some of them on my Stories to show people what real life looks life. I love making a pasta dish with roasted cauliflower, garlic tahini sauce, and pine nuts. It’s all beige! Definitely not Rainbow Plant Life.
NV: I have three tips:
1. Practice. A lot. I didn’t know anything when I started photographing my food in 2016, but I practiced almost every single day. When I started noticing improvements, it was so rewarding that it made me want to practice more and more.
2. Invest in yourself. Seek out all the free food photography resources you can—I have a ton on my blog and YouTube channel to get you started. When you’ve absorbed those, don’t be afraid to drop some money on a paid class. It’s an educational investment in yourself.
3. When you’re starting out, always shoot in natural indirect light. Turn off those overhead or ambient lights and bring your food close to a window. If it’s a sunny day and the sunlight is directly hitting your food, you might want a diffuser. (A semi-sheer white bedsheet or curtain works.) I love shooting on cloudy days, too. It brings in lovely and even light that makes food look amazing.
NV: Think about what you can have instead of what you can’t. Start by finding a few plant-based blogs or cookbooks and try out some recipes. This will help you develop a roster of 3 to 5 meals. Then once you feel comfortable with those, pick out another 3 to 5 meals and continue experimenting. There are so many delicious, flavorful, and satisfying meals to choose from, like Creamy Pumpkin Mac and Cheese, Fudgy Brownies, Wild Rice Stuffed Squash, and Apple Cinnamon French Toast Casserole.
Also find ways to replicate the non-vegan foods you love. Obsessed with cheese? Then check out my guide to the best vegan substitutes, which includes both homemade recipes and store-bought options. Love ice cream? Treat yourself to a pint of a rich vegan option—not the low-fat, sugar-free stuff!—and enjoy every bite.
Get friendly with umami, too. People eat meat and cheese because they like the taste of rich, savory foods—not because they like the taste of dead animal flesh. Find ways to replicate those rich, savory notes with plant-based ingredients like miso, soy sauce, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, canned tomatoes, seaweed, and more.