Cheap, Easy Vegan Meals For When You Want to Die Inside

Spring always makes me inexplicably mopey, to the degree that I sometimes have trouble putting food in my mouth on the regular. If you have this problem, too, I have a few suggestions for meals you can survive on until May.
Publish date:
April 3, 2013
food, recipes, depression, vegan

Spring's always been kind of hard for me to handle.

I don't know if it's the unpredictable weather, some weird planetary astrology shenanigans, the sudden increase of Giants fans on public transit, or what, but every year I spend the months from February to April fighting off some pretty epic freakouts.

When I was in college in upstate New York, I used to dread the first snowmelt, because I knew that the next few weeks would be full of me forcefully washing plates until they broke in the sink and inexplicably crying at Justin Timberlake songs because they reminded me of faraway friendships. The only panic attacks I've ever had have been right around the vernal equinox.

Even now, in San Francisco's comparatively temperate climate, I've found myself doing things like verbally demanding affection from my cat and fantasizing about punching walls with a coffee mug. The other day, my housemate caught me weeping like a child over pornographic literature because it contained a scene of what I snot-throatily explained was "tender spanking." Spring is when my brain and logic take a quarter-long vacation from each other.

It's like the change in seasons reminds me of all this year's potential and of all the time I wasted over the last nine months watching TV and drinking beer. Instead of responding by being even more productive, I just kind of shut down for a reboot.

Anyway, the takeaway from all of this is that I have a really hard time eating like a human during this time of year.

I can barely cook at the best of times, but I usually manage to whip up at least a giant protein-heavy salad three or four times a week. For some reason, though, at this time of year even the idea of putting nutritious food in my mouth at home overwhelms me, let alone purchasing it and preparing it.

It's not that I'm not hungry, exactly, I just can't fathom the idea of expending energy on feeding myself when I could be sleeping or writing or fucking or reading. In spring, food slips awfully low on my priority list, whereas the rest of the year it is basically all I ever think about.

I will occasionally secrete a grapefruit in my bedclothes and eat it piece by piece like a hibernating bear, but I'm not sure you could actually call that "dinner" so much as "slightly disturbing solo role-play."

Once I skip dinner once or twice, I start getting into weird competitive cycles with myself where I want to see how long I can go without eating it. This, as you might guess, doesn't exactly help with the whole "emotional stability" factor, which in turn makes me less inclined to eat.

It's an annoying cycle, and I've found that the only way to break it is to force myself to prepare very simple, long-lasting meals that I can just make on a Sunday and then summarily ignore until I shove them into my face every 24 hours or so.

If you, like me, are overwhelmed by the idea of eating in the springtime (or ever, I guess), I'd suggest some of the following recipes. Lest you be thrown by any whiff of complexity, I will share that my housemate expressed surprise this evening at seeing me boil water that was not ultimately intended to sterilize a Diva Cup. Believe me when I say that if I can do this, so can you.

Bonus: because my landlord is still trying to drag us over the coals, rent-wise, these meals are all super cheap! Depending on your grocery store, they're all good for three or four dinners for less than $10. I've also helpfully divided them by the specific negative feelings that drive me to create them.

Tense, Thrumming Anger That You've Held In Your Elbows All Day: Yam Mash

For the times when the only thought you've been able to hold since you got up has been "I am going to punch every man, woman, and child on this sinking ship in the face." Requires a lot of chopping and mashing, which can really help work out that baseless aggression.

1 giant butternut squash2 potatoesAny other starches you fancy. I like a yam or six.Many garlicMuch onionDash of salt

Peel the squash. If you're making this for a wimpy friend, maybe peel the potato too. Whatever, potato skins are good for you. Chop everything. Relish the chopping. Feel the burn of the chopping in your shoulders. Dump it all into a pot of boiling water. Take a ten or fifteen minute nap (maybe get the wimpy friend to keep an eye on the stove for you).

Drain, add a capful or two of olive oil and soy sauce. Mash the softened starches into a gunk like they're the brains of your enemies. Add spices to taste. Add sriracha because why not. Slurp up with satisfaction. Serves 2-3 full plates, so realistically around 4-6 dinners (unless you have superhuman potato tolerance).

Loneliness For A Lover You're Not Sure You've Ever Even Had: Kinda Tom Kha Gai

Find yourself cuddling a pea coat at night to approximate human companionship? This Thai-ish soup my housemate taught me how to make won't exactly work as a substitute for intimacy, but at least your belly will be warm even if your bed isn't. I'm really sorry I just wrote that sentence.

Much garlicA knob or two of fresh gingerJalapenosHalf an onion or soVegetable stock mix (I like Better than Bouillon, which costs a comparatively expensive $5 but will last basically forever)Coconut milkVeggies of choice (suggestions: bok choy, carrots, kale, red bell pepper)

Sautee the garlic, onion, and peppers at the bottom of a soup pot. Try your best not to burn them, though this is trickier than one might anticipate. Add about two cups of water and a spoonful of stock mix. The broth will turn a suspicious brownish color, which will not abate when you dump in the can of coconut milk. Have faith. Soon it will turn a lovely oil-slick cream/yellow, at which point you can add your vegetables and let them simmer as long as you'd like.

This whole endeavor takes maybe 10 minutes, tops, which will leave you plenty of time to clutch the warm bowl to your torso and stare intently at "Parks and Recreation" gifs, wondering when you will find a love like Ben and Leslie. Serves at least four bowls, so great for sharing with sad friends.

The Realization You're Probably Never Going to Be Famous: Eggplant Monstrosity

I used to make this all the time in college because heating an otherwise unpalatable vegetable until it becomes edible makes me feel like an adult with the ability to accomplish goals.

1 eggplant1 block of tofuOlive oil

Chop the eggplant into the tiniest pieces you can. Tinier. The tiniest you possibly can. If you don't do this, the insides of your eggplant cubes will still be foamy and mealy while the outsides are crunchy and delicious. Sautee the eggplant in olive oil (and hot sauce) until it's golden brown, then add the tofu. Don't waste time waiting for the tofu to do anything but heat up. It's just here for protein. Makes one big pan, which depending on your willpower can last maybe three meals.

Look, Sometimes You Just Need an Excuse to Cry: Tortilla Soup

Adapted from a recipe in How it All Vegan, this is both literally the easiest thing I've ever made and spicy enough to sear the short hairs over my upper lip clean off. Naturally, I barely taste that, but tread with caution. Also a great reason to eat a bunch of leftover tortilla chips and sniffle into a soup bowl, if that's your thing (it's often mine).

Onion, garlic, you know the drill. 3 cups veggie stock (or water)1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoesA spoonful or two of tomato paste2 fresh jalapeno peppers. For a fun game of "How long can I eat this without choking," don't take the seeds out.2 tsp chili powderCumin if you've got it

Sautee the onion and garlic at the bottom of a soup pan. Dump everything else in. Simmer for twenty minutes. Put in bowl (this recipe makes 4-6). Fill remaining space in bowl with tortilla chips. Crumble tortilla chips with spoon to make a delicious spackle. Put in mouth, try not to breathe fire.

These are the main meals I've been relying on for the last fortnight or so to feed myself. Do you guys have any other food suggestions? Extra points if they're vegan, cheap and easily executed by someone who cannot remember the last time she used an oven. Also, does anyone else hate spring as much as I do, or am I just some sort of flower-scented March-Grinch?

Kate is fighting off the grumps: @katchatters