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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Top 5 Tips for Successful Local Plant-Based Cooking

Farm-to-Table Spring Arizona Greens Salad.

by Melanie A. Albert

Spring in Arizona is an exciting season to enjoy cooking plant-based meals since our local farmers grow a wide range of produce this time of year. We see lots of greens, all kinds of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. If you are new to plant-based cooking and eating, visit a farmers’ market to get inspired by what our local farmers are growing and create simple, tasty, beautiful salads and veggies with different culinary techniques, including raw, steamed and roasted. Here are five tips to help you succeed with your plant-based dishes:

1.     Eat Local. Buy produce, herbs and edible flowers from our local Arizona farmers or grow your own for the freshest, most nutrient-rich food. Plant-based dishes start with wonderful fresh produce to create tasty, eye-catching meals. Shop at our local farms, farmers’ markets, commit to a CSA (community-supported agriculture), grow at a community garden, or grow your own.

2.     Keep it Simple. With the plant-based way of eating, we focus on fresh veggies and fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and beans. With plant-based cooking, we use a few simple culinary techniques for flavor and color. The essential simple plant-based culinary techniques include raw, steamed, sautéed and roasted. We cook the same vegetables with different culinary techniques to create different flavors, textures and looks that add variety to our meals.

3.     Cook Intuitively. Think about it: What grows together goes together. With plant-based cooking, mix and match the produce, herbs, nuts and seeds to create attractive dishes. All veggies are different depending on the seeds, soil, weather and geography. As a result, each dish we prepare is unique in a positive way with plant-based intuitive cooking. Be sure to taste while you are cooking and adjust your ingredients to suit your favorite personal taste preferences.

4.     Mindfully Plate. We eat with our eyes first. Since plants are naturally beautiful, it makes sense to take time to mindfully plate your meals for visual appeal. Have fun experimenting with various plating styles with your version of “food art,” using extras such as fresh herbs or edible flowers. Use your favorite bowls and dishes to add to the attractiveness of your meal.

5.     Slow Down and Enjoy. Pause. Take a breath. Take time to enjoy the beauty of your local Arizona plant-based meal. Give gratitude to our local farmers for so passionately growing the incredible food, and appreciation to yourself for taking the time to shop for and prepare your lovely plant-based meal. Enjoy mindful plant-based eating and the colors, textures and flavors of your locally grown plant-based meal with your family and friends.

Three Arizona Plant-Based Farm-to-Table Recipes

These simple, gorgeous plant-based recipes were intuitively inspired by and created with produce grown by our local Arizona farmers at The Soil & Seed Garden at The Farm at South Mountain, in Phoenix, and Blue Sky Organic Farms, in Litchfield Park.

Farm-to-Table Spring Arizona Greens Salad

Create a simple salad with greens from our local farmers or your garden. Pair a few different leafy greens and a simple-to-prepare light salad dressing with fresh herbs. This fresh salad, inspired by the local greens grown at The Soil & Seed Garden, also features cherry tomatoes grown at Blue Sky Organic Farms. Add plant-based extras to create a stunning salad.

For the base of the salad, choose a variety of spring greens grown by our local Arizona farmers or ones growing in your garden. In addition to the salad greens, extra ingredients add texture, beauty and taste to the salad—some sweet, some salty, some crunchy. Choose a few of your favorite extras, such as tomatoes, berries, nuts and seeds, raisins, capers and olives. When plating, add splendor to your salad with dehydrated Arizona citrus and edible flowers.

Yields: 4 servings
Farm-to-Table Spring Arizona Greens Salad mise en place.

Simple Ingredients

4 cups mixed greens, such as lettuce, baby kale, arugula, spinach, minutina, shungiku (chrysanthemum greens)

1 cup tomatoes, sliced

½ cup berries, such as blackberries, raspberries

¼ cup cracked pecans, walnuts or pumpkin seeds

¼ cup golden raisins

¼ cup Kalamata olives

2 Tbsp capers

Garnish: 3-5 sliced dehydrated citrus (oranges, blood oranges, grapefruit); edible flowers, herbs (dill or fennel fronds)

Simple Steps

·       Chop or tear spring greens into bite-size pieces.

·       Pour dressing over the greens (recipe follows).

·       Lightly toss the greens to coat with the dressing.

·       Add half of the extras (tomatoes, berries, nuts or seeds, raisins, olives, capers) and gently toss.

·       Mindfully plate with the remainder of the extras, dehydrated citrus, herbs and edible flowers.

·       Enjoy!


Basic Salad Dressing: 3 Ingredients. That’s It.

Create your own salad dressing. The key components of a three-ingredient salad dressing include an acid, fat and salt. Once these elements are balanced, we can add in extras, such as garlic, fresh herbs, mustard and honey. Acids are citrus, such as lemons, limes, grapefruit, along with vinegar; fats are oils, such as olive oil; and salts could be Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt. Once you've learned how to prepare a dressing with this technique, you can use this method to create your own unique salad dressings for your fresh salads.

Simple Ingredients

1 fresh lemon, orange or ½ grapefruit, squeezed, approximately ¼ cup

Organic extra-virgin olive oil, twice as much as the citrus juice, approximately ½ cup

¼ tsp sea salt

Optional: 2-3 garlic cloves, minced; fresh dill, fennel frond, mustard, honey

Simple Steps

·       Squeeze a fresh citrus juice into a Mason jar.

·       Pour in twice as much olive oil as the citrus.

·       Shake the jar.

·       Taste and notice if your dressing seems too oily or acid-tasting. Add more citrus or olive oil to suit your taste.

·       Sprinkle in sea salt.

·       Shake the jar. Taste.

·       Optional: Add in minced fresh herbs and garlic.

·       Shake the jar. Taste.

·       Optional: Add honey and/or mustard. Shake and taste.

·       Taste testing salad dressing is a great way to mindfully use your cooking intuition. Add ingredients until the dressing tastes great.

Arizona Spring Steamed Veggies. Arugula Hempseed Lemon Pesto.

Arizona Spring Steamed Veggies. Arugula Hempseed Lemon Pesto.

Enjoy a simple lunch or side dish by gently steaming local Arizona spring veggies in a bamboo steamer and enjoy with simple Arugula Hempseed Lemon Pesto.

Lightly steaming veggies brings out the striking colors and natural flavor of vegetables while maintaining their nutrients. Steam a mix of a few spring veggies with different colors, shapes and textures, such as golden and cylindra beets, daikon radishes, tropical black carrots, purple snow peas, sugar snap peas, and corn grown at The Soil & Seed Garden at the Farm at South Mountain. Plus, steam unique roots, such as those grown by farmer Billy Anthony of Tropizona—China rose radishes and hinona kabu and hida beni red turnips—to add brilliant red and purple to the dish. Enjoy the spring steamed veggies with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt, refreshing Arugula Hempseed Pesto and calendula flowers.

The Veggies

A bamboo steamer is key to simple plant-based cooking. Learn to steam spring veggies with the mindful process of bamboo steaming.

Yields: 4 servings 

Simple Ingredients

5-7 different spring veggies, such as beets, carrots, purple snow peas, sugar snap peas, corn, radishes, turnips, sliced

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Pinch of sea salt

Garnish: edible flowers

Simple Steps

·       To set up the bamboo steamer, fill a large (6- to 8-quart) soup pot with 3-4 inches of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.

·       Place sliced veggies into the bamboo steamer. Spread out the veggies so that they do not touch each other to allow the steam to rise and cook them. Sprinkle veggies with a pinch of sea salt.

·       Place bamboo steamer on top of the pot with steaming water. Cover with lid and let steam for about 5-7 minutes or until just cooked.

·       Test the veggies for doneness. When veggies easily come off a fork, they're ready.

·       Once the veggies have finished cooking, pour them into a large bowl.

·       Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.

Bamboo steamer veggies.

Arugula Hempseed Lemon Pesto

Make simple Arugula Hempseed Lemon Pesto to enjoy with steamed Arizona spring veggies. With plant-based cooking, add extra flavor to vegetables with simple herb and seed pestos.

Simple Ingredients

2 cups arugula

½ cup hempseeds

5-7 chive stems

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 lemon zested

Pinch sea salt

Simple Steps

·       Place all ingredients (except olive oil) into mini-processor or food processor and blend.

·       After processing, stream in the olive oil.

·       Adjust with oil, lemon or salt to suit your taste.

·       Enjoy with steamed veggies.

Arizona Spring Steamed Veggies. Arugula Hempseed Lemon Pesto.


Mindful Plating

·       Mindfully plate the veggies and pesto, showcasing the color and shapes of the veggies.

·       Garnish with edible flowers


Roasted Arizona Spring Veggies Bowl. Cashew Cream.

Roasting is another simple plant-based culinary technique to use with our local Arizona spring veggies. The culinary technique of roasting is a dry heat cooking method that intensifies and concentrates the flavor of vegetables. When roasted properly, the natural sugars in the vegetables brown or caramelize to create a deep, rich flavor. When visiting your farmers’ market, buy a few veggies to roast with this simple, quick, flavorful culinary technique. Enjoy roasted roots in a Roasted Arizona Spring Veggies Bowl or use them to create a soup, dip in hummus, or add to a raw kale salad or veggie wrap.

The Bowl

The Roasted Arizona Spring Veggies Bowl features favorite veggies grown by Blue Sky Organic Farms, including the beautiful Romanesco, cheddar cauliflower, broccoli, onions and leeks, along with some just-harvested carrots (Parisienne, pencil, Kyoto red) grown at The Farm at South Mountain—all enjoyed with a Raw Cashew Cream Sauce and garnished with edible calendula flowers.

Yields: 4 servings

Simple Ingredients

1 Romanesco

1 Cheddar cauliflower

1 broccoli stalk

1 heirloom tomato

2 leeks, white part

1 green onion

4-5 carrots

Approximately ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Pinch sea salt

Simple Steps

·       Preheat oven to 425° F.

·       Slice veggies into pieces.

·       Place veggies, one by one into a bowl.

·       Drizzle olive oil and sea salt onto the veggies and toss to evenly coat the veggies.

·       Carefully lay the veggies on unbleached parchment paper in a heavy-duty flat baking sheet pan. Place veggies flat side down in a single layer, making sure the vegetables do not touch.

·       Place baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven.

·       Roast roots in the oven for about 15 minutes, then turn vegetables.

·       Cook another 12 minutes, until fork tender.

Mindful Plating

·       Plate vegetables in a bowl with Raw Cashew Cream Sauce and brown rice or quinoa.

·       Garnish with edible calendula flowers.

·       Enjoy!

Quick Raw Cashew Cream Sauce

A simple dairy-free plant-based nut sauce, like cashew cream, is a great substitute for cheese and is a tasty dip for roasted veggies. Use the recipe as a guide to create a sauce to enjoy with spring roasted veggies.

Simple Ingredients

1½ cups cashews, soaked in water 2-4 hours

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

½ tsp lemon zest

2 Tbsp nutritional yeast

2 Tbsp water

Pinch sea salt

2 or more Tbsp water, as needed for creaminess.

Additional lemon, nutritional yeast, and salt for taste.

Simple Steps

·       Drain water from the cashews.

·       Place all ingredients into mini-blender.

·       Blend until desired level of creaminess, adding additional water as needed.

·       Enjoy with roasted veggies.

Raw Cashew Cream Sauce ingredients.


Enjoy our local Arizona spring veggies by cooking with a few simple plant-based culinary techniques—raw, steamed and roasted. Mindfully enjoy your plant-based creations with your family and friends.


Melanie Albert, founder and CEO of Experience Nutrition Group, LLC, in Phoenix, is the author of the award-winning cookbook A New View of Healthy Eating and plant-based recipe blog at, and offers plant-based farm-to-table culinary experiences, catering, corporate wellness, team building, and retreats. Albert has step-by-step cooking photos of these recipes on her blog for those who are interested. Recipes and photos courtesy of Albert. For more information, visit


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