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Marinate Your Way to Healthier Meals

We all know meat and seafood love a good soak in flavorful marinade, but plant-based foods do, too.

Marinating requires a subtle balancing act that once achieved will catapult your basic vegetarian faves to new heights. Grab a few blocks of tofu, a slab of tempeh and all the produce you can manage and head to the kitchen for a little advanced preparation.

The Marinatee

  • Foods that benefit the most from marinating are slightly porous, meaning the marinade will be absorbed (at least slightly) during the soaking process.
  • Tofu, tempeh, mushrooms, summer squash and eggplant are all good bets.
  • Cut foods to be marinated fairly thinly (about 1/4-inch) or in smaller chunks to ensure that enough surface area is exposed to the marinade.
  • Use non-reactive (glass or ceramic) bowls and baking dishes to mix and marinate as some metal cookware could react with the acid in the marinade.


The Acidic Component

  • Adding acid to a marinade helps to tenderize the protein and adds a bright punch to the overall preparation.
  • Vinegar is a great option. Try sweet cider vinegar, full-bodied balsamic or tart rice vinegar.
  • Substitute citrus juice, particularly lemon and lime, for the vinegar for a different vibe – add the zest to up the oomph factor!

The Salty Component

  • The savory or salty part of the marinade is essential to connect the other components and really ramps up the flavor of the final product.
  • Salt allows the marinade to be absorbed and helps the marinated food retain moisture.
  • Low-sodium tamari, liquid aminos, miso paste or a pinch of sea salt are all great options.


The Sweet Component

  • Adding sweetener to a marinade base not only provides balance but also helps with caramelization on the grill or stove-top.
  • Dried fruit pastes are excellent in marinades as they add distinctly different flavors and thicken up the mixture as well. Try dates, apricots, mangoes or even dried pineapple rehydrated in warm water then blended until smooth. A drizzle of honey can also do the trick.

The Added Fun

  • These elements won’t be absorbed into the marinated product, they’re more of a garnish.
  • Add fresh herbs, spices, chile peppers and ginger with abandon.
  • Smash a few garlic cloves or add minced shallots to the mix as well.
  • Swap in a little fresh juice for some of the acidic component. Try orange or apple juice.

Check out the video below for an easy step-by-step approach to marinating.

What are your favorite marinade combos? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments section below.