Living a meat-free life might seem difficult — even tragic — to some, but when the benefits of eating veg are increased energy, lowered risk of disease, and weight loss… it makes total sense. The trick to surviving (and thriving) in this lifestyle lies in the food you make, however. So we asked plant-based chefs to spill their favorite ingredient combos, sauce ideas, and cooking hacks that make swapping the starchy stuff for lentil, chickpea, kelp, and zucchini pasta not only easy but also insanely enjoyable.

Matcha Soba with Spicy Tofu Nuggets

One of favorite soba noodle dishes is my matcha soba with spicy tofu nuggets recipe from my new cookbook. The sauce is a creamy matcha, but the tofu nuggets are sweet and spicy, which makes for a unique dish that’s both comforting and bold. Fun Fact: When I feel like changing it up, this dish also works great by swapping the soba noodles for edamame noodles, which have a ton of protein. Just remember that soba noodles cook quickly and overcooked noodles lead to mush. I drain the them a minute before the suggested cooking time on the box to add more texture. If I’m not serving or eating the dish right away, I toss the noodles in a bit of oil to avoid them turning into a tangled mess.” — Chloe Coscarelli, vegan chef and author of Chloe Flavor

Creamy Lentil Penne with Mushrooms, Pickled Chilies & Hazelnuts

“Vegetarian never tasted this good! A protein-packed penne (like lentil-based Modern Table or Barilla) is best when tossed in a light, garlicky cream sauce and paired with maitake mushrooms. These have a rich, meaty, nutty flavor when pan-seared that complements lentil pasta. Top with pickled cherry peppers for heat, a sprinkle of Egyptian dukkah, and chopped hazelnuts for a crunchy finish.” — Aliya LeeKoong, chef and head of culinary for RealEats

Zoodles and Vegan Meatballs

“There’s nothing better than meatballs and spaghetti and at Planta, we tested a ton of meatball recipes to get the flavor profile and texture just right. Our recipe calls for Beyond Sausage, mushrooms, beets, lentils, beans, quinoa, and spices. In the restaurants, we make sure we use a really good authentic pasta, but what we especially love about our meatballs is that they’re gluten-free and also work very well with zucchini noodles.” — David Lee, co-founder and executive chef of Planta Restaurants

Kelp Noodle Cacio e Pepe

“When it comes to plant-based pastas, I love these sauce pairings: chickpea (tomato sauce), lentil (tomato and pepper), edamame (tamari-based), and smoked potato gnocchi (pistachio cream). Our raw kelp noodle cacio e pepe in cashew cream has been a long-time favorite at several of our restaurants, but the best way to prepare kelp noodles at home is to soak them until tender, then marinate in your choice of sauce. They’re free of flavor on their own and absorb the flavors they are paired with nicely. If you’re going the cashew cream route, be sure to soak the nuts for 24 hours beforehand to break them up first.” — Matthew Kenney, vegan chef and creator of Matthew Kenney Cuisine

Carrot Pesto Cavatappi with Cauliflower and Peas

“I love this plant-based pasta as a weeknight dish. I always have carrots hanging around the fridge, and this lighter pesto gives them new life and takes advantage of one of the more under-appreciated peak spring vegetables. Roast your carrots for ultimate flavor, then blend with a few vegan staples (herbs, almonds, lemon, and garlic), and add Banza Chickpea Cavatappi for a healthy meal that’s bright and slightly sweet. Pro tip: Make sure to stop by your local farmer’s market for carrots with the tops. The greens can be added to the pesto for an extra nutrients boost since they contain six times more vitamin C than their roots.” — Andrea Nordby, chef and head of culinary at Purple Carrot

Buckwheat Pasta With Sautéed mushrooms and Arugula

“Buckwheat pasta has lots of hearty ethereal flavor and I love to pair it with sautéed mushrooms, arugula, and white wine. It tastes unique, but like you’ve been waiting for it all your life. The biggest bit of advice when it comes to plant-based pastas is just never to overcook them. Boil your water the second you walk through the door and dinner can be on the table in 20 minutes. Most sauces can be made ahead, whether it’s a blended creamy sauce, or a marinara.” — Isa Chandra Moskowitz, vegan chef, owner of Modern Love Brooklyn, and author of The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook

RELATED: 14 Homemade Gluten-Free Pasta Recipes to Shake Things Up for Dinner

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(Photos via Chloe Flavor, RealEats, Planta, Matthew Kenney, Purple Carrot, and Modern Love Brooklyn)