One of the trickiest parts for folks transitioning to a plant-based diet is that sense of re-learning how to cook and to feed yourself. Sure, there are lots of vegan convenience foods out there, but fake meat products aren’t much better for you than the real deal, even if they are cruelty-free.
The other trick to vegan cooking is learning how to “veganize” your favorite recipes: sub out the animal ingredients with plant-based alternatives. With some savvy substitutions, you can cook up cruelty-free versions of many of your favorite foods! Here are some simple tips for transitioning to a plant-based diet.
Re-imagining Your Dinner Plate
Rather than mimic to fit the standard American “meat and potatoes” meal with veggie substitutes, the key to a healthy plant-based diet is rethinking what a meal really means. Americans eat far too much protein, and there’s really no need to center a meal around a protein with veggies as the co-stars. Instead, put those fresh fruits and veggies front and center for a filling, nutritious vegan meal.
Instead of the meat and two sides, try centering your meal around beans, whole grains, and fresh veggies.
If you’re craving comfort food, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally splurging on vegan faux meats. Just make sure you look for products with organic or non-GMO ingredients, since most faux meats contain soy or corn, which are commonly genetically modified.
One of my favorite ways to make a more “traditional” style meal is to whip up a big salad to pass alongside a veggie loaf from the Magical Loaf Creator. This handy tool from Vegan Lunch Box lets you choose the ingredients you want to use and generates a unique recipe just for you. I’ve been using this for years, and it’s never failed to produce a tasty bean and veggie loaf recipe.
>>Next: Common Vegan Substitutions
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by beebrulee
Common Vegan Substitutions
Whether you’re pouring cereal, fixing coffee, or getting ready to bake, it’s handy to know some common substitutions for animal ingredients.
There are lots of tasty milk alternatives out there, and I encourage you to try different ones to get a taste for what you like. Vegan milks can even vary from brand to brand, so if you hate hemp milk the first time you try it, for example, don’t rule it out completely until you’ve tried a couple of different brands. You can even make your own nut or oat milks at home, if you’re so inclined!
For baking purposes, there are a couple of other milk substitutions that are handy to know:
- Buttermilk – 1c vegan milk + 1t apple cider vinegar and let it curdle for a few minutes before adding to your recipe.
- Condensed Milk – blend 1/4c silken tofu with 2T each vegan milk and sugar
Cheese is much trickier, and I don’t recommend vegan cheese for new vegans. If you’re having intense cheese cravings, sliced avocado can sometimes quell those cheesy desires. It’s got a similar creamy mouth feel and satisfying fat content.
If a recipe calls for butter, you have a couple of options. For general cooking, like frying or making mashed potatoes, you can substitute extra virgin olive oil or other veggie oil. In baking and for spreading, try coconut oil or a non-hydrogenated margarine like Earth Balance.
>>Next: Easy egg substitutes
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Subbing out eggs can be tricky, depending on the egg’s purpose in the recipe. For baking purposes, you’re best off finding a good vegan recipe, but if you’re determined to substitute, I say go for it! One word of caution: a lot of folks assume that products like Egg Beaters are vegan, but they are not. There are store bought vegan egg substitutes that you can pick up, like EnerG Egg Replacer, but others are just egg white products that are marketed as healthier alternatives to eggs.
Eggs can have many functions in baking: binding, adding moisture, or leavening. Once you’ve determined what the eggs do in the recipe you’re veganizing, you can try out these egg substitutions:
- Binding – 1T flax meal in 4T water
- Moisture in baked goods – 1/4c silken tofu or 1/4c apple sauce
- Leavening – 2T water + 1T oil + 1t baking powder
If you’re looking to make an egg-based dish, you can approximate with tofu, and I highly recommend following a recipe until you get a feel for how this goes. Here are a few eggless egg dishes to get you started:
Once you get the hang of rethinking your plate and subbing out common animal ingredients, eating vegan gets a whole lot easier! Eventually, you’ll be making substitutions in your head without even thinking about it! Let’s hear from the experienced vegans out there! What are some other common substitutions for animal ingredients that have been helpful for you?
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Crystl