Vegan cooking tips

Switching to a vegan diet is going to put your cooking skills to the test. Now is the time to start thinking creatively. If you have access to some vegan cookbooks, you will be able to try out recipes that have already been tested and approved by at least one other person. Sometimes, though, you may find it enjoyable, perhaps even preferable, to do a little experimentation on your own. There are a lot of good almost-vegan recipes out there, and it is a shame to pass them up just because they call for a little milk or a few eggs. Here are a few simple rules that you can use to "veganize" a non-vegan recipe.



Cooking without milk:

Milk is one of the easiest ingredients to do away with, simply because there are so many really good replacements on the market. Popular substitutes include soymilk, rice milk, and almond milk. These "milks" can be used anywhere a recipe calls for (cow's) milk, usually with no noticeable difference. Use the same amount of milk substitute as is called for in the recipe.

If you are using soymilk or rice milk in cereal or to drink straight, you may have to work a little harder to a find a brand whose taste appeals to you. (I personally am partial to Edensoy soymilk, which has a full, rich flavor. Some of the other brands taste watery to me.) If possible, try to buy an enriched brand; many milk substitutes are fortified with Vitamin B12, calcium, and other nutrients important in a vegan diet.


Cooking without eggs:

A lot of vegans swear by a product called Ener-G Egg Replacer, which is made out of potato starch, tapioca flour, leavening agents (calcium lactate (vegan), calcium carbonate, and citric acid) and a gum derived from cottonseed. I must admit that I have never tried it because, quite honestly, I have found that almost all recipes can be veganized just by omitting the eggs without trying to replace them with anything else. I have successfully made breads, cakes, muffins, pancakes, and crepes that look and taste completely normal but simply don't use any eggs. The gluten in flour seems to be strong enough to hold most recipes together. In some recipes you may need to experiment with adding a little more liquid. In sweet baked goods, I often find it helpful to replace both the eggs and the sugar with maple syrup, which helps to "glue" the ingredients together. Other ingredients that can provide this binding quality include mashed bananas, cooked and mashed sweet potatoes, molasses, soft tofu, flax seeds (replace each egg with one tablespoon flax seed blended in three tablespoons of water for two to three minutes), and arrowroot (replace each egg with one tablespoon arrowroot dissolved in three tablespoons cold liquid). Baking powder can be used in place of eggs to help a recipe rise, and corn starch can be used to thicken sauces and puddings.

Cooking without butter:

Butter is another ingredient that is easy to replace; either vegetable oil or soy margarine can be used instead. Just like butter, both of these ingredients are frighteningly high in fat. When I come to a recipe that calls for half a cup of butter, I tend to just skip on to the next recipe rather than make any attempt to veganize it. However, a tablespoon of soy margarine now and then won't hurt anybody. Soy margarine works well as spread, also, although there are a lot of interesting condiments (such as apple butter or hummus) that can be used instead.

Cooking without cheese:

Cheese is the one ingredient that puts many vegans to the test. There simply is nothing out there that melts, bubbles, and stretches the way that real cheese does, and even experienced vegans tend to suffer from cheese cravings from time to time. There are several brands of soy cheese on the market; be warned, though, that many of them contain casein, a milk derivative. The vegan soy cheeses I have tried just were not the same as the real cheese I remember. Several cookbooks, including Vegan Vittles and The Uncheese Cookbook offer recipes for making vegan cheese from scratch. Many of these call for an interesting list of ingredients such as tofu, vegetarian nutritional yeast, tahini, miso, and agar flakes. In my opinion they still don't taste much like real cheese, but some of them have an interesting flavor in their own right. I will give them points for originality and resourcefulness!


I think that the best defense against cheese cravings, instead of trying to replicate the flavor and texture, is to cook something so different and flavorful that one forgets about the cheese altogether. Toppings such as hummus (with lots of garlic), salsa, or pesto (made of chopped walnuts, olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil) can really spice up a meal that traditionally calls for piles of melted cheese.

Cooking without honey or refined sugar:

Many of the stricter vegans try to avoid refined sugar (whose refining process may involve animal bone char) and honey. Fortunately, there are a number of very satisfying alternatives. When I am veganizing a non-vegan recipe that calls for sugar, I use Turbinado sugar instead. Turbinado sugar is raw cane sugar consisting of large sugar crystals still covered in molasses. Most of my vegan recipes call for some sort of liquid sweetener. My favorite by far is maple syrup, which has a wonderfully rich, soothing flavor. Other options include molasses, corn syrup, and frozen condensed fruit juice. Be warned that fruit juice sometimes gives a recipe a strong fruity flavor that doesn't really belong. Maple syrup, on the other hand, seems to work well in everything.

Cooking with tofu:

A lot of new vegetarians and vegans seem to feel a moral obligation to eat tofu. So here is a friendly reminder that you don't have to eat tofu if you don't want to. There are plenty of other ways to get your protein and calcium. With that said, tofu can be a lot more appetizing once you learn the best way to cook with it. Tofu comes in soft, firm, and extra firm, and it is very important to use the right type for the job. Extra firm tofu is great for stir-fry recipes, when you want something solid to chew on. With your hands, gently squeeze out as much liquid as you can, pat it very dry with a paper towel, and cut it into cubes. (To squeeze out even more of the water, place the block of tofu between two plates and let the weight of the upper plate gently press out moisture for about half an hour.) At that point, you can marinate the tofu if you wish. (A few tablespoons of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and sesame oil make a nice combination.) Finally, either broil it or fry it in oil over medium heat for about ten minutes until it's golden brown. Another nice trick for changing the texture of tofu is to freeze it overnight and then let it thaw out just before cooking. This method gives the tofu a much thicker and chewier texture.

Tofu also comes in a "silken" variety, which has a smoother texture than the regular kind. Silken tofu often comes in an airtight package that allows you to store it for up to a year unrefrigerated until opened. Soft silken tofu can be used as a base in an wide variety of vegan recipes such as pudding, sour cream, shakes, ice cream, and frosting. You will need a good blender that can blend it until it is completely smooth and creamy. For a quick and easy chocolate pudding, simply blend together some silken tofu, cocoa powder, maple syrup, and vanilla. Yum!