Deciding to go vegan can be a pretty tough transition, but with these crafty pointers, your animal-loving self can cheat the ism.
Choosing to bow out from the gastronomic, animal-eating world is never an easy decision. Whether it is for spirituality, saving the animals—and their teats—or just experiencing something new, getting used to eating like a vegan can be a challenging task.
As any cook knows, making a meal without things like butter, eggs, cream and other kitchen essentials is torture. Add a lack of umami to the equation (the savory flavor often provided by meat) and even a seasoned chef would throw in the towel.
To ease the pains of an animal-free diet, I have gathered together some of my favorite vegan-friendly cure-alls for the health conscious culinaire. These eleven items will make your life easier, your meals tastier, and your non-vegan guests happier while keeping your conscience crystal clear.
If you’re thinking about becoming a vegan, stock your kitchen with these items.
1. Almond Milk. I drink at least a couple glasses of this slightly sweet dairy alternative daily. The consistency of (refrigerated) almond milk is much like the feel of regular milk but without the added hormones and vaccinations. It carries a barely noticeable nutty flavor and is worth every drop of left over cereal goodness. It can be used as a substitute for shakes, smoothies, and batters as well as a béchamel base.
2. Butter-less Butter. As a former French-trained chef, butter was my Holy Grail. I had to find a replacement. There are many non-dairy butter alternatives out there, but I prefer to stay away from soy spreads. Coconut butters, pea protein spreads, and various oil spreads are wonderful substitutes that provide authentic flavor without the negative claims surrounding soy.
3. Vegan Cream. Equally important as butter, cream certainly holds its place in my culinary arsenal. Dairy-free creamers come in soy, almond, coconut and hemp varieties. They carry a bit of sweetness, but work perfectly in any recipe. To find a exact substitute for dairy creamers, look for the word “unsweetened”.
4. Veganaise. I don’t suggest eating this stuff by itself, but it works miracles in dressing up salads and sandwiches. For the experimental chef, this fake-mayo can create all sorts of cold-mixed condiments used to spice up any dish. One of my favorites is a tangy wasabi lemon ginger combo that I basically put on everything.
5. Vegan Cheese. One of the most painful sacrifices I have ever made was giving up cheese. I was a connoisseur. So naturally, it took me a while to find an acceptable replacement. But my prayers were answered the day I found Daiya. And although it only comes in 3 flavors, it behaves like, tastes like, and melts like cheese. It is made from tapioca root, but includes other oils and arrowroot. It is soy- and hydrogenated oil-free.
6. Vegan yogurt. When I don’t have time to eat a solid breakfast, I eat yogurt. Finding non-soy based, dairy-free and edible yogurt was challenging, but after many yogurt-less months, I was introduced to Amande. This almond-milk cultured yogurt has an incredible texture with a variety of actual fruit flavors. Also an awesome smoothie addition.
7. Shiitake mushrooms. So it doesn’t take a genius to understand that mushrooms are inherently vegan, but it does take a chef to tell you that shiitake mushrooms will reintroduce the beloved umami flavor that has been missing since you gave up meat. Whether sautéed, boiled, or eaten raw these fantastic fungi will save you savorless meals. Season with a dash of salt to intensify the flavor.
8. Seaweed. I guess the politically correct term would be sea vegetables, but in either case, the classic dried, crunchy seaweed sold in a variety of forms will also bring not only an umami flavor, but also the essential B12 (a vitamin vegans often lack, responsible for low energy and fatigue). Toss chopped up seaweed into boiling water, in steaming rice or as garnish for salads and entrees.
9. Tempeh. I make it my prerogative to stay away from soy. With all the bad hype and hoopla, I figure it’s best to just steer clear of the bean. But in my research, ancient cultures (Chinese and Japanese) found that soy was rendered edible and safe once it had undergone fermentation. This discovery gave rise to soy sauce, miso and tempeh. Tempeh is an excellent meat alternative that provides yielding texture that will take on whatever seasoning you use. It can even be marinated. You can also find varieties of tempeh that are grain and vegetable based.
10. Seitan. Pronounced, “say-tin”, this wheat based meat alternative is well-known in the vegan community. Its firm texture and ability to take on flavor creates a high demand in vegan cookery. What separates it from tempeh is its softer, moister complexion, giving it increased gastronomic versatility. It can be used in stews, served as is, shredded, sautéed or even baked.
11. Egg replacement. After turning vegan, I realized everything has egg in it. All desserts, batters, pastries, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, croissants, cinnamon buns—basically everything that made the world go round—was suddenly off limits. My sweet tooth was devasted. That was until I found egg replacements. You can opt for Ener-G egg replacer (free of soy) or you can use natural egg replacements like applesauce, bananas, avocados, flax seeds and water, agar powder or tapioca starch. These alternatives add a unique depth in flavor and softness in texture.
Some items that didn’t quite make the cut were vegan cream cheese, vegan ice cream, agave and other sweeteners, and tofu.
If you’d like any recipes or advice feel free to post in the comments below or email me. And as always, much love.
Editor Tanya L. Markul
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