Boy it seems like ages since we’ve hung out together (and it probably has!). As it turns out juggling work, the blog, my new adventure in starting Rouxbe, getting our top secret project up and running, and life in general isn’t as easy as it sounds! The course has me practically cooking in my sleep but I can’t tell you how rewarding it’s been and how much I’ve been learning. It truly has been one of the best educational experiences for me, and to top that, we’ve been eating the most amazing meals here at home. If you follow us on instagram (@littlegreenkettle) you’ve probably seen some of my homework! In fact, it was the first assignment we had to hand in that gave me the inspiration for this post I’m writing today.
Before the actual classes even started, we were supposed to give an example of our go to dish. That dish we always make, the one our family members request and also one that you know so well you can practically make it blindfolded. I had so many options to choose from since we do have quite a few favorites we have on a weekly basis, but I decided to go with one that is a total treat and creates automatic excitement at our house when I say I’m making it. It also happened to be the first thing that came to mind when I read the assignment, hence my ‘go to’. I’m talking about a dish you know well if you’re well acquainted with our recipe section, none other than our Mean Green Grinch Pesto Pasta. What’s more ‘go to’ than pasta now that I think about it?
The good news is you already have the recipe and you can make it a part of your repertoire today, but that’s not what this post is about. This assignment got me thinking of my pre-vegan days. Perhaps had I known that some of my family favorites, childhood favorites, and the dishes I loved could be made vegan easily, I would have made some changes much sooner than I did. Of course back then I thought vegan food was boring, limiting, and that it was only about eating brown rice, black beans and a salad (which is now oddly one of my favorite meals!). I wish I had known back then that in a few years there wasn’t going to be a single one of my family recipes or my all-time favorite dishes that I couldn’t make vegan. I created my yummy pesto pasta after I was already vegan, but before then, my go to meals were probably a delicious summer barbecue with tons of guacamole (and of course meat and sausages), a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast, fish filled sushi, tacos and other Mexican dishes with a ton of meat or chicken, roast chicken with mashed potatoes, a lasagna with a thick bolognese for dinner, and lots of meals that centered around meat and potatoes, not to mention egg and dairy filled desserts like brownies and cupcakes. Here’s the deal, there is nothing out of this list I just gave you that I don’t eat in its vegan version now. In fact, I’ve mentioned before how cooking became so amazingly simple and lovely after going vegan, that our repertoire has expanded exponentially and we’re eating so much healthier due to the fact that I always feel like cooking at home! Not that there’s any shortage of delicious vegan options for dining out in Madrid.
So today I give you a small list (there’s so much to cover in this area) of some delicious substitutions you can start dabbling with if you’re feeling a bit curious about this way of eating. If you’re already vegan, take a moment to think of some of the favorites you once had and haven’t had in a while, and how to bring them back into your kitchen. So here’s the plan, close your eyes and think of your go to dish, or one you love or used to cook, and try experimenting with some vegan alternatives. You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again. If one meal is the only place you feel you can start with for now, that’s amazing. Every little step forward helps the animals, your health and the health of our planet. Put one foot in front of the other and then continue taking steps along the way as much as you can.
Simple Vegan Substitutions
For that meaty texture and bold flavor:
– There’s nothing like the magical ‘meaty-ness’ of mushrooms in my book. A whole food, and extremely healthy for you, I love marinating portobello and shitake mushrooms and grilling them, using them on burgers, sautéing them and even roasting them on skewers! Fret not, we’ve got even more meat alternatives coming up next but I’m just in love with mushrooms!
– Try one of the big three basic vegan proteins: seitan (made from wheat), tempeh (made from soybeans), tofu (made from soy milk). These are the ones I like making most frequently, as they are minimally processed and some can even be made at home! When seasoned and cooked properly they are to die for! (A note on tempeh: always steam it for 10 minutes before proceeding to cook with it). These can be made into roasts, steaks, burgers, sausages, added to stir fries or salads, even made into creamy puddings or desserts, and even quiche! (More on these uses later). They’re always my top choice.
– Try some of the amazing veggie meats already prepared for you: vegan sausages, chorizos, vegan beef tips or chicken style pieces, vegan holiday roasts, veggie bacon (yes, there’s bacon!), vegan meatloaves, vegan buffalo ‘no wings’ or even ‘ribs’, chopped vegan meat for that perfect bolognese, countless vegan burgers (ready made or make your own), etc. Our favorite brands in Europe are Wheaty, The Vegetarian Butcher (products marked with the big V for vegan), VeGourmet and countless others. Some popular ones in the US are Gardein, Beyond Meat, Tofurky, and the very popular Field Roast. In the summer there isn’t a single weekend in which we don’t have a barbecue at our house. Don’t think I’m forgetting about you fish lovers out there, there are countless fish and seafood alternatives out there including fried ‘calamari’, veggie shrimp and even filets and no fish fingers. For sushi, I personally go all natural, using delicious veggies, roasted sweet potato, fried plantains, and even sriracha marinated tempeh mash for the perfect spicy no tuna roll! The sky is the limit with fresh vegetables and when you add some of the specialty meats for once in a while treats, you’ll be in heaven!
– I’ve got some beans, some magic beans…. (did you sing with me?). Beans are magical foods and not only in storybooks! They are filled with nutrients and are so incredibly satisfying. Use them for creating all sorts of your favorite dishes like black bean tacos, nachos, burgers, falafel, hummus, curries, and of course a big pot of chili. The options are endless with the magic bean and all its varieties.
For cheese lovers:
– Try some store-bought vegan cheeses which are very practical (the sky is the limit these days!), from vegan cheddar to mozzarella to jack to swiss and even blue cheese! Some trial and error needs to take place here since there are some amazing cheeses out there in the midst of some not so good ones (and some horrible ones!). Our favorite cheeses in Europe are Risella, Vegusto, Vegourmet Jeezo, and Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream specifically. In the US don’t miss Daiya, Follow your Heart, Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream, the wonder that is Dr. Cow tree nut cheese, the new masterpiece that is Miyoko’s Creamery and countless others. Miyoko’s artisanal products are specialty cheeses and perfect for a fancy event or occasion (as well as for a party of one in front of the TV!), they need to be ordered online for now, but according to what is being said out there, they are close to magic, and Miyoko is just a rockstar in my book so she deserved a special mention in this category!
– Make your own cheeses at home with soaked cashews, nutritional yeast and other spices (not brewer’s yeast!). There are countless recipes online and we’ll be experimenting with cheese making soon so stay tuned!.
– For parmesan: Although there are commercial brands out there, my favorite is simply something very easy you can do at home: Ground raw almonds (without the skin) with some sea salt in a food processor until you reach a parmesan like consistency. You’ll be an instant fan! Keep it in a jar in your cupboard and start topping everything with it.
For substituting breakfast style eggs or eggs in savory cooking:
– The magic that is The Vegg: a delicious product for the sunny side up egg fans. It comes in a powder and you blend it with water for the perfect consistency and flavor of an egg yolk. It doesn’t keep its round shape, but just imagine you already dunked your bread in the yolk and you’ll go crazy. Seriously, this stuff is wild! It’s also based on all natural ingredients, which I love. You can also use it for making quiches, spanish tortillas, french omelettes and even a perfect hollandaise sauce for a plate of tofu eggs benedict!
– For scrambled eggs: Try a delicious tofu scramble with veggies. Use turmeric for that yellow egg color and some spices for added flavor. You can even make breakfast burritos!
– For a perfect no-egg salad: use tofu and turmeric as well as some vegan mayo as shown in our recipe here!
For substituting eggs in baking:
There are so many substitutions it’s crazy! And many desserts can actually be made without the use of eggs:
– Use a powdered egg replacer such as Ener-G and follow the package directions. A box will last you forever, meaning you always have ‘eggs’ on hand.
– Use 1/2 a banana to equal 1 egg (the banana flavor will come through, so use it in recipes where this would work).
– Use 3 tablespoons of peanut butter to equal one egg.
– Use 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds combined with 3 tablespoons of water (combined and rested for a few minutes until goopy) to equal 1 egg.
– Use 1 tablespoon of chia seeds combined with 1/3 cup water (combined and rested for about 15 minutes until goopy)
– 1/4 cup unsweetened and all natural applesauce to equal 1 egg.
– 1 tablespoons of arrowroot powder or cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons water to equal 1 egg.
– 1/4 cup silken tofu (sold in little aseptic boxes), blended until creamy to equal 1 egg.
– If only needing one egg, 1/4 cup vegetable oil can be substituted (more can make your dessert to greasy if the recipe also contains fat in any other way).
– Combine 2 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of oil, and two teaspoons of baking powder to equal 1 egg.
– Adding apple cider vinegar (1 teaspoon or 2) to any recipe that includes baking powder.
For specific recommendations on when to use each one, check out this link or type ‘vegan egg substitutions’ in the search bar on Pinterest and find some amazing infographics you can simply glance at!. We’ll have a more specific post on baking basics soon.
For a bechamel sauce or base for a white sauce:
Cashews soaked overnight, then drained and blended with a little water to help the machine run. This is a great base for your favorite bechamel recipe, or even as a base for mac and cheese like we did in our very own recipe. You can also use any plant-based milk with some arrowroot powder or cornstarch for thickening.
For milk and cream:
Try any of the amazing plant-based milks available these days. These include: rice, almond, soy, quinoa, sesame, hemp, macadamia, oat, hazelnut, coconut, etc. Try several, since there are so many different ones and the flavor and texture can vary immensely. Even give different brands of the same milk a whirl until you find the one or ones you love. Always choose calcium fortified milks for some extra nutrition. Many of these milks offer heavy cream and whipped cream products as well, and make your own buttermilk for pancakes or desserts by adding some apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in some milk and letting it rest for a few minutes. It’s crazy how good it is!
Try any of the non hydrogenated plant-based spreads or butters out there. Choose one without trans fats or hydrogenated oils. These are delicious for spreading on toast, and are perfect in baked goods and frostings as well as for cooking and even sautéing.
For other cooking staples:
Choose or make a vegetable stock or try some veggie bouillon cubes instead of chicken or beef stock. Buy some eggless mayonnaise and be amazed! Buy a cheese free pesto and start experimenting with delicious international condiments and spices that will give your meals variety and flavor. Use agar-agar as a substitute for gelatin in desserts as well as savory dishes. What about ice cream? There are so many dairy free brands out there that it’s hard to keep track! Same goes for vegan yogurt.
Finally, I want you to take a little field trip on Pinterest, just for kicks. Type the name of your favorite non-vegan dish in the search bar with the word vegan preceding it, for example “vegan meatloaf”. Be prepared with pen and paper to write down all the creative and wonderful ways you can make a dish vegan. Of course, check out our recipe section too, for delicious step by step recipes that range from cheesecake to pies, to classic sandwiches, creamy curries, barbecue ideas, pizza and so much more! Have fun veganizing and let me know if there’s a favorite product of yours I forgot to mention in this post. As a little disclaimer, I’m simply a fan of all of the products mentioned here and I’m not affiliated with them in any way.
In three days, that is on May 20th, everyone around the world will be celebrating Vegan Meatout, a worldwide initiative to cheer people on as they pledge to go vegan for one day. I hope this post has inspired you to try out new vegan versions of your favorites, and wherever you are, and if you decide to do it, I’ll be cheering you on with bells and whistles over here! Happy cooking!