Friday, July 8, 2011

Vegan Ingredient Replacements

One of the mistakes I made when we started the Vegan Eating Challenge was to scrap every recipe I'd ever made before and start from scratch. This required a lot of research and extra time in the kitchen to figure it all out. It would have been smarter for me to veganize some familiar recipes and gradually incorporate new ones. Here are some tips for finding vegan replacements for non-vegan ingredients in your tried-and-true favorites, as well as some pitfalls to watch out for.

Milk: There are plenty of options for replacing cow's milk - soy, almond, rice, coconut and flavored varieties can be found in any grocery store. Finding one I was willing to drink by the glass was more difficult. I drink lite soy chocolate milk and save the others for recipes and cereal.

Eggs: If you are replacing eggs in baked goods, go for the Ener G Egg Replacer powdered egg substitute. Mix with a little water, as stated in the directions, and add to your favorite recipe for cakes, muffins, etc. If you need to replace the egg wash stage of the breading process (as in my favorite eggplant dish), use a cornstarch and water slurry. It will help the breadcrumbs stick better than water or milk alone. And, if you are craving your favorite breakfast dish or quiche, look for tofu. There are lots of recipes online for vegan scrambled eggs and quiches using tofu in place of the eggs.

Cheese: I recommend using Daiya vegan cheese in recipes (even pizza) for it's ease of melting. Be careful when looking for vegan cheeses! Most veggie or rice cheeses still contain cassein, a milk protein, so they are not considered vegan.

Breads: Look for bread marked vegan or ask your baker about vegan options. Whole Foods sells a prairie bread that we love which is vegan. Locally, Stick Boy Bread Company in Fuquay Varina, NC, has a good selection of vegan breads available. They are marked on the menu and in the baking schedule on their web site.

Dips/Spreads: You'll have to axe the onion dip for dipping your veggies. But, there are plenty of other options available. Hummus, salsa, guacamole, and bean dips are great substitutes, and if you really crave the onion dip, look for vegan sour cream and mix your own.

Sweeteners: This was a hard one for me. Cane sugar is traditionally processed with bone char, making it non-vegan. Turbinado or raw sugar can be used in it's place in recipes. Honey is also considered an animal product by strict vegans. Opt for agave instead if you're going by the book. Most coffee creamers, although labeled non-dairy, do contain cassein, a milk protein, and are not vegan. Switch to coconut milk creamers for coffee.

Meats: You can recreate many meat dishes with meat replacements made from soy or wheat gluten. Here are some options:

*For bacon: Smoked Maple Tempeh
*For deli turkey: Tofurkey
*For ground beef: Seitan crumbles
*Soy protein can also be used to create mock chicken salad and crab cakes. You may be surprised at what vegan options turn up at the Whole Foods deli counter.
*Tofu and textured soy are great for replacing the meat in most any Asian dish.

Just make sure you don't rely too heavily on meat substitutes. The whole idea is to shift your focus and find ways to allow the vegetables to take center stage. Some of our main dish favorites are:

*Eggplant. It's hearty and can be easily added to a stir fry, pasta dish or eaten on it's own, baked or breaded.
*Squash is a great base to soups and is wonderful roasted whole and stuffed. Spaghetti squash can be used to replace pasta if you are counting calories.
*Dark leafy greens are the most nutrient dense food out there. Add them to soups, sauces, salads, smoothies or stir fry them for an easy side dish.
*Cauliflower is now a staple in our alfredo-loving household. Using cauliflower as the base of our white sauces makes them much healthier. Once a caloric luxury, we can now afford to make them more often.

And don't forget the beans. Important for the protein they add to a vegan's diet, they can be added to soups and salads or they can star in many main and side dishes, especially our Mexican favorites made vegan.

It takes some trial and error, but the end results are worth it. Healthier food can be delicious. You won't feel like your missing out at all.

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