When you go meatless and dairy-free, what on earth do you eat? Some of the best food you’ve ever tasted! It would seem that dropping entire food categories from your menus would leave a diet that feels very restricted. But upon going vegan, many people find that their food horizons actually expand as
they explore new menu items like crusty barbecued Indonesian tempeh, sweet almond milk, crispy falafel croquettes, and tangy sesame butter sauce. Dining at a vegan table is anything but dull! But what if exotic fare isn’t your thing? What if you have neither the patience nor time to follow a recipe? That’s fine. You can build healthful and appealing vegan meals around convenience foods and easily prepared dishes—old standbys that have been a part of your diet all of your life, like spaghetti with marinara sauce.
There are plenty of wonderful cookbooks and recipe websites for vegans, and we’ve listed several in the resource section. But you can be a happy, healthy vegan without ever cracking open a cookbook. After all, it doesn’t take much instruction to bake a potato, flavor beans with onions and salsa, and round out the meal with steamed spinach. Much
of the cooking that people do—whether or not they are vegan—is just this type of casual, unstructured preparation.
It’s not hard to create great vegan meals and find substitutes for the foods you’ve always enjoyed. Yes, there is a learning curve as you switch from the diet you’ve always known to one that is based on plant foods.
But if you take it one step at a time, going vegan is a fun adventure.
Some people dive into a vegan diet and lifestyle overnight while others need to test the waters and make a gradual transition. The transition can occur in any number of ways, and it’s up to you to decide what feels
logical and practical. Don’t assume that you have to go vegetarian— omitting meat while still eating eggs and dairy—as the first step toward veganism. Some people do, and that’s fine, but it’s not the only, or necessarily best, way to begin reducing your intake of animal products.
The tips in this chapter cover a broad range of big and small changes and offer options for different cooking and eating styles.
Choose the ones that seem most realistic to begin with and then keep making changes at the pace that feels right for you.
Make Small, Easy Substitutions Right Away
These are the changes that don’t require any real knowledge about cooking or meal planning. They won’t make much difference in your meal preparation, but they will reduce your intake of animal foods immediately. For example, trade in cow’s milk for plant-based milk, and start using vegan salad dressings, sour cream, and mayonnaise. Even if
you are still unsure about going vegan, it’s worth reducing animal food intake with these very easy changes.
Condiments are a good way to make simple substitutions that build fast flavor into foods. Some all-American favorites like mustard, relish, and ketchup are already vegan. For those products that typically contain animal ingredients, here are some winning substitutes.
• Look for creamy vegan salad dressings in the store, or just go with an easy and healthy option—olive oil and vinegar.
Try Vegenaise brand vegan mayonnaise; believe it or not, it’s better than regular commercial mayonnaise.
• Choose low-sodium Worcestershire sauce, which is usually free of anchovies.
• Trade vegetable broth or bouillon for chicken broth in recipes.
• Serve mushroom gravy on potatoes instead of meat-based gravy
If you are accustomed to using cow’s milk as a beverage, with cereal, or in cooking and baking, look into some of the alternatives.
Try milks made from soy, rice, hemp, oats, or almonds on cereal, in baking, to make chocolate pudding, or to wash down a cookie.
Look for choices that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. If you don’t like one, try another. It may take a few attempts, but with the vast array of products, you’ll find something that suits you.
Most cheese alternatives contain small amounts of the milk protein casein, but there are some wonderful, completely vegan choices.
The Follow Your Heart Company, a leader in the production of delicious vegan foods, makes Vegan Gourmet cheese in a variety of flavors.
We also love Daiya and Teese, which are great to melt over pasta or on a pizza. For a vegan wine and cheese party, try Sheese, which is made in Scotland and crafted in a variety of styles, including Gouda, Edam and smoked Cheddar.
You don’t need to make the substitutions all at once; one week, try a nondairy milk, then the next, try a nondairy cheese. Check the resources section at the end of this book for where to order these products if your local natural foods store doesn’t carry them.
Here are additional ideas for phasing dairy out of your meals:
•Spread your morning bagel with nondairy cream cheese made by either Tofutti or Follow Your Heart. Most larger grocery stores carry one of these brands in the natural foods section.
• Spoon a few dollops of vegan sour cream into soup or on top of burritos. Again, we recommend Tofutti and Follow Your Heart for these products.
• Try Mocha Mix or other nondairy creamers in coffee. Or make a soymilk foam for cappuccino.
• Have fun exploring the vast array of nondairy frozen desserts. Who needs ice cream when there is Coconut Bliss in the world?
• Everything that replaces dairy in your diet doesn’t have to be an
analogue. Spread almond butter or mashed avocado on toast instead of butter for a more healthful choice and a nice change of pace. Or flavor tofu with salt and herbs and crumble it on top of a vegan pizza.
• Try to think a little further outside the box. We love this recipe from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak. It tastes like old-fashioned Cheez Whiz. Blend together one 15-ounce can of drained, rinsed Great northern beans, ½ cup roasted red peppers or pimento pieces, 6 to 8 tablespoons nutritional yeast
flakes, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 to 3 tablespoons tahini, ½ teaspoon prepared yellow mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder.
Identify Ten Great Vegan Dinner Menus
Start with what you know. What’s on family menus that is already vegan or could be vegan with just a tweak or two? How about pasta with marinara sauce? Or tomato soup? (Prepare it with soymilk instead of cow’s milk.) Make Sloppy Joes using a canned sauce and meatless “ground beef.” Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are vegan
and so is hummus. Starting with foods that are familiar can be a good way to help children make a smooth transition to plant-based meals.
Next, spend some time with cookbooks, the Internet, and your own recipe collection to identify seven to ten easy vegan dinners that you like and can prepare without much fuss (unless you like to fuss, of course). That’s as much variety as most omnivores enjoy, and families are usually very happy with a ten-day cycle of their favorite meals. Over time, you’ll probably grow tired of some and replace them with others, but for starters, this short list of meals will get you through your first months as a vegan.
Where’s the Meat?
When you want something “meaty,” the selection of vegan choices these days is amazing. Check the frozen and refrigerated sections of natural foods stores as well as your regular grocery store. You’ll find
vegan burgers, sausages, hotdogs, sandwich slices, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, pulled pork, chicken nuggets, ground beef, and much more. Different options appeal to different palates, so keep tasting until you find the items that you and your family enjoy. Look for products made by Gardein, Field Roast, Tofurky, Lightlife, and Yves, among others.
This is a chance to quickly eliminate some of the most harmful foods in omnivore diets. For example, cured and processed meats are especially unhealthy foods. Try a vegan substitute like Tofurky lunch
meats, which taste very similar to their meat-derived counterparts. And vegans can look to Asian cuisine for tofu and tempeh, two of the best meat substitutes. Read more about these staples of Asian diets in the
Soyfoods Primer on pages 119–123. Both can be cubed, marinated in a simple sauce (try any barbecue, Thai peanut, or Teriyaki sauce), and then baked or sautéed. Serve them over rice or tossed with cooked vegetables.
In many (healthier) cultures, meat is used sparingly to flavor food, not as the focus of the meal. Vegans should plan meals in a similar fashion. Serve a platter of brown rice tossed with ¼ cup of almonds and
topped with teriyaki-flavored sautéed veggies. Or make pasta the center of your plate, tossed with some garbanzo beans, vegan Parmesan cheese, and a big serving of steamed vegetables.
Take Advantage of Convenience Foods
You don’t have to be a sophisticated or creative cook in order to follow a vegan diet. It’s nice to know a few basics—how to bake a potato, cook brown rice, and steam vegetables—but that’s no more or less than anyone, eating any type of diet, needs to know.
Anyone can make these ten vegan dinners:
• Baked potato topped with vegan baked beans and shredded soy cheese and accompanied by frozen spinach sautéed in olive oil.
• Veggie burger on a roll with salad and prepared salad dressing.
• Pasta salad: Toss cooked pasta with canned chick peas, onions, chopped raw vegetables, and vegan mayonnaise.
• Burritos: Use leftover beans or canned vegan refried beans. Spoon onto warm tortillas, roll them up, and top with chopped tomatoes and cubes of avocado.
• Pasta with sauce from a jar (add sautéed veggies or soy sausage for your own “homemade” touch).
• Chili beans with veggie burger crumbles served over rice with steamed carrots.
• Soup and salad. Progresso makes vegan lentil soup. Campbell’s Tomato Soup—very possibly the most famous soup in America— is vegan. Just add plain soymilk. Make it go a little farther with a healthful addition like pasta, rice, or beans. Trader Joe’s and Imagine Foods both make good vegan soups in aseptic boxes.
• Taco salad: Toss together greens, chopped tomato, chopped onion, rinsed canned black beans, defrosted corn, and cubes of avocado. Dress with olive oil and lime or lemon juice and top
with a handful of crushed tortilla chips.
• Chunks of firm tofu and frozen vegetables marinated in peanut or teriyaki sauce (find both in the ethnic foods section of the grocery store). Sauté in a little bit of canola oil and serve over rice or noodles.
• Whole-grain main-dish salad: This is a great way to use up leftover cooked grains. Toss brown rice, couscous, barley, or whatever you have on hand with chopped onion, defrosted frozen peas and corn, sunflower seeds, and rinsed canned beans. Top with your favorite dressing or with olive oil and lemon juice.
Look to Ethnic Cuisine
Some of the best eating patterns in the world—from both a culinary and health standpoint—are based on plant foods. When you start exploring meals from Italy, India, Mexico, China, Thailand, and other exotic locales, it will open up your world to the best of vegan cuisine.
Look in cookbooks and online for recipes for pasta or Asian noodle dishes, curries, stir-fries, and pilafs (made with grains, nuts, and dried fruits). And look for ethnic restaurants when eating out since they are likely to have a good choice of vegan dishes.
Experiment with Beans
Most Americans didn’t grow up eating beans, which is too bad. Le -gumes are super nutritious foods and among the world’s cheapest and most abundant sources of protein. That’s why beans have played a role
in the diets of nearly every culture. If you can’t get organized enough to cook beans from scratch, it’s fine to use canned. Try bean dishes that are familiar, like baked beans (you can buy the canned vegan variety), bean burritos, and lentil and split pea soups.
One way to update your attitude about this group of foods is to become familiar with their use in other cultures. Chickpeas simmered in fresh tomato sauce, along with pasta and a glass of Chianti is a meal featuring the traditional flavors of Sicily. Other wonderful bean-based delicacies: garlic-infused Cuban black beans, spicy Indian lentil curry, and lemony chickpea hummus from the Middle East. Truly, beans are anything but boring!
What to Do with Beans
It’s a simple matter to turn cooked beans into a tasty dish. Here are some super-fast ideas for ways to flavor beans. Most of these dishes can be served over rice or other grains—or spooned over a baked potato.
Black, pinto, and kidney beans
• Mexican-style beans: For each cup of cooked beans, stir in ¼ cup salsa and ¼ cup corn kernels. Heat and serve over rice topped with shredded soy cheese or chopped avocado and tomatoes.
• Mediterranean beans: Sauté ½ cup chopped onion and 2 stalks celery in 3 tablespoons olive oil until tender. Stir in 2 cans beans (rinsed) or 3 cups cooked beans, 4 ounces sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives, and a 4-ounce can chopped chili peppers.
White beans (great northern, baby lima, or cannellini)
• Beans with mushrooms: Sauté 1½ cups sliced mushrooms in 2 table spoons olive oil. Add 3 cups cooked beans and season with black pepper and fresh lemon juice. You might also add canned or chopped tomatoes.
• Barbecued beans: Mix 3 tablespoons prepared barbecue sauce into each cup of cooked beans.
• Zesty beans with tomato sauce: Mix 3 tablespoons prepared spa -ghetti sauce (try a spicy one) into each cup of cooked beans.
• Italian-style beans with figs: Sauté ¼ cup chopped onion and a clove of minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 3 cups cooked beans and ½ cup chopped dried figs. Season with 1 teaspoon each dried basil and rosemary.
• Hoppin’ John: Sauté 1 cup chopped onion and 2 minced garlic cloves in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add 4 cups of beans and ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (more if you like your food very spicy). Add ¼ cup chopped veggie bacon (or a sprinkle of bacon bits) if you like. Prepare this dish with black-eyed peas for a traditional southern New Year’s Day supper. It’s supposed to bring good luck for the coming year.
• Beans with apples and sausage: Sauté ½ cup chopped onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 3 cups cooked beans, 1 diced apple, and 4 ounces vegan sausage (defrosted and crumbled). Simmer until everything is heated through and apples are tender.
All bean types
• Sloppy Joes: Add a 15-ounce can of Sloppy Joe sauce to two cups cooked beans. Heat and serve over whole-wheat hamburger rolls.
• Bean and potato soup: Sauté one cup chopped onions and 2 cloves minced garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 2 cups diced potatoes, 2 cups cooked beans, and 8 cups vegetable broth. Simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Season with basil and oregano.
• Bean and grain salad: Toss 3 cups of any cooked grain with 1 cup cooked beans. Season with bottled or homemade salad dressing. Add ¼ cup each of minced onion, chopped celery, and/or shredded carrots for added flavor and crunch.
Take Advantage of Familiar Favorites for Breakfast
Many people eat the same breakfast every single day, perhaps with a slight variation on the weekends. Hot or cold cereal with nondairy milk, toast with nut butter, juice, and fruit make a very hearty and
healthy vegan breakfast that will suit the needs of most family members.
Pancakes, vegan French toast, or scrambled tofu are good choices for more leisurely weekend breakfasts. Don’t be afraid to think beyond traditional breakfast foods. A veggie burger or soup is just as good for breakfast as for dinner.
Identify Snacks, Treats, and Desserts that are Vegan
Old-fashioned, all-purpose cookbooks have recipes for fruit crumbles and crisps that are vegan—or that can be “veganized” by replacing butter with margarine. If you love all-American cuisine, take a look at the Betty Crocker Project (www.meettheshannons.net/p/betty-crocker-project.html), which aims to veganize every recipe in the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook published in the 1950s.
Many snack chips are vegan and so are several brands of commercial cookies, including Oreos. Take a peek in the freezer section of your natural foods store, too, for frozen desserts such as Coconut Bliss, hempseed-based Tempt, and So Delicious products.
Learn to Bake without Eggs
The egg’s main claim to fame is its role as a functional participant in cooking. In baking, it helps with leavening, and in savory foods, like veggie burgers, it’s a binding agent. But other ingredients have those same properties, and there are plenty of effective ways to replace eggs in cooking.
To keep vegan loaves, burgers and croquettes from falling apart, add a little bit of flour, bread crumbs, or rolled oats.
For egg-free baking, you are likely to get better results by using refined flours since they are lighter and more easily leavened. (It’s fine to use whole grains, though, just as long as you know to expect a somewhat heavier product.)
Look for recipes that call for just one or two eggs since it is easy to replicate them with a vegan version. Most cake mixes lend themselves well to vegan baking. For foods that don’t require a great deal of leavening, like pancakes, you can simply eliminate the eggs and add an extra two tablespoons of water or soymilk.
Natural foods groceries carry commercial products like EnerG Egg Replacer and Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer or try one of the following to replace eggs in baked goods.
For each egg:
• Grind 1 heaping tablespoon of whole flaxseed in a blender until it becomes a fine meal. Add 3 tablespoons cold water and blend until thick and viscous. The consistency is just like raw egg.
• Beat together 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon oil, and 2 teaspoons baking powder.
• Whip 1 tablespoon plain agar powder (a seaweed product found in most natural foods stores) with 1 tablespoon water. Chill and then whip again.
• Mix 1 tablespoon full-fat soy flour with 3 tablespoons water.
• Mix together 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 teaspoon baking soda to make an instant, light foam.
Go Egg-Free for Breakfast and Lunch
When it comes to replacing eggs on the menu, there is nothing like tofu. Mash tofu and sauté it in vegan margarine with mushrooms and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for “scrambled tofu.” Or chop firm tofu
and mix with onion, celery, and vegan mayonnaise for vegan egg salad.
You may want to track down some black salt (called kala namak), which can be found in Indian groceries or ordered online. It smells and tastes exactly like egg yolks. Try it in scrambled tofu or in recipes for vegan omelets.
Pack Up Vegan Food to Go
There are thousands and thousands of vegan recipes for dinner and athome meals. But you can brown-bag it vegan style too. If your workplace has a microwave oven, you can enjoy instant soups packaged as individual servings (the kind in cardboard cups) or prepared burritos.
If you don’t have access to a microwave, take leftover beans, soups, or stews to work in a good quality thermos. Use the weekend to prepare a big pot of soup or beans and then freeze individual portions for graband-go meals to heat at work.
Or make sandwiches from vegan luncheon meats or hummus. Hummus-to-Go made by Wild Garden is a good choice when you don’t have refrigeration since it comes in sealed individual-servingsize packages. Trail mix, instant oatmeal, and apples with almond butter are other tasty on-the-go snacks.
A great option for brown-bag lunches is a wrap sandwich that uses leftovers from dinner. Keep a stack of large whole-wheat flour tortillas in the refrigerator and try some of the combinations below for wrap fillings:
• Diced potatoes, chopped celery, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes. Add a dressing of hummus, lemon tahini, or vegan mayonnaise with Dijon mustard.
• Black or pinto beans with shredded Monterey Jack–style jala peño soy cheese and chopped tomatoes.
• Shredded carrots, peanuts, and raisins mixed with vegan mayonnaise.
• Veggie burger crumbles tossed with sunflower seeds, shredded carrots, and tahini.
• Peanut butter and jelly. (Who says you can’t have a PB&J wrap?)
• Rice, lentils, and shredded cabbage with sesame shiitake vinaigrette.
• Chopped chickpeas, onions, and celery mixed with vegan mayo and a dash of lemon juice.
• Baked tofu with spicy peanut sauce.
• Chopped tomatoes, carrots, and cucumber mixed into hummus.
The variety of vegan products is growing like wildfire, and you’d be surprised by how many old-time favorites in the grocery store are vegan.
As you explore, experiment, and taste, your menus will evolve, and you’ll find solutions to menu-planning problems. Even longtime vegans find that their menus and diets develop over time based on new products and changing lives. Maybe you need to identify a list of restaurants where you can meet friends or take business clients or host a child’s birthday party.
If you entertain, you may need to gather ideas for a vegan cocktail party or for family get-togethers. The Internet is a valuable resource for these more specific issues.
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