Each month FBC member and certified nutritionist, Sondi Bruner, helps us navigate the ins and outs of eating a healthy but delicious diet, whether it’s adapting to an allergen-friendly diet or figuring out natural sweeteners (and everything in between). This month she shows you how to make anything vegan with some simple vegan substitutions.
Vegans, vegetarians and people with food allergies and intolerances are accustomed to making substitutions in recipes. This skill materializes naturally to some of us (not me!), while others develop the talent with time (yep, that's me!). It takes some trial and error to learn how to make anything vegan, and during the early years there were many things I dumped straight in the trash — unfortunately, this all happened before I had a compost bin.
Learn from my mistakes and discover how you can easily adapt any recipe to make it vegan!
Today I want to walk you through the whole food options to veganize your dishes. While there are a number of store-bought vegan alternatives that simulate animal products such as meat and dairy, many of those options are more like junk food and filled with preservatives, artificial colours, sugars, starches and unhealthy oils. Plus, they're usually quite pricey! Improve your health and fatten your wallet by using whole food alternatives like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and more.
How To Make Anything Vegan: Replacing Dairy Milk
Replacing cow's milk with alternatives has never been easier. Whether you're making a smoothie, ice cream, pudding, hot chocolate, oatmeal, baking, stews or soup, you can easily use nut, seed or grain milk in a 1:1 ratio.
Some nut and seed milks have a different flavour profile than others. Almond milk, rice milk and cashew milk are relatively neutral, while others such as coconut milk, hemp milk and soy milk can be overpowering depending on the recipe. Experiment and see what you like!
For more information about making and using plant-based milk, check out our Guide to Dairy-Free Milks.
How To Make Anything Vegan: Replacing Butter
How To Make Anything Vegan: Replacing Eggs
There are a number of different options you can use to replace eggs.
For baking: Mix 1 tbsp of ground flax or ground chia with 4 tbsp of water. Mix and allow to thicken for a few minutes. One flax or chia egg is equal to one chicken egg, but works better in recipes that call for 1 to 3 eggs. If you try to substitute eight chicken eggs in a Paleo-style recipe, you'll likely end up making a sad face.
You can also use 1/4 cup mashed bananas or 1/4 cup applesauce to replace one egg. I personally like to use applesauce because banana isn't always neutral enough for me, plus with applesauce you get the added binding properties of the pectin. You can use 1/4 soft tofu as well, but I've found this doesn't bind as well as the other egg replacers I've mentioned.
For breakfast: Crumbled tofu or tempeh works amazingly in breakfast scrambles and quiches. Depending on how you like the consistency of your eggs, you can use anywhere from soft to extra firm tofu. Chickpea flour is also an amazing substitute for omelettes and quiches; just whisk it with water. I like to use 1/4 chickpea flour and 1/4 cup water to replace one egg. You can discover more amazing savory vegan breakfast ideas here and egg-free brunch ideas here.
For egg whites: Aquafaba has taken the vegan world by storm! Aquafaba is when you whip the brine from canned chickpeas into soft or firm peaks. It's startlingly like egg whites and can be used to make mayo, meringues, marshmallow fluff or baked goods. I'll be honest, chickpea brine skeeves me (plus, it contains some inhibitors that interfere with digestion) so I tend to avoid this one.
For mayo: Try using cashew cream, tahini or mashed avocado.
How To Make Anything Vegan: Replacing Cheese
This can be challenging, as it's tough to fully replicate the flavour and texture of cheese. However, there are some amazing alternatives that make it worthwhile, including the following.
Nutritional yeast: This deactivated yeast has a soft, flaky consistency and a cheesy, umami flavour. It's also rich in B vitamins. Start slowly with nutritional yeast, as the flavour is strong. It's wonderful in dairy-free 'cheese' sauces and soups, and is a great seasoning to sprinkle on popcorn. When pulsed with nuts or seeds it can be used as Parmesan cheese.
Fermented nut cheese: This is awesome, trust me. Plant-based cheese has become incredibly popular, with a number of companies creating artisanal, small batch vegan cheeses (including this Canadian one). Here's how it works: soak nuts or seeds, rinse, drain and then blend with a probiotic capsule and seasonings. The longer you ferment your cheese, the stronger and "stinkier" it'll become. Here's a primer on how to get started.
Vegan cream cheese: If you're intimidated by fermenting, try blending nuts or seeds with herbs to make a fantastic vegan cream cheese. For that cheesy tang, add lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, or flavour with nutritional yeast. To thicken your cream cheese, try coconut oil.
Tofu feta or ricotta: Try crumbled tofu combined with seasonings to create a feta cheese or ricotta. For feta, use firm or extra firm tofu. For a ricotta consistency, try soft or medium tofu.
How To Make Anything Vegan: Replacing Meat, Fish and Poultry
For meatballs: Use beans and legumes, ground nuts or seeds, or gluten-free breadcrumbs (or a mix of all three).
For ground meat: Beans and legumes are your best bet here. Lentils are an easy fave, as is tofu or tempeh. If the beans are larger, like kidney beans, you can pulse them. This is the perfect substitute in tomato sauce, lasagna, shepherd's pie, cabbage rolls, stews, tacos and more. You can use chopped nuts for ground meat as well, but this isn't my personal fave.
For cubed meat: Large beans like kidney or lima beans, chickpeas or cubed tofu and tempeh.
For chicken tenders or fish sticks: Eggplant and oyster mushrooms have a "meatier" texture, but you can also try sliced zucchini, tofu or tempeh. It's all about the seasoning and batter here, so make it flavourful. For more intense results, try marinating your veggies or tofu for a few hours before cooking.
For kebabs: Marinated tofu or tempeh are your best bet here.
For 'pulled' style dishes: Have you heard of jackfruit? It's a tropical fruit with a thick, fibrous texture. If you have a pulled pork, chicken or beef recipe that you love, try substituting jackfruit instead. It's also wonderful in sandwiches and curries.
One last piece of advice: Don't expect vegan dishes to always taste exactly the same as meaty ones. This does a disservice to both vegan and non-vegan food. It's fun to embrace new recipes, to experiment and to accommodate the vegans in your life, but you will always be disappointed if you're constantly pining for something else. Let's enjoy our food and be grateful for everything that we are blessed to have on our plates.
Check out more of Sondi’s Allergen-Friendly Guides and Recipe Remixes for great ideas on revamping your favourite recipes to make them allergen friendly!
- The FBC Guide to Gluten-Free Grains
- A Guide to Understanding Fats: Myths and Reality
- An Allergen-Friendly Guide to Chocolate
Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer, food blogger and author of Simple Superfood Smoothies, The Anti-Inflammatory Diet in 21, The Candida Free Cookbook and Action Plan, co-author of The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Action Plans. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. She is also the head program coach for the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com.