13 Vegan Cooking Tips To Master Plant-Based Dishes

When practicing a new set of skills, there’s always a bit of a learning curve—and cooking vegan is no exception. A common misconception is that vegan food is boring and tasteless, but that is far from the truth! There are countless easy vegan recipes online, and no shortage of free resources. With a few substitutes and some experimentation, you can make vegan cooking fun, as well as “vegan-ify” your favourite dishes.  As you try new techniques and different vegan meals, you’ll build the confidence of your inner home chef. Vegan substitutions, and new cooking techniques will become second-nature, allowing you to cook delicious vegan meals at home quickly and easily. Even if you add just one new trick or ingredient to your repertoire every week, you’ll be an old hand in no time.

The best part? You don’t need fancy kitchen equipment or superior knife skills. Plant-based cooking doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated, with these simple vegan cooking tips.

Here are some easy substitution tips, versatile vegan ingredients, and other ideas to help you add more vegan dishes into your life.

1. Replace eggs with ground flax or chia eggs

When it comes to vegan baking, you’ll use this one a lot—it’s one of our best vegan cooking tips! If a recipe calls for an egg, simply replace it with either a flaxseed or a chia see “egg”. You can easily convert your non-vegan recipes using this trick as well. Use the following ratio of ground flaxseed meal or chia seeds to produce the equivalent of 1 egg: :

1 Tbsp chia seeds + 2.5 Tbsp water = 1 chicken egg

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp hot water = 1 chicken egg

Mix the ingredients, then let them sit for a few minutes. The mixture will thicken and gel, and it acts just like a real egg in baking recipes, like cookies, cakes, muffins, and quickbreads. 

A couple of things to keep in mind when using flax or chia as an egg substitute: you must grind the flax or chia seeds before mixing them with water to create your egg substitute. The reason for this is that they are both packed with fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. When ground, the fat and fiber is released, allowing it to mix with the water, forming a gel-like consistency similar to eggs. 

If using flax, opt for golden flax seeds, as brown flax seeds could darken your baked goods. As well, due to their consistency, flax eggs are best used for more sturdy cooking like banana bread, muffins, and cakes, rather than airy desserts like angel food cake. 

2. Use jackfruit as a meat substitute

Jackfruit is a giant tropical fruit, and its texture makes for a convincing shredded meat substitute for those new to a vegan lifestyle who miss the texture of meat. It’s easy to find canned jackfruit in grocery stores, markets, or online. You want to buy young green jackfruit, as this type has the best texture and ability to hold flavour. Check the label to be sure that it’s packed in water (not syrup or brine) and you’re on your way to a delicious faux pulled-pork sandwich, or jackfruit teriyaki bowl. Look it up—there are so many recipes online, which incorporate jackfruit!

3. Replace dairy milk with unsweetened non-dairy milks

As long as you’re buying unsweetened versions, non-dairy milks are perfect substitutes for dairy milk in most cooking and baking recipes. Soy, almond, cashew, coconut, oat, rice, hemp, pea—there are so many different options. They all have slightly different flavours, textures, and nutritional make-up, so try them out and see which you prefer.

4. Always keep canned coconut milk on hand

Once you look up uses for canned coconut milk, you’ll find yourself wanting to always have some on hand. It can be used in many popular recipes as a replacement for heavy cream, to make whipped cream, in curries and desserts, for cocktails, or smoothies, and so much more. There are light and full-fat versions of coconut milk, and there’s also coconut cream available. The different types aren’t all interchangeable in recipes, so make sure you have the right kind for the job.

5. Experiment with different flavours and spices

Spices and striking flavour can make all the difference to even the most basic ingredients—whether you’re cooking plant-based or not. There are countless ways to take every day cooking to the next level, simply by stocking your pantry with bright, bold spices. Here are a few examples:

Black salt (kala namak)

Due to sulphur compounds, black salt has a savoury, umami flavour that can help vegan dishes taste like eggs. Try adding some to a chickpea “egg” salad sandwich, or tofu scramble.

Liquid smoke

Found in most grocery stores, liquid smoke is powerful stuff, and a little goes a long way. It instantly gives foods a smoky, wood-fired flavour that can help to take your savoury recipes over the top. If you prefer your food to have a meaty, grilled taste, then having a bottle of this on-hand will help you create the flavour and aroma you love in your plant-based dishes.

Fresh herbs and citrus zest

Fresh herbs and citrus zest can elevate pretty much any recipe every time. Add zest to your marinades, and sprinkle fresh herbs after grilling or baking your food. Try lime zest and cilantro with roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or corn. Add some mint and lemon zest into fruit salads or inside of homemade popsicles. Tear handfuls of fresh herbs into green salads. Play around with different combinations of your favourites, and your taste buds will never be bored with plant based cooking.

6. Opt for walnut “meat” over mock meats

Instead of processed mock meats, opt for walnuts, which can be used to make a very convincing ground “meat” for foods like tacos or pasta sauce. It’s a healthier alternative packed with more nutrients, and can even be bulked up with ground mushrooms and other vegetables. 

How to make walnut “meat”:

Gather 1 cup of walnuts, 1 cup of mushrooms, 1 tablespoon coconut aminos, tamari, or soy sauce, and salt and pepper. Add all the ingredients to a food processor, and pulse a couple of times until you achieve your desired consistency. Be careful not to over-pulse as the mixture could get mushy! 

Depending on what dish you’ll be cooking, you can even add in Mexican, Italian, or Indian spices for a boost of flavour. 

7. Substitute cashews for heavy cream

Soaked cashews blended with liquid make a delicious and versatile cashew cream. You can use it in cream-based foods like vegan chowder or alfredo sauce, or for mousses and creamy salad dressings. It tastes amazing, and you might notice that you feel better after eating it than you would after a heavy, dairy-cream-laden meal.

8. Add tahini and other seed and nut butters for a burst of flavour

Try adding some tahini into your next tomato-based pasta sauce, or some almond butter into your next stir fry sauce. Be adventurous and add different kinds of seed or nut butters in salad dressings, soups, baking, and smoothies. Not only will you get an extra burst of flavour, nut butters contain extra protein and nutrients, and help create a smooth, creamy texture.

9. Stock your pantry with nutritional yeast 

For those who love vegan food but love cheese as well, nutritional yeast is an excellent ingredient to have on hand. Once you’ve discovered nutritional yeast, or “nooch,” you’ll always want to have some in your pantry! Make sure it’s fortified with vitamin B12, and you’ll get that benefit as well. You can sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn, or add it to recipes like salad dressings or soups. It gives food a tangy, nutty, cheesy flavour, so you’ll find lots of it in dairy-free recipes for macaroni and cheese, or nacho dip.

10. Snack on roasted chickpeas

A common mistake for those who go vegan is snacking on unhealthy carbs like potato chips. Instead, opt for roasted chickpeas, which make for a healthy, addictive snack. They can also act as a crouton to add crunch, flavour, and protein to soups and salads. From sweet (like cinnamon and sugar) to savoury (like lime and black pepper) the flavour combinations for these little treats are endless—take a look online and see which ones intrigue you the most. Then, drain canned chickpeas, toss them in olive oil and your chosen spices and roast them until crispy. They keep for a little while, but you probably won’t ever have leftovers.

11. Heat things up

Plant-based or not, experimenting with different spicy flavours is an easy way to take your cooking game up a notch. Try adding blending chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into vegan mayonnaise with some lime juice to dip your fries, or add to burgers and sandwiches. Have you ever put some jalapeño into your guacamole? Or pepper flakes on your roasted vegetables? A spicy peanut sauce is a great addition to so many dishes. Not into the heat yet? Start small and subtle, and you might find that you quickly acquire a taste for more.

12. Sneak veggies and beans into baking

Pumpkin pie and banana bread are delicious, but have you ever tried a chocolate zucchini bread? Or zucchini “apple” pie? How about black bean brownies, or chickpea blondies? Sweet potato cookies? Spiced pumpkin muffins? There are so many sweet uses for things that have been relegated to the savoury department for far too long. Try it in your own food—you may find that the most delicious food is packed with sneaky vegetables.

13. Aquafaba

Aquafaba is a great example of kitchen science in action. You know the liquid in a can of beans? Well, it acts like egg whites when you whip it up! Any kind of bean liquid works, but usually cans of chickpeas or white beans are used because of their lighter colour. You can use it to make meringues, pavlova, buttercream, mousse, eggwhite cocktails, and the list goes on.

A vegan diet doesn’t have to be a boring diet

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start for some vegan inspiration. The next time you’re putting together a grocery shopping list, be sure to add the above ingredients and ideas. Cooking can be fun, and vegan cooking is no different. Once you begin picking up different substitution tips and discovering new-to-you vegan recipes, your kitchen will become an even more exciting place, and so will your plate!

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