When practicing a new set of skills, there’s always a bit of a learning curve — cooking vegan is no exception. If you’re new to vegan cooking, you might be looking up a lot of substitutions and new recipes, and that’s a good start! There are countless easy vegan recipes online, and no shortage of free resources. Good thing experimentation is part of what makes cooking fun.
As you try new techniques and different vegan meals, you’ll build the confidence of your inner home chef, and vegan substitutions will become second-nature. Even if you add just one new trick or ingredient to your repertoire every week, you’ll be an old hand in no time.
To help you get started, here are some easy substitution tips, versatile vegan ingredients, and other ideas to help you add more vegan dishes into your life:
1. Flax or chia eggs
When it comes to vegan baking, you’ll use this one a lot. You can easily convert your non-vegan recipes using this trick as well: if the recipe calls for an egg, just replace it with either a flax or a chia “egg”:
1 Tbsp chia seed + 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.
Jackfruit is a giant tropical fruit, and its texture makes for a convincing shredded meat substitute. 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 many different jackfruit recipes available online.
3. 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. Canned coconut milk
Once you look up uses for canned coconut milk, you’ll find yourself wanting to always have some on hand. It can be used 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, 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. 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.
6. Liquid smoke
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 things 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 vegan dishes.
7. Fresh herbs and citrus zest
Fresh herbs and citrus zest can take pretty much any recipe to the next level. Trust me, you’ll never go back. Add zest to your marinades, and sprinkle fresh herbs after grilling or baking anything. Try lime zest and cilantro with roasted 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.
8. Walnut “meat”
Walnuts can be used to make a very convincing ground “meat” for things like tacos or pasta sauce. There are many different ways of making this magic happen, so browse online and see for yourself.
9. Cashew cream
Soaked cashews blended with liquid make a delicious and versatile cashew cream. You can use it in 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.
10. Tahini and other seed and nut butters
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.
11. Nutritional yeast
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 things a tangy, cheesy flavour, so you’ll find lots of it in dairy-free recipes for things like macaroni and cheese, or nacho dip.
12. Roasted chickpeas
Roasted chickpeas make for a healthy, addictive snack. They can also act as a crouton to add crunch, flavour, and protein to things like 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. They keep for a little while, but you probably won’t ever have leftovers.
13. Heat things up
Vegan 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.
14. 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. Give it a shot.
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. Really. 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.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start for some vegan inspiration. 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!