Image via Yo-Sef Alda @ Tumblr
It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to get a good thing goin’ in the kitchen, but it really is tantalizingly possible for you to become a vegan culinary maverick, one delicious homecooked meal at a time. Start simple, think fresh, eat clean. Boom! Here are twelve tips to help you rock n roll:
♥ Start with the basics & take baby steps
♥ Go, internet, go!
♥ Beg, borrow or steal a blender
♥ Vegan sweet treats rule
♥ Fresh herbs are the stuff dreams are made of
♥ Start a food notebook
♥ Buy a couple of cookbooks
♥ Keep it fresh
♥ Just say no to pre-crushed garlic or ginger
♥ Get involved with silken tofu
♥ The risks will pay off
Start with the basics & take baby steps
Stock your spice cupboard. This is so key. Check out this Spice Pairing List for a basic guide to working with common spices to create amazing flavours. My collection has grown from a handful of different spices to over twenty in the last couple of years. Build a foundation for yourself and grow from there. I started with paprika, turmeric, cumin, chinese 5 spice and cinnamon.
Find out which non-dairy milk you prefer, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll be going through a lot of it. There are a bunch to choose from. My favourites are rice and almond. Don’t default to soy without experimenting a little first – soy milk can be great for baking, but personally I find it can leave an unfortunate “aura of beige” kinda taste when used elsewhere.
Learn to marinade tofu how you like it. Experiment with a couple of recipes, then tweak them until they are yours. If you think you don’t like the beloved ‘fu, maybe you’ve just never had it cooked to perfection before! Different methods give wildly different results. I usually bake it, flipping regularly to help lock in flavour. Contrary to popular belief, though, tofu isn’t actually compulsory for plant-based eaters. If you can’t eat tofu, it’s all good, you have got the rest of the vast vegan food world to explore! If you don’t like tofu but can eat soy, try tempeh, which has a completely different – and delicious – taste and texture.
Invest in cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, preferably made as close to home as possible. Fresh oil is the best oil.
Nail a basic vinaigrette and a vegan mayo. Green leaves are way more amazing with a light coating of fresh, delicious homemade dressing. Also: a salad is not just-a-salad anymore, it can be a whole mouthwatering, wholefoods-packed meal unto itself. Investigate and experiment. I used to think that I wasn’t really a salad person – no longer!
Once you learn a few vegan cooking tricks, the food you make will be more satisfying and more badass than most of what you can get anywhere else. That’s a fact. And it really isn’t as hard as you might think, all you need is time, some patience and a little creativity.
Go, internet, go!
The internet rules for vegan foodies & specialist vegan foodies (gluten-free, legume-free, nut-free, raw) in particular.
Here is a handful of sites that are rad for recipes:
If in doubt, Google it. If you get stuck trying to prepare an unfamiliar type of fruit or vegetable, or using a new cooking method, I’ll be shocked if there isn’t a fast, simple tutorial on Youtube. This one recently walked me through prepping bunch of baby bok choy in no time flat. Sweet.
Beg, borrow or steal a blender
If you want to be a satisfied home cook, you’re gonna want to get hold of a blender. If you don’t have one, get one: it will be a game changer. It doesn’t have to be a rolls royce blender like a VitaMix, but the more powerful the better.
My kitchen bench is home to a passable model from Noel Leeming. It doesn’t have the most powerful blades and is loud as hell, but it does have a nice big glass jug, a bunch of useful presets and can blend almost everything I want it to, which right now is good enough.
You’ll use your blender to make sauces, puddings, pie fillings, pesto, hummus, salsa, yoghurt, soups, gravy, smoothies. Cocktails. It really is an indispensable tool. Get blending, yo.
Vegan sweet treats rule
The worlds of vegan desserts and baked goods are vast and spectacular, so don’t be thinking that your sweet tooth cannot be fully satisfied. From simple cupcakes to the most extravagant desserts, you are more than covered!
Everything that a traditional bakery would make – pastries, cakes, cookies, muffins, meringues, pies, you name it – you can make an awesome, soul-firing vegan version. One of my favourite things is blowing the minds of my omnivorous friends with awesome, dairy-free treats. I think of baking as the secret weapon that will slowly but surely pull everyone I know towards plant-based living 😉
One site that I highly recommend for tips, tricks & recipes is VeganBaking.net, which is an incredible little slice of the internet. With the motto “Bake, Share, Collaborate,” it is an online community of avid vegan bakers that features some rad tutorials and great recipes. Also, this Vegan Baking Cheat Sheet from Gluten-Free Goddess is an excellent introduction to the world of making gluten-free vegan treats.
Fresh herbs are the stuff dreams are made of
Fresh herbs are the secret somethin’ somethin’ in so many dishes and they are incredibly good for you, being concentrated sources of a whole symphony of nutrients. Here is a great, basic guide to using herbs to create mind-blowing, fresh flavour combinations.
At the moment I don’t have a wide array of fresh herbs at home, I’m just working on sustaining a couple of favourites. Like I said up top: baby steps. I’m baby-stepping my way to a herb garden right now! The two herbs I chose to kick things off are sweet basil and coriander. They both sit in a sunny corner of the kitchen along with our cactii. I use ’em both a lot, especially Monsieur Basil (his official name).
Everyone says that herbs are super-easy to grow. Tell that to the three basil plants I killed before Monsieur came on the scene. This Epicurious guide to Windowsill Herb Gardens is lending a helping hand this time around. Fourth time lucky? Time will tell!
If you hate the idea of growing your own, you can buy freshly cut bunches as you need them, though that is definitely a more expensive route. Either way, your meals will never be the same again.
Veganizing nonvegan recipes is a whole world of it’s own and the possibilities will surprise you! They continue to surprise me. In the most delicious of ways.
Investigate vegan options for your favourite nonvegan recipes. Once you get the hang of a few different dishes, you’ll get an intuition for what will work with other recipes and feel confident experimenting with your old favourites.
My first triumph, back when I was an occasional dabbler in veganized food, was cooking perfect, fluffy vegan pancakes. I used this amazing recipe and it is still a favourite.
Start a food notebook
I use Evernote to keep track of recipes that I want to try out, preparation tips, ingredient guides, nutrition information and brainstorming. I also have a little paper notebook that I carry around with me in case food inspiration strikes or I stumble upon a recipe that demands writing down. I also use it to plan meals.
Evernote is great because you can sync content between devices; instead of printing or writing down must-have recipes I find via the laptop – which isn’t such a kitchen bench friendly piece of equipment- I can keep my phone to hand and use it as an interactive personal cookbook via the Evernote mobile app, thusly not adding to the stack of loose pages in the kitchen drawer. Very cool.
Buy a couple of cookbooks
A couple of modern, all-purpose vegan cookbooks will take you far. Checking out the non-stodgy offerings of ass-kicking plant-based chefs like Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Romero and Sarah Kramer is a good place to start.
There are vegan cookbooks for any type of cuisine you can think of and probably a few that you’d have never thought possible (Hannah Kaminsky’s Vegan a la Mode, anyone? Or perhaps Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyako Schinner is more up your alley?). It’s an inspiring world of food out there.
The local library in your neck of the woods might be a good place to start, to get an idea of what is out there and what might be best for you. I discovered that my local branch has an awesome vegan cookbook section, and I live in a tiny city on an island in the middle of the pacific ocean, so maybe yours will too.
Keep it fresh
Fresh ingredients = superpowered body. Basing your food world around fresh ingredients will make you feel so, so good; wholefoods are the key to being as awesome as possible. Fruit and vegetables, herbs & spices, oils & vinegars, legumes & grains: that’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Removing dairy from your diet eliminates most processed food options, but there are still A LOT of ’em out there. Processed food has been fucking with your shit for years and you won’t realise just how badly until you go cold turkey for a couple of months, then try to eat some of your old snacking favourites and experience for yourself how your body reacts.
Moving from a heavily processed diet to one based around fresh ingredients is very fucking eye-opening.
The life-long love affair with supermarket snacks has well and truly ended: My body screams “STOP!” on the increasingly-rare occasion that I eat a handful of something that involves the omnipresent 621, 631 or 635 “flavour enhancers” (MSG and its very close friends). Same thing with artificial colours, additives, preservatives. All of that brightly-packaged stuff doesn’t even look appealing anymore, it just looks like a tired old trick that people need to stop falling for.
It won’t take long for your body to start telling you that making an effort to cook with fresh ingredients is a sweet, sweet move: you will feel lighter, clearer, more energetic. Believe the hype.
Just say no to pre-crushed garlic or ginger
GG being the delicious, body-lovin’ staples that are garlic and ginger. Definitely buy garlic and ginger fresh. Pre-crushed ginger or garlic from a jar might seem convenient but it barely tastes anything like the real freshly crushed deal. Seriously.
If you get hold of a ginger grater – try the local Asian or wholefoods supermarket – it’ll become zero effort to prepare crushed ginger. I know, I know a ginger grater, for fuck’s sake: two years ago if you told me that it would become an essential in my kitchen I would have rolled my eyes so very, very hard. But they do work and they are super useful. So there you go.
Garlic presses promise a lot, but can tend to make a half-arsed effort of crushing the cloves. My one does, anyway. I do what I can with my press then attack the rest of the cloves with a knife. The extra time is worth it: pre-crushed garlic sucks so much. Once you get into the habit of crushing garlic cloves with a knife, it will seem like much less of a hassle than it does if you haven’t already got the hang of it. Practice yer knifin’ and soon freshly crushed garlic will be yours in a snap.
Get involved with silken tofu
Silken tofu is the key to many things decadent, creamy and dairy-free.
There are a couple of different types: the fresh water-packed kind and a firmer vacuum-packed variety. Recipes will specify if you need the firmer variety.
Recipe books on my shelf call for silken tofu in: chocolate & fruit puddings, dessert pies, mousses, mayonnaise, sour cream, alfredo sauce, french toast, smoothies, the list goes on. Silken tofu wears a lot of hats, much like dairy does but without all of the flavour-masking and body-hating that choosing to eat dairy products inflicts upon us. I use it most often to make desserts, yoghurts and thick, creamy condiments.
No, you can’t taste the soy!
The ‘risks’ will pay off
A lot of those initially-weirdass ingredients will become your best friend.
Things I devour now that were raised eyebrow material before I started experimenting and figuring out what the deal is: tofu, silken tofu, tempeh, chickpeas outside of hummus, brown lentils, homecooked legumes, fresh garlic & ginger, balsamic vinegar, raw nuts, tamari, LSA/ground flaxseed, non-dairy milk other than soy, fresh herbs! best ever!, brown rice, wholegrains other than rice (quinoa, buckwheat et. al), gluten-free flours (brown rice, tapioca, coconut ♥), coconut oil, miso paste, soba noodles, nutritional yeast, pure maple syrup, liquid smoke, cherimoyas.
The way I used to eat seems so bland and lacking in variety by comparison. It has been a huge, inspiring transition that has completely changed the way I think about food and nutrition, and all I needed to do to kick things off was get my ass in the kitchen and take some chances.
Image via In Search of Sadie @ Tumblr